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A Place Called Oakwood

in 2008/Look back in history by


QAKWOOD COLLEGE, LOCATED IN Huntsville, Alabama, the only historically Black col­lege of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, is a premier educational institution. It ranks among the top IO schools in the nation that graduate students who continue on to medical school, and is also among the top 25 schools that graduate students who go on to complete dental school. According to the U. S. News and World Report, Oakwood has ranked among America’s best colleges in the Southern Region for IO consecutive years. It also has the distinction of being a leader in technology, collaborating with its neighbor NASA in groundbreaking research. Oakwood College’s alumni, hailing from more than 30 countries, are providing invaluable service to the church, the community, the country, and the world at large. Oakwood’s programs are designed to prepare students to face the challenges of modern life. The New Beginnings Single Parent Resource Center assists single parents who have chal­lenges to completing their college degrees. Also, as of this year, 2008, Oakwood has received accreditation approval for its first graduate level program, the Master in Pastoral Studies. Oakwood’s physical campus is also seeing many changes with the addition of the Bradford-Cleveland-Brooks Leadership Center (BCBLC) and the construction of a state of the art men’s residential hall. Recently, a Monument to Service Memorial was established along with an eternal flame, both representing Oakwood’s dedica­tion of service to humanity through the example of Jesus Christ.

NOT MUCH PROMISE Indeed, Oakwood College and its accomplishments are now legendary. Its beginnings, how­ever, seemed less than promising. The year was 1896. A 360-acre plot in Huntsville, Alabama, the site of a former slave plantation, was chosen as a location for the first Seventh-day Adventist advanced school for Blacks. The Alabama landscape was sloping and uneven; the red clay was hard as granite; dense brush encircled the property; the limbs of the trees sagged; derelict brush lay strewn all over; and the soil was barren from having been overworked. It took vision and faith to see a future in this unpromising plot in Alabama in the heart of the South 30 years after the Civil War. To make matters more challenging, barely enough funds were on hand to buy the property, let alone start a school. The General Conference was pressed for money, and the church leaders would be slow to funnel funds into an enterprise such as this. Conditions did not look good. In the midst of this challenging situation, a clarion voice was heard. It was a voice that spoke for God, convinced that this was the spot the Lord would have the denomination pur­chase for a school to train Blacks to be workers in His vineyard.

From the start Ellen G. White championed Oakwood’s cause. Unquestionably she is worthy of the title “cofounder of Oakwood College.” Throughout the subsequent years as Oakwood grew, Ellen White continually spoke out for the school. She did all in her power to make sure it prospered, writing, visiting, prodding, sacrificing, praying, donating, advocating, and crying for the then fledgling institution to fulfill its God-given destiny. As a result of her efforts and the sustained support of the General Conference and the world field, and subsequently the support of the Regional Conferences, Oakwood College is the success it is today.

CHRONICLES OF PROVIDENCE During its uoth anniversary year, Oakwood College collaborated with the Ellen G. White Estate to compile all of Mrs. White’s statements on Oakwood College. The project was at once enjoyable and daunting. It was ultimately fulfilling, though, and in doing it one could see clearly how God has led the Seventh-day Adventist Church and His plans for its educational institutions. From Oakwood’s founding to her death, Ellen White sat on the school’s board. Her counsel to Oakwood, found in speeches, letters, articles, diary entries, and books, can be applied to any educational institution, as well as the personal life of a Christian. Ellen White’s writings about Oakwood can be divided into five categories:

  • Circle of Providence: From its start God initiated His divine providence in the development and operation of Oakwood.
  • Conditions with Appeal: Mrs. White saw Oakwood as a place deserving of denominational funds and personal monetary sacrifice.
  • Support Educational Progress: Ellen White constantly pied for financial, spiritual, and missionary support on behalf of Oakwood and its Christian educational ministry.
  • Well-Rounded Instruction: Ellen White conveyed inspired directives about leadership, administra­tion, operation, curricu­lum, and other areas of Christian education.
  • Service Focus: She made successful appeals  to the students and workers of Oakwood to be spiritual, to evangelize the world, and to be constant in self-improvement.

Perhaps Ellen White’s oft-quoted 1904 statement at Oakwood best reveals God’s interest in this school, her pas­sion for its success, and the rich portents in the days ahead: “I am so pleased to see the colored students who are here today. I wish that there were a hundred of them, as it has been presented to me that there should be ….

“In regard to this school here at Huntsville, I wish to say that for the past two or three years I have been receiving instruction regarding it-what it should be and what those who come here as students are to become. All that is done by those connected with this school, whether they be White or Black, is to be done with the realization that this is the Lord’s institution, in which the students are to be taught how to cul­tivate the land, and how to labor for the uplifting of their own people” (The Gospel Herald, June 1, 1904). The recently established bronze Monument to Service created by sculptor Alan Collins now provides a 24/7/365 witness to the legacy of service of this place called Oakwood. It is beautiful to see through the pen of Ellen White and history how God established Oakwood and led it to where it is today. Oakwood’s success and God’s divine guidance are inextricably linked.


BENJAMIN BAKER is the author of A Place Called Oakwood, a comprehensive compilation of Ellen White’s statements on Oakwood College. He writes from Hyattsville, Maryland.


in 2008/Living Faith by

SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISTS ARE MESSAGE ORIENTED and mission driven. Rooted in the Great Second Advent Movement of the nineteenth century, their folk hero, William Miller, was a New England farmer who was first a Deist, then a Baptist lay preacher, and ultimately the leader of the great American religious awakening. Seventh-day Adventists were a coming together out of many denominations. They refused to be labeled, to be put in a box. They had something to share. One major text of Scripture was their magnificent obsession; it gave them focus and vision:

“And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” (Revelation 14:6,7).

They were a feisty, multicultural group who felt urged to get the message out in the face of ridicule and opposition. When their efforts seemed to flag, one of their number, a young woman whom they soon came to  regard as a prophet although she never made that claim, urged the group to stay on mission and message.

During the Reconstruction, the time after the Civil War when the federal government undertook the rebuilding of the South, Ellen White urged church leaders to go to work in that troubled area. “There is a great work to be done in the Southern field. This is one of the barren places of the earth to be worked” (Manuscript Releases, vol. 19, p. 247).

After years of further urging and chiding by pen and voice, even from faraway Australia, her own son, Edson, heard the call. Ellen White gave her son counsel as he shared his vision of building a missionary boat: “I see no reason why a boat should not be utilized in bringing to those in darkness the light of Him who is `the bright and morning Star” (Manuscript Releases, vol. 3, p. 2.70).

Edson and his good friend, Will Palmer, supervised the building of the boat in Allegan, Michigan, on the banks of the Kalamazoo River. They hired a crew and sailed to Douglass, a port on the east side of Lake Michigan. They then set out for Chicago, assisted by a fruit steamer, the Bon Ami. It was a night’s journey, and they ran into a severe storm. They struggled for 14 hours, but were spared. The captain of the boat that assisted them said it was more than human power that bro

ught them through. The rest of the journey south was less perilous.

But these young missionaries did not know very much about the dangers that awaited. Ellen White, though insisting that it was the Lord’s will that they go, at the same time warned them of the difficulties they would have to face in the Deep South. They would be looked on as Yankees, carpetbaggers, and troublemakers. The local people did not want an invasion of do-gooders teaching Black people to read and write and thus making them more difficult to control. Also the Black clergy would become upset when the former slaves were taught that Saturday was the Sabbath. The establishment of churches and meetinghouses threatened their power and influence. These White people from

Michigan were bold enough to have Blacks as crew eating and sleeping on the same boat. Finally, they docked at Vicksburg, Mississippi, a town still bitter about General Grant’s merciless siege of their proud city during the war.

My interest in this is quite personal: my mother was a girl of about 14 at the time. Her family—mother, aunts, uncles, and cousins—came to see this strange sight—a boat that was a church, schoolhouse, occasional clinic, and dormitory. The ship’s deck was 105 feet long and 24 feet across. There was a boiler room and printing presses, two staterooms, and a dining room. The boat had two paddle wheels. The people flocked to see it. The presses were kept busy publishing tracts and schoolbooks. Some of the people became firm believers in the message of hope and salvation they heard and saw on the boat.

Of course, there were bumps in the road. At times the Morning Star people were forced to change their venue, once just to escape a dynamite threat. They did move to Yazoo City. I know there were converts there, because my aunt Lucy Kincaid and her daughter, Henrietta, were among them.

We cannot ignore the Oakwood School connection. Several of the first 16 students were Morning Star converts. Education was a priority. Edson White encouraged the young people to enroll at the Oakwood School. In fact, the Morning Star team started church schools in the Mississippi delta and throughout the South, and until this day, Oakwood College has supplied teachers for these schools.

A letter from Ellen White to her son is extremely insightful —even prophetic:

“Dear Son Edson: In answer to your question as to whether it would be well to fit up your steamer Morning Star, to be used for the conveyance of missionary workers to places that otherwise they could not reach, I will say that I have been shown how, when you first went to the Southern field, you used this boat as your home, and as a place on which to receive those interested in the truth. The novelty of the idea excited curiosity, and many came to see and hear. I know that, through the agency of this boat, places have been reached where till then the light of truth had never shone—places represented to me as ‘the hedges” Manuscript Releases, vol. 3, p. 269).

Morning Star has been instrumental in sowing the seeds of truth in many hearts, and there are those who have first seen the light of truth while on this boat. On it angel feet have trodden” (Manuscript Releases, vol. 3, p.

THE MORNING STAR LEGACY Very recently I attended a celebration of iro years of continuous church school operation at the Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which was founded by sons and daughters of slaves. What I found interesting is about nine people, representing five generations, were present for the celebration. They came from all parts of the United States. Their ancestors were Morning Star children. This family for more than a century has sent its sons and daughters to educational institutions that are indebted to the Morning Star for their very existence!

There is yet another reason for my personal connection with the Morning Star. Here it is: If a hand sketch of the Morning Star published in the Gospel Herald is to be trusted, the boat’s emblem, a large metal star, was suspended between the smokestacks at the bow. The star is now a cherished possession of Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama.

As an upperclassman at Oakwood College, I had the privilege with a few other ministerial students of making a little former schoolhouse our home. That big metal star hung over the front door of this mini dorm.

We cannot truly teach denominational history without giving recognition to Edson White’s boat and the rivers of blessings that ripple out from Vicksburg and Yazoo City and places unnamed. One of these ripples carried my mother, Etta Littlejohn Bradford, from Vicksburg to the Oakwood School—she was one of the first 16 students to enroll—on up to the Boston, Massachusetts, area where she received her nurses training at Melrose Sanitarium. It was here that she attended Ellen White as a student nurse, and had the rare privilege of observing Dr. J. H. Kellogg in surgery. Mother carried out the Morning Star tradition as she accompanied her preacher husband, Robert L. Bradford, in ministry in many places in the United States, always “bringing to those in darkness the light of Him who is ‘the bright and morning Star” (Manuscript Releases, vol. 3, p. z7o). Etta also started the nurses training course at Oakwood College.

The story is gripping, it is the stuff that legend is made of, but more than that it is a part of salvation history, a part of that noble effort by scores of young northern Christians of many denominations to bring hope and meaning to a people disfranchised and marginalized by the system. Please do not despise or overlook the day of small beginnings!

CHARLES E. BRADFORD, president retired, Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America; founder, Sabbath in Africa Study Group. He writes and fills speaking appointments from his home in Spring Hill, Florida.

*Texts credited to Clear Word are from The Clear Word, copyright

©1994, 2000, 2003, 2004 by Review and Herald Publishing

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