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Firsts

Compiled by Benjamin Baker

This page features black Adventists in the United States who were the first blacks or women in their respective fields, positions, or accomplishments.  This website welcomes submissions for this page here

Civil Rights and Social Work

Mary Britton
Mary Britton

Britton (1855-1925) was Kentucky's first woman licensed medical doctor. Throughout her life she advocated for the civil rights of blacks, women, and the poor. Her activism was immortalized by Paul Lawrence Dunbar in his poem "To Miss Mary Britton," which he wrote after witnessing her give a speech to the Kentucky legislature for the desegregation of public transportation in 1893.

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Rosetta Douglass Sprague
Rosetta Douglass Sprague

Sprague (1839-1906) was the daughter of famed abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass. After she converted to Adventism around 1889, she continued to operate as her father's assistant and spoke out against racial injustice in the Adventist Church.

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Sevell C. Brown III
Sevell C. Brown III

Brown and his brother, Darryl, founded the first Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) chapter in Central Florida. For more than fifty years, Brown has organized and led civil rights initiatives.

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Mary Britton
Mary Britton

Britton (1855-1925) was Kentucky's first woman licensed medical doctor. Throughout her life she advocated for the civil rights of blacks, women, and the poor. Her activism was immortalized by Paul Lawrence Dunbar in his poem "To Miss Mary Britton," which he wrote after witnessing her give a speech to the Kentucky legislature for the desegregation of public transportation in 1893.

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Education

Eugene Hardy
Eugene Hardy

Hardy graduated from high school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1877, believed to be the first black to graduate from high school in the state of Michigan.

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Jessie Dorsey Green
Jessie Dorsey Green

Green (1874-1971) cofounded Voorhees College with Elizabeth Evelyn Wright in 1897.

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Sydney Freeman
Sydney Freeman

In 2021, Freeman became the first African American man, descended from slaves, to earn full professor at the University of Idaho. He was 36 years old.

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Eugene Hardy
Eugene Hardy

Hardy graduated from high school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1877, believed to be the first black to graduate from high school in the state of Michigan.

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Medicine

Ruth Temple
Ruth Temple

Temple (1892-1984) in 1918 was the first black woman to graduate from Loma Linda University. That same year she opened the first health clinic in the medically underserved community of southeast Los Angeles, becoming the first African American woman to practice medicine in the city.

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Mary E. Britton
Mary E. Britton

Britton (1855-1925) began teaching at Berea College in Kentucky in 1871, the first black person to teach white students at the institution. In 1902 she became Kentucky's first woman licensed medical doctor.

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Wayne L. Greaves
Wayne L. Greaves

Infectious disease specialist Greaves was one of the first to warn of the peril of HIV/AIDS for black people. He provided expertise on the epidemic to the CDC, USAID, Planned Parenthood, and several US cities and African nations.

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Ruth Temple
Ruth Temple

Temple (1892-1984) in 1918 was the first black woman to graduate from Loma Linda University. That same year she opened the first health clinic in the medically underserved community of southeast Los Angeles, becoming the first African American woman to practice medicine in the city.

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Politics and Law

William J. Hardy
William J. Hardy

Hardy (1823-1888) was elected supervisor of Gaines Township in 1872, becoming the first black elected to office in the state of Michigan.

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James Alexander Chiles
James Alexander Chiles

Chiles (1860-1930), a lawyer in Lexington, Kentucky, was forcibly removed from public transportation several times by employees of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad due to his race. He sued the company for damages, and in 1910 the lawsuit reached the US Supreme Court. Chiles was among the first blacks to argue before the Supreme Court, but ultimately lost the case.

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Ben Carson
Ben Carson

Carson was the secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 2017-2021.

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William J. Hardy
William J. Hardy

Hardy (1823-1888) was elected supervisor of Gaines Township in 1872, becoming the first black elected to office in the state of Michigan.

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Science

Robert Shurney
Robert Shurney

Shurney (1921-2007) was a trained physicist and inventor who famously designed the tires for the moon buggy used during the Apollo 15 mission in 1972. In addition, he invented myriad instruments that are still used in space travel.

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Milton L. Brown
Milton L. Brown

Brown was the first black to earn a PhD in Organic Chemistry from the University of Alabama in Birmingham. He has over 40 patents in his name and two of his invented drugs are in clinical trials.

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Robert Shurney
Robert Shurney

Shurney (1921-2007) was a trained physicist and inventor who famously designed the tires for the moon buggy used during the Apollo 15 mission in 1972. In addition, he invented myriad instruments that are still used in space travel.

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Other Firsts

Tuskegee Airmen
Tuskegee Airmen

The Tuskegee Airmen helped desegregate the US military and expand opportunities for black aviators. Martin Leslie Cook and Alfred McKenzie were both members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

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C.D. Brooks
C.D. Brooks

Brooks (1930-2016) in 1974 was the speaker-director of Breath of Life Ministries, the first continuously-running black religious television programming.

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Lloyd Henry
Lloyd Henry

In 2016, Henry became the first African American to complete an Ironman Globe Finisher.

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Tuskegee Airmen
Tuskegee Airmen

The Tuskegee Airmen helped desegregate the US military and expand opportunities for black aviators. Martin Leslie Cook and Alfred McKenzie were both members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

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Timeline of Black Adventist History

1865-1899

Compiled by Benjamin Baker 

1865  

 

May 17: 3rd General Conference Session, Battle Creek, Michigan.

 

May 23: General Conference Session resolves: “That a field is now opened in the South for labor among the colored people and should be entered upon according to our ability.”

 

December 25: Ellen White receives vision to establish a health institution. 

 

Churches: 140

 

T&O: $12,000

 

End Membership: 4,000

 

 

1866  

 

May 16-17: 4th General Conference Session, Battle Creek, Michigan.

 

June 12: The Visions—Objections Answered by Uriah Smith is published.

 

September 5: Western Health Reform Institute in Battle Creek, Michigan, opens for patients.

 

Churches: 150

 

End Membership: 4,250

 

 

 

1867              

 

May 14-May 19: 5th General Conference Session, Battle Creek, Michigan.

 

Churches: 160

 

End Membership: 4,320

 

 

 

1868  

 

May 12-May 18: 6th General Conference Session, Battle Creek, Michigan.

 

December 25: John West, believed to be the second black Seventh-day Adventist minister, dies in Peterboro, New York.

 

Churches: 159

 

Beginning Membership: 4,320

 

End Membership: 4,475

 

 

 

1869

 

May 18-24: 7th General Conference Session, Battle Creek, Michigan.

 

Churches: 167

 

Beginning Membership: 4,475

 

End Membership: 4,900

 

 

 

1870

 

March 15-20: 8th General Conference Session, Battle Creek, Michigan.

 

December 20: William Hawkins Green is born in Lewisburg, North Carolina.

 

Churches: 179

 

T&O: $25,375

 

T&O (1866-1870): $103,157

 

Beginning Membership: 4,900

 

End Membership: 5,440

 

 

 

1871

 

February 7-February 12: 9th General Conference Session, Battle Creek, Michigan.

 

May 2: Elbert B. Lane, the first Adventist minister in the South, reports in the Review and Herald of holding meetings in a depot in Edgefield Junction, Tennessee, with "white people occupying one room, and the Colored the other." Black Baptist minister Harry Lowe embraces Adventism at the meetings.

 

December 29, 1871-January 3, 1872: 10th General Conference Session, Battle Creek, Michigan.

 

Churches: 185

 

Beginning Membership: 5,440

 

End Membership: 4,550

 

 

 

1872  

 

December 29, 1872-January 3, 1873: 10th General Conference Session, Battle Creek, Michigan.

 

Churches: 204

 

Beginning Membership: 4,550

 

End Membership: 4,901

 

 

 

1873  

 

March 11-March 14: 11th General Conference Session, Battle Creek, Michigan.

 

November 14-November 16: 12th General Conference Session, Battle Creek, Michigan.

 

Churches: 239

 

Beginning Membership: 4,901

 

End Membership: 5,875

 

 

 

1874

 

March 4: Anna Knight is born to Newton and Georgeanne Knight in Jones County, Mississippi.

 

June 4: First issue of Signs of the Times, edited by James White, is published in Oakland, California.

 

August 10-August 15: 13th General Conference Session is held in Battle Creek, Michigan.

 

 

 

1875              

 

April 1: Silas Osborn reports in the Review and Herald of four black converts from meetings he held in Powder Mills, Kentucky.

 

August 15-August 18: 14th General Conference Session, Battle Creek, Michigan.

 

Churches: 339

 

T&O: $33,156

 

T&O (71-75):  $147,690

 

Beginning Membership: N/A

 

End Membership: 8,042

 

 

 

1876  

 

March 31-April 6: 1st Special General Conference Session, Battle Creek, Michigan.

 

June 10: Lottie Cornella Isbell Blake is born.

 

September 19-September 24: 15th General Conference Session, Lansing, Michigan.

 

November 12 and 13: 2nd Special General Conference Session, Battle Creek, Michigan.

 

Churches: 398

 

Beginning Membership: 8,042

 

End Membership: 10,044

 

 

 

1877  

 

February 22: A report appears in the Review and Herald from Mrs. H.M. Van Slyke about a "colored school" in Ray County, Missouri, in which she taught black orphans to read the Bible.

 

May 24: William F. Minisee dies in Solon, Kent County, Michigan.

 

March 7: James Kemuel Humphrey is born.

 

September 20-September 28: 16th General Conference Session, Lansing, Michigan.

 

September 22: Lucille Lewis (later Byard) is born.

 

Churches: 478

 

Beginning Membership: 10,044

 

End Membership: 11,608

 

 

 

1878

 

 

January 3: C.O. Taylor reports in the Review and Herald that lawyer and planter W.F. Killen of Houston County, Georgia, is converted to the Adventist faith, along with his family. Killen states that "I have no trouble in getting my laborers (colored people) to keep it [the Sabbath]."

 

March 1-March 4: 3rd Special General Conference Session, Battle Creek, Michigan.

 

March 14: C.O. Taylor reports in the Review and Herald that a black minister in Worth County, Georgia, is keeping the Sabbath.

 

August: Charles Kinny/Kinney is baptized in Reno, Nevada, during a tent meeting conducted by J.N. Loughborough and guest speaker Ellen White.

 

October 4-October 16: 17th General Conference Session, Battle Creek, Michigan.

 

Churches: 549

 

Beginning Membership: 11,608

 

End Membership: 13,077

 

 

 

1879  

 

July 6: James Gershom (J.G.) Dasent is born.

 

November 7-December 1: 18th General Conference Session, Battle Creek, Michigan.

 

Churches: 599

 

Beginning Membership: 13,077

 

End Membership: 14,141