Ellen White was comfortable around black people and counted many as personal friends in a time in which it was often prohibited for whites to do so. She visited the homes and schools of African Americans, and spoke at their churches. Further she condemned the institution of slavery and advocated for equal rights for black people during Reconstruction and Jim Crow. In fact, White became the foremost supporter, advocate and promoter of the development of the black SDA work.
The Hardy Family
It looks like a storm....We rode fourteen miles to Brother Hardy's. Brother Cramer did not give us the right directions, and we went four miles out of our way. Did not arrive at Brother Hardy's until dinner time. It was snowing fast. We were heartily welcomed by the family. A good dinner was soon in readiness for us of which we thankfully partook. This is a colored family but although the house is poor and old, everything is arranged with neatness and exact order. The children are well behaved, intelligent, and interesting. May I yet have a better acquaintance with this dear family.
Personal diary, January 25, 1859
Compassionate Heart—James White
While thus conversing, we passed the humble home of a colored washer-woman, who supported herself and five children by her daily labor. Said my husband, "Wife, we must look after this poor woman. Let us not, amid our busy cares, forget the poor souls who have so hard a struggle to live. It is well always to pay them more than they ask; and you may have clothing and provisions that you can spare them. It will be a small matter to us, but may be a great help to them." He continued, "Living where these poor people do, surrounded by the miasma of the millpond, they must have constantly to battle with disease and death. If I had means at my command, I would build suitable houses on high land to rent to these poor people. We will see what can be done to make their hard lot more comfortable." My husband was always a helper of the poor and the needy. He never knowingly oppressed the hireling in his wages. He was the widow's friend, a father to the fatherless.
Pamphlet 168 (1881), 55
Assisted by Etta Littlejohn
Note: While this section does not contain a direct quotation of Ellen White, it is a credible reference to her interaction with Etta Littlejohn, a black person who was one of the original Oakwood students.
Etta Littlejohn of Vicksburg, Mississippi was the mother of Charles Bradford and one of the original 16 founding students of Oakwood Industrial Training School (now Oakwood University) in 1896. After attending Oakwood she went on to Boston, Massachusetts to receive her nursing training at the Melrose Sanitarium (later to become New England Sanitarium). It was there that Etta attended Ellen White as a student nurse or chambermaid around 1905 and had the life transforming privilege of observing Dr J. H. Kellogg in surgery. One of her fond memories was that she had the privilege of assisting Ellen White, interacting and traveling with her. It worked out providentially that Ellen White and Etta Littlejohn shared several things in common. Edson White, Ellen White’s son, was pilot of the Morning Star steamer. The Morning Star was a major force in the development of the black work in the South and from it, Edson founded scores of “Mission Schools” for black people along the Yazoo River in Mississippi. It was on the Morning Star, shortly after he started his work in the South, that Edson taught Etta Littlejohn as one of his first students from the decks of the Morning Star. It was from this acquaintance with Etta that Edson, impressed with her wit and potential, recommended and arranged for Etta to attended Oakwood in its first year of existence. Etta’s son, Charles Bradford, former North American Division President, shared his mother’s recollections of Ellen White’s words about black people and the southern work:
“In her later years Ellen White was not one given too much talk. She was pleasant and kind, but mostly spent her time writing articles and books. She asked me from time to time ‘How is the work at the Oakwood School?’ Several times she expressed her interest in the students and progress of Oakwood and the work in the South. She had pleasant reflections on her visits to Oakwood and spoke highly of the students and teachers there. It was obvious that Oakwood and the work among black people meant a lot to her. To hear her speak so highly of Oakwood made me proud to have been a student there. One of my fond memories of my time with Ellen White was traveling with her to a speaking engagement in Boston, Massachusetts. I was inspired by her speaking and public manner. I have always had a deep and abiding respect for Ellen White, her kindness and her wonderful speaking ability. She was a great example to me in my own speaking and work for others.”
With a sense of affectionate nostalgia Charles Bradford noted that his mother carried out the Morning Star tradition as she accompanied her preacher husband, Robert L. Bradford, in ministry to numerous places in the United States. Etta later returned to Oakwood and established the foundation for the nurse training course. Together, Bradford’s parents instilled in him the love for ministry and the work of God among all people, but especially the oppressed and disadvantaged. From Ellen White to Edson White to Etta Littlejohn and beyond was passed the legacy of always “bringing to those in darkness the light of Him who is ‘the bright and morning Star”.
Interview with Charles E Bradford by Delbert Baker (1-19-10), Oakwood University. Also see Mervyn Warren, “The Legacy of Etta Littlejohn,” Adventist Review, May 24,15, 1990
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.
Our Duty to the Colored People, March 21, 1891
I promised the Lord that if I ever stood before the congregation in Battle Creek again, I would speak the truth just as it is. I might write it, and have written it, but it was like water spilled upon a rock. Now that I am here, I intend to keep the matter before you day by day during this conference. If there is any power that can raise the missionary spirit in you, God will speak to you. I believe God will pour out His Spirit on those that are here, so that they will come up to His help.
Have I not said enough for this time? I know there is much unsaid which I shall say later. I want to keep your minds stirred up by way to remembrance. Everything is being decided for life or death. We are working for eternity. The Lord is coming. I mean to bear a clean-cut testimony, and to bear it to all who have lost their bearings. I want them to know just where I stand. Everything that I have goes into the cause. All is God's, and if I can see souls saved, that is all I ask.
Talk given in Battle Creek on the SDA work among Blacks, April 25, 1901
I am burdened, heavily burdened, for the work among the colored people. The gospel is to be presented to the down-trodden Negro race....For many years I have borne a heavy burden in behalf of the colored race. My heart has ached as I have seen the feeling against this race growing stronger and still stronger, and as I have seen that many Seventh-day Adventists are apparently unable to understand the necessity for an earnest work being done quickly. Years are passing into eternity with apparently little done to help those who were recently a race of slaves.
Gospel Herald, November 1, 1908
I thank God that I did not neglect the colored people.
General Conference Bulletin, May 17, 1909
Black Church Visits
I spoke to the people on Sabbath morning, and as I saw the congregation, mostly composed of black people, bright and sharp of intellect, I felt that if I had dared, I should have wept aloud. As the people sat before me, I never felt more pleased to break the bread of life, and to speak comforting words to a people. My soul longed after them. When the old meeting-house in which they had met was sold, and was being torn down, the hopes of the people seemed to fall to the ground. They did not know what to do. Their enemies said, They have sold the meeting-house, and now they are going to leave you. But they were assured that a better house was to be built.
Then their courage rose at once. When I heard them singing in the meeting, I thought, It is not only they who are singing. Of those who are saved it is [said], God himself will rejoice over them with singing. If there was not on that Sabbath singing in the heavenly courts, then I am mistaken.
General Conference Bulletin, April 5, 1901
I have been quite feeble of late. I have done much writing. A week ago last Sabbath I spoke in the colored church. There was an excellent congregation. I had freedom in speaking.
Letter 357, 1904
When we were seated in the automobile, ready to return to Glendale, not a few colored sisters pressed about the conveyance to see and speak with me. They expressed their appreciation of the discourse. Cheerfulness and happiness was expressed in their countenances, and it was a scene of cheerful parting. I shall long remember that interesting meeting, and the stillness and peacefulness expressed in the countenances of both white and colored people.
Letter 36, 1910
Supporter to the End
The colored people need help and education and training, and we are going to work to the point until a great work is accomplished. As long as God gives me breath, I shall bear my testimony regarding this matter.
Review and Herald, June 22, 1905
For many years I have borne a heavy burden in behalf of the Negro race.
Testimonies, Volume 9 (1909), 204
I have seventy-five dollars from Brother ____, tithe money, and we thought that it would be best to send it along to the Southern field to help colored ministers....I want it specially applied to the colored ministers to help them in their salaries.
Letter 262, 1902
Yesterday I had a visit from Elder Sheafe, who has charge of the church here in which both white and colored people assemble. He came to ask me to speak in this church next Sabbath. He will invite the members of the colored church to be present. Some little difficulty in regard to the color line exists here, but we hope that by the grace of God things will be kept in peace. Under the labors of Elder Sheafe, many colored people in this city have accepted the truth. Sixteen were baptized the Sabbath before last, and seven last Sabbath. I was only too glad to promise that I would speak in the church next Sabbath.
Letter 157, 1904
The Lord has given you tact and skill in knowledge to proclaim the last message of mercy to our world, that you might become a great blessing in Washington, D.C…
The Lord has greatly blessed you, Brother Sheafe…
Your soul is precious, and Christ will save you if you will be saved by purifying your soul through obedience to the truth.
Letter 44, 1907
For years I have done what I could to help the colored people…
Southern Field Echo, June 1, 1909
William Foy Interview
William Ellis Foy (c. 1818-1893), a black American in his early twenties, received several dramatic visions in 1842, several years prior to those received by Hazen Foss and Ellen Harmon. The first one (January 18) lasted two and one-half hours, and the second one (February 4), twelve and one-half hours! His physical condition during the visions resembled Daniel’s trancelike state. Sometime before October 22, 1844, Ellen Harmon heard Foy speak in Beethoven Hall in Portland, Maine. A few weeks later, shortly after her first vision in December 1844, Foy was present in a meeting held near Cape Elizabeth, Maine, during which she spoke of her first vision. The following is an interview that Ellen White gave as to her recollections on her interactions with William Foy.
Then another time, there was Foy that had had visions. He had had four visions. He was in a large congregation, very large. He fell right to the floor. I do not know what they were doing in there, whether they were listening to preaching or not. But at any rate he fell to the floor. I do not know how long he was [down]—about three quarters of a hour, I think—and he had all these [visions] before I had them. They were written out and published, and it is queer that I cannot find them in any of my books. But we have moved so many times. He had four.
I had an interview with him. He wanted to see me, and I talked with him a little….
He was a very tall man, slightly colored. But it was remarkable [the] testimonies that he bore….
He came to give it [a lecture] right to the hall, in the great hall where we attended, Beethoven Hall. That was quite a little time after the visions. It was in Portland, Maine. We went over to Cape Elizabeth to hear him lecture. Father always took me with him when we went, and he would be going in a sleigh, and he would invite me to get in, and I would ride with them. That was before I got any way acquainted with him.
It was there, at Beethoven Hall [where Ellen White first saw Foy]. They [the Foys] lived near the bridge where we went over to Cape Elizabeth, the family did.
Interview with D.E. Robinson, August 13, 1906