The Negro Department
From the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia (1996, Review and Herald Publishing Association)
In 1894 there were about 50 Black SDAs in the United States.
When the membership reached 900 in 1909, it was felt that to make a more
noticeable impact on the growing African-American population some form of
organization should be effected. Hence, at the General Conference held that
year the North American Negro Department was organized. J. W. Christian, A. J.
Haysmer, and C. B. Stephenson, in that order, were the first departmental
secretaries. In 1918 the secretary reported that there were a total of 3,500
African-American members in the United States.
When the General Conference department was set up, union and
local departments or missions were organized also. In the Southern Conference,
the Southern Missionary Society formed the nucleus for the organization of a
Southern Union Mission. The Southeastern Union set up a union Negro Mission
Department, and for a time the Southwestern Union had a Southwestern Union
Mission for Blacks. Most local conferences in these unions had a
African-American department or a committee.
The first Black minister to head the General Conference
department was W. H. Green, formerly a lawyer in the District of Columbia who
had argued cases before the United States Supreme Court. He held the position
from 1918 until his sudden death in October of 1928. To fill the vacancy, the
Autumn Council of 1929 appointed George E. Peters as departmental secretary.
After serving briefly, Peters went to New York City to stabilize the work there
because of the grave situation after the United Sabbath Day Adventist crisis.
Peters was succeeded by Frank L. Peterson, a pastor in Boston, Massachusetts.
Peters was again elected to the position in 1941, and in 1951 was made a field
secretary of the General Conference, the first Black to serve thus.
The name of the department was changed at the Autumn Council
of 1942 from Negro Department to Colored Department, as the nation grew more
concerned over integrating its African-American minority into the main current
of American life. The term Colored somehow appeared less harsh, less divisive.
To help with the medical needs of the various schools served by the department,
Geneva Bryan, R.N., was made an assistant secretary of the department in 1942
and served until 1947.
Regional Conferences Organized: In 1944 the recommendation
was made to organize full-fledged conferences of the African-American churches,
a plan that had been requested some years earlier by Black leaders but had not
then been considered feasible. The General Conference Committee in its Spring
Meeting voted: “We recommend, 1. That in unions where the colored constituency
is considered by the union conference committee to be sufficiently large, and
where the financial income and territory warrant, colored conferences be
“2. That these colored conferences be administered by
colored officers and committees.
“3. That in the organization of these conferences the
present conference boundaries within each union need not be recognized.
“4. That colored conferences sustain the same relation to
their respective union conferences as do the white conferences” (Actions of the
Spring Meeting of the General Conference Committee, Apr. 10–16, 1944, pp. 15,
The first to act was the Lake Union Conference, which called
a meeting of the African-American constituency in September to organize the
Lake Region Conference (begun Jan. 1, 1945). Others followed, until in 1946
there were five such conferences. Two missions (Central States and
Southwestern), which soon became conferences also, each with a full staff of
officers and departmental secretaries, started in 1947.
In 1951 the North American Colored Department was enlarged
by the addition of an associate secretary, Calvin E. Moseley, Jr., who
succeeded G. E. Peters in 1953, both as secretary of the department and as a
field secretary of the General Conference.
In 1954 Frank L. Peterson became secretary of the department
and also associate secretary of the General Conference. Moseley was named
associate secretary. The same year the name was changed from Colored Department
to Regional Department as a further attempt to soften terms that seemed
primarily to designate members on the basis of color.
In 1962 Frank L. Peterson was made a general vice president
of the General Conference, and Harold D. Singleton, former president of the
Northeastern Conference, became the Regional Department secretary, with Frank
L. Bland, former president of the South Central Conference, as associate
In 1966, when Frank L. Bland succeeded the retiring Frank L.
Peterson as vice president, Walter W. Fordham, president of the Central States
Conference, was elected associate secretary of the Regional Department.
Recent Events: In many places in which the social pressures
have lessened, previously all-White congregations have opened their membership
in recent years. In the 1961 Autumn Council, the General Conference Committee
voted a statement on human relations, quoting three of the extracts previously
cited in this entry (7T 225; 9T 223, 209); and in the Spring Meeting of 1965
voted recommendations as follows: “We recommend, That the following principles
and practices be adopted and carried out in our churches and institutions:
“1. Membership and office in all churches and on all levels
must be available to anyone who qualifies, without regard to race.
“2. In our educational institutions there should be no
racial bias in the employment of teachers or other personnel, nor in the
admission of students.
“3. Hospitals and rest homes should make no racial
distinction in admitting patients or in making their facilities available to
physicians, interns, residents, nurses, and administrators who meet the
professional standards of the institution.
“It is further recommended that these recommendations be
given very serious consideration and that every effort be put forth to
implement them as rapidly as is consistently possible” (Actions of the Spring
Meeting of the General Conference Committee, Apr. 13, 14, 1965, in Review and
Herald 142:8, Apr. 29, 1965).
In 1970 the General Conference Committee, at its spring
session, in response to the desire among Black Seventh-day Adventists for a
fuller involvement in leadership, passed what is generally referred to as the
“16 points.” Among these is an action stating:
“8. On the union conference level positive steps should be
taken to open doors in the area of administrative and departmental leadership
for those who have demonstrated their ability and qualifications to serve all
segments of the church. In unions where there are Regional conferences or where
there is an organized Regional department, the administrative officer level
should include black leadership.”
As a result, the seven unions with large Black memberships
have elected officers and departmental secretaries from among their Black constituencies.
Another of the “16 points” provided for a Regional
Presidents’ Council, which meets twice a year under North American leadership
and deals with problems distinctive to the regional work.
In 1975 the General Conference staff in Washington, D.C.,
included 17 persons elected to their positions from the Black constituency of
North America, including two vice presidents and an associate secretary. There
were also two persons in appointed positions.
Departmental Secretaries: J. W. Christian, 1909–1910; A. J.
Haysmer, 1910–1914; C. B Stephenson, 1914–1918; W. H. Green, 1918–1928; G. E.
Peters, 1929–1930; F. L. Peterson, 1930–1941; G. E. Peters, 1941–1953; C. E.
Moseley, Jr., 1953–1954; F. L. Peterson, 1954–1962; H. D. Singleton, 1962–1975.