Legacies of Liberty

Three debts we owe

Delbert W. Baker
Legacies of Liberty

Black History Month provides a special space for contemplation, a moment to reflect on God’s providence and the rich history of African Americans in the United States and in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This historical odyssey, from the crucible of slavery to the zenith of the civil rights movement and beyond, testifies to the transformative power of faith and resilience. Three critical facets emerge, forming the bedrock of the march to freedom, for which we are eternally indebted.

Flame of Freedom

In the 1860s, when approximately 10 percent of the U.S. population—roughly 3 million individuals—were enslaved, the endurance and eventual liberation of these oppressed people were rooted in their unwavering resilience and the profound belief that freedom was on the horizon. A God-inspired faith and a reliance on spiritual strength and Scriptures played a central role, as evidenced by the spirituals sung and the profound influence of God, church, and religion among those in bondage.

Providence of God

The struggles and trials of the oppressed did not elude God’s watchful eye, resonating with the biblical narrative of the Hebrews in bondage. Ellen White’s inspired insights draw a poignant parallel between the plight of the Hebrews in Egypt and the enslaved Black people in the South. She declared, “God spoke concerning the captivity of the colored people as verily as He did concerning the Hebrew captives. . . . Those who study the history of the Israelites should also consider the history of the slaves in America.”* This connection underscores that God was just as attentive to the plight of the colored people as He was to the Hebrew captives.

Fearless Men and Women

History venerates the heroic and sacrificial actions of individuals who played pivotal roles in ending slavery. Sojourner Truth, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, William Lloyd Garrison, and Abraham Lincoln, alongside thousands of heroic Union soldiers, both White and Black, fought tirelessly to eradicate the scourge of slavery. Within the Adventist community, anti-slavery advocates such as John Byington, Joseph Bates, and James and Ellen White stood as outspoken change agents against this injustice.

In words credited to Harriet Tubman, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” The intertwining of faith and resilience has sculpted the narrative of the African American community. From the shackles of slavery to the pursuit of civil rights and beyond, faith has been a steadfast companion, providing strength, fostering resilience, and empowering individuals to realize their purpose in Christ and society.

This Black History Month let us be inspired to express gratitude to God for what He has done and anticipate the positive transformations He will continue to bring about. The legacies of liberty are a testament to the enduring power of faith, the providence of God, and the courage of individuals committed to justice and freedom.

* Ellen G. White, The Southern Work (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1898, 1901), pp. 41, 42.

Delbert W. Baker

Delbert W. Baker, Ph.D., resides in Laurel, Maryland. He is director of research and development for the Regional Conference Retirement Plan/Office of Regional Conference Ministries.