Seventh-day Adventists have an inspiring and frustrating history when it comes to race relations in America. These episodes chronicle some of that history so Adventists can make historically-informed decisions going forward.
CHARLES M. KINNY
Charles Marshall Kinny (1855-1951) is widely considered to be the "father of Black Adventism." He was converted by John Loughborough and Ellen White in 1878 and campaigned for racial integration in the Adventist Church, though he accepted that integration wasn't always possible.
James Edson White, recently converted, built the Morning Star, a 72-foot (later 95-feet) steamer that traveled the Mississippi and Cumberland rivers with a team of missionaries to help freed slaves know Jesus. The missionaries also taught literacy, printed literature, and helped plant churches.
LEWIS C. SHEAFE
Lewis C. Sheafe (1859-1938) was a Baptist minister who converted to Adventism after a stay in the Battle Creek Sanitarium in 1896. Sheafe was called to evangelize Washington D.C., experiencing great success but also friction with the denomination over his desire for integration.
At the Southern Union Conference's first constituency meeting (January 3-13, 1902), General Conference president Arthur G. Daniells, with the "apparent assent" of Black preachers, brokered an unwritten agreement that Adventists wouldn't join any movement "to bring about an equality of the races."
James Howard was a doctor and government employee, as well as an elder of Sheafe's First Church. Howard opposed the Nashville Policy of segregation, arguing that "the white people are injured by such a course not less than the colored people."
JAMES K. HUMPHREY
James K. Humphrey was another Baptist minister who joined the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Humphrey pastored in New York City, but ultimately left the denomination after church leaders refused to establish regional conferences. Humphrey went on to form the "Utopia Park" commune.
"JIM CROW" LAWS
Some Adventist institutions began to adopt discriminatory "Jim Crow" laws. Washington Sanitarium refused to admit African-Americans, which Frank Peterson called a "slap" and an "embarrassment" and "unchristlike." Arna Bontemps admitted that "Jim-crow has steadily spread within the denomination."
Oakwood University had been founded in 1896 to educated African-Americans without inflaming racial tensions in the American South. In 1931, students protested against underfunding and policies of segregation by going on strike. As a result, James Moran became the first Black president of Oakwood.
In 1944, a coalition of Black Adventists successfully campaigned to establish separate, "regional" conferences. While not ideal, Joseph T. Dodson summed up the significance of this move by saying that Black Adventism had moved from segregation without power to segregation with power.
A number of Seventh-day Adventists supported the Civil Rights Movement, sometimes against the wishes of church leaders. A Black student at Union College was frustrated that the Church called for "the extermination of Sunday Blue Laws" but that "human rights... deserves no public mention" in the church.