Angels in Ebony Fly Again

Angels in Ebony Fly Again

In this present age of technology, it is not uncommon to file information and then retrieve it from a hard-drive, disc drive, zip drive, flash drive, thumb drive and let us not forget, “The Cloud”!  Information is readily available from any of the aforementioned devices.  But there was a time when information, important information; glimpses into our history was preserved through the only drive available; the “human drive”. The drive and determination to let generation after generation know from whence they came and the proud heritage on which they stand.

This article is the result of an interview with Mrs. Joan Tynes as she shared memories from her and her brother, Jacob Justiss, III of their father, Dr. Jacob Justiss, Jr. the author of one of the very first books about Adventist African American History, published on January 1, 1975, Angels in Ebony.

Born on May 2, 1919 to Jacob Justiss, Sr. and Beatrice in Mr. Pleasant, Texas, Jacob Justiss, Jr. would have been 100 years old this past May 2, 2019.  He had three sisters, Marie, Valarie and Juanita.  Mr. Justiss moved the family from Texas to Toledo, Ohio.  Mrs. Tynes recalls being invited to Toledo 25 years ago to Morrison R. Waite High School where her father attended.  She remembers him telling them that though segregation was prevalent, he attended school in a mostly Caucasian district.  He shared that his classmates were German Jews, Irish and Polish whom he described as some of the “smartest people on earth”.  This required Dr. Justiss to dig into his books.  Education was not taken lightly in his home.  So when Mrs. Tynes returned to Toledo it was quite a joy to see some of his kindergarten classmates who remembered “Jacob”.  The High School was honoring her father in 1997 with the Distinguished Alumnae Award.  The award is presented to alumnae who have contributed significantly to society.

Mrs. Tynes continued with how the family came to become a part of the Seventh-day Adventist church.  Dr. Justiss had planned to attend Ohio State, but his older sister, Marie had begun taking Bible lessons from some Adventists.  Marie’s brother informed her, “She was crazy”.  But one lesson, The Sabbath, had always interested him and caught his attention.  As a result, Marie was instrumental in witnessing to her brother, her sisters and her father.  Mrs. Beatrice Justiss, Mrs. Tynes recalls did not join the church until her 70’s.

Dr. Justiss, instead of attending Ohio State, then went to Emmanuel Missionary College (Andrews University).  While in Michigan he pastored several churches including the Inkster, Michigan church where he was instrumental in building a church school.

In 1945, Elder Justiss decided to obtain his Masters of Divinity Degree from Washington Seminary (before the seminary moved to Andrews).  He was one of the first Blacks to receive said degree.

Elder Jacob Justiss, Jr. garnered the title, Dr. History.  This no doubt came from his love for history, his in-depth knowledge of history and his ability to make history come alive in the minds of those whom he taught.  Mrs. Tynes recalls that Elder John Wagner, desiring to meet the needs of the families on the East Coast wanted to open an academy, and thus Pine Forge Academy was birthed.  Elder Justiss, Jr. was one of the first History Teachers for Pine Forge, teaching there from 1946-1948.  From Pine Forge, Elder Justiss, Jr. went on to teach history for Oakwood College.

Many were the milestones and accomplishments of Dr. Jacob Justiss, Jr.  Principal of the Washington Union Academy; the Secretary of the “MV” Department of the Allegheny Conference and highly sought after lecturer to name a few.  Because of his extensive knowledge of Black History he lectured at PUC, Andrews, Oakwood, several Federations and Howard University.  His daughter, Joan, says of his sermons, “they were scholarly, vibrant and short!”

Another great accomplishment to be noted was leading out as pastor in the building project of the DuPont SDA Church in Washington, D.C.  The plans for this structure were first class and grand and did not receive the support of the General Conference at first.  However, the members of DuPont supported their pastor, some taking out second mortgages, loans and pledges to see this building project become a reality; with or without the support of the General Conference.  Eventually, the General Conference did sign on with financial assistance.

Because of his early years of interacting with Caucasians during his education in Toledo, Ohio, he credits that experience for assisting him in being able to relate and communicate across racial lines.  He established a good friendship with Elder Neal Wilson who supported Dr. Justiss, Jr. in his social activism; and because Elder Wilson did, he influenced others that it was okay as well.  Under consultation with Elder Neal Wilson, Elder Justiss started one of the first integrated churches in D.C.; The International Brotherhood Church.

Dr. Jacob Justiss, Jr. was not the only voice in his family that spoke for social activism.  His sister, Valerie, was an influential voice on the committees that helped to organize Regional Conferences.

When Elder Jacob Justiss, Jr. left the MV Secretariat, he began attending Howard University to work on his doctorate.  He also started substitute teaching in the inner-city schools.  While teaching these children he became more aware that “our” children had no understanding of their history and he wanted to desperately correct that.  Likewise, he knew that there were unsung African American heroes in the Adventist church who had pioneered for the cause of African American Adventists and he wanted to make sure the laity were made aware.  Thus Angels in Ebony was penned.  It is a concise book and purposely so.  Dr. Justiss humored, “everyone will not read a 500 page book like we will and I want this read!”  So, though it does not have a lot of pages, it has a lot of impact.

Mrs. Joan Tynes has taken on the project of re-publishing Angels in Ebony.  Upon his passing on April 23, 1978, there were a few books left in circulation and in the family’s possession.  Through the years individuals have asked for copies for dissertations, to replace lost copies or she simply gave them out.  She was approached by a few individuals, including Elder Charles E. Dudley asking when she was going to re-publish her father’s book.  Finally, a close family friend and friend of her father, Col. Lawrence Washington told her, “It was time”.  So he connected her with publisher and editor, Fred Williamson and soon (probably within a couple of weeks) Angels in Ebony will be in circulation again on Amazon.  She adds that she has included a page with some current day “Ebony Angels” who she felt her father would think have made a difference.

Elder Jacob Justiss, Jr. has quite a legacy and has left a rich history for us to read and absorb.  When asked, “Is there anything you think your father would like to say to the current generation of African American Seventh-day Adventists?”, Mrs. Tynes replied, “Look to your past for what you are standing on and look to your future for what you can do and don’t let your circumstances of color, finance, social inequality and education stop you.  Look back at these past Angels of Ebony and don’t let anything stop you.”

Submitted by Jill Edmond