The preeminent figure
among black Adventists in the early 1880s, to the time when Edson White reached
Vicksburg in 1895, was Charles M. Kinny. Most of what Adventists learned about
the progress of the church among blacks during these years they learned from
Kinny's regular articles in the Review
Church leaders looked to
Kinny to develop the best methods of evangelizing black Americans with the
Advent message. When Kinny wrote to D. T. Jones, the General Confer-
ence secretary, asking whether he should
concentrate on preaching, Bible readings, or colporteur work, Elder Jones gave
him a free hand to experiment and determine for himself what the best methods
would be. “Your success or failure,” he wrote, “will largely shape the policy
of the General Conference in planning for the work among the colored people in
Charles M. Kinny was born
a slave in Richmond, Virginia, in 1855. He was ten years old at the end of the
Civil War, and as a young man he worked his way west to the rough and ready
town of Reno, Nevada. It was there, in 1878, that he attended a series of
evangelistic lectures by J. N. Loughborough. During these lectures Ellen G.
White visited Reno, and on July 30 she preached to Loughborough's crowd of 400.
Kinny never forgot that sermon. He accepted the Seventh-day Adventist message
and was baptized on the last day of September 1878. One of the seven charter
members of the Reno church, he was elected church clerk and secretary of the
Nevada Tract and Missionary Society.
We have no clues as to
how Kinny had been educated up to this time, but it is surprising that a young
man of 23 would immediately be thrust into such a responsible position. The
choice proved a good one. Kinny was a meticulous record keeper and
statistician. He was a clear writer and a zealous advocate of his newfound
faith. He wrote quarterly reports for the Review,
telling of the progress of the Nevada Tract and Missionary
So promising was Kinny's
work that local church members in Reno, together with the California
Conference, sent him to Healdsburg College (now Pacific Union College) in
California from 1883 to 1885 for further education. Mrs. White was living in
Healdsburg at this time, and Kinny must often have heard her speak during his
In 1885 the California
Conference sent Kinny to Topeka, Kansas, to begin work among the black people
there. He started on the first of June, and by mid October had canvassed a
third of the town with Adventist books and tracts.
In 1889 Kinny was working
among the black believers in St. Louis, Missouri. The church in St. Louis had
been organized two years earlier and by 1889 numbered more than 50. Many, if
not the majority, of the members were white, but there was a growing interest
among blacks, especially after Kinny's arrival.
It was here, in St.
Louis, that Kinny apparently made his first contact with race prejudice in the
Adventist church. He wrote nothing about his experience in St. Louis for the Review, and his letters for 1889 have
been lost, but we do have the letters written to him by D. T. Jones, General
Conference secretary at that time. In Jones's letters we have fairly good evidence
that Kinny was strongly protesting the prejudice he faced in St. Louis. Jones
did what he could to encourage his colleague. Kinny's encounter with race
prejudice in the St. Louis church is particularly interesting because Ellen
White visited the city shortly after he left, and she too observed the problem.
In 1891, in her appeal to the General Conference Committee for a more
aggressive work among black people, she recalled her experience in St. Louis to
point out racism in the Adventist denomination.
In the spring of 1889
arrangements were made for Kinny to go to Louisville, Kentucky, to take up the
work begun there by A. Barry, a former Baptist minister. Calls for black
workers were increasing by now, but A. Barry had been sent to Canada, leaving Kinny
as virtually the only black Adventist minister in the United States.
Kinny's Louisville work
represents his coming of age as a pastor-evangelist. On October 5, 1889, he was
ordained the first black Seventh-day Adventist minister. On February 16, 1890,
the Louisville Seventh-day Adventist church was organized, the second black
Seventh-day Adventist church in the world.
In August of that year Kinny went to work with the first black SDA
church, at Edgefield Junction, Tennessee. This church had been organized seven
years earlier in 1883, and Harry Lowe, a local member, had been granted a
ministerial license to watch over the little group.
From Kinny's letters
during this time emerges a picture of a lonely but dedicated pastor, moving
from place to place in Kentucky and Tennessee, encouraging a family here,
preaching in a courthouse there, debating with a Methodist minister somewhere
else. Kinny labored directly under the General Conference and sent a weekly
letter to the General Conference secretary, reporting his movements and work.
Kinny did not complain of loneliness, but certainly his work often
discouraging. He was unmarried at this time, and his labors were often
Charles Kinny was invited
to attend the 1091 General Conference Session in Battle Creek, Michigan. It was
at this session that Ellen G. White delivered her famous address, “Our Duty to
the Colored People.” Kinny also delivered a talk at that conference, outlining
steps he thought necessary to bring success to the work among black people.
The response on the part
of the white church at first was slow, but Kinny's work seemed to blossom after
the 1891 GC. On June 13, 1891, he organized the third black SDA church, in
Bowling Green, Kentucky. A year later, after nine months of work in New
Orleans, he organized the fourth black SDA church there. Two years later, on
September 15 and 16, 1894, he organized the fifth church among black
Seventh-day Adventists, in Nashville, Tennessee.
At the 1891 GC Session
Kinny had asked that a dedicated white minister be sent to the South to labor
among blacks fulltime. By 1894, this request was granted. As the Nashville
church was being organized by Kinny, a riverboat loaded with white Adventists
was heading down the Mississippi for Vicksburg. Edson White was captain, and
for the next half dozen years he would come to be spokesman for the work among
black people, doing exactly what Kinny had suggested, giving his whole time to
them, building up the various branches, developing native talents, educating
them, and getting them into the work.
Meanwhile, Kinny was not
inactive. He continued in the ministry until 1911, when, because of his wife's
illness, he retired. Kinny, always looking out for black Adventist interests,
was known to be the pioneer of the black (Regional) conference concept. He
lived to the age of 96, dying August 3, 1951, at the Riverside Sanitarium in
Perhaps there were other black ministers who, in
better times, made more converts than Charles M. Kinny, but no one faced the
lonely task he faced, and no one pioneered the work as he did. He can
unquestionably be honored today as the founder of black Adventism.