“Our Duty to the Colored People” is arguably Ellen White’s
most clarion presentation on the matter of race and the gospel. This landmark address was delivered to the
General Conference constituency on March 21, 1891, in Battle Creek, Michigan.
Pointed and direct, this speech may be seen as the catalyst to the Seventh-day
Adventist Southern work. Although largely ignored at the time and for a period
afterward, this speech would eventually ignite Ellen White’s son Edson to
launch an evangelistic campaign in the South that was unprecedented. Seven key
principles can be gleaned from “Our Duty to the Colored People”:
1. Equal love:
Christ died just as much for the black people as for the white people, and the
God of the white man is also the God of the black man.
2. Equal reward:
The black man's name is written next to the white man's name in the book of
3. Equal salvation:
Unless God's Spirit is in your heart, whether you're white or black, you are a
slave to sin and Satan.
4. Equal destination:
We are all journeying to the same heaven.
5. Equal relations:
God makes no distinction between the North and the South; therefore, we must
learn to live together here on earth before we can get to heaven.
responsibility: Let none of Christ's children be cowards in regard to the
work for the black race.
7. Equal priority:
Christ’s church must give the gospel to blacks, and it should be high on the
Our Duty to the
Note: This basic appeal was read by Ellen White to
thirty leaders of the church on March 21, 1891, in connection with the General
Conference session at Battle Creek, Michigan. Copies were soon furnished to key
men and especially the leading ministers in the South. Later this important
message was published in a 16-page leaflet. This is the opening article in the Southern
Work.--White Estate Trustees.
There has been much perplexity as
to how our laborers in the South shall deal with the "color line." It
has been a question to some how far to concede to the prevailing prejudice
against the colored people. The Lord has given us light concerning all such
matters. There are principles laid down in His Word that should guide us in
dealing with these perplexing questions. The Lord Jesus came to our world to
save men and women of all nationalities. He died just as much for the colored
people as for the white race. Jesus came to shed light over the whole world. At
the beginning of His ministry He declared His mission: "The Spirit of the
Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor;
he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives,
and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,
to preach the acceptable year of the Lord."
The Redeemer of the world was of
humble parentage. He, the Majesty of heaven, the King of glory, humbled Himself
to accept humanity, and then He chose a life of poverty and toil. "For
your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich."
When one came saying, "I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest,"
Jesus answered him, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have
nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." He, the Majesty
of heaven, depended upon the generosity of His followers.
Jesus did not seek the admiration
or applause of the world. He commanded no army, He ruled no earthly kingdom. He
passed by the wealthy and honored of the world. He did not associate with the
leaders of the nation. He dwelt among the lowly of the earth. To all
appearances He was merely a humble man, with few friends. Thus He sought to
correct the world's false standard of judging the value of men. He showed that
they are not to be estimated by their outward appearance. Their moral worth is
not determined by their worldly possessions, their real estate or bank stock.
It is the humble, contrite heart that God values. With Him there is no respect
of persons. The attributes that He prizes most are purity and love, and these
are possessed only by the Christian.
Jesus did not choose His disciples
from the learned lawyers, the rulers, the scribes, and Pharisees. He passed
them by because they felt whole, as many feel in this age, and prided
themselves on their learning and position. They were fixed in their traditions
and superstitions, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. He who could
read all hearts chose poor fishermen who were willing to be taught. He gave
them no promise of large salary or worldly honor, but told them they should be
partakers with Him in His sufferings. Jesus while in this world ate with
publicans and sinners, and mingled with the common people, not to become low
and earthly with them, but in order by precept and example to present to them
right principles, to lift them up from their low habits and manners. In all
this He set us an example, that we should follow in His steps.
Those who have a religious
experience that opens their hearts to Jesus, will not cherish pride, but will
feel that they are under obligation to God to be missionaries as was Jesus.
They will seek to save that which was lost. They will not, in Pharisaical pride
and haughtiness, withdraw themselves from any class of humanity, but will feel
with the apostle Paul, "I am debtor both to the Greek, and to the
barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise."
After my severe illness one year ago, many things which the
Lord had presented to me seemed lost to my mind, but they have since been
repeated. I know that which I now speak will bring me into conflict. This I do
not covet, for the conflict has seemed to be continuous of late years; but I do
not mean to live a coward or die a coward, leaving my work undone.
I must follow in my Master's
footsteps. It has become fashionable to look down upon the poor, and upon the
colored race in particular. But Jesus, the Master, was poor, and He sympathizes
with the poor, the discarded, the oppressed, and declares that every insult
shown to them is as if shown to Himself. I am more and more surprised as I see
those who claim to be children of God possessing so little of the sympathy,
tenderness, and love which actuated Christ. Would that every church, North and
South, were imbued with the spirit of our Lord's teaching.
While at St. Louis a year ago, as I
knelt in prayer, these words were presented to me as if written with a pen of
fire: "All ye are brethren." The Spirit of God rested upon me in a
wonderful manner, and matters were opened to me in regard to the church at St.
Louis and in other places. The spirit and words of some in regard to members of
the church were an offense to God. They were closing the door of their hearts
to Jesus. Among those in St. Louis who believe the truth there are colored
people who are true and faithful, precious in the sight of the God of heaven,
and they should have just as much respect as any [other] of God's children.
Those who have spoken harshly to them or have despised them have despised the
purchase of the blood of Christ, and they need the transforming grace of Christ
in their own hearts, that they may have the pitying tenderness of Jesus toward
those who love God with all the fervor of which they themselves are capable. The color of the skin does not
determine character in the heavenly courts.
"If ye call on the Father, who without respect of
persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning
here in fear: forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible
things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition
from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without
blemish and without spot....Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the
truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love
one another with a pure heart fervently." "Ye have put off the old
man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge
after the image of him that created him: wherefore there is neither Greek nor
Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but
Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and
beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness,
"Who," says Paul,
"maketh thee to differ?" The God of the white man is the God of the black
man, and the Lord declares that His love for the least of His children exceeds
that of a mother for her beloved child. Look at that mother: the sick child,
the one afflicted, the one born a cripple, or with some other physical
infirmity-how the mother labors to give him every advantage! The best food, the
softest pillow, and the tenderest nursing are for him. The love bestowed upon
him is strong and deep-a love such as is not given to beauty, talent, or any
other natural gift.
As soon as a mother sees reason for
others to regard her child with aversion or contempt, does she not increase her
tenderness as if to shield him from the world's rude touch? "Can a mother
forget her sucking child? yea, they may forget, yet I will not forget
thee." Oh, what impartial love the Lord Jesus gives to those who love Him!
The Lord's eye is upon all His creatures; He loves them all, and makes no
difference between white and black, except that He has a special, tender pity
for those who are called to bear a greater burden than others. Those who love
God and believe on Christ as their Redeemer, while they must meet the trials
and the difficulties that lie in their path, should yet with a cheerful spirit
accept their life as it is, considering that God above regards these things,
and for all that the world neglects to bestow, He will Himself make up to them
in the best of favors.
The parable of Dives, the rich man,
and Lazarus, the poor beggar who feared God, is presented before the world as a
lesson to all, both rich and poor, as long as time shall last. Dives is
represented as lifting up his eyes in hell, being in torments, and seeing
Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom-"he cried and said, Father
Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his
finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But
Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good
things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted, and thou art
When the sinner is converted he
receives the Holy Spirit, that makes him a child of God and fits him for the
society of the redeemed and the angelic host. He is made a joint heir with
Christ. Whoever of the human family give themselves to Christ, whoever hear the
truth and obey it, become children of one family. The ignorant and the wise,
the rich and the poor, the heathen and the slave, white or black-Jesus paid the
purchase money for their souls. If they believe on Him, His cleansing blood is
applied to them. The black man's name is written in the book of life beside the
white man's. All are one in Christ.
Birth, station, nationality, or
color cannot elevate or degrade men. The character makes the man. If a red man, a Chinaman, or an African gives
his heart to God, in obedience and faith, Jesus loves him none the less for his
color. He calls him his well-beloved brother. The day is coming when the kings
and the lordly men of the earth would be glad to exchange places with the
humblest African who has laid hold on the hope of the gospel. To all who are
overcomers through the blood of the Lamb, the invitation will be given,
"Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from
the foundation of the world." Arranged on the right and left of the throne
of God are the long columns of the heavenly host, who touch the golden harps,
and the songs of welcome and of praise to God and the Lamb ring through the
heavenly courts. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith
unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of
life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God."
Among what are called the higher
classes, there is a demand for a form of Christianity suited to their fine
tastes; but this class will not grow up to the full stature of men and women in
Christ until they know God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. The heavenly
intelligences rejoice to do the will of God in preaching the gospel to the
poor. In the announcement which the Saviour made in the synagogue at Nazareth,
He put a stern rebuke upon those who attach so much importance to color or
caste, and refuse to be satisfied with such a type of Christianity as Christ
accepts. The same price was paid for the salvation of the colored man as for
that of the white man, and the slights put upon the colored people by many who
claim to be redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and who therefore acknowledge
themselves debtors to Christ, misrepresent Jesus, and reveal that selfishness,
tradition, and prejudice pollute the soul. They are not sanctified through the
truth. Those who slight a brother because of his color are slighting Christ.
I call upon every church in our
land to look well to your own souls. "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in
the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus
Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" God makes no distinction
between the North and the South. Whatever may be your prejudices, your
wonderful prudence, do not lose sight of this fact, that unless you put on
Christ, and His Spirit dwells in you, you are slaves of sin and of Satan. Many
who claim to be children of God are children of the wicked one, and have all
his passions, his prejudices, his evil spirit, his unlovely traits of
character. But the soul that is indeed transformed will not despise anyone whom
Christ has purchased with His own blood.
Men may have both hereditary and
cultivated prejudices, but when the love of Jesus fills the heart, and they
become one with Christ, they will have the same spirit that He had. If a
colored brother sits by their side, they will not be offended or despise him.
They are journeying to the same heaven, and will be seated at the same table to
eat bread in the kingdom of God. If Jesus is abiding in our hearts we cannot
despise the colored man who has the same Savior abiding in his heart. When
these unchristian prejudices are broken down, more earnest effort will be put
forth to do missionary work among the colored race.
When the Hebrew people were
suffering cruel oppression under the hand of their taskmasters, the Lord looked
upon them, and He called Israel His son. He bade Moses go to Pharaoh with the
message, "Israel is my son, even my firstborn. And I say unto thee, Let my
son go, that he may serve me." The Lord did not wait until His people went
forth and stood in triumph on the shores of the Red Sea before He called Israel
His son, but while they were under oppression, degraded, downtrodden, suffering
all that the power and the invention of the Egyptians could impose to make
their lives bitter and to destroy them, then God undertakes their cause and
declares to Pharaoh, "Israel is my son, even my firstborn."
What thoughts and feelings did the
message arouse in Pharaoh? "This people, my slaves, those whom the lowest
of my people despise, the God of such a people I care not for, neither will I
let Israel go." But the word of the Lord will not return unto Him void; it
will accomplish the thing whereunto it is sent. The Lord speaks in no uncertain
manner. He says, "Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to
let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn."
God cares no less for the souls of
the African race that might be won to serve Him than He cared for Israel. He
requires far more of His people than they have given Him in missionary work among
the people of the South of all classes, and especially among the colored race.
Are we not under even greater obligation to labor for the colored people than
for those who have been more highly favored? Who is it that held these people
in servitude? Who kept them in ignorance, and pursued a course to debase and
brutalize them, forcing them to disregard the law of marriage, breaking up the
family relation, tearing wife from husband, and husband from wife? If the race
is degraded, if they are repulsive in habits and manners, who made them so? Is
there not much due to them from the white people? After so great a wrong has
been done them, should not an earnest effort be made to lift them up? The truth
must be carried to them. They have souls to save as well as we.
At the General Conference of 1889,
resolutions were presented in regard to the color line. Such action is not
called for. Let not men take the place of God, but stand aside in awe, and let
God work upon human hearts, both white and black, in His own way. He will
adjust all these perplexing questions. We need not prescribe a definite plan of
working. Leave an opportunity for God to do something. We should be careful not
to strengthen prejudices that ought to have died just as soon as Christ
redeemed the soul from the bondage of sin.
Sin rests upon us as a church
because we have not made greater effort for the salvation of souls among the
colored people. It will always be a difficult matter to deal with the
prejudices of the white people in the South and do missionary work for the
colored race. But the way this matter has been treated by some is an offense to
God. We need not expect that all will be accomplished in the South that God
would do until in our missionary efforts we place this question on the ground
of principle, and let those who accept the truth be educated to be Bible
Christians, working according to Christ's order.
You have no license from God to
exclude the colored people from your places of worship. Treat them as Christ's
property, which they are, just as much as yourselves. They should hold
membership in the church with the white brethren. Every effort should be made
to wipe out the terrible wrong which has been done them. At the same time we
must not carry things to extremes and run into fanaticism on this question.
Some would think it right to throw down every partition wall and intermarry
with the colored people, but this is not the right thing to teach or to
Let us do what we can to send to
this class laborers who will work in Christ's name, who will not fail nor be
discouraged. We should educate colored men to be missionaries among their own
people. We should recognize talent where it exists among the people, and those
who have ability should be placed where they may receive an education.
There are able colored ministers
who have embraced the truth. Some of these feel unwilling to devote themselves
to work for their own race; they wish to preach to the white people. These men
are making a great mistake. They should seek most earnestly to save their own
race, and they will not by any means be excluded from the gatherings of the White
White men and white women should be qualifying themselves to
work among the colored people. There is a large work to be done in educating
this ignorant and downtrodden class. We must do more unselfish missionary work
than we have done in the Southern States, not picking out merely the most
God has children among the colored
people all over the land. They need to be enlightened. There are unpromising
ones, it is true, but you will find similar degradation among the white people;
but even among the lower classes there are souls who will embrace the truth.
Some will not be steadfast. Feelings and habits that have been confirmed by
lifelong practices will be hard to correct; it will not be easy to implant
ideas of purity and holiness, refinement and elevation. But God regards the
capacity of every man, He marks the surroundings, and sees how these have
formed the character, and He pities these souls.
Is it not time for us to live so
fully in the light of God's countenance that we who receive so many favors and
blessings from Him may know how to treat those less favored, not working from
the world's standpoint, but from the Bible standpoint? Is it not right in this
line that Christian effort is most needed? Is it not here that our influence
should be brought to bear against the customs and practices of the world?
Should it not be the work of the white people to elevate the standard of
character among the colored race, to teach them how Christians should live, by
exemplifying the Spirit of Christ, showing that we are one brotherhood?
Those who have been favored with
opportunities of education and culture, who have had every advantage of
religious influence, will be expected of God to possess pure and holy
characters in accordance with the gifts bestowed. But have they rightly
improved their advantages? We know they have not. Let these privileged ones
make the most of their blessings, and realize that they are thus placed under
greater obligation to labor for the good of others.
God will accept many more workers from the humble walks of
life if they will fully consecrate themselves to His service. Men and women should be coming up
to carry the truth into all the highways and byways of life. Not all can go
through a long course of education, but if they are consecrated to God and
learn of Him, many can without this do much to bless others. Thousands would be
accepted if they would give themselves to God. Not all who labor in this line
should depend upon the conferences for support. Let those who can do so give their
time and what ability they have, let them be messengers of God's grace, their
hearts throbbing in unison with Christ's great heart of love, their ears open
to hear the Macedonian cry.
The whole church needs to be imbued
with the missionary spirit, then there will be many to work unselfishly in
various ways as they can, without being salaried. There is altogether too much
dependence on machinery, on mechanical working. Machinery is good in its place,
but do not allow it to become too complicated. I tell you that in many cases it
has retarded the work, and kept out laborers who in their line could have
accomplished far more than has been done by the minister who depends on
sermonizing more than on ministry.
Young men need to catch the
missionary spirit, to be thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the message.
"Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to
fulfill the lusts thereof." Work in any capacity, work where God leads
you, in the line best suited to your talents and best adapted to reach classes
that have hitherto been sadly neglected. This kind of labor will develop
intellectual and moral power and adaptability to the work.
You must have the grace and love of
God in order to succeed. The strength and spirituality of the people of God are
manifest by the distinctness of the line of demarcation which separates them
from the world. The people of the world are characterized by love for earthly
things; they act selfishly, regardless of the principles which Christ has set
forth in His life.
Christians will manifest the
self-sacrificing spirit of Christ in their work, in connection with every
branch of the cause. They will do this heartily, not by halves. They will not
study their own aggrandizement nor manifest respect of persons. They will not,
cannot, live in luxury and self-indulgence while there are suffering ones
around them. They cannot by their practice sanction any phase of oppression or
injustice to the least child of humanity. They are to be like Christ, to
relinquish all selfish delights, all unholy passions, all that love of applause
which is the food of the world. They will be willing to be humble and unknown,
and to sacrifice even life itself for Christ's sake. By a well-ordered life and
godly conversation they will condemn the folly, the impenitence, the idolatry,
the iniquitous practices of the world.
The converting power of God must
work a transformation of character in many who claim to believe the present
truth, or they cannot fulfill the purpose of God. They are hearers but not
doers of the word. Pure, unworldly benevolence will be developed in all who
make Christ their personal Savior. There needs to be far less of self and more
The church of Christ is ordained of
God that its members shall be representatives of Christ's character. He says,
"You have given yourselves to Me, and I give you to the world. I am the
light of the world; I present you to the world as My representatives." As
Christ in the fullest sense represents the Father, so we are to represent Christ.
Let none of those who name the name of Christ be cowards in His cause. For
Christ's sake stand as if looking within the open portals of the city of God.