The Idea of Race in a Christian Community

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1 The Idea of Race in a Christian Community

2 Ellen White On the Color Line

3 The Idea of Race in a Christian Community Ellen White On the Color Line: The Idea of Race in a Christian Community Ciro Sepulveda Editor

4 Ellen White On the Color Line Ciro Sepulveda 1997 All rights reserved Printed by Biblos Press ISBN #

5 The Idea of Race in a Christian Community Contents Preface... 7 Introduction: Elen G. White on the Color Line... 9 Part One A Brief History of the Color Line Our Duty to the Color People Part Two The African American Experience and the Civil War One: Work Among the Colored People Two: An Appeal for the southern Field Three: An Appeal for the South Four: An Appeal for the South Five: An Example in History Six: The Bible the Colored Peoples Hope Seven: Spirit and LIfe for the Colored People Eight: Am I My Brothers s Keeper? Nine: Lift up your Eyes and Look Ten: Volunteers Wanted for the Southern Field Part Three The Seventh-day Adventists Church, Africans-Americans, and Ellen G. White Conclusion Appendix An Appeal April

6 Ellen White On the Color Line 6

7 The Idea of Race in a Christian Community Preface In the middle of the nineteenth century, Ellen White, a self taught teen age country girl form a poor New England family, joined a group of Millerite Adventist in Portland, Maine that awaited the Second Comming of Jesus in Devastated when Christ did not return a the expected time Ellen White and her newly wed husband turned into to of the leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It would be hard to exaggerate her influence on the newly forming Seventh-day Adventits Church. Her writings inspired and influenced the founding of an educational strategy which today has become the largest Protestant educational system in the world. Her desire to help the poor and the sick led to the foundations of hundreds of clinics, hospitals, publishing houses, vegetarian restarurants, and health foor industries in all coners of the planet. Even so very little is known about her. She is arguably the most prolific woman writer of the nienetteenth century, however 7

8 Ellen White On the Color Line outside the Seventh-day Adventist Community he name is unknown and her accomplisments go unnoticed. Before the Civil War Ellen White encouraged members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to disobeye the Fugitive Slave Law of the 1850s, which required all citizend of the Nation to return runaway slaves to their masters. Her words urged young men to shune the Civil War because she did not believe it to be a just cause. She inspired dozens of young men and women to leave the comfort of their homes, in the years after the Civil War and fan out in all directions to establish schools, clinis, self supporting business. She was especially interested that they go into the AFrican-American Communities of the Deep South. He authority led to city missions in most of the large cities of the United States prior to the establishment of Social Work as an academic discipline. I can think of few historical figures that have had so much influenc on society, yet continue to linger in the shadows of the unknown. This book is an attempt to give her the attention she merits especially in her attitude towards race and the question of the color line. Ciro Sepulveda Leominster, MA April

9 The Idea of Race in a Christian Community Introduction: Ellen G. White on the Color Line In the summer of 1848 Frederick Douglass, the famous abolitionist and former slave, walked into the halls of Seward Seminary in Rochester, New York, with his nine-year-old daughter, Rosetta, at his side. The little girl looked in all directions, knowing that the school might be the place where she would be going to school for the first time in her life. A nervous smile garlanded her face as she listened to her father speak to Miss Tracy, the principal. After the proper arrangements had been made, they walked out of the school with smiles on their faces. The daughter had been accepted and would begin school in a few weeks. 1 In September the term commenced and Rosetta arrived 1. This story appears in the Liberator, the abolitionist newspaper and may have come from Douglas news paper The Black Star which was published in Rochester, New York. The content of the information appeared in Frederick Douglas, An Open Letter, The Liberator, October 6, 1848, 1. The Black Star had begun publications a few years before Ellen and James White moved to Rochester New York where they published their own journal This story appears in the Liberator, the abolitionist newspaper and may have come from Douglas news paper The Black Star which was published in Rochester, New York. The content of the information appeared in Frederick Douglas, An Open Letter, The Liberator, October 6, 1848, 1. The Black Star had begun publications a few years before Ellen and James White moved to Rochester New York where they published their own journals and pamphlets. 9

10 Ellen White On the Color Line at the school expecting to join a class room full children her age. However, the teacher, who met her at the door, escorted Rosetta through the halls of the school and placed her in a room. Alone. There she stayed all day, with an occasional visit from one of the teachers. Frederick Douglass had been out of town, in Ohio, when his daughter started school. When he arrived he asked her, How is school? Nervous and visibly tense, his daughter looked at her father with tears in her eyes, and explained; I get along pretty well, but Father, Miss Tracy does not allow me to go into the room with the other scholars because I am colored. The following day Douglass walked into Seward Seminary, trying to be calm. Miss Tracy explained to him that after she had accepted his daughter, some members of the board spoke to her and objected to the presence of his daughter in the school. Miss Tracy explained that she had placed the nine-year-old in a room by herself, hoping that eventually the Board of Trustees would change their minds. She elaborated that she didn t know what to do, but explain to Frederick Douglass that she would ask the children if they wanted his daughter to be in the same room with them. When the children were asked, none of them objected, even when Miss Tracy tried to persuade them to do so. Eventually, in an attempt to get out of a very difficult situation, the principal told the children that they were to go home and ask their parents. If any one of the parents objected, the principle explained,rosetta would not be permitted into classroom. The following day, Rosetta arrived at school. When she entered the Seminary, one of the teachers awaited her arrival and asked her to go home. One of the parents, Horace G. Warner, who happened to be the editor of the Rochester Courier, the local news- 10 Frederick Douglas

11 11 The Idea of Race in a Christian Community paper, had objected. So Frederick Douglass daughter was barred not only from the classroom but also from Seward Seminary. However, that was not the end of the story. When the parents of the children in Seward Seminary discovered what had happened, several grew incensed and objected. They were infuriated that such an incident had happened in the school where their children attended. Some parents took their children out of the school. Others affirmed that they would not be sending their children to that school in the future. In a few days, Miss Douglass was accepted into a different school, in the city, and allowed to be in the same room with the white children. When the children discovered what had happened, they unanimously rallied around Miss Douglass making her feel part of their community. This story points to the heart of the nature of the society into which Ellen White was born. For several generations prior to her birth, the United States of America had been torn by race matters. Skin color had been growing as a defining issue of the times, a way many used to judged the value of a person. This was not an easy world to understand. At one extreme Caucasian, many who lived in the South, where approximately 3.5 million African-Americans lived, considered all persons with dark skin to be less than humans; at the other extreme a minority, who fought for the destruction of slavery, giving their lives to help the cause of justice. In between the extremes, a world of ideas and opinions shaped behavior when it came to the notion of race. How can one understand a nation that embraced democracy and appointed slave holders to the Supreme Court of the land? How can one understand a state that elected slave plantations owners to the Presidency of the United States? Or how does one understand the author of the Declaration of Independence, Jeffer-

12 Ellen White On the Color Line son, who wrote all men are created equal, but also beat his slaves severely whenever they tried to escape. The man who drafted the Bill of Rights, Madison, was a slave owner. And although Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, and Lincoln wanted the slaves to be free, they also believed free blacks should all be sent back to Africa. 2 Into this world of racial tension and strife, riddled with contradictions, Ellen White was born. A few months before her birth, during the summer of 1827, the first African-American newspaper in New York City, Freedom s Journal, reported that a slave in Tuscaloosa, Alabama had been burned to death by a mob of whites. The slave, driving his master s wagon, had been assaulted by a group of men looking for a thief. In self defense the slave had stabbed one of the assailants. The men captured, tied, and dragged him into town. There they tied him to a post and brought branches and pine knots which were placed at his feet. No one bothered to listen to the slave s story or have a trial. His skin color sealed his guilt. The crowd simply cheered as they watch the slave burn. 3 Such incidents had become commonplace in the South in the first half of the nineteenth century. At the other extreme of the issue, when Ellen White came into her youth, in the northern states some Caucasians had been organizing to abolish slavery for several decades. In 1850 thousands of New Yorkers flooded into the streets of the city to celebrate the return of James Hamlet who had been captured, in the City, nine Benjamin Schwartz, Wh This story appears in the Liberator, the abolitionist newspaper and may have come from Douglas news paper The Black Star which was published in Rochester, New York. The content of the information appeared in Frederick Douglas, An Open Letter, The Liberator, October 6, 1848, 1. The Black Star had begun publications a few years before Ellen and James White moved to Rochester New York where they published their own journals and pamphlets.at Jeffereson Helps Explain, Atlantic Monthly (March 1997): Freedom s Journal, August 3,

13 The Idea of Race in a Christian Community days earlier and returned to his mistress in Baltimore. When the New York community discovered what had happened, they rallied to raise the $800 to buy his freedom. Many white men donated funds hoping for the return of Hamlet to his wife and children. When he returned to the city, New Yorkers celebrated with a rallies, speeches and displays of joy and pleasure. One reporter estimated 5,000 people at the rally. 4 In this world African-Americans lived tenuous and uncertain lives. They needed to be constantly looking out for danger, threats, and coercion. Even in the North, where some Caucasians sided with them and fought for their freedom, life was not easy. Many of the abolitionists did not accept freedmen as equals. Harriet Stow Beecher, who wrote a scalding condemnation of slavery in Uncle Tom s Cabin, treated her black servants like second class citizens, at best. Several of the abolitionist groups which sprouted into existence in the northern states did not allow African-Americans to belong to their organizations; furthermore some abolitionist wanted freedom for slaves, but also that they be sent back to Africa. In 1851 the minister of the Baptist African-American Congregation of the City of Rochester, New York, fled to Canada. One hundred and twelve members of his flock joined him; only two remained. The clergyman, a former slave born in Kentucky, hurried out of Rochester, northward bound when the c o n g r e g a t i o n confirmed that the Congress of the United States had passed the Compromise of The mass migration of African-Americans who lived in the northern states grew out of reforms made to the See Benjamin Quarles, Black Abolitionist (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969). For this story and many more incidents of lynchings. Ibid

14 Ellen White On the Color Line Fugitive Slave Act of Those reforms, packaged as part of the Compromise of 1850, kept the Union together for a while longer at the expense of African-Americans living in the North. Among the many concessions, made by the northern states, were some that made it easier to return runaway slaves to their masters. Under the reformed laws, former slaves lost the right to a trial, the right to testify in their own behalf, and assumed the guilt of the slave rather than their innocence. 6 Hundreds of African-Americans joined the exodus from most northern cities. Forty former slaves fled from Boston within sixty hours of the Fugitive Slave Bill becoming law. The African Methodist Church of Boston lost eighty five members. The Free Baptist Church of the city lost forty of its one hundred and twenty five members. A Pittsburgh group of two hundred African-Americans left the city a few days before the signing of the bill. 7 This world of confusion and puzzlement shaped the thinking and values of Ellen White. She was born in Gorham, Maine where some of her neighbors were free African-Americans. 8 She had taken the side of the slaves as a child, when the Methodist Church in America split in two over the issue of Slavery. 9 She, and her family, rode in Reverend William Ellis Foy s sled when she was a teenager. Most histories of the United States describe the events referenced in the paragraph. For more detail studies of the effects of these events on African Americans see John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans (New York: Random House, n.d.). Herbert Aptheker, A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States (New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1973). 7 Quarles, Black Abolitionist, Two or three generations before the birth of Ellen Gould Harmon(her maiden name) some African Americans who had fought in the Revolutionary War had been given land in the Village of Gorham as a reward for their service to the Nation. Ellen Gould Harmon was born East of the Village in the same vicinity that some African American families lived. 9 The Methodist had been fighting over the institution of slavery for several generations in spite of the fact that their founder was completely opposed to slavery. The General Conference of the Methodist Church in 1844 was the last time that all Methodist in America came together as open one Church. Several ardent abolitionist had come out of the Methodist Church including Ellen Gould Harmon. See Charles Elliot, History of the Great Secession from the Methodist Episcopal Church in the year 1845 (Cincinnati: Wormstedt and Poe, 1845). Also for a more General History see Sydney Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972). 14

15 15 The Idea of Race in a Christian Community Foy was an African-American Millerite preacher. 10 She had attended Millerite meetings alongside of African-Americans who had accepted his teachings. And she had clearly become a radical abolitionist by the time she married. 11 In 1861 she wrote in the official organ of the Seventh-day Adventist Church; God is punishing this nation for the high crime of slavery. He has the destiny of the nation in his hands. He will punish the South for the sin of slavery, and the North for so long suffering its overreaching and overbearing influences. 12 A few months before the Civil War, Ellen White wrote to the members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in one of her first Testimonies to the Church pleading for the welfare of African-American slaves who escaped from their masters; The law of our land requiring us to deliver a slave to his master, we are not to obey; and we must abide the consequences of violating this law. The slave is not the property of any man. God is his rightful master, and man has no right to take God s workmanship into his hands, and claim him as his own. 13 Not only did she advocate that Seventh-day Adventists break the law of the land but she also admonished church members that they were to prepare themselves to go to jail if necessary. She criticized the Congress of the nation for recruiting young men into the northern army under the pretense that they were going to abolish slavery when indeed no such goals were intended. She labeled leaders of the nation, who called for a nationwide fast, hypocrites, because as they were praying for the abolition of slavery, they were also strengthening the power of Southern plantation owners to enable them to keep their slaves. 14 During the war, when some members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church began expressing sympathy for the Southern 10 See Louis B. Reynolds, We Have Tomorrow: The Stoy of the Seventh-day Adventist with an African Heritage (Hagerstown, Maryland: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1984). Delbert W. Baker, The Unkown Prophet (Hagerstown, Maryland: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1987). 11 Ellen White, Slavery and the War, Review and Herald (August 27, 1861): Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, California: Pacific Press, 1946), White, Slavery and the War White, Testimonies for the Church.

16 Ellen White On the Color Line cause, she wrote, There are a few in the ranks of the Sabbathkeepers who sympathize with the slaveholder. When they embraced the truth they did not leave behind them all the errors they should have left. They need a more thorough draught from the cleansing fountain of truth. Some have brought along with them their old political prejudices, which are not in harmony with the principles of the truth. 15 She wrote to a church member in Oswego County, New York, who sided with slaveholders;...god is punishing the North, that they have so longed suffered the accursed sin of slavery to exist; for in the sight of Heaven it is a sin of the darkest dye. 16 In 1891, after many requests Ellen White made in behalf of the African-American community, requests that fell on deaf ears, she went directly to the leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist church asking that they become more involved in working for the education and welfare of the children of African-Americans Southern states. For many years she had been pleading with church officials for schools and clinics in the South. Her requests were repeatedly ignored. After trying all avenues, with little success, she took the podium at the General Conference Session of 1891 blasting church leaders for their indifference towards African-Americans. 17 But even after her harsh speech(which is reprinted in this volume) the leadership did not move. On the contrary they began to scheme with the intent to move Ellen White out of the United States. Using her youngest son, Willie who was a respected minister, they were eventually able to persuade her to move. Reluctant to go she resisted the insistence of her son however the pressure continued until she gave in. A few months after her sermon, Ellen White boarded a ship that sailed for Australia, where she stayed for nine years. However the burden for the Southern work did not leave her mind. A letter to the president of the General Conference reveals her feeling on the matter; 15 Ibid. 16 This small book was first printed by James Edson White in his press on his steamship the Morning Star. It was later picked up by the Review and Herald Publishing Association. Ellen White, Southern Work, It can now be read in digitized form located at., 17 See Sermon she preached in 1891 which is reprinted in this volume. 16

17 The Idea of Race in a Christian Community Dear Brother [O. A.] Olsen:... I have not, I think, revealed the entire working that led me here to Australia. Perhaps you may never fully understand the matter. The Lord was not in our leaving America. He did not reveal that it was His will that I should leave Battle Creek. The Lord did not plan this, but He let you all move after your own imaginings. The Lord would have had W. C. White, his mother, and her workers remain in America. We were needed at the heart of the work.... But the Lord read the hearts of all. There was so great a willingness to have us leave, that the Lord permitted this thing to take place. Those who were weary of the testimonies borne were left without the persons who bore them. Our separation from Battle Creek was to let men have their own will and way, which they thought superior to the way of the Lord. 18 While in Australia Ellen White realized that the church was not going to act or take any concrete action in favor of the poor in the South. She kept in touch with the situation through letters to church members and her son Edson who during her stay in Australia began to work Among African Americans in the Mississippi Delta. Fron Australia she began to plead, through articles in the Review and Herald, directly to the members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. She asked the members of the church to give of their money, to move to the South, to establish self-supporting business, to run schools, become missionary farmers, and to open clinics. In 1898, in a letter to her son Edson, she wrote; I know that you are in a difficult and most dangerous field, made thus because of the prejudice of the whites against blacks, and because our brethren have not interested themselves personally in that field to decide how it should be worked. Our brethren do not yet have correct ideas, and they button up their coats over their hearts, hearts that should go out in sympathy and tenderness and encouragement to the laborers in that poor, destitute, neglected field After her return to the United States she continued to push the leadership of the General Conference with little success. A comment she made in 1902 reveals her frustration; 18 Ellen White, Letter to O.A. Olsen Manuscript Release # 10, Letter written from Australia to James Edson White in 1889, Letter is found in the White Estate Archives. It is letter

18 Ellen White On the Color Line The work to be done for the colored race is a large work and calls for a large outlay of means. My heartaches as I look over the matter that has already been printed on this subject, but which upon many minds has been of no more weight than a straw. Like the priest and the Levite, men have looked indifferent on a most pitiful picture and have passed by on the other side. For years this has been the record. Wealthy men not of out faith have given liberally for the establishment ot schools for the colored people, and some effort have been made to educate the poor classes of whites living in the South, but our own people have put forth only a jot of the earnest effort that they should have put forth. 20 She felt that the leadership of the Church was not being honest when it came to the work that needed to be done among African Americans. Her frustration Is revealed in a letter to her son; I can no longer allow false impressions to be made, without saying what I know to be the truth. I shall publish in book form what I have written in regard to the work in the Southern Field. I shall no longer handle this matter with the tips of my finger. Our people shall have in book form the facts of the history of the work in the South. When this book is out, I shall know that I have done my part to undeceive minds. 21 Although she ask one of her secretaries, C.C. Krissler, to begin collecting articles on African-Americans in the United States, so that she could write her book on race matters, she never got to the project. Five volumes of articles in scrapbooks were collected by Krissler. Apparently someone else did take the scrapbooks and wrote a book on the subject, maybe A.W. Spalding. The manuscript, Lights and Shades in the Black Belt. Containing the Story of the Southern Missionary Society, the Oakwood School, and the Hillcrest School was written, but to this day sits in the vault of the White Estate in Washington DC., unpublished. Several generations have passed since Ellen White passed away. Many Seventh-day Adventists continue to see her and her writing as a source of authority. However, many of her messages have been distorted and clouded with fuzziness. In the current liter- 20 Ellen G. Whiten. Letter to her son Willie White. Letter # Ibid 18

19 19 The Idea of Race in a Christian Community ature she no longer speaks like the radical abolitionist of the 1860s. She sounds less and less like a critic of the culture and more and more like a defender of the status quo. What happened? Why has a new Ellen White emerged in the Twentieth Century? How did she cease to be a cultural critic? During the 1950s a White Seventh-day Adventist congregation in the United States was startled one Sabbath morning by and unexpected visitors. During a regular worship service a family walked into the church and set the place abuzz. Members of the congregation looked at each other and stared at the newcomers in bewilderment. Most of the members in the congregation did not know what to do. Their values and culture suddenly came face to face with something they had never encountered before; A black family had walked into their church. When the family continued to attend to the services, the church board convened in an emergency meeting to deal with the crisis. Heated debates followed. Should they let the black family become members of the church, as requested by the head of the household? The father and husband of the black family happened to be a physician, who graduate from the nearby Adventist University Loma Linda University, and had requested to be a member of the congregation. At the end of the day Ellen G. White, the prophetess of the church, came to the rescue of the congregation. Someone located a statement in one of her books that seemed to support the stance that the members of the church wanted to take. They needed a reason to keep the black family from becoming part of their congregation. Armed with a paragraph penned by Ellen G. White the board voted to deny the black physician and his family membership in the church. In their rejection letter they state:...long standing policy of the denomination, fol lowing the counsel of the Spirit of Prophecy, to maintain separate churches for the colored and the white mem bership wherever possible. 22 Ellen G. White, the Spirit of Prophecy, argued the church 22 This story is found in Ronald Graybill, Ellen G. White and Church Race Relations (Washington D. C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1979). Ibid., 115.

20 Ellen White On the Color Line board, clearly taught against the intermingling of the races. The citation that the congregation used had been repeatedly used in the United States and all over the world to justify segregation. In many Adventist Colleges in Latin American the quote has been used by American missionaries to prohibited dating and marring between the races. At one extreme we have the Ellen White, who took a radical positions in terms of race in America. She fought against slavery, the oppressive conditions of segregation, and injustice and poverty. And at the other extreme sits a segregationist and racist Ellen White. Where is the truth? This book attempt a closer look at the question of race in the person of Ellen G. White. The volume is divided into three parts. Part one contains a chapter that helps contextualize a sermon that Ellen White preached to the delegates of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the spring of To help the reader understand her message with more clarity a brief history of the term color line is used. Skin color had become intimately linked to slavery in the United States when Ellen White was born. Understanding this figure of speech will enable the reader to understand her position on the question of race. In the first section the reader will also find the full text of the 1891 sermon. In the second section of the book the reader will find another chapter intended to contextualize the ten reproduced articles that follow in that chapter. These articles were written by Ellen White while in Australia during her nine year stay in that country. From Australia Ellen White went directly to the membership of the church, through these ten articles in the Review and Herald, asking for their support. She clearly believed that the Seventh-day Adventist Church had abandoned the African-American community in the United States while expending large amounts of money proclaiming the gospel in the other parts of the planet. In the third section of the book readers will find chapters on the Adventist, African-Americans and Ellen White. In this section the events that took place in reference to the color line during the life time of Ellen e receive attention. This section seeks to contextualize Ellen White in the light of the Color Line. Placing Ellen 20

21 The Idea of Race in a Christian Community G. White in the light of her times clarifies her position and helps to make her writings accessible to the modern reader. 21

22 Ellen White On the Color Line 22

23 The Idea of Race in a Christian Community Part One 23

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