The Life & Ministry of William Irvine
Revised September 2, 2010
Black History in the USA:
Leading Up to the 20th Century
The Civil War
When the Workers Came to America
Civil Rights Acts of 1964 - Conditions Finally Change
Other North American Special Conventions
Caribbean Islands or West Indies
Photos of Black Workers
BLACK & COLORED 2x2s
It will come as a surprise to many readers to learn just how many black professing 2x2s there really are in the United States. Truly, there are VERY few.
Some of the friends and workers ASSUME there are a good number of black friends in the southern USA, where the North American black population is concentrated. Some have heard there are or were some all black meetings and convention(s) in the southern and eastern states. But beyond that, they know very little about any black professing 2x2s. For instance, the author of the book The Church Without a Name is from the state of Oregon, and wrote:
"In the eastern and southern part of America, there are black congregations and conventions. The whites are told that the blacks prefer to keep their congregation all black for safety’s sake. They say that in some of the neighborhoods the people are in danger from militant blacks if they mix with white professing friends." (page 27, published in 1990, now out-of-print; reprinted in Fall of 2004)Others expressed this same sentiment:
"I’ve noticed at the many gospel meetings and conventions I attended in different states across the USA that there is a rather conspicuous absence of black members. Are the workers making any effort to reach out to the Black community either here or in Africa? "
* * * * * *"When I was growing up and asked workers about black people, I was told they had THEIR OWN WORKERS and THEIR OWN MEETINGS and THEIR OWN CONVENTIONS. I believed them, as a young child. However, I only knew of two in my whole lifetime: ONE black lady in Detroit, and ONE black man in Atlanta I saw at a gospel meeting. " * * * * * *"There seem to be 'token' minorities in the group, which are used as proof of freedom from racism."
Black Statistics in 1999
Lets take a look at the statistics for the Black population. In 1999, there were 33 million blacks living in the USA, or 12.1% of total population.
In the U.S.A., the states with most blacks live in the five states of California, New York, Florida, Illinois and Texas. More than 50% of America’s black population live in these five states. In 1997, 55% of the Afro-Americans lived in the South, and 36% lived in the Northeast and Midwest.
In the U.S.A., the cities with higher black population are: Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, Miami.
...Yet there isn’t a single pair of black workers in the entire United States or Canada ministering to the Blacks...and there are very few black or colored professing friends living in North America.
Black Friends & Meetings
There are or have been a few all-black churches in the USA, but there were never very many. In 1990, there were nine black meetings in the New York City area, with the gospel meetings easily having 150-200 blacks in attendance. Most of the NYC friends met the truth in the Islands: (Barbados, Jamaica, etc) and came to New York City to get better jobs. In time, they could sponsor their aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., who moved there also, and the number of friends increased.
At one time, there was at least one, and possibly a few more, all-black meetings in North Carolina, but these have all been integrated over time. No all-black meetings have ever been reported in the southern states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee or Texas. Confirming this, some wrote:
"I know a black worker named Edward Beasley. He is the son of Marilyn and Randy Beasley, who lived in a suburb of Cleveland called Lorain, OH. The only all black meeting that I ever knew of was held at his parents. Twenty years ago, we used to meet at their home every other month for Union Meeting. Everyone in the Beasley's meeting was black. We loved them! They were kind and gracious and loving. "
* * * * * *"The only all-black meetings I've ever heard of were in New York City. There were enough blacks in NYC/NJ to compose a special meeting. We used to go there when I was young quite often, and there were a lot of blacks, but a lot of whites too. Then I guess there was a 'white flight' of friends out of the city, and only blacks were left, so Brooklyn turned into a black special meeting, and for the last 20 years (maybe more) it has been predominantly black, with a few whites attending, and they seem to intermingle well."
Since the workers came to America in 1903, there has only been ONE black convention held in North America. Reportedly, it was started by a black brother worker, the late Eddie Barendilla, who was sent from South Africa to the USA, sometime before 1950. This convention is held annually at Boston (formerly known as Scrabble), Virginia, near the small city of Culpepper. The grounds were originally owned by the Clarks, a white couple. After they died, a young white 2x2 family bought the grounds, David and Gracie Gillis from Maine, relatives of Leslie White, Overseer of Colorado. In the year 2000, the Boston convention was held on August 25-27.
"I went to Scrabble in about 1988. Sherdina Thompson and Fern Duncan were there, and maybe a couple of old black retired sister workers, and a handful of white visiting workers from the U.S. Peter Best was the visiting black worker. A couple of chartered buses brought some NYC friends. The ratio of black to white was about 4 to 1..about 300 to start with and on up to about 450 on Sunday. I think most were from NYC and East USA and from the Islands. They all intermingled. The cooking was done by black friends. If some of the testimonies got too long, the friends themselves would gradually 'Amen' louder and louder until the person got the point." (Memories of Sheila Martin)Why was the Scrabble convention created? The author does not know, and would appreciate information regarding this aspect. It is quite possible, however, that when Eddie Barendeilla came to America, he found that the black friends were not allowed to attend at their own will the conventions the whites held, and the black workers were restricted from attending conventions, or only allowed to a designated few, so he started their own convention at Scrabble, where blacks would be more than welcome. This may have been due to the segregation laws in effect at that time. A Southerner said: “I remember that Willie Kleffman, who had the oversite of North Carolina at one time, would not let the black friends attend the North Carolina conventions. The reason he gave was so they would not aggravate the authorities.”
* * * * * *"When I came to Toronto in 1971, from South Africa, one of my first desires was to see the greatest county—the United States of America. The champion of democracy and freedom! I went to Scrabble, Virginia in August for the 'Coloured' convention. To my horror, I discovered that apartheid was practiced there! Earnest Prinsloo (currently alive in Year 2001 and almost 100 years old, living in South Africa), was there and Eddie Barendilla (deceased in the 1970s). Blacks and whites were both there, with the majority being blacks. I learned that the black workers were very badly treated by the head workers, namely Andrew Abernathy, and they were allowed to visit only two conventions: Scrabble (VA) and Quakertown (PA). The stories they told about their being abused by the white workers and friends were usually wrapped up with the fact that they have to remain faithful and suffer this shame FOR JESUS’ SAKE." (Memories of Sheila Martin) * * * * * *"We have three conventions each year in Virginia. I always found it a bit odd how some would drive across the state to the Downings convention, which is on the coast, but skip Boston/Scrabble, which is MUCH closer. Hardly any whites attend Scrabble. They say the blacks like it better that way. Blacks come there from all over the world." (Memories of Sheila Martin)
Who attends the Boston/Scrabble convention? Reports vary. Some reported hearing stories of workers discouraging whites from going there; others said whites had to get permission to attend; some said whites were by invitation only. Presently, all friends are welcome, regardless of race, so far as the author is aware. A Virginia resident wrote: "I don't think it's just for the local population, as there is only a few blacks that profess in the state of Virginia. From what I understand, blacks from all over the world come there. So, it's not just a statewide thing."
For many years, there were some pairs of black workers headquartered in Virginia; at least two brother workers and two sister workers, and possibly additional sister workers. Many are familiar with the black sister workers: Sherdenia Thompson, Fern Duncan and Deborah Jones, who have been in the work in the USA for many years. Sherdenia and Deborah are U.S. citizens (cousins) and have labored in the Northeastern states. Sherdenia is originally from North Carolina (and is part native-American) and her parents professed when they heard the workers. It is curious that her name never appeared on the North Carolina Workers List while she was preaching in North Carolina. (If anyone has a list that disproves this, please advise the author, and this statement will be modified.) Sherdenia was in the work better than 25 years when she married in 2008. [See Photo of Sherdenia and Deborah] Deborah (Debbie) Jones spent some time in Africa, and was responsible for the famous "witch doctor" professing, while she was there. Olive Steel is/was a black sister worker who is no longer shown on a workers’ list. Pearl Bailey, a black sister worker, is believed to be living in Texas.
Currently, the ONLY Black/colored Workers known to the Author laboring in the USA are:
- Fern Duncan is a Canadian black sister on the New York staff, and her field (Yr 2000) is just North of NYC where there are a few black friends. She was born in eastern Canada, and has labored in the USA for many years
- Steve Peirson, a California worker, is currently laboring in Long Beach, CA. He has also labored some in Mexico and South Africa.
- Mark King (biracial) on New York staff.
Other current black workers from the USA/Canada are:
- Edward Beasley, from Springfield, Ohio, currently preaching in the Caribbean Islands
- Owen Derrick, went in the work from NYC in 1989; is from Island of Antigua; now labors in the Caribbean Islands
- Glenn Richards – Evelyn (out of work now) and Johnny (deceased) at least 3 workers from Canada. Glen is the overseer of the Caribbean Islands presently.
- Winsome Lyn (sister worker) was a Canadian immigrant, who left Canada for the Islands
- Todd Topping, from North Carolina, now married.
- Michelle Johnson, who was in the Florida work for approx. 3 years.
An ex-worker admitted that there is no question that the workers could have done much better on racial issues through the years than has been done. He said that it works both ways; i.e. that many blacks avoid contact with whites as much as whites avoid contact with blacks. While he was in the work, he found it was very difficult to get black people to come and hear white preachers, even though they were staying in the homes of blacks during their mission. The exception was one time when they held meetings in a black school, and a large numbers of blacks attended. Two American black workers reported that when blacks find out their companions are white, they usually decline to attend meetings.
Black Professing Friends
In the mid 1970s, a Wisconsin professing man moved to New York City. He had to travel quite a distance by walking and subway to attend his assigned meeting. At the NYC Spring Special meeting, he was quite surprised to see a fair number of mostly Caribbean and some African figures, and noticed that the races tended to keep themselves somewhat segregated. A year or so later, he discovered there was a black meeting in a Caribbean neighborhood less than one mile from his home that he could easily walk or ride the bus to! He asked the workers if he might go to that closer meeting instead, and they indicated that it would be better if he did not. He said he was told that …the neighbors might not like it…it could be uncomfortable for me, for them, and I wouldn’t want to make waves walking into that neighborhood Sunday mornings, not to mention Wednesday nights.
The author’s brother said: I thought about going to meeting in New York City a couple of times while traveling in the 1980s I asked about meetings and was told, 'There is only ONE meeting there.' It was at the home of some white folks in Long Island City, part of Queens. Apparently, the other nine or so black meetings didn’t count!
An ex-worker said: For many years I had been told there were only TWO meetings in all of New York City. Imagine my surprise to find there were MANY more meetings there in the ‘big apple.’ Turns out the rest were black meetings. The black friends attended the gospel meetings of two black sister workers in the city who have ‘apartheid’ services!! I was told I would NOT be welcome to attend them, nor to visit in their homes. Although I was discouraged greatly from doing so, I finally made arrangements to meet with the black sister workers and discovered that segregation was not their choice.
From a New York resident: I never met a black worker all of my growing up years. I don't think there were any missions worked in NYC by black workers until the 1970s or 80s. Of all the NYC black friends, I only know of one who went in the work from there, Owen Derrick, and he labors in the Islands now. It was always a puzzle to me why more didn't offer.
NOTE: It may have been that several black meetings have not always been located in NYC. From statements below, we will see that the numbers of professing blacks in NYC increased considerably over the years due to immigration.
States With Large Numbers of Minorities
In 1999, there were 33 million blacks (12.1% of the total population) living in the USA. More than half of America’s minority population lives in the five (5) states of California, New York, Florida, Illinois and Texas. By the year 2025, these five states will become minority- majority states. With their high concentration of blacks, it seems highly likely there would be more black professing friends and workers in these particular five states. However, this is what we found:
CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES, 1982: "My Sunday morning meeting was quite a mixture. It was held at the house of a little black man from South Africa (now deceased) who had a Jamaican wife (David & Hermine Jordan). There were two older black couples from Barbados, a girl from China, a Dutch man and his Indonesian wife, a lady from Korea, a whole family from El Salvador, an American black girl from NYC, a middle-aged couple with a mansion in Beverly Hills, and me. I thought that was pretty neat, and that was how things should be." (Galen Berry, Reflected Truth, compiled by Joan F. Daniel, pp.23-24)
CALIFORNIA: "In all of Los Angeles, with its vast black population, I only knew of two black professing families."
NEW YORK: "When I was growing up only about 2-3 families of blacks came ..and then more and more blacks began to come up from New York City to the Altamont convention until about a fourth of it was black friends. They had a separate area most of the women slept in when the numbers increased, which likely they chose...I'm not sure about the men."
NORTHEAST COAST: "Mostly I know about blacks on the Northeast coast. Many of them attend the convention at Boston, VA. Quakertown probably has the largest number of any convention. Some also attend the Altamont convention. Most of the blacks are immigrants from the Caribbean Islands. Almost all of those in the New York City area and New Jersey are from the islands. This is quite a transient area with people coming for a few years or so and then returning. Very few originally came in contact with this religion in this country. I only know personally of two who came to gospel meetings without family connections and professed here, although I don’t know everyone’s personal history. In NYC/Brooklyn, there are more professing blacks than whites. Several of the meetings in this area are largely made up of blacks. Some of the meetings are in black homes with the man of the house as the elder. In general, I find the blacks to be stricter in their belief. Pot lucks are common, especially after union meetings. Currently the Spanish speaking 'professors' are on the rise on the East coast with one or possibly two Spanish meetings. I see very little prejudice in the Northeast among those in meeting or towards other races especially among the younger crowd. I believe there may be socializing and possibly some dating between blacks and whites, but there haven’t been any marriages that I’m aware of. There really are very few black teenagers. In England I have seen more interracial marriages. There are not as many blacks at conventions there as at Quakertown, but there are quite a few."
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS: "I lived in an all-white neighborhood and had meeting in my home for many years. There was a black man married to a Jamaican lady who came for meeting for several years, until they moved down South. Four Jamaican families came to meeting at my house for almost 20 years and one woman from Trinidad, so there were more dark people in the meeting than white. A Jamaican man married to a white German wife (Vincent & Rose Marie King) had a daughter, Patricia King, and a son, Mark King, who both went into the work in Illinois in 1986. The daughter later went to Germany to preach, but is no longer in the work; Mark is on the NY workers list currently. About 13 years ago, a man from Jamaica, father of about seven children, who came to my home for meeting committed suicide. His wife and children don’t go to meeting anymore."
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS: "There is a Jamaican Church in the Chicago-metro area, where some whites attend also. I would say there are about 18 Jamaican Friends in the area."
FLORIDA: "There are several black folks in meetings in
Florida. Most of the black friends here have roots in the islands (Jamaica,
Trinidad, etc.) The black friends attended the Florida conventions with
the whites. Some might have also attended Scrabble. Most of the black
population is located in the larger cities. There was also a black sister
worker, Michelle Johnson, who stayed in the work here for about three years."
"When my family left Miami in 1997, I understood that there were two Jamaican meetings in Southwest Florida. My family and I bought them supplies after Hurricane Andrew."
TEXAS: "I know of one black lady in Houston and one black professing man…I can’t think of anyone else. I’ve seen maybe ten blacks total at the Georgetown (TX) convention. (usually about 800-1,000 people attend this convention)"
TEXAS: "The first time I ever saw any black friends was in 1968 at the Round Rock, Texas convention. There were less than 10, all told. No black friends or workers ever attended the Texarkana convention between 1965–1989, when I was there." (Cherie Kropp)
TENNESSEE: "There were some black workers that showed up in Knoxville, TN and had some gospel meetings, back when I was a teenager and a young adult. Fern Duncan and Sherdenia Thompson would come once in a while to visit one black lady there who professed and was a maid in the Burkhart's home. I remember her coming to convention and being the only black person there. I am not sure if she is yet living. These two black sister workers and several others were at Quakertown, PA convention when I visited there in 1967 or 1968. There were lots of black workers and black friends at Quakertown and all seemed to flow in harmony. Of course, there were not that many when you think of the overwhelming number of whites, but I had never been to a convention that was mixed before, so it looked like more to me, I suppose. The black teenage girls were nicer to me than the white ones, and we all bunked in the same area."
NEW JERSEY: "There are about 30 blacks, including children in NJ."
NORTH CAROLINA & WISCONSIN: "Having missed his annual convention, a Wisconsin man decided to attend a convention in North Carolina, for the first time. He said, “Well the first thing I noticed was that it was absolutely 100% lily white. Hmmm, were there no Negroes in the truth in North Carolina? Or were there other conventions that they predominantly went to—like the meetings up in NYC? Either thought was a bit worrysome. I have mentioned my experience once or twice to others here in lily white central Wisconsin, who’ve been as ignorant as I."
NORTH CAROLINA: "When the owner of the home where an all black meeting in North Carolina was held died or wasn’t able to have the meeting anymore, they assigned the other blacks who met there to various other white meetings, and they integrated."
ALABAMA-MISSISSIPPI: "I have known of only one colored person to ever profess in Mississippi. A colored lady listened to gospel meetings from the kitchen of some professing ladies she worked for and professed in the meetings of Stanley March and Lloyd Wilson in the 1960s. There was a colored lady who worked for the owners of the Fosters, AL convention who professed also. During the convention meetings there, she listened from the dining tent--this was when segregation in the South was still in effect. There was a Jamaican man with a German wife, Vincent & Rose Marie King, who lived on the MS coast for awhile."
ALABAMA-MISSISSIPPI: 1988 letter from a worker: "Of all the blacks here in Alabama-Mississippi, we have only 3 professing–all in Alabama; not much interest with those people for the gospel."
MISSISSIPPI: "The Navy sent a professing man (civilian) to Mississippi, who became acquainted with a nice young black gentleman. He asked the local senior sister worker about inviting the man to gospel meetings. The worker was absolutely delighted. When he mentioned that this young man was black, the facial expression of the worker changed instantly to one of disapproval; and, needless to say, the nice young black man missed out on hearing the true servants of God."
MONTANA: "When I was growing up, there were TWO black families that I was aware of in ALL of Gallatin County."
OKLAHOMA: "There was one black lady, Rosie Cook (deceased), who was professing in Oklahoma City when we moved there in 1988. I believe she was the only black friend in the state." (Cherie Kropp)
COLORADO: "Denver Hayes was a black sister worker in the work in Colorado for some time in the late 1970s and early 80s."
VIRGINIA: "There aren't any black workers in Virginia that I'm aware of, and there are only a handful of black friends. I have never heard of any all-black meetings in Virginia. The only black family I know of came from Liberia and lives near Washington, D.C." (Year: 2001)
VIRGINIA: I only know of one black professing man who lives in Martinsville, VA. There was one very old black woman who lived in Roanoke, and she died about a year ago.
WASHINGTON, D.C.: Arthur Benton said: "There are some blacks in the Washington DC area, but we have nothing to do with them."
CONNECTICUT: "We used to have black men from Barbados or Jamaica come to my childhood home in Connecticut for meeting in the summer. They would come up and work in the tobacco fields, then go back home when the season was over. My mom had them stay for dinner many a time, and my uncle used to transport them back and forth."
CONCLUSION: There is a VERY noticeable absence of black friends in the USA.
CARIBBEAN ISLANDS: "Nearly all the friends are black/colored in the Caribbean, like Martinique and Barbados. Workers likely came to the Caribbean area early in the 20th century. In the English speaking islands there are many who were raised in the Truth, which indicates 'in-Truth' courting in the 1930s. If I am not mistaken, one of the earliest workers in the Caribbean was John Stone."
CARRIBEAN ISLANDS: "No one seems willing to say exactly what are the origins in the West Indies. I am sure many don’t really know. My understanding is that in Barbardos, names such as Willie Donaldson and John Cooke were among the first heard, and they were from Ireland. As far as I know, the truth is in existence throughout all the islands of the Caribbean and the workers who labor here are from all of the major ethnic backgrounds. The Caucasian workers are mainly from Europe and part of the US, while the Negro and Indian workers are West Indians and Africans."
IRELAND: "I don't recall any black workers in fields in Ireland. There are very few black friends. I only know of one family."
LONDON: "I've traveled to London a number of times over the past 25 years—at special meeting, there was a mixture of races--black and white and others--people literally from all over the world. I was a guest for lunch after meeting in London--the guests included both blacks and whites at the home (white owner). I'm aware of several black-white mixed marriages also in England and Ireland. I have met professing people who are prejudiced, but I have known many, many people who would be horrified if demeaning comments were made about folks of other races."
UNITED KINGDOM: "There are workers of colour in The UK. Dawn Charles is from the Caribbean island of Antigua. She went into the work in the early 80s. There are also George DaSantos and Joyce King. They are both cousins and come from St.Vincent in the Caribbean."
CANADA, MONTREAL: "There are many blacks from the West Indies and their style of living is quite different from the local professing whites. When I asked the workers why that was, they said, 'We don’t ask any questions to blacks—they have their own ways.' "
CANADA, SASKATCHEWAN & MANITOBA: "I know of no black friends or workers in Saskatchewan or Manitoba. You have to remember that only 2% of the total Canadian population is black, and 3% are indigenous."
CANADA, MONTREAL & TORONTO: "There have always been black people professing in Montreal and Toronto. A typical black professing family in Canada would be a 3-generation professing black family from the West Indies. The division that appears to exist in Montreal between blacks and whites is not a race situation, but a language one. Most blacks were immigrants, and many of them did not speak French, so they had English language meetings for them. Most whites in Montreal speak French--it being the only official language--so they are in French language meetings. Black people who speak French have no problem going to French meetings."
NEW ZEALAND: "The indigenous people here are the Maori, who are coloured, and we did have one part-Maori worker, Isabel Honeycomb. However the workers have made very few converts among the Maori. A lot of Maoris, on the other hand, have been converted by the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses."
NEW ZEALAND: "We have no black (Maori/native, as we call them) workers in New Zealand. As far as I know, only 2 or 3 Maori couples have ever professed in this country. About 3-4 years ago, a black man from the USA came over here and was the main speaker at conventions, but then I do not remember his name." [NOTE: Probably Steve Peirson]
PAPUA, NEW GUINEA: "I am aware of significant 2x2 missionary work in Papua New Guinea. Numerous Australian workers have had stints up there working amongst the black/native population. Similarly, the same situation exists throughout Indonesia/South East Asia with various Australian workers involved."
AUSTRALIA: "Our black population is the Australian aborigines. As far as I know there have been no aboriginal workers, but like many countries Australia had a 'white Australia policy' up until 30 or so years ago, so they have not had much standing in the community. New South Wales, to my knowledge has very few 2x2 aborigines, the exceptions being black children adopted by white parents. I am not aware of any 2x2 missions aimed at black communities. Last year we had a letter from a worker who had an aboriginal coming to his mission; he indicated that it would be very hard for the man to understand, with the background he had."
"The only black workers I know of are Cooper (Beecher?) Sandosham. I am not clear on his origin. He may have been Malaysian, Sri Lankan, African. He died in the 1970s, I think. He seemed to be very popular when he visited Australia. Overall, I would suggest the 2x2 preaching in Australia has neglected the aboriginal community as a target group. In their favour though, the overseas 2x2 missionaries from Australia have been involved in numerous black/coloured cultures. I don't think they have any aversions to preaching to black people, but in Australia they are not flexible enough or modern enough in their methods to do so as yet."
AUSTRALIA: "One brother worker wanted to preach to the aboriginals—instead, they sent him to preach in Africa."
SOUTH AFRICA: "In the city of Cape Town, the workers didn't even bother to work among the black (native) townships. All other churches went among them, but not the workers or friends." (Memories of Sheila Martin)
Black History in the USA
In August, 1619, a Dutch ship arrived at Jamestown, the capital of Virginia, the earliest successful English colony in North America and left behind 20 Africans. These were the FIRST permanent black residents in what would eventually become the USA. In the late 1600s, large numbers of African slaves began to be imported and used as labor on plantations raising crops of tobacco, rice, indigo, and later cotton. It is estimated that a total of 12 million slaves were exported from Africa, with 5% coming to the USA.
About hundred years later, in 1808, the US Congress prohibited the importation of African slaves into the U.S. The Northern states gradually abolished slavery. However, the Upper Southern states did not abolish it, and it continued to expand. In 1836, Britain set all the slaves free in the entire British Empire, including South Africa. William Wilberforce, a strong Christian politician in England, was responsible for changing the law. In 1848, France freed the slaves in its remaining colonies in the Western Hemisphere.
During the first 120 years of black slavery, little headway was made in converting the slave population to Christianity. In the South, most slaves lived too far away to attend black churches. If they attended regular church services, they did so with white people, and sat in the back pews or galleries, often out numbering the white attendees. Some slaves felt that slavery made a mockery of the ideals of both Christianity and democracy. Slaves pointed out the discrepancy between the colonists’ struggle for liberty from British oppression and the colonists’ oppression of Africans held in slavery.
Hindered by law or custom from learning to read and write, slaves learned the Bible by hearing it preached. Christian slaveholders were sometimes concerned for their slaves’ souls, and felt a duty to instruct them in the Christian faith. Some set a regular time to read to their slaves from scripture, printed sermons, prayers books or Bible lessons. Some slave owners hired a visiting clergyman to preach on their plantations. Former slave Lucretia Alexander described some of the slave’s disgust with the white preacher’s version of the Gospel:
"The preacher came and...he’d just say, ‘Serve your masters. Don’t steal your master’s turkey. Don’t steal your master’s chickens. Don’t steal your masters hawgs. Don’t steal your master’s meat. Do whatsomever your master tell you to do.’ Same old thing all the time."The desire of the slaves for “real preachin’ ” or sermons free of proslavery propaganda, caused the slaves to hold their own religious gatherings. They had heard enough of “Slaves be obedient to your masters” [Eph 6:1] to last them a lifetime. The slaves felt that the white clergymen didn’t preach the whole Gospel to them. The slave’s hidden church meetings were called the “invisible institution.”
"My father would have church in dwelling houses and they had to whisper...Sometimes they would have church at his house. That would be when they wanta real meetin’ with some real preachin’….They used to sing their songs in a whisper. That was a prayer meeting from house to house…once or twice a week." (Lucretia Alexander)The story of Exodus held a special meaning for the slaves. Exodus showed them that slavery was against God’s will and that slavery would end someday. The promise of deliverance was certain. Moreover, Exodus disproved the notion that blacks were inferior to whites, and told them they were a special people, chosen by God for deliverance like the Israelites of old. Most slaves expected justice would be done to slaveholders in the world to come, and predicted that in the hereafter, there would be a reversal of the conditions of whites and blacks.
"The slaves are sensible of the oppression exercised by their masters; and they see these masters on the Lord’s day worshiping in His Holy Sanctuary. They hear their masters professing Christianity; they see their masters preaching the Gospel; they hear these masters praying in their families, and they know that oppression and slavery are inconsistent with the Christian religion; therefore they scoff at religion itself—mock their masters and distrust both the goodness and justice of God. Yes, I have known them even to question His existence…I have heard the mistress ring the bell for family prayer, and I have seen the servants immediately begin to sneer and laugh; and have heard them declare they would not go in to prayers, adding, if I go in she will only just read, ‘Servants obey your masters’; but she will not read, ‘Go break every yoke, and let the oppressed go free.’ " (By Daniel Alexander Payne)
The Civil War
The Civil War between the states began on April 12, 1861, when the Southern troops fired on Ft. Sumter, a US military post in Charleston, NC. The long awaited moment for the slaves had come—the fight for their freedom had begun. From the very beginning of the Civil War, the slaves believed the war would bring them freedom. They viewed the arrival of federal troops as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, and regarded the Civil War as a holy war, a sacred cause.
The Civil War ended in April, 1865, four years later. President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, five days after General Lee’s surrender to General Grant. The Ratification of the 13th Amendment in December, 1865, abolished slavery all together. But it raised a new question: What should be the status of the ex-slaves? Should they have equal rights with white people? The end of slavery validated the slaves’ belief in the promises of God, but they discovered that racial oppression showed no signs of disappearing.
Less than 48 hours after General Sherman had taken Savannah, GA on December 21, 1864, the African Methodist Episcopal Church arrived in the South and began organizing congregations. James Lynch wrote about his experience in working with the freed slaves of South Carolina who were eager to hear the gospel preached to them:
“Ignorant though they be, on account of long years of oppression, they exhibit a desire to hear and to learn that I never imagined. Every word you say while preaching they drink down and respond to, with an earnestness that sets your heart all on fire, and you feel that it is indeed God’s work to minister to them.”Soon other northern white missionaries and teachers sponsored by the Congregationalists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists arrived in the South to bring Christianity to the blacks. But no 2x2 workers came. Within two years, there were eleven black churches in Charleston; five Methodist, two Presbyterian, two Episcopalian, one Congregational and one Baptist church. But there were no 2x2 church meetings...because they would not even be started for another 40 years. Since there were no 2x2s in America before 1903, it is not possible to discuss what position the 2x2 men filled in the military; i.e. whether or not they registered as Conscientious Objectors, or went to prison, etc.
The number of churches grew rapidly until in1936 the U.S. Census for Religious Bodies estimated there were 5.7 million church members in a black population of 12.8 million. 1936 was the last year the government gathered such figures.
When the 20th century began, the USA population was 88% white. In 1890, the black population of the USA totaled 8.3 million and 90% were concentrated in the South. Of that number, 2.7 million (about 33%) were church members.
In the United States, those with visible African ancestry were usually placed in the same category and called, at various times, Negroes, colored people, blacks, Afro-Americans or African Americans. For much of U.S. history, they were treated as belonging at the bottom of society, with no or few rights. The road to equality for Blacks was very rocky.
In the first years of the 20th century, attempts were made by the southern states to carry segregation so that it would reach into every nook and cranny of southern life, no matter how small. “Jim Crow” (the practice of segregation) was extended to almost every point of contact between blacks and whites, even the briefest and most insignificant. In some cases, segregation was required by law; in others, it was a matter of custom. In some areas, what the law did not prohibit, public opinion prevented. This was the era when signs “FOR WHITES ONLY” and “FOR COLORED ONLY” were used to designate the separate facilities. Some examples:
The following became or were required to be segregated:
- Public Accommodations: Hotels, motels, inns, restaurants, lunch counters.
- Public Transportation: Streetcars, steamboats, ferries, busses;
- Railroads excluded blacks from first-class cars; Separate waiting rooms at railway stations
- Public Facilities: Water fountains, restrooms
- Some white churches forced blacks to sit in the back or in the gallery
- Separate Cemeteries
- Schools, private and public
- Libraries, Museums
- Hospitals, Orphanages, Prisons
- Courthouses and separate Bibles for taking oaths in court
- Places of Amusement, theaters, parks; drive-in movies, swimming pools, concert halls, sports arenas; ticket lines
- Armed Services were segregated. (This was abolished by Eisenhower in the early 1950’s; he also integrated many southern navy yards and veterans hospitals.)
- Blood Banks of Red Cross of white and black soldiers were kept separate
- Federal employees in D.C. were segregated
- Discriminated against in employment and housing.
- Whites did not shake hands with blacks
- Blacks went to the BACK door of a white person’s home—never to the front door
- Blacks rode in back seat of cars when whites were driving
- Whites rode in back seat when blacks were driving
- Blacks were to maintain a subservient attitude to whites at all times, using Sir and Mam.
- Blacks were to use Mr. and Mrs. to whites; children were even addressed formally with Miss and Master.
- Blacks were not to look directly into the eyes of a white man or white woman.
- North Carolina and Florida insisted the textbooks used by black and white students be stored separately during the summer.
- South Carolina had a law for segregating factory workers so the races would never work in the same room or use the same staircases, doorways and exits.
- Oklahoma insisted that telephone companies provide separate booths for whites and blacks.
The most common form of racial violence in this era was lynching. Lynching was the murder of persons suspected of violating laws or unofficial codes of behavior outside the judicial system, without due process, and usually by mobs. Both blacks and whites were terrorized by the threat of lynchings. The victims were often hung from trees, and some were castrated. Blacks had been victimized by lynchings since pre-Civil War era, but after the Civil War, the number of these murders increased sharply. Lynchings were not made illegal until 1931.
The best known terrorist organization was the KU KLUX KLAN, founded
in Tennessee in 1866. Its members wore white hoods and robes and
rode on white horses draped with white sheets. Although anti-black
racism was the chief interest in the Klan, opposition to Catholics, Jews
and other immigrants was also strong. Their goal was to restore blacks
to a subordinate position in society. They committed acts of violence
on a wide scale. Blacks were their favorite targets; especially any
who had achieved any kind of economic or political success or were well
educated--those black, in their opinion, who didn’t know their place.
Sometimes the targets were black institutions, especially schools.
They were especially active at election time, using violence and intimidation
to keep blacks from voting. They attacked, killed, massacred and
whipped blacks. They also terrorized whites who were sympathetic
to or aided blacks. This secret society opposed to racial equality
continues to show itself occasionally.
In 1960, when President John F. Kennedy was elected, 57% of the blacks lived below poverty level; by the end of the 1960’s, 33% did. By 1969, blacks still earned well under two-thirds of white income. It would be a long time before their problems with poverty, unemployment and poor housing improved.
Every dictatorship in history has fallen—when the peons refuse to submit any longer. For the blacks, this took the form of a wave of civil rights activities that swept through the Southern states in the 1960s. They staged sit-ins at public segregated facilities, freedom rides, boycotts, rallies, marches; and registered at all white colleges. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the generally acknowledged leader of the non-violent campaign for civil rights, notorious for his famous speech, “I have a dream…” of a prejudice-free nation.
James Meredith won a court order permitting him to become the first black student at the University of Mississippi at Oxford (Ole Miss). Federal troops were brought in to protect Meredith and stop the rioting, as he moved in the dormitory. Violence also occurred in other places: the murder of a black man named Medgar Evers, the bombing of a black church in Birmingham which killed 4 black girls, and much, much more.
Then President Kennedy sent his Civil Rights bill to congress, and The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed on July 2, 1964, which led to the death of Jim Crow. President Kennedy was assassinated 3 months later on November 22, 1963. The road for blacks to claim the equality that was theirs by law would be far from smooth.
In 1964, only 2% of the black students in the Southern states attended integrated schools. The threat of federal funding being withheld from non-integrated schools finally changed this, and by 1970, over 90% of all southern school systems were desegregated, although many schools had only a handful (a token number) of blacks or whites and strong resistance continued. White private schools popped up overnight everywhere.
I had already graduated from high school when integration took place in our school system in Clinton, MS, but my brother was still enrolled in high school. Geographical lines were drawn, and school assignments were made according to where one lived. My brother, Galen, was assigned, along with only six other white students, to attend what had been until that time, an all-black school. However, he had sufficient credits to begin college, and did so without ever graduating from high school.
Integration in all areas did not take place immediately or without resistance. In this time period, one still had to be careful in mixing with blacks. The Ku Klux Klan was still active when I was a teenager in the 1960’s. A warning cross was burned in the yard of a neighbor who had aided the blacks. A wary, uneasy peace between the races continued for many years, and people who were so inclined, went quietly about mixing with the other race. Comments by the workers and friends similar to the following were accurate at one time:
“I first heard the gospel in 1962 [in Minnesota]…By the time convention rolled around the second year, I was wondering why there were no black people in all the crowd. Jim Jardine…was at the convention, so I asked him, "Where are all my black brothers and sisters?" He answered that there were black churches in the South, as well as conventions. He also said that they were kept separate because there were whites, who if they knew you were having anything to do with black people, you or your property would be in danger, as well of that of your black brother and sister. Jim Jardine also stated that there were those white people in the South that would love to have the fellowship of their black brother and sister, but for the aforementioned fear for both, it was inadvisable…Off and on, we saw a few minorities, but not in the numbers one might expect.”While the description given by Jim Jardine was the case at one time, the situation changed very slowly. The all-black meetings in North Carolina were phased out, as the friends passed away or moved. The Boston, VA convention was opened up to whites also. Some New York City meetings are now integrated.
* * * * * *“One fall in the late 1960s, while in the work, in Baltimore, MD, I visited a worker in his late 1920s or early 1930s who expressed his anguish at being forbidden by his companion, and then overseer of his region, to invite anyone even suspected to be of black genealogy to their Gospel Meetings.”
NEW YORK CITY: We lived in New York City about 12 years ago (1989). We took the subway from Manhattan to Brooklyn to meeting. In our Sunday morning meeting, we were the only white people, with the exception of one elderly lady. In our union meeting, we were the only white family. The only time we saw other white people was at gospel meeting. We loved the people in our meetings and they were very good to us, but we found it rather strange that the meetings seemed to be one color or the other, for the most part. In 2007, "I understand it's over 80% minoritiies there now, a number of Latinos as well as blacks, and not every meeting has white folks, simply because there's not enough to go around, and the meeting distribution is now geographical, not racial."
MIDDLE ATLANTIC STATES: Some years ago when changes in meetings were made, there were special attempts made so that meetings wouldn't end up all black or white. I was at a meeting where the owner (widow lady) was white and the elder was black--that was about 20 years ago. Blacks, whites, as well as other races routinely get together at get-togethers. In recent years there have been a number of mixed black-white marriages on the East coast. The ones I know have not been treated any different than anyone else.
LORAIN COUNTY, OHIO MEETING: Has always been in a black home; first at Caywoods for likely 50 years; then about 10 years at Beasleys, and for the last 20 years or so at Sanfords.
John Guy, a brother worker, said that blacks and poor people seemed to be "too rich in spirit" to be interested in “the truth,” and that "rich white people" seemed to feel their need more than the blacks did.
Other North America Specialty Conventions
SPANISH CONVENTION: For years there has been an annual SPANISH Convention held on the south side of at Albuquerque, New Mexico at the home of Luciano Garcia and wife. Attendance was around 150-200. Reportedly, the expense of city codes became so burdensome that in 1998, the Spanish Convention was moved to the Edgewood, NM grounds, located 30 miles east of Albuqueque. It is now held there for 2 days, usually the week before Edgewood convention, which is located on the property of Carroll Bassett.
FRENCH CONVENTION: In Canada, there is a bi-lingual convention held at Richmond, Quebec. In all meetings there is at least one worker who speaks in French and another who speaks in English. Simultaneous translation is provided for anyone who does not speak both languages. Testimonies and prayer are in both languages and not everyone speaks and prays in the same language. Signs posted on the grounds are written in both French and English. The convention in Almonte, Ontario is all spoken in English, but there is simultaneous translation into French for the entire convention. The friends use the NIV version of the French Bible.
EDITORS NOTE: Because a person professes and goes to meetings does not mean they instantly lay aside all the bias, prejudice or superstitions instilled in them from a child up. Nor does it necessarily mean that professing parents do not continue to pass their prejudice and superstitions down to their children. Also, the southern whites did not just lay aside their prejudices with the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. It took a long time for prejudice to die down, and some died still holding on tightly to their prejudices.
For example, in the early 1980s, 15-20 years after the Civil Rights Act was passed, a black professing lady happened to be visiting her son in Jackson, MS when it was time for the Alabama convention. A local white professing lady invited the black lady to go with her to the convention, and the two of them went. The white lady returned, upset that the black lady was not well received there.
The author grew up in the southern state of Mississippi, on the Jackson convention grounds. Many of the blacks that lived around us told us that at convention time, they sat on their porches and listened to the beautiful singing they could hear resounding all around the countryside…but in the 32 years my parents owned the Mississippi convention ground, not a single colored person ever attended our convention…they were not invited.
We used to wonder why the black workers in Virginia never came to Mississippi and Alabama to preach? Why did they only preach in Virginia and the states surrounding Virginia?? Other workers move around from state to state every year—why didn’t they? Why were the only blacks privileged to hear the workers’ message living in the Northeastern USA?? I still don’t know the answer to that…It would appear that the black harvest field in the USA has been virtually untapped. It has been my observation that:
- There is a very noticeable absence of black friends in the USA.
- There is a very noticeable absence of black workers in the USA..
- There is a very noticeable absence of workers ministering to the black population in the USA.
- There appears to be an excessively large number of workers in the Caribbean Islands.
The Caribbean Islands or West Indies
The combined size of the Caribbean Islands is almost the size of Mississippi, or slightly larger than Pennsylvania, with a total of 4,486 square miles. (This excludes Cuba.) Population figures are for the year 2000 from: http://aol1.infoplease.com/
From 1983 - 1995, there has been an average of 73 workers on the Caribbean Workers Lists.
- In 1995, there were 74 workers on the Caribbean Workers List taking the workers message to a combined population of 25,169,352.*
- There is not a single pair of black workers in the entire USA or Canada ministering to the black population of 33 million blacks (more than are living in the Caribbean Islands).
- No pair of black workers has EVER preached in the Deep South states in the USA, where 55% of the African Americans in the USA live today.
QUESTION: Why don’t the workers keep or bring home the black/colored workers who are American and Canadian citizens, and also import other blacks from the Islands to preach to blacks in the USA?
QUESTION: Why do they preach to blacks in Caribbean and not USA?
African American and Civil Rights from 1619 to Present by Michael L. Levine, Oryx Press 1996 ISBN 0-89774-859-X
African American – Religion by Albert J. Raboteau by Oxford University Press, NY/Oxford, 1999; ISBN 0-19-510680-6
NOTE: The author has each quote on file, with the name of the writer/speaker.
Sheila Martin passed away in May, 2005.
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