Ellen G. White Writings

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Messenger of the Lord, Page 215

tenacity, coupled with his mother’s encouragement, paid off with the establishment of a Seventh-day Adventist presence along the Yazoo River, at Nashville, Tennessee, and Vicksburg, Mississippi. 59Ibid., pp. 237-242.

Mrs. White saw the color-line issue in broader dimensions than most of her contemporaries. In a series of ten articles in the Review and Herald, 60The Review and Herald, November 26, 1895 to Dec. 24, 1895, Jan. 14 to Feb. 4, 1896; also found in The Southern Work, 19-65. after Edson had begun his work, she appealed to church members: “No human mind should seek to draw the line between the colored and the white people. Let circumstances indicate what shall be done, for the Lord has His hand on the lever of circumstances. As the truth is brought to bear upon the minds of both colored and white people, as souls are thoroughly converted, they will become new men and women.... Those who are converted among the white people will experience a change in their sentiments. The prejudice which they have inherited and cultivated toward the colored race will die away.” 61The Review and Herald, April 2, 1895, p. 210.

Ellen White closed the first of the ten-article series with an appeal and caution: “As a people we should do more for the colored race in America than we have yet done. In the work we shall need to move with carefulness, being endowed with wisdom from above.” 62Ibid. The remaining nine articles reemphasized the general concepts of the first article with several suggestions as to how White families should move to the southern states to share with the Blacks their knowledge of agriculture and other trades. The goal was to lead Blacks into their own self-help programs.

But time and circumstances soon changed. The closing years of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth saw whatever gains the Blacks enjoyed since emancipation reversed with a vengeance. The shameful, rigid, system of segregation emerged during this period, beginning what has been called the “betrayal of the Negro.” Some refer to this period as “the long dark night,” lasting to 1923. 63Graybill, Ellen G. White and Church Race Relations, p. 18. During this darkening night for the southern Blacks, in 1908 Ellen White wrote admonitions that have alarmed some people who read them in later years without understanding the frightening changes that had occurred subsequent to her strong, positive statements of 1895. For example, she reminded leaders that, from Australia years before, she had warned of the erupting color line crisis and how it would soon affect evangelistic work in the southern states. She cautioned: “Workers were to make no political speeches, and that the mingling of whites and blacks in social equality was by no means to be encouraged.... I said plainly that the work done for the colored people would have to be carried on along lines different from those followed in some sections of the country in former years. Let as little as possible be said about the color line, and let the colored people work chiefly for those of their own race. In regard to white and colored people worshiping in the same building, this cannot be followed as a general custom with profit to either party—especially in the South.... This is particularly necessary in the South, in order that the work for the white people may be carried on without serious hindrance. Let the colored believers be provided with neat, tasteful houses of worship. Let them be shown that this is done not to exclude them from worshiping with white people, because they are black, but in order that the progress of the truth may be advanced. Let them understand that this plan is to be followed until the Lord shows us a better way.... As time advances, and race prejudices increase, it will become almost impossible, in many places for white workers to labor for the colored people.... White ministers and colored ministers will make false statements, arousing in the minds of the people such a feeling of antagonism that they will be ready to destroy and to kill.... Let us follow the course of wisdom.... The time has not come for us to work as if there were no prejudice.... If you see that by doing certain things which you have a perfect right to do, you hinder the advancement of God’s work, refrain from doing these things.... All things may be lawful, but all things are not expedient.” Testimonies for the Church 9:199-215. In 1913, the President of the United States was still segregating federal office buildings in the nation’s capital. In 1890 Mississippi led the way in eliminating the Blacks’ right to vote; seven states soon followed. Lynching became a Southern racial phenomenon; some Blacks were burned at the stake. Major race riots occurred in both North and South.

Did Ellen White contradict herself? Did she set her sails depending on how the wind was blowing when she told church members, White and Black, in 1908 that Blacks should not expect or demand social equality and that Blacks and Whites should worship in segregated buildings? That surely sounds like a different Ellen White from the bold, clear-eyed leader in the first-half of the 1890s!

The answer to such criticism of Ellen White lies in observing several facts:

1. Her son, Edson, during this period, was demonstrating the principles that his mother had encouraged. He and his associates were working during the darkening shadows when “Jim Crow” racial segregation was sweeping the South. Edson’s mother kept close contact with him and from this correspondence we can understand where her heart was. Almost singlehandedly, mother and son, during the most difficult times showed the Adventist Church how to begin work in the southern states.

2. The rapidly changing circumstances in the southern states required timely, unambiguous counsel from the messenger of God who was able to see the big picture developing. Ellen White never advocated inviting the time of trouble before its time. 64“Let our workers be careful to speak guardedly at all times and under all circumstances. Let all beware lest by reckless expressions they bring on a time of trouble before the great crisis which is to try men’s souls.”—Testimonies for the Church 6:395. She recognized that the dawn of a better day would eventually brighten that dark night of shameful Black oppression but that “for this time” they must be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.’” The cautionary measures Ellen White advocated were “to be followed until the Lord shows us a better way.” 65Testimonies for the Church 9:214, 215, 207. She proclaimed courage because “God is laying bare His arm to do a

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