Ellen White and Black People

Ellen Gould White (1827-1915) was a cofounder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church—a global community of more than 20 million as of late 2016—and an individual that Adventists hold operated in a prophetic capacity. During her lifetime, White most often communicated to the fledgling church and its members via the pen in some 100,000 extant pages, which the Ellen G. White Estate has made available at Covering a diverse range of subjects such as theology, health, psychology, education, history, and personal spirituality, White’s writings have been sold and distributed in the hundreds of millions, the White Estate asserting that she is “the most translated woman writer in the entire history of literature, and the most translated American author of either gender.” More than a century after her death White is as influential as ever: in 2014 the Smithsonian Magazine named her one of the “100 Most Significant Americans of All Time.”


The span of Ellen White’s eighty-seven years was critical for the fledgling republic that was the United States of America, and equally for African Americans, whose approximate population in those nine decades grew from two million in 1827 to ten million in 1915. This period saw the institution of slavery at its strongest and most engrained; a costly and ruinous war that jeopardized the existence of America; the extinction of slavery and the emancipation of millions of blacks; the volatile subsequent decades in which African Americans were variously assimilated into free society, systematically oppressed in new, yet familiar, ways, and sometimes re-enslaved; and the migration of large numbers of blacks to the North in the quest for a better life.


In the voice of Ellen White, the Seventh-day Adventist Church had a prophetic commentary on these monumental developments. As the very length of this compilation bears out, White was prolific in her writings on slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, segregation, Jim Crow, race relations, and the black American experience in general. In particular, she stressed Adventists’ responsibility to repair the egregious wrongs and injustices perpetrated on African Americans by engaging in systematic efforts in the South to educate, evangelize, and better their quality of life. Beyond this, White was cognizant of the progenitors of African Americans and their history. In her writings, she discusses Africans in the Bible at length, and remarks on African societies in the Middle Ages and those contemporaneous with her.


Throughout the span of her life, Ellen White maintained friendships with African Americans, kept correspondence with them, lodged at their houses, spoke at black churches and schools, and raised thousands of dollars for programs for blacks. Famously, her son and daughter-in-law, James Edson and Emma White, cofounded the Southern Missionary Society, an evangelistic group largely responsible for laying the foundation for the black work in the southern United States, where the majority of African Americans resided at the time. The black membership in the United States currently numbers approximately 300,000.


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