The History of MESSAGE
Millions have read and been inspired by MESSAGE; however,
few readers know about its fascinating history--how it was started and
sustained. Readers deserve to know how MESSAGE has been used providentially to advance
the development and progress of Black people.
During the late 1800s MESSAGE, originally called the Gospel
Herald, was a premier religious communication paper for Blacks in the South and
the Mississippi Delta. It was designed to uplift the Black race, recently freed
from slavery. Its content aimed to educate its readers in Bible topics,
Christian living, the gospel, and practical living. One hundred years later MESSAGE
still aims to educate and uplift the Black race.
Founded in 1898 by James Edson White—son of Ellen G. White,
cofounder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church--the first nine issues of the Gospel
Herald were printed on board the Morning Star, a steamer that shuttled up and
down the Yazoo River in Mississippi.
In the 1800s educating Blacks was a dangerous and virtually
forbidden enterprise, so White housed the printing venture on board the Morning
Star for protection and mobility. If the climate became too dangerous in one
place, the Morning Star would move to a different location. The plan was
innovative and effective; however, White and his team were ridiculed, chased,
shot at, and resisted by disgruntled White Southerners.
Notwithstanding, as the communication link of the Southern
Missionary Society, an independent volunteer organization also founded by
White, the Gospel Herald sold hundreds of thousands of copies and became a
popular religious and educational magazine in the South. The catch line in the
first issue of the Gospel Herald best sums up its appeal: "The magazine
with a message is the magazine we want to hear."
On a Mission
Beginning with the first number of volume 4 (January 1901),
the Gospel Herald was issued in Nashville, Tennessee, where Edson White moved
the Gospel Herald Publishing Company, which also published books, magazines,
and educational materials for ministry to Blacks in the South. The targeted
audience of the Gospel Herald was the Black race in the South. The purpose of
the magazine was to teach and galvanize Black people to reach for a better way
of life--educationally, economically, and spiritually.
The mission to educate Black people came in part from Dr.
John H. Kellogg, famed superintendent of the Battle Creek Sanitarium, who
suggested that Edson White publish a paper carrying an account of the work
among Blacks. Initially, the paper was not to make direct appeals for finances,
but simply to represent the "character and needs of the work."
The Gospel Herald/MESSAGE was published at Yazoo City,
Nashville, Oakwood College, the Southern Publishing Association, and today is
proudly published at the Review and Herald Publishing Association. The Gospel
Herald continued regular reports on the progress of the Black work--development
of mission schools, medical missionary work, Christian help activities,
industrial training, and farm and business activities.
In its early years the paper fluctuated in number of pages,
ranging from 8 to 16. It proved an excellent means of communication concerning
the work among Black people in the South. In fact, its pages comprise one of
the most complete and reliable records of the Black Seventh-day Adventist work.
In the first issue of the Gospel Herald, in May 1898, Edson White, in his first
editorial, explained that the object of the magazine was to "awaken an interest
in the South." He identified his two editorial objectives as (1) the
securing of missionary effort and support for "both educational and
evangelistic work"; and (2) the encouragement of Seventh-day Adventist
families to move to the South to take advantage of the "unparalleled
opportunities" to start ventures in the business and farming lines. Edson
believed that the strength and progress of Blacks were dependent on securing
committed Seventh-day Adventists to live in the South, witness to Adventist
teachings, and either directly or indirectly, build the work and relations
between Blacks and Whites. Therefore, he initially targeted the Black
population living in the Mississippi and Yazoo valleys.
In 1910 the Gospel Herald became the official magazine of
the new Negro Department of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists,
and the printing was taken over by the press at Oakwood College in Huntsville,
Alabama (Oakwood is the Seventh-day Adventist Church's Black institution of higher
learning). From then on it became primarily a news journal for the Black
Adventist churches in North America. The magazine ceased publication for 11
years when Oakwood College began producing the Oakwood Bulletin, in 1923.
Publication resumed in 1934 under the new name, MESSAGE. This name change was
suggested 28 years earlier in a Gospel Herald editorial, which said the
magazine should be called The Message.
Until 1945 the work of the Gospel Herald/MESSAGE was carried
out under the leadership of White editors interested in reforming race
relations and building unity. In 1945 Louis B. Reynolds, the fourth editor,
became the first Black editor of MESSAGE. The 25-year history of the Gospel
Herald under that title provided insightful information of the actions,
personalities, and policies of Seventh-day Adventists leaders toward the Black
work in the South. It recorded the origin of churches, educational advances,
racial issues, and the general pulse of the work for Black people. Virtually
every major development in the Black Seventh-day Adventist Church is either
reported on, referred to, or intimated about in the pages of the Gospel Herald.
Throughout its colorful history and 12 editors, MESSAGE
has responded faithfully to the social, domestic, and spiritual needs of Black
people in the United States and around the globe. With its tasteful and
balanced articles, editorials, reports, and special features, MESSAGE is
distinguished as one of the oldest religious journals in America. It had a
humble beginning, but now its circulation is above 100,000. Faithful readers
are found across the U.S. and around the world. One hundred years after the
small beginning of the Gospel Herald in the heart of the South, MESSAGE
continues, among its numerous distinctions, its role as a Christian magazine of
contemporary issues and its status as the only Black religious and
international journal focusing on role models, positive Christian lifestyle,
and social-moral issues. Historically, MESSAGE has targeted and always
will target Black people, a minority readership, and those interested in
diversity. Finally, MESSAGE is still committed to its original
mission--education. That includes an emphasis on Christianity, Bible teachings,
and other practical teachings on success and positive living. Today, as 100
years ago, these characteristics make MESSAGE one of the most
distinctive and appreciated religious magazines in America.
-Delbert W. Baker was MESSAGE editor from 1985-1992.