Daniells, the General Conference president, wanted to see two strong churches — one white and one black — emerge out of the General Conference-funded, dual evangelistic campaign of 1902. The outcome instead was one white congregation and one, much larger “mixed race” congregation whose adamant opposition to the imposition of a color line in the church was rooted in their Adventist faith.
In Part 6, the stunning success of Lewis Sheafe’s evangelism during the summer of 1902 meant that Adventism’s first major racial crisis would come at the very moment of amazing opportunity in which the church’s message and its potential for healing racial antagonism was garnering extraordinary attention in the nation’s capital and beyond.
Developments seen in Part 5 placed the “living miracle” of interracial fellowship at the Adventist church in Washington, D.C. in serious jeopardy by 1901. Yet, core members of both races determined not to yield their gospel-based principles to powerful pressures both from society and within the denomination. Plans for a major evangelistic thrust in 1902 proceeded amidst two sharply contrasting visions about how the campaign would configure the church’s witness with regard to the nation’s original sin of racism.
In Part 4, we saw that the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit revived the Washington church during the 1890s, invigorating reform—in particular the gospel-based reform of race relations that the congregation embodied in stark contrast to societal norms. But this had never been easy, and it was about to get much tougher.
Could the Seventh-day Adventist movement shine the healing light of the gospel on the racism that increasingly enshrouded America’s social landscape as it entered the twentieth century? That’s what James Howard, the young physician and federal government clerk, envisioned when he became the first black person in Washington, D.C. to join the movement. However, Part 3 of this series concluded with Dr. Howard on the verge of despair, induced by a disturbing report in the Review, and the “wet blanket” that rumors of racial discrimination practiced by Adventists in another city had thrown his endeavors to share the message with progressive black Washingtonians.
IN PART 2, THE CONVERSION OF DR. JAMES H. HOWARD PROVIDED THE NASCENT ADVENTIST MISSION IN WASHINGTON A CRITICAL IF UNANTICIPATED BREAKTHROUGH TO THE WORLD’S LARGEST URBAN BLACK COMMUNITY. THE FIRST ADVENTIST CHURCH IN THE NATION’S CAPITAL, RACIALLY INTEGRATED FROM ITS ORGANIZATION IN 1889 FORWARD, BEGAN TO ATTRACT ATTENTION FOR LIVING OUT GOSPEL PRINCIPLES IN RACE RELATIONS AT A TIME WHEN VERY FEW CHURCHES IN AMERICAN SOCIETY DID.
During an era in which race relations worsened to their lowest point in post-Civil War American history, the first Adventist church planted in the nation’s capital was an interracial fellowship, described in 1899 as a “living miracle of the power of God” that surprised outside observers. The church was central to a saga played out on the stage of Washington, D.C., introduced in Part 1, that challenges us to re-think Adventism’s racial past and how it has shaped the present.
After months of delay, William Henry Branson, world president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, decided he could wait no longer. It was time for action. Five months had passed, and the Supreme Court had not yet issued the ruling widely anticipated to overturn the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896.