This article is the result of a follow-up interview with Mrs. Joan Tynes, in which she talked about the long-awaited republication of Angels in Ebony, one of the earliest books about Black Adventist History, originally published in 1975 by her father, Dr. Jacob Justiss, Jr. Concerned that a generation of Black Americans, and Black Seventh-day Adventists in particular, lacked an identity with the past, Mrs. Tynes shared, “my father’s motivation for writing Angels in Ebony was to publish a brief work that documented the history of black Adventism.” Dr. Justiss knew the book had to be brief in order to attract readership. At 158 pages, he thought it to be an appropriate length to interest, inspire and enlighten readers.
- E. Cleveland, in his compelling Introduction said, “Elder Jacob Justiss… has captured in writing much of the exciting history of the Black experience in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. The fortunate reader will for the first time in our history be exposed to the exciting sweep of events that make this amazing story.”
In the book’s Preface, Justiss tells of his conversion to Seventh-day Adventism as a teenager and how as a student at Emmanuel Missionary College at Berrien Springs, Michigan he, “was thrown into the midst of a small but elite group of Black students whose deep roots in the message started my inquiry into the unwritten history they, their families and others had contributed to our church.” He goes on to say the book, “is written especially for that lessening generation, those that built upon the pioneer work, that the prevailing custom of separate but equal welded into a compact church family, who remember when the work was personified by four men; F. L. Peterson, G. E. Peters, J. L. Moran and Dr. Harry Ford, enshrined in its few churches and institutions with the campus circle at Oakwood as its Mecca. It is also for those of this generation who want to learn about them.”
In nine chapters, Dr. Justiss traces “the connected sweep of God, movements and men” and covers the span of Black Adventism in America. Photos, which are sources of history themselves, have been weaved throughout the book to capture the places and faces of the historical narrative. Chapter titles and descriptions include:
- Chapter I, “Religious Beginnings in America,” is about the transfer of Africans from their homeland to the new world.
- Chapter II, “The Negro as Preacher and Prophet in the Awakening,” presents the little-known contributions of Negroes to early Adventist history. In this chapter Justiss highlights the contributions of Nat Turner, Charles Bowls, William Foy and others.
- Chapter III, “Lay Beginnings, Morning Star,” presents how laymen first began the work among Negroes after the greatest chance for evangelism in American history has just passed; then how J. E. White sailed into the midst of the fray in his missionary boat, the Morning Star.
- Chapter IV, “Organizing the Work in Perilous Times,” tells of the structuring, the hiring, the policies, and the men that shaped the Adventist work among Negroes. Justiss details how with men such as Laurence, Peters, Barry, Strachan, Kinney, Murphy, Sebastian, Buckner, Scott, Willis, Dasent, King and others, the black work grew from an estimated fifty Negro members in 1894, to around 900 by 1909, when the General Conference established the North American Negro Department.
- Chapter V, “Regional Conferences,” introduces the great laymen who loved their church and how working within constituted authority with great leaders within the church, they helped effect a great change.
- Chapter VI, “The Educational Work,” covers a period of transition without the church that greatly affected the growth of institutions within the church.
- Chapter VII, “The Medical Work,” introduces some well-known and some not so well-known heroes of the cross.
- Chapter VIII, “Later Chapters,” is about a number of things especially the contributions of laymen to the work.
- Chapter IX, “A Better Way,” identifies the refusal of black Americans to continue to accept the obsolete standard of second-class citizenship as the major issue of the 1940s through ‘60s. In this chapter Justiss details the actions taken by the General Conference to lead and model a movement toward greater togetherness and universal brotherhood including hiring, promoting, and training black administrators, as well as the passing of the Sixteen Points by the General Conference Committee on Regional Conferences & Human Relations.
As a backdrop to this extensive publication, Mrs. Tynes shared fond memories of what it was like growing up in the home of a prominent figure of the black Adventist work. She recalls their home being a gathering place. “Many of the people my father wrote about in the book, white and Black, actually visited our home. During his General Conference presidency, Neil Wilson would come by our home to talk with my father; as well as a few white ministers [who] would drop by from time to time to discuss work.”
When asked what motivated her to republish Angels in Ebony, Mrs. Tynes offered several reasons. One of the main reasons being the requests she’s received over the years for the book even though it was out of print. Grandchildren of the families that came over on the Morning Star are among those who want copies of the book to remember their stories. She also attributes the ongoing conversation about “why Regional Conferences” as a motivator. Additionally, every now and then she would hear references to her father’s work in sermons and as time went on, requests were made for the book as a source of reference from individuals working on their dissertations. For Mrs. Tynes, republishing the book “finally became now or never.”
Mrs. Tynes believes that if you know your history, then you can understand what is happening in the present. Though it is has been 45 years since Angels in Ebony was first published, Mrs. Tynes attests it is just as relevant now as it was then. “Pastors have talked to me about how things have not really changed—the racism is just not as blatant,” says Tynes. She goes on to say, “Brethren are going to have to fight today just as they had to fight in the past.”
Mrs. Tynes said, “Being a historian and lover of history prompted my father to write the book.” As did her father, Mrs. Tynes wants to share the knowledge and preserve the rich, unique history of Black Adventism, Regional Conferences and the strength of Black families. To this end, with the addition of some modern-day angels, Mrs. Tynes has republished Angels in Ebony, and it is now available for purchase online at jaedpublications.com.
ORCM Administrative Assistant