A Place Called Oakwood


1—No Colonizing

Context: A.F. Ballenger wrote to Ellen White in Australia in 1899 about setting up a type of colony in the South comprised of a collection of Adventist families in order to aid the Southern blacks. The families would purchase a plot of land and develop it while teaching blacks agricultural methods and the Adventist message. The missionaries, however, would have to pledge five years of service in order to join the colony.

June 5, 1899

Dear Brother__________,

I remember you distinctly, and I have rejoiced to see you growing in grace and working in the Lord's vineyard. I would say, my brother, you would best stand at your post of duty, laboring in the ministry of the Word. PCO 11.1

As you say, there is no more fruitful field than the South. It is the prejudice of the white against the black race that makes this field hard, very hard. The whites who have oppressed the colored people still have the same spirit. They did not lose it, although they were conquered in war. They are determined to make it appear that the blacks were better off in slavery than since they were set free. Any provocation from the blacks is met with the greatest cruelty. The field is one that needs to be worked with the greatest discretion. Any mingling of the white people with the colored people, as sleeping in their houses, or showing them friendship as would be shown by the Whites to those of their own color, is exasperating to the white people of the South. Yet these same persons employ colored women to nurse their children and further, not a few White men have had children by colored women. Thus the colored people have received an education from the whites in immorality, and many of them stand ready to treat the whites as the whites have treated them. The relation of the two races has been a matter hard to deal with, and I fear that it will ever remain a most perplexing problem. PCO 11.2

You speak of a way of helping the colored race in a way which does not excite the prejudice of the white Southern-born citizens; that is, the Industrial School. As you have presented, the greatest caution needs to be exercised in regard to politics. Some persons are of such a temperament that they would make trouble by want of proper consideration. Words dropped unadvisedly would be like a spark, kindling a flame of intense jealousy and dangerous opposition. Whoever works in the South needs to be sanctified in body, soul, and spirit. Then there will be wise words, not words spoken at random or without duly weighing every expression. PCO 11.3

It is from the whites that the greatest opposition may be expected. This is the quarter that we shall need to watch. The white people are prejudiced against the doctrines taught by the Seventh-day Adventists, and a religious opposition is the greatest difficulty. The white people will stir up the blacks by telling them all kinds of stories; and the blacks, who can lie even when it is for their interest to speak the truth, will stir up the whites with falsehoods, and the whites who want an occasion will seize upon any pretext for taking revenge, even upon those of their own color who are presenting the truth. This is the danger. As far as possible, everything that will stir up the race prejudice of the white people should be avoided. There is danger of closing the door so that our white laborers will not be able to work in some places in the South. PCO 11.4

All that you have written in regard to the great necessity of the colored people is correct. I have seen that those who know the truth for this time have a special work to take up for this people. Christ came to our world, clothing His divinity with humanity, that He might work with humanity, fallen, degraded, corrupted. He came of poor parentage, and lived the life of a poor man. He was accustomed to privation. As a member of the family He acted His part in laboring with His hands for the support of His mother and His brothers and sisters. Thus He, the Majesty of heaven, was not to appear as honoring the greatest men because of their wealth. He has forever removed from poverty the disgrace which is attached to it because it is destitute of worldly advantages. He says, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” PCO 12.1

Four thousand years before a voice of strange and mysterious import was heard in heaven from the throne of God: “Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required. Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.” Christ in counsel with His Father laid out the plan for His life on earth. It was not a chance, but a design that the world's Redeemer should lay off His crown, lay aside His kingly robe, and come to our world as a man. He clothed His divinity with the garb of humanity, that He might stand at the head of the human family, His humanity mingled with the humanity of the race fallen because of Adam's disobedience. The poverty and humiliation of the Son of the infinite God teach lessons that few care to learn. There is a link that connects Christ with the poor in a special sense. He, the life, the light of the world, makes poverty His own teacher, in order that He may be educated by the same stern, practical teacher [as are the poor]. Since the Lord Jesus accepted a life of poverty, no one can justly look with contempt upon the poor. The Saviour of the world was the King of glory, and He stripped Himself of His glorious outward adorning, accepting poverty, that He might understand how the poor are treated in this world. He was afflicted in all the afflictions of the human family, and He pronounces His blessing, not upon the rich, but upon the poor of this world. PCO 12.2

You speak of the Oakwood Industrial School for colored students as not having sufficient buildings to accommodate the students, twelve in number occupying one room. My brother, is it not the duty of someone laboring in this line to labor for the creation of a fund to supply this need? Let appeals be made to our people. Let each give a little, even among the poor. Without delay, encourage the brethren to erect a humble building large enough to accommodate the students. Ask the people to heed the words of Christ, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” The example of Christ is for our imitation. PCO 12.3

Those who undertake work in the South must not enter into any plan for colonizing, for this will place them in perilous circumstances. Some families should be found who for Christ's sake will volunteer to enter the Southern field. At Huntsville there is a building, and something has been done there. Let the proper ones try to make that place different by bringing into it new, live elements. This plant must not become useless. Elements must be brought in which will make the institution self-sustaining. Then if it is necessary, cheap additions can be made. PCO 13.1

I would not encourage your plan. It means much, very much more than you think, to obtain and improve hundreds of acres of land. Your aftersight in this matter would be very different from your foresight. This work for the Southern people will require the tact of the most ingenious Christian. In the past you have seen families settled in localities where they could work successfully for the spread of the truth, and you have thought that this same plan could be adopted for the work in the South. But your expectation will not be realized. PCO 13.2

The expenses of such company in food and clothing must be considered. The results would not be such as you suppose. This plan will bring disappointment. Let each family who shall commit itself to the work, go as the Lord's missionaries, to work their own way. Workers are not to pledge themselves to five years’ labor, for many will not bear the test. Some would find fault and complain, and thus sow the seed of evil surmising. These persons might work interestedly for a time, and then become dissatisfied and want a change. The Lord looks upon every heart. There are some souls you cannot trust. They are unreliable. In the company you would form you would find tares among the wheat. It would be better to begin work in Huntsville and make the work there a success. PCO 13.3

I would say to you, my brother, that in the future nothing can be relied on in the Southern States. You cannot make settlements with the purpose of carrying on a large business, cultivating lands, and teaching the colored people how to work. At the least provocation the poison of prejudice is ready to show its true character, and provocations will be found. It is very hard to make the work run smoothly. Outbreaks will come at any moment, and all unexpectedly, and there will be destruction of property and even of life itself. Hot-headed people, professing the faith, but without judgment, will think they can do as they please, but they will find themselves in a tight place. I speak that which I know. Everyone takes his life in his hands by following such a course. There are some localities less perilous than others, but never can there be large settlements built up in the South. Every act is to be oiled with the grace of God, every word spoken, carefully studied. Parties are already formed, and they are waiting, burning with a desire to serve their master, the devil, and do abominable work. Professed Christians are more determined in these things than out-and-out sinners. PCO 13.4


Sources: Letter 90, 1899; The Southern Work, 83-88