History of Segregated Conferences

Posted on January 21, 2013


Jesus UnityAuthor: Ken Lytle

Shall we be the last of the Christian bodies to break away from our historic attitudes and chart a new course in our human relationships?  — G. C. President, W. H. Branson

Have you ever wondered why we have white conferences and black conferences?  How can God’s Church be segregated in the 21st century?  Why are our GC leaders not addressing this unity issue? 

Here is a little history about the formation of black conferences. 

The election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the beginning of World War II had a dramatic effect on American blacks, and indirectly on race relations within the Adventist Church.  From 1933 to 1946, the number of black employees on the federal payroll increased from 50,000 to 20,000. 

By contrast, at the end of World War II, at General Conference headquarters in Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, the only black among General Conference leaders was the leader of the Negro Department.  He and other visiting black leaders of the Church were still not permitted inside the Review and Herald Publishing House cafeteria, where General Conference leaders routinely ate lunch.  Neither Columbia Union College nor Washington Sanitarium and Hospital, both nearby Adventist institutions, admitted blacks. 

In this environment, the almost predictable incident catalyzing a change in relations between black and white Adventists occurred.  A black Adventist woman visiting relatives in Washington, D.C., suddenly fell ill.  Her sister drove her to the closest Adventist hospital, the Washington Sanitarium and Hospital.  The emergency room staff refused to care for a black patient.  The desperate sister drove her to the Freeman’s Hospital in another part of the city.  But before they arrived, her visiting sister died. [Source]

Outraged black Adventists organized a Committee for the Advancement of Worldwide Work Among Colored Seventh-day Adventists. 

This committee developed an eight-page document outlining three principle demands, which was given to the General Conference. 

  1. Integration of Adventist institutions
  2. Greater black representation at all levels of denominational administration
  3. Greater accountability from denominational leadership of black members’ financial contributions to the Adventist Church

The General Conference leaders informed the assembled group that integration of the Adventist Church on the scale outlined by the committee of black laity was impossible.  Instead, McElhenny proposed implementing the 1929 demand of J. K. Humphrey and others to create black conferences. [Source]

This is how black conferences were created.

These historical facts about our Church make me angry and disappointed.  How could professed Adventist Christians deny entrance to our black church members at the Review and Herald Publishing House cafeteria?  How could Adventist emergency professionals turn away a critically sick Adventist woman?  How could “Holy Spirit-led” GC leaders dishonor and deny black Adventists the same rights that white Adventists had? 

Why was our Church so slow to do what is right and why are we holding onto a remnant of this terrible history? 

Refusing to address the current segregation issue is allowing the “racism sin” of our past to remain alive.  Our new GC president and other leaders are working so hard to bring about unity with the Church, but will not achieve success until we desegregate God’s Church once and for all. 

GC and NAD leaders need to gather together white and black conferences and prayerfully work towards desegregation.  Some state conferences (white) officials need to be willing to step down to open up positions for black leaders (including Hispanics, Asians, etc.).  Black conferences, unions, and magazines can be closed and the work they are currently doing can be integrated into the state conferences. 

To make sure we are ministering to all cultures and backgrounds, local conferences can have Hispanic, Asian, and black relations departments.  These departments will be able to focus on specific needs that different groups may have. 

There is no need for segregated conferences, churches, and schools.  Let us stand up and speak up for Jesus… asking our spiritual leaders to address this “unity-killer” issue ASAP.  We cannot and should not keep quiet any longer. 

Please contact your local conference, union, division, and GC leaders, asking them to work toward desegregating God’s Church once and for all. 

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Unity Petition II