Mission to Black America

The True Story of James Edson White and the Riverboat Morning Star


Ron Graybill has a Master of Divinity degree from Andrews University and a PhD in American Religious History from Johns Hopkins University. He has worked as a university professor, historical researcher, corporate communications specialist, journalist, and editor during his career. He spent 13 years as an associate secretary at the Ellen G. White Estate at General Conference Headquarters, where he assisted Arthur White in writing the six-volume biography of Ellen G. White. He wrote the introduction to the current Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal and the original draft of the Preamble to the Seventh-day Adventist Statement of Fundamental Beliefs. His many articles on Adventist history made him one of the most frequently cited sources in the new Ellen G. White Encyclopedia.

In Mission to Black America, historian Ron Graybill tells the harrowing and yet inspiring story of James Edson White’s heroic and misunderstood efforts to spread the advent message among the Black people of Mississippi in the late 19th century. The Black people were willing to listen, but not everyone wanted them to hear. Before the first edition of this book was published in 1971, the author carefully researched the facts involved, visiting the sites in Mississippi, interviewing persons who lived through the events described, and making use of unpublished and confidential correspondence between Edson White and his mother, Ellen G. White. Graybill even uncovered previously unstudied court records on the Olvin murder case. For this new edition, the author has added further newly discovered facts and inserted photographs to illustrate the book.


Ron Graybill’s Mission to Black America remains as singular and significant an achievement as it was when first published nearly 50 years ago. It is a page-turner, accessible to readers across the spectrum of age groups and educational levels, and grounded in historical research of the highest caliber. That’s singular! It is also an honest account that inspires, not because its characters are flawless but because of their bold persistence in seeking to heal injustices along racial and economic lines, even though doing so provoked reprisals from powerful interests. The first edition of Mission to Black America in 1971 helped prod and guide a church grappling with a civil rights revolution that had left it behind. Re-readers and new readers today will find in this new edition as much or more significance for current issues, along with the joy of an exciting, meaningful story.

—Douglas Morgan, PhD, professor of History & Political Studies, Washington Adventist University