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Why do they call it that? Billy Graham's beginnings on a Tampa street | News

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Why do they call it that? Billy Graham's beginnings on a Tampa street
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Billy Graham, one of the world's most amazing people, celebrates his 93rd birthday this week. And the time he spent on Tampa's Franklin Street changed the world.

Why do they call it Franklin Street?

Let's see here -- Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals.

He helped found the USA and convinced the French to help us kick some British backside.

Oh, and he confirmed lightning is made of electricity.

So it's not, umm -- shocking -- that one of Downtown Tampa's streets is a brick-paved place of praise for this pioneering printer, postmaster, and patriot.

There you go. That's the story.

Nah -- that's not where this tale ends. It's where we begin.

Because it's where Billy Graham began.

He's one of the most electric preachers the Earth has ever seen. And he started his evangelical life, his worldwide series of sermons, on the sidewalks of Tampa's Franklin Street.

Back then, the northern part of the street "was pretty seedy," said Rodney Kite-Powell, curator of history at the Tampa Bay History Center.

"There were some kinda low-rent hotels and theaters and things like that. And it was kind of called 'Skid Row.' Billy Graham knew that, and he wanted to try and change these people's lives."

Wait. The Rev. Billy Graham grew up on a farm in North Carolina. Why was he here?

"Billy Graham went to school in Temple Terrace. He went to the Florida Bible Institute," Kite-Powell said. "He arrived in 1937. He graduated in 1940."

The 18th green at the Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club -- where plenty of people have shouted at God over the years -- is the place where Graham said God spoke to him, and told him to preach to the world.

If you think stadiums and TV networks are impressive venues, after starting with just Franklin Street's derelicts and drunks... check out Billy Graham's earliest audience: all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky.

"Before he was preaching to the homeless, he was preaching to alligators and birds on a little island in the Hillsborough River by Temple Terrace," Kite-Powell said.

"And so he wanted to sharpen those oratory skills before he got in front of people."

Hey kids... maybe you should practice your public speaking in front of Fido, because that warm-up with an animal audience has taken him far.

From Truman to Obama, Graham spent time with 12 presidents. In all, Billy Graham spread the Gospel, in person, to nearly 215 million people.

That incredible total ended with his last public sermon in 2006.

And it began with people who needed a jolt from above on Franklin Street.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

The Florida Bible Institute is no longer in Temple Terrace. The school has moved to Pasco County and gotten a new name. It's now Trinity College, in the community of Trinity.

Billy Graham's son is also a prominent preacher, and his name is Franklin. We went ahead and had the younger Graham's staff ask Franklin whether there's any connection.

The answer? Nope. It's just a coincidence. Both father and son are named William Franklin Graham, and the family simply needed to be able to tell them apart.

We feature new "Why do they call it that?" stories each Wednesday on 10 News at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Check out previous editions of the Emmy-nominated series at our "Why do they call it that?" website: wtsp.com/callitthat.

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