blacksdahistory.org

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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.

Humble Beginnings

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.

Name Change

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.

Today

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.