Black woman sues Billy Graham group over race

A black woman is suing the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, saying she was abruptly fired after complaining that the organization was not reaching out to African-American churches.

A spokesman for the organization didn’t comment on the firing, but said the association does extensive outreach and works extensively with African-American and other diverse churches.

Kimberly McCallum said in the lawsuit that was moved into a federal court Wednesday that she was the only black employee working in the executive offices in Charlotte when she started in February 2007. She complained to her superiors later that year when she was asked to recruit congregations to a camp program but found that a list of 635 prospective churches had only three memberships that were primarily black.

McCallum said it was apparent that black churches were excluded.

A week after raising her concerns, McCallum said she was told her job with global offices was cut because of downsizing. Her boss never raised concerns about the quality of her work, according to the lawsuit filed in June in a local court.

McCallum said she tried to get other jobs at the association, based in Minneapolis, but that she was blocked from other positions and had a later job offer revoked.

“Subsequent to her discharge, plaintiff learned that the global offices had not been downsized and that the only job that was eliminated there was the one occupied by the plaintiff,” the lawsuit says. She wants a job reinstated, back pay and damages for what she describes as discrimination because of her race.

McCallum declined further comment Thursday.

Mark Demoss, a spokesman for the Graham organization, declined to talk about McCallum’s job. But he said he has frequently seen the association go to great effort to increase black participation and noted that two prominent black pastors from the Minneapolis area recently led an association event there.

“That’s a preposterous claim that the organization would deliberately bypass African-American participation,” Demoss said. “In fact, the opposite is quite true.”

The association was founded by Billy Graham in 1950 and is now headed by Graham’s son, Franklin. Billy Graham, 90, has recently battled a range of health problems and largely spends time at his North Carolina home.

Though he began his ministry when segregation was still accepted, Graham later integrated his crusades and made efforts to draw diverse crowds to his U.S. rallies.

Michael O. Emerson, a Rice University sociologist who has done extensive research on race and religion, said the association has long emphasized trying to increase its diversity even though churches remain deeply segregated.

“Although I don’t think they’ve been as successful as they would like, they have worked very hard at it,” Emerson said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.