Edson White and the Gospel Herald

Klossmeryl Bryan


The idea of exclusion of the African-Americans did not sit well in the mind of Mrs. Ellen White.  Her belief on this issue does 'indeed confirm the fact that God is not a respecter of persons, but wants everyone to hear the truth.  Over a hundred years have passed since Ellen G. White expressed her concerns 'in regard to the "Color Line"(Sepuleveda, 1997, p. 26).  However, today there are African-Americans in this country who have reached notable achievements in the spreading of the gospel.  Where did this all began, and what literature aided in the spreading of the gospel among African Americans? 

The answer to these questions will take us back to the year of 1849, which is the birth year of the man who responded to the call to evangelize the Blacks in the South.  The spreading of this gospel in the late 1800s through the work of Edson White, who informed the people of Jesus Christ and met their needs, led to the printing of the Gospel Herald.

Edson White was born into a family whose providence is closely aligned with the work of spreading of the gospel.  Edson White was the second son of James and Ellen White, born on July 28, 1849 in Rocky Hill, Connecticut.  Edson was born in a world of printing.  The Present Truth was sent, a few days earlier prior to his arrival by his father James White (Legacy of Light, CD Rom).  Edson began his career at the age of 15, working at the Review and Herald publishing plant in Battle Creek, where he mastered the printing trade (Legacy of Light, CD Rom).  James White, his father was the founder and president of the plant, which made an impact on the life of his son (Seventh-Day Adventist Encyclopedia, pg.


               However, Edson began displaying tendencies that worried his parents.  His dress was flamboyant and his behavior was unpredictable.  He also spent his money extravagantly, and showed little interest in spiritual things (Legacy of Light, CD Rom). 

            A few years later at the age of 19, his mother wrote him a special birthday letter appealing for him to commit his entire being to God.  In her letter to Edson, she urges Edson to began cultivating his mind to be holy.  She said if cultivated to be holy, he would then desire to have a relationship with the Lord and will begin to enjoy spiritual matters.  She made repetitive warnings against becoming a half-hearted Christian and to invest his time here for eternity. White, 1948, p.67). Her letter, which was full of reproof and warning, is as pertinent today as it was then.

At the age of 21, on his birthday, he took Emma McDearmon's hand in marriage.  His mother although quite concerned with his behavior, was pleased with his choice of a life companion.  Emma McDearmon was the sister of Frank Belden, Ellen White’s nephew.  Both Edson and Frank were musicians and showed talent as composers.  They worked on hymns for the church, which eventually led the General Conference to developed a hymnbook entitled Hymns and Tunes (1886), which was edited by F.E. Belden and Barnes. 

The General Conference turned to the J.E. White Publishing Company, Edson’ Company to accomplish this commission (Seventh-Day Adventist, 1996, p. 889).  Prior to this in April 1877, Edson was called to care for the business interests of the newly established Poetic SDA Publishing Association in Oakland, California (Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 1986, p. 889).  He led out in the first preparation of the first Seventh-Day Adventist Sabbath School songbook Song Anchor (Legacy of Light, CD Rom).  Since he was deeply interested in the Sabbath School work, he was led to attend the third annual General Sabbath School Association.  For six years, he was closely aligned with the work of the Sabbath School, serving on the executive committee, the publishing committee, and served as chair of the.  Sabbath School (Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 1996, p.889).

Edson engaged in several financial enterprises, most of which did not prosper.  Many times Ellen White offered him advice, and in letters after letters, she appealed to him to fully consecrate himself to God.  Edson's spiritual condition was a constant concern to his mother.  In his youth and early adulthood, he states that he had played no religious inclination although he kept his connection with the publishing interest of the church (Legacy of light, CD Rom).  However, not all hope was lost.  Prayer was continually made on his behalf by his mother Ellen White.  Just prior to the close of the 1800's, there was a religious awakening, and few were connected with the One whose existence is beyond the existence of our life.

            At the age of 44, Edson White, who was in business for himself in Chicago, experienced a noticeable transition in his religious experience.  His experience was deeply rejuvenated and felt that he should leave his secular business and return to work for the denomination (Reynolds, 1984, pg. 5 1).  His present involvement in his secular business had absorbed all of his time and as a result, the work of the church had faded into the background.  At the time of his religious awakening, there came into his hands a copy of "Our Duty to the Colored People (Released March 20, 1891), an appeal from his mother for Seventh-Day Adventists to engage in active missionary work for blacks.  This publication came from a sermon his mother's gave at Tabernacle church, in Battle Creek Michigan, in 1891 to the leaders of the General Conference.  The Seventh-Day Church, in the opinion of Ellen White, must grapple with an issue they had been skirted for too ling.  She felt that the African-Americans in the south had for too long been abandoned by the church.  It was time to launch reforms that would change the policies of the church (Sepulveda, 1997, pg. 26).

After this sermon given in 1891, Mrs. White is then sent to Australia to do work for the Lord.  Although, she is not convinced that this is where the Lord is leading her, but that in efforts to suppress the conflicting ideas that she maintained were words from the Lord, leading officials sought to take her from the forefront.  While in Australia, instead of keeping silent on th issue she wrote letters to the General Conference about the abandonment of the work on behalf of the Blacks. 

With great desires of realigning himself with the proclamation of the Seventh-day Adventist faith, Edson White set about to engage personally in educational evangelistic efforts among the Black people in the deep South (Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 1996, p.889). Prior to this, he wrote a letter to his mother in Australia on August 10, 1893.  He states: "I have surrendered fully and completely, and never enjoyed life before as I am enjoying it now.  I have for years been under a strain with so much to accomplish, and it has stood right in my way.  Now, I have left it all with my Saviour and the burden does not seem to bear me down any longer.  I have no desire for the amusements and pleasures that made up the sum of my enjoyments before, but have an enjoyment 'in the meetings with the people of God such as I never had before (Reynolds, 1984, p.51)."

Edson's idea to evangelize the South was not only a great enthrallment of his but several others as well.  Others shared in this idea and decided to discuss the problems in detail and cure them.  There was a revival at Battle Creek College and many were converted.  This revival was extended to the publishing house and to the church at Battle Creek; as a result, many lives were deeply committed to serving and fulfilling the purpose set by the Lord.  Among those, receiving a religious awakening at this time was Will 0. Palmer.  He had been brought up in Battle Creek, but left the faith and was engaged in business in Chicago.  In 1893, he received a letter from a friend to return to the faith and make a change.  He suggested that Palmer be appropriated for training through some classes offered in Battle Creek.  He took the letter to his wife and solicited her opinion, and her response was "Go!" By an unusual circumstance, Objected by some as the divine ordering of events, both Edson White and Will Palmer went to Battle Creek on business that summer (lbid p.53). They both met in the Bible training class and shared their convictions and what had God had called them to do.

Unsure of the fate of his decision to answer the call, his conviction was deep.  Moreover, just as quickly as the decision was made there was no delay on Satan's part to hinder his calling.  How must he fulfill this work, when his fate is already determined by verdict set by his previous lifestyle?  Some looked upon him as a maverick and a drifter, with a lingering suspicion among them about the stability of his future ministry (lbid, p.54). However, White's decision was impervious by the ridicule of his race and he moved forward with plans for unpromising fields, and neglected places to be laborious in the Lord's vineyard.  As it is when the Lord calls people from different occupations, he equipped them with the strength to go forward.

His first concern was to complete his business in Chicago and move to Battle Creek a step leading officials of the church advised him to take immediately (lbid p.55). After this accomplishment, he proceeded to concentrate on this subject, which became an essential topic of several conversations.  Because of these conversations, many were aroused with interest in this particular subject area. White attends the Bible Institute, which was located in Battle Creek, where many Adventist lay workers from many parts of the country had enrolled. Whiled Edson was there, he encountered Dr. Caldwell who had worked in the Negro community for some months.  When he returned, he bought with him two black newly converted men.  Edson White and Will Palmer talked with Dr. Caldwell and the new converts, and were both convinced that the work could be done.

The call in the South not only included the spreading of the gospel, but meeting the needs of the Blacks in the South.  It has been estimated that only 50 Black Seventh-day Adventist existed in the United states at this time ( Knight, 1999, p. 102).  The United States had passed the Compromise of the 1850.  Those reforms, packaged as part of the Compromise of 1850, kept the Union together a while longer at the expense of African American living. (Sepulveda, 1997, p. 14) In 1860 there would be a Civil War, a few months prior to that Ellen White pleads with the church for the welfare of the African- American slaves who had escaped their master.  Slavery is at its worse and the African-Americans in the South are suffering tremendously.  However, the church acts oblivious to the event that are taking place and Mrs. White tell them that God is going to deal with them harshly.  It is because of this that she writes her sermons and delivers them.  It is from one her sermons that her son decides to evangelize the South.

The ever-creative Edson soon corroborated with Will Palmer to build a "Mission Boat," and to enter into one of the most exciting chapters in North American Adventist Missions (Knight, 1999, pg. 103).  It is said that this idea sprang up from Edson's previous experience in ship navigation on the Mississippi River.  The privately owned Mississippi River Steam Boat was constructed in Allegan, Michigan, on the banks of the Kalamazoo River, and its keel was laid in March 1894. (Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 1996, p. 12 1).  When the boat was nearly finished, White and Palmer were called to a meeting in Battle Creek with the General Conference Committee.  They were accepted as regular workers, given credentials and were assigned to Vicksburg , Mississippi as the place to begin their work (lbid pg. 121).  On January 10, 1895, they would receive an eight-dollar weekly salary after three months in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

White and Palmer later traded some tools on their journey for a sunken hull of a barge, and distended the vessel.  The added height given from the hull allowed them to build inexpensive cabin. White recruited a company of missionary minded men and women who supported themselves and aided the enterprise by selling a small book written by J.E. )White called the Gospel Primer.  This was a Bible based textbook to be used in teaching Blacks to read.  The sale of this successful little volume, not only helped finance Edson's work, but also conveyed Bible truth.  There were twelve books published to support this ministry.

In 1896, White purchased Palmer's share and became sole owner of the boat.  After two years, the Morning Star was rebuilt.  The completion of this project offered a stateroom for workers, a chapel, a library, a print shop, a storeroom, a photographic room and a kitchen (lbid p.889). It was also in this year that White and his colleagues organized the Southern Missionary Society (Knight, 1996, p.69).  The Southern Missionary Society promoted mission schools and evangelism among the Black people in the Southern States.  It was a volunteered project supported by the sale of publication and contributions from the church at large.  The object of the society as stated in the Gospel Herald, was " to carry the principles of Christian education to the people of the South"(White, 1899, p. 105). 

It was 'in Yazoo City where they conducted schools, taught health principles and did evangelistic and publishing work.  During this time, Edson's ministry faced considerable opposition because of racial prejudice.  Despite such hardships, Edson's efforts were a success almost from the beginning.  Despite the numerous obstacles Edson faced, he constantly received encouragement from his mother Ellen White.  In 1897, Edson White was ordained to the gospel ministry (Legacy of Light, CD Rom). 

Then in 1898, he published on the Morning Star a 115 page booklet consisting of his (1) mother's initial appeals that encouraged him to enter the work, (2) nine of her articles published in the Review and Herald, in 1895 and 1896, presenting to the church its duty to work in the South, and (3) the conduct of missionary work among Black people.  This carried the title of "The Southern Work" (Seventh-day Encyclopedia, 1996, p.889). One of the appeals, which stirred deep conviction in her son, was published in the opening of the article.  It reads: "Sin rests upon us as a church because we have not made greater effort for the salvation of souls among the colored people.  It will always be a difficult matter to deal with the prejudice of the white people in South and do missionary work for the colored race.  Nevertheless, the way this matter has been treated by some is offensive to God.  We need not expect that all will be accomplished in the South that God would do until our missionary efforts we place this question on the ground of principle and let those who accept the truth be educated to be Bible Christians, working according to Christ's order". (White 1986, p. 15)

It is in this year that the Gospel Herald was published on the mission boat, called the Morning Star.  The Gospel Herald is dated from 1898-1923.  It began as a private project, edited and printed by J.E. White, in Yazoo City, Mississippi.  As stated in the first issue the object of the Gospel Herald was to awaken an interest in the South, especially in the Yazoo valley.  The desire of the interest to be awakened pointed in two directions First, in the crying need for missionary effort in both educational and evangelical work.  Secondly, in the unparalleled opportunities for energetic men in farming and business lines (White, 1898, p.6). It pledge was to aid in all possible ways to those who wish to become part of the Southern work as a business man, farmer, or missionary worker.  It also opened a window of opportunities for local publication.  Its resources and business opportunities were discussed from month to month.  As editor, Edson White related his deep conviction to spread the gospel.  He says” Gospel work will be well represented 'in the columns of this paper.  Our Savior " went about doing good ", He healed the sick, cleansed the leopard, gave sight to the blind and made the lame walk, and preached the gospel to the poor.  This was the whole gospel.  If this paper can bring education to the ignorant, aid and comfort and heal the sick, and give the truth of the gospel to the needy, its mission will be fulfilled7' (lbid).  White believed that the Gospel Herald would do a great work in the South, and therefore he put his mind, body, and soul into its publication.

They began the publishing of the first four volumes in Yazoo, Mississippi, then in Battle Creek, Michigan. (Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia p.621) Those first four volumes were called Gospel Herald (1); each volume from one to three had 12 issues.  The fourth volume contained fifty issues, which brought closure for this specific publication of the Gospel Herald (1).  It is under the last volume that White moved the Gospel Herald to his Gospel Herald publishing company in Nashville Tennessee.  Under new policy, it became an evangelical journal for Southern States, carrying general religious articles. (lbid) The sale of stock was far from adequate to support the work.  From time to time urgent appeals in behalf of various missionary projects were made in the columns of the organ society, the Gospel Herald.  White produced several books especially for the support of the activities of the society, from which all royalties were donated to its projects.  In the spring of that year, its publication was taken over by Southern Publishing Association, newly formed in Nashville, Tennessee.  This was the result of the merge of J.E. White Herald Publishing Company and the Atlantic branch of the Review and Herald Publishing Association (Seventh-day Encyclopedia, 1996, p. 62 1)

Throughout the issues of the Gospel Herald (1) many subject were discussed, they ranged from the biblical issues to thing about your health and various other subjects.  Several of the issues included a report of the financial budget and the progress of the work on a whole.  Each issues contained a solicitation to readers for more subscription for its financial support.  Since its primary focus was around African-American, its second issues involved the Oakwood Industrial School.  However, as time went on the Gospel Herald (1) began to experience major financial difficulty.  As a result, several columns in the papers were geared for solicitation, moving slow but surely away from its intended focus.

In 1899, the Gospel Herald includes is a column of explanation for the Southern Missionary excessive solicitation of funds.  Many question are written to Mrs. White in Australia about the subject matter.  In turn, she responds with answers that included advice to refocus and remember the reason for evangelizing the South. (lbid) At the beginning of the column, Edson makes this comment: "It is not to combat prejudice or to meet and controvert unadvised criticism that the following article is presented to readers of the "Gospel Herald' (Gospel Herald December 1899).  In 1903, the Gospel Herald is absorbed by Southem Watchman (Seventh-day Encyclopedia pg. 62 1).

During the absence of the Gospel Herald (1), the Southern Missionary Society does publish a magazine called the Southern Missionary, it is different from the Gospel Herald (1), and its title is temporary.  It is assumed that it came out not too long after the suspension of Gospel Herald (1).  Southern Missionary had nine unnumbered and undated issues in 1903.  Their official existences consist of one volume with 12 issues.  It is different from the Gospel Herald (1) and is considered the Gospel Herald (2).  This second phase was launched in Nashville Tennessee by J.E. White for the purpose of reporting and promoting the Black mission work in the South, after the original Gospel Herald had been changed to a church paper for the Southern Union Conference.  This second journal, called the Southern Missionary in volume 1, resumed with volume 2 the old title unused after the merge of the original Gospel Herald with the Southern Watchman.  In 1910, this second Gospel Herald became the organ of the newly formed Negro department of the General Conference, and the printing was taken over by the press of Oakwood College, Huntsville Alabama.  From then on it became primarily a news journal for the Black churches in North America the function performed by the North American Informant (lbid).

The development of the Gospel Herald's history shows the work that can be accomplished when answering to the call of Christ's commission.  Despite misfortune, disappointment and criticism, we can clearly see Edson White's decision to desert the board way of destruction and advance on the path of Christ.  It can only be through an estimated number of exactly how many needs were met through the work of Edson White.  The publishing of the Gospel Herald kept workers and people abreast of the advancement of the work of the gospel. While experiencing highs and lows the Gospel Herald, manage to experience a total of 23 years.  It is 'indeed amazing the work accomplished by the publishing ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist church.  Mrs. White must have been amazed at the work accomplished by her son, and the same could be said of his father if he were alive to see it.  Indeed history has once again shown the blessing and prosperity received in spreading the gospel.  We have ever before us a commission to go and preach this gospel.




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Christian Community (I 997)


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Ellen White, "Our Duty to the Colored People" (Sermon given March 21,1891)


Ellen White, The Southern Work (Washington, D C: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1986)


Ellen White, Testimonies For the Church,Vol.2 (Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1948)


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George R. Knight, Meeting Ellen White (Hagerstown, NM: Review and

Herald Publishing Association, 1996)


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James Edson )White, The Gospel Herald (Yazoo City Mississippi: Vol 1 1898)


James Edson White, The Gospel Herald (battle Creek, Michigan: Vol 4 1899)


James Edson White, Letter to Ellen White.  August 10, 1893


Seventh-Day Adventist Encyclopedia, ( Hagerstown, NM: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1986)