of the most tragic and effectively debilitating lies of the forced African
diaspora (as opposed to the voluntary black globability of the post-slave trade era)
was that dispersed blacks—wherever they were eventually settled—had no history. Before the contemporary notion
that history is meaningless or entirely fiction became de rigueur among Eurocentric
philosophers who already enjoyed the benefits of a richly documented past,
the lie that Africans had no history did not mean that their race magically materialized
during the Middle Passage, but that Africans had no past worth speaking
of. On the other hand—and only one hand
was said to exist—their white oppressors had a past so compelling that it
dominated the life of the displaced captives, from their given names to their
religion, which was reworked as a white saga where blacks were demonized and prematurely
phased out by a Noachic curse.
extent to which diasporaed Africans believed the no-history lie is
debatable. But certain post-emancipation
developments in the United States and the Caribbean revealed its success. First, the employment of the fetishization of
a glamorous Egyptian culture by black luminaries from Frederick Douglass to
Marcus Garvey to Cheikh Anta Diop for the express purpose of raising racial
self-esteem through a knowledge of fabled forbears substantiates that these leaders
perceived a void in the black psyche only history could fill. Second, able black historians such as George
Washington Williams, W.E.B. DuBois and Carter G. Woodson
identified as the most pressing of needs to educate African Americans of a lost—however
temporarily—heritage. Finally, certain
sociologists and historians identify the Civil Rights Movement of the 1940s-1970s
as the demand of African Americans for complete acknowledgment of citizenship
based on full humanity, a demand which only came to the fore through a collective reawakened
appreciation of their past.
Adventism arose from the African diaspora, and its history must be viewed
through a lens similar to that utilized by Ciro Sepulveda in On the Margins of Empire, which seeks to
understand early Adventist history through diaspora—first European then intra-American. Indeed, the acceptance of Seventh-day
Adventism by the first generation of black Adventists was possible because of
the transatlantic slave trade, and this is also true of second and third
generation black Adventists, whether from the United States or the
Caribbean. Only when Adventism was
introduced to blacks in southern Africa at the turn of the century (1895-1905)
were there black Adventists with no direct connection to the Atlantic diaspora.
Americans posses numerous heritages—racial, familial, religious, all rarely similar—and
this is especially true of African Americans; DuBois “double consciousness”—although
carrying a slightly different nuance—springs to mind. Components of their heritage were a painfully
realistic burden for black Adventists, roughly 60% who had to deal with the triple
strike of their ever discernible race (black), religion (Seventh-day
Adventists) and gender (woman). Thus
African American Seventh-day Adventist women of the pre-Civil Rights era have
often been commended for overcoming tremendous odds to achieve success.
from shame, early black Seventh-day Adventists were aware of and even celebratory
of these multiple heritages. From
prominent black leaders writing for Message Magazine, to laypeople putting on
church programs, black Adventists recognized the great disappointments of both slavery
and 1844 as integral and shaping developments in their past. Both showed God’s leading, despite—indeed,
through—the bitterness of heartache and trial.
Adventist ministers from Charles Kinny to Frank Peterson to Earl Cleveland,
although proud of the valor of the black response to gross injustice visited
upon them, increasingly combined their racial and religious histories by
presenting the Adventist message as the only remedy for the trauma and
brokenness of the devastation wrought on Africans in America, which
incidentally mirrored the devastation of sin on the human race. In this paradigm, one past speaks to another,
and the two merge to produce healing.
wave of black Adventist leaders like Owen Troy, Charles Dudley and Charles Bradford
illumined their Adventist heritage with their African past, identifying
precursors to Seventh-day Adventists in ancient Ethiopia, a people who
valiantly resisted Roman Catholic pressure to adopt a false day of worship, and
remained true to the seventh-day sabbath of Scripture.
In this paradigm, one past enables the other, and the two merge to
Both models proffer a compelling use of history, and a unique kind of historiography forged by an equally unique group of Africans in diaspora.