100 Famous African Americans and Seventh-day Adventists

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Published:
February 15, 2019

It’s amazing how many famous black people are or have been Seventh-day Adventists! The list of one-time Adventists includes a United States president’s grandfather, the world’s fastest person, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, the most influential civil rights leaders, one of the greatest rap groups of all time, the father of rock and roll and other Grammy award-winning musicians, movie producers, and groundbreaking physicians. Their influence has spanned the globe and transformed our modern world. Without further ado, here are 100 famous black individuals and their relationship to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

—Benjamin Baker, PhD, creator of blacksdahistory.org.

 


Authors


 

Arna Bontemps, Harlem Renaissance Author

Bontemps was raised Adventist and attended Adventist schools, graduating from Pacific Union College in 1923. For several years he taught at Harlem Adventist Academy and Oakwood College.

See: “Arna Bontemps,” Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

Alfred Fornay, Beauty and Cosmetics Author

Fornay is a lifelong Seventh-day Adventist and attends the Ephesus SDA Church in New York City.

See: “The History Makers,” blacksdahistory.org

 

Olivia Ward Bush-Banks, Author

Bush-Banks converted to the Seventh-day Adventist faith in the last years of her life (died 1944), following the lead of her daughter and granddaughter. She attended Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church in Harlem, New York City.

See: The Collected Works of Olivia Ward Bush-Banks by Bernice F. Guillaume, ed., Oxford University Press, p. 270, 320

 

Richard Wright, Author

When Wright’s mother became a paralytic when he was 12, he and his brother moved in with his grandmother, Margaret Wilson, in Jackson, Mississippi. Wilson was a devout Seventh-day Adventist, and raised him in the principles of the faith for the five years that he lived with her. Wright abandoned the religion, and grappled with its complex legacy throughout his life.

See: “Seventh Day Adventism,” Richard Wright Encyclopedia, p. 346-348

 


Civil Rights Activists, Lawyers, and Politicians


 

Barry Black, 62nd Chaplain of the U.S. Senate

Black is a lifelong Seventh-day Adventist. He earned degrees from Oakwood and Andrews University, and is an ordained Adventist minister.

See: From the Hood to the Hill by Barry Black

 

Ronald A. Brisé, Politician

Brisé was born and raised Seventh-day Adventist and graduated from Oakwood University.

See: “Commissioner Ronald A. Brisé,” My Florida Public Service Commission

 

Andell Brown, Attorney

Brown was born and raised Seventh-day Adventist and attended Oakwood University. He currently attends church in the Miami area.

See: Oakwood College Acorn, volume 45, 1998, p. 114

 

James A. Chiles, Civil Rights Attorney

One of the first blacks to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Chiles was an important pioneer of Adventism in the state of Kentucky.

See: “James Alexander Chiles,” University of Michigan Law

 

Martin Leslie CookTuskegee Airman and Civil Rights Activist

Cook (fourth from left in above photo) was introduced to Adventism at an early age by his grandmother, and later in life made the decision to join the church. He attended the First SDA Church for several years, was baptized at Brotherhood Church and when there was a merger he became part of the Capital Memorial Church. All three churches were in Washington, D.C. He died on October 15, 2002, and was interred at Arlington National Cemetery on the morning of December 6, 2002. That was a frigid, icy, cloudy morning and the scheduled flyover was cancelled. (A thank you to Dawn Reynolds for this information.)

See: Martin L. Cook Collection, Thomas Balch Library

 

Rosetta Douglass-Sprague, Civil Rights Activist

Frederick Douglass’ oldest child and personal assistant for decades, Rosetta Douglass-Sprague, joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church around 1892, when she lived in Washington, D.C. She was a member of the First SDA Church until her death in 1906.

See: Rosetta Douglass-Sprague, “Negroes in Washington,” Los Angeles Times, August 4, 1901, p. 9

 

Vincent Harding, Civil Rights Activist and Speechwriter for Martin Luther King, Jr.

Harding grew up in Harlem, New York City, and with his mother, attended a church that was “an offshoot of the Black Seventh-day Adventist denomination,” possibly J.K. Humphrey’s United Sabbath-day Adventists.

See: “Harding, Vincent Gordon,” The Martin Luther King, Jr., Encyclopedia

 

T.R.M. Howard, Physician and Civil Rights Leader

Howard was raised Adventist and attended Oakwood, Union, and Loma Linda University, earning degrees from all three, the latter with a medical degree.

See: Black Maverick: T.R.M. Howard's Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power by David T. and Linda Royster Beito

 

Sheila Jackson Lee, U.S. Representative

Jackson Lee was born to Jamaican parents in New York City. She is a lifelong Seventh-day Adventist and holds membership at an Adventist church in Houston, Texas.

See: “Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee,” United States House of Representatives

 

Louise Little, Social Justice Activist

Louise Little, the mother of Malcolm X, was converted to Adventism by neighbors in Lansing, Michigan, around 1934. For several years, she reared her eight children according to the principles of Adventism.

See: The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X with Alex Haley, p. 16-17

 

Alfred McKenzie, Tuskegee Airman and Civil Rights Activist

McKenzie attended the Breath of Life SDA Church outside of Washington, D.C.

See: “Alfred McKenzie, 80, airman who fought for civil rights” by Todd Richissin, The Baltimore Sun, April 6, 1998

 

Irene Morgan, Civil Rights Pioneer

Morgan was born and raised a Seventh-day Adventist and remained one her entire life.

See: “Morgan v. Virginia (1946),” Encyclopedia Virginia and “Hidden Figures: Black Adventist Women Who Made a Difference (Part 2: Irene Morgan)” by Benjamin Baker, Spectrum, February 26, 2018

 

Edgar Daniel (E.D.) Nixon, Civil Rights Activist

Nixon was born on July 12, 1899, in Loundes County, Alabama, to a father who was a Baptist minister and a mother who worked as a domestic. When his mother tragically died when he was nine, he was raised by his aunt Winnie Bates, a Seventh-day Adventist who lived outside of Montgomery in rural Autuga County. Nixon struck out on his own at age 14, and was never known to profess Adventism throughout his accomplished career as a civil rights activist.

See: Before Brown: Civil Rights and White Backlash in the Modern South by Glenn Feldman, p. 200

 

William L. Patterson, Lawyer and Civil Rights Activist

Patterson was the son of Mary and James Patterson, the latter becoming the first black overseas missionary of the Seventh-day Adventist Church when he sailed for Jamaica in 1892. Claiming that he was harshly disciplined by his father when “he failed to properly observe some religious tenet,” Patterson stated that “these punishments made an indelible impression upon my thinking and especially my attitude toward religion. I found nothing in his life’s work or family relations with which I could identify. To me he was a lost soul. I condemned the society in which he lived and not him.” Patterson never identified as an Adventist after.

See: Black Revolutionary: William Patterson and the Globalization of the African American Freedom Struggle by Gerald Horne, p. 15-16

 

Terrence Roberts, Member of the Little Rock Nine

Roberts’ mother converted to Adventism when he was 3 or 4, and he was baptized at 12 or 13. He had been an Adventist for about four years in 1957 when he and eight other black students were the first to desegregate Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Roberts taught at Pacific Union College from 1975-1977, and was a psychologist at the St. Helena Hospital from 1977-1985. Disenchanted with the slow way the Adventist Church moved on racial issues, he and his wife left around 1994.

See: “Nine Children Face an Angry Town” by Roy Adams, Adventist Review

 

John Street, Mayor of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

John Street was born and raised Seventh-day Adventist, attending Ebenezer SDA Church in Philadelphia. He held membership in the church throughout his mayoral term from 2000-2008.

See: “The Great Days of John Street” by Sasha Issenberg, Philadelphia Magazine, May 1, 2005

 

Willard S. Townsend, Labor Organizer

Townsend attended Seventh-day Adventist churches in his youth, but did not remain in the faith as an adult.

See: “Willard S. Townsend,” BlackPast

 

Malcolm X, Minister and Black Militant

Louise Little, Malcolm’s mother, was befriended and witnessed to by her white Adventist neighbors in Lansing, Michigan. She became a Seventh-day Adventist around 1934, and raised her eight children according to the principles of the faith. Here is what Malcolm X says in his Autobiography:

About this time, my mother began to be visited by some Seventh Day [sic] Adventists who had moved into a house not too far down the road from us. They would talk to her for hours at a time, and leave booklets and leaflets and magazines for her to read. She read them...

Before long, my mother spent much time with the Adventists. It’s my belief that what mostly influenced her was that they had even more diet restrictions than she always had taught and practiced with us. Like us, they were against eating rabbit and pork; they followed the Mosaic dietary laws. They ate nothing of the flesh without a split hoof, or that didn't chew a cud. We began to go with my mother to the Adventist meetings that were held further out in the country. For us children, I know that the major attraction was the good food they served. But we listened, too. There were a handful of Negroes, from small towns in the area, but I would say that it was ninety-nine percent white people. The Adventists felt that we were living at the end of time, that the world soon was coming to an end. But they were the friendliest white people I had ever seen.”

See: The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X with Alex Haley, p. 16-17

 


Educators


 

Eva B. Dykes, First Black woman to complete requirements for PhD

Eva B. Dykes was a lifelong Seventh-day Adventist. She taught at Oakwood University for more than thirty years, founding the Aeolians in 1946.

See: She Fulfilled the Impossible Dream (2016) and “Eva Beatrice Dykes: First African American Woman to Complete PhD Requirements” by DeWitt Williams, December 10, 2018

 

Frank W. Hale, Jr., Educator and Activist

Hale was a lifelong Seventh-day Adventist, serving as president of Oakwood College and, through activism, doing much to improve race relations in the church. He was a pillar of the Adventist community in Columbus, Ohio, and Allegheny West Conference/Columbia Union.

See: Angels Watching Over Me by Frank W. Hale, Jr.

 

Anna Knight, Educator and Activist

The daughter of the famed Newton Knight (subject of Free State of Jones, the 2016 motion picture starring Matthew McConaughey), Anna Knight was a lifelong Seventh-day Adventist, who spent the last twenty years of her life teaching and residing at Oakwood College.

See: From Cotton Fields to Mission Fields: The Anna Knight Story by Dorothy Knight Marsh

 

David R. Williams, Researcher and Educator

Williams is a lifelong Seventh-day Adventist and graduated from Loma Linda University. He attends church in the Boston area.

See: “David R. Williams,” Harvard University and “The Surprising Things that Impact Your Health: An Interview with David Williams” by Alita Byrd, Spectrum, August 7, 2018

 


Physicians


 

Mary Britton, Physician and Social Justice Activist

Britton joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1893, a charter member of the first black SDA church in Lexington, Kentucky. She remained active in the faith until her death in 1925.

See: “Hidden Figures: Black Adventist Women Who Made a Different (Part 1: Mary Britton)” by Benjamin Baker, Spectrum, February 22, 2018

 

Ben Carson, Pediatric Neurosurgeon and Politician

Carson is a lifelong Seventh-day Adventists, and currently attends an Adventist church in suburban Maryland.

See: Gifted Hands by Ben Carson with Cecil Murphey

 

Phil McDonald, Sports Radiologist

McDonald was born and raised a Seventh-day Adventist and attended Oakwood University. He currently attends church in the Los Angeles area.

See: Oakwood College Acorn, volume 45, 1998, p. 137

 

Ruth Temple, Physician and Activist

Temple converted to Adventism while a teenager, and in 1908 was a charter member of the Furlong Track Church, the first black SDA congregation in the West. She received her medical doctorate from Loma Linda University, and was an active Adventist until her death in 1984.

See: “Ruth Janetta Temple,” Black Women Oral History Project, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, June 12, 1978 and “Hidden Figures: Black Adventist Women Who Made a Difference (Part 3: Ruth Temple)” by Benjamin Baker, Spectrum, March 2, 2018

 


Actors and Producers


 

Mark Brown, Movie Producer

Brown graduated from Takoma Academy and attends a Seventh-day Adventist church in Los Angeles, California.

See: “Is There Room for Us in Hollywood?” by Laura Beaven, Visitor magazine

 

Clifton Davis, Actor, Musician, Minister

Davis earned theology degrees from Oakwood and Andrews University, and for many years pastored Adventist congregations.

See: “Clifton Davis” by Michael E. Hill, Washington Post

 

Kim FieldsActress

Born and raised in Harlem, New York City, Fields attended Seventh-day Adventist churches in her youth. She does not currently practice the faith.

See: Blessed Life: My Surprising Journey of Joy, Tears, and Tales from Harlem to Hollywood by Kim Fields with Todd Gold

 

DeVon Franklin, Movie Producer

Franklin is a lifelong Seventh-day Adventist and an ordained minister. He is known for observing the seventh-day Sabbath and other Adventist principles despite the demands of Hollywood.

See: Produced by Faith by DeVon Franklin with Tim Vandehey

 

Ananda Lewis, TV Show Host

Lewis joined NAPS (National Association for the Prevention of Starvation) on a mission trip to Ethiopia in 2002. She was baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist faith on June 1 of that year.

See: “Ethiopia Mission 2002,” NAPS Global

 

Dawnn Lewis, Actress

Lewis identifies as a Seventh-day Adventist and attends an Adventist church in the greater Los Angeles area.

See: “Hollywood Gets A Conscience,” BeliefNet.com

 

Greg Mathis, Judge and TV Personality

Mathis was baptized by Calvin Rock and attended City Temple SDA in Detroit, Michigan. He credits Adventism, and particularly Calvin and Clara Rock, with making him who he is today.

See: Greg Mathis’ comments at Celia Rock’s memorial service, blacksdahistory.org

 

Kenneth “Chi” McBride, Actor

McBride was born to Seventh-day Adventist Caribbean parents in Chicago, Illinois, and attended Shiloh Adventist Academy. He is no longer an Adventist.

See: “8 Interesting Facts To Know About Actor Kenneth “Chi” McBride,” Your World

 

Moniece Slaughter, Reality TV Star

Slaughter is the daughter of Marla Thomas, wife of Take 6’s David Thomas. She was raised Seventh-day Adventist.

See: Moniece Slaughter, Instagram, @moniece_slaughter

 

Jonathan Slocumb, Comedian and Actor

Slocumb was born and raised Seventh-day Adventist and graduated from Oakwood University.

See: “Christian Comic Gets Godly Share Of Guffaws” by Allan Johnson, Chicago Tribune, November 15, 1991 

 

Philip Michael Thomas, Actor and Musician

Thomas studied theology at Oakwood University in 1967-1968.

See: Oakwood College Acorn, volume 19, 1968 (p. 56)

 


Musicians


 

A Tribe Called Quest, Rappers

Q-Tip (Jonathan Davis) and Phife Dawg (Malik Taylor) met in a Seventh-day Adventist Church and attended the Linden Jamaica SDA School in Queens, New York City.

See: “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest

 

Atlantic Starr, Musician

David Lewis (front right in above photo) was raised a Seventh-day Adventist and remained one throughout his successful music career with Atlantic Starr. However, in 1995 he experienced a renewal of his faith, was baptized, and began a ministry with his wife, former model, Marian Jones.

See: “Back Home” by Andy Nash, Adventist Review, June 18, 1998

 

J.D. Blair, Drummer

Blair was born and raised a Seventh-day Adventist, spending a portion of his childhood in the Oakwood University community in Huntsville, Alabama.

See: “J.D. Blair,” TheBlackPage.net 

 

Angela Brown, Opera Singer

Brown was born and raised Seventh-day Adventist and graduated from Oakwood University.

See: “About,” AngelaMBrown.com 

 

Cleo Brown, Jazz Musician

Brown left a lucrative career as a jazz musician to become an Adventist. She wrote:

I had been baptized into the Seventh Day [sic] Adventists in 1953, and I never looked back. I had discovered that swinging doesn’t incite decency and order, and I just pray to the Lord that playing the way I did today doesn’t get me into a whole lot of trouble.

Brown practiced nursing for twenty years, and in retirement was the organist for her local Adventist church in Denver until her death in 1987.

See: “Cleo Brown,” National Endowment for the Arts: Jazz Masters

 

Joyce Bryant, Musician

Bryant was born to Seventh-day Adventist parents in Oakland, California, but abandoned the faith when she eloped and left home at age 14. After a successful, if brief, career as a nightclub musician, at age 28 Bryant left the entertainment industry and enrolled in Oakwood College.

See: Oakwood College Acorn, 1956, p. 65

 

Vivian Cervantes, Singer and Entertainer

Cervantes was influenced to give up the entertainment business and become a Seventh-day Adventist missionary by her close friend Joyce Bryant. She attended Oakwood College in 1955-1956.

See: Oakwood College Acorn, 1956, p. 65

 

Janice Chandler-Eteme, Lyric Soprano

Chandler-Eteme was born and raised Seventh-day Adventist. She earned a degree in Music from Oakwood University.

See: “Janice Chandler-Eteme,” Baltimore School of Arts

 

André Cymone, Musician

André Simon Anderson was born to Seventh-day Adventist parents Fred and Bernadette Anderson in Minneapolis, Minnesota. When the musician Prince was 13 years old and going through significant family struggles, he stayed with his friend and fellow Adventist André in the home of Bernadette Anderson. Cymone was later the bassist for Prince’s band and on several of his albums.

See: Prince: A Thief in the Temple by Brian Morton, Chapter 2

 

Committed, Musicians

Committed was formed at Forest Lake Academy and Oakwood University; each of its members were born and raised Seventh-day Adventist.

See: “NBC 'Sing-Off' Winners Committed Deliver Uplifting Debut” by Phill Gallo, Billboard, August 23, 2011

 

Ullanda McCullough Innocent-PalmerMusician

In 1985 Innocent-Palmer was baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church and left the secular music business to sing sacred music.

See: “Ullanda Innocent-Palmer,” ullanda.com

 

Cheryl “Salt” James, Rapper

James joined NAPS (National Association for the Prevention of Starvation) on a mission trip to Ethiopia in 2002. She was baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist faith on June 1 of that year.

See: “Ethiopia Mission 2002,” NAPS Global

 

Al Jarreau, Musician

Jarreau was born in Milwaukee but moved to New Orleans in his childhood. His father, Emile Jarreau, was a one-time Seventh-day Adventist minister, and his mother, Pearl, the church organist. Jarreau once quipped, “I grew up the son of a Seventh Day [sic] Adventist minister, so I was really close to the church and sang church music between sips at my bottle, you know? I sat on the piano bench next to my mother. She was the church organist, so that music is deeply inside of me.”

See: “Al Jarreau, Seven-Time Grammy-Winning Singer, Dies at 76” by Matt Schudel, Washington Post

 

Alyne Dumas Lee, Opera Singer

Lee was a lifelong Seventh-day Adventist. She attended Oakwood University and was a professor of music there at the time of her death in 1970.

See: Oakwood College Acorn, volume 21, 1970, p. 66

 

Spider LocRapper

Norvell Williams was born and raised Seventh-day Adventist and attended Oakwood University.

See: “Spider Loc,” Cam Capone News

 

Joe Lutcher, Musician

Lutcher abandoned worldly music for Adventism in 1953, and four years later convinced Little Richard to get serious about the Adventist faith and quit touring, as well. Lutcher was an Adventist until his death in 2006.

See: “People Are,” Jet, p. 48

 

Stevie Mackey, Vocal Coach and Musician

Mackey was born and raised Seventh-day Adventist and attended Oakwood University.

See: “Stevie Mackey,” steviemackey.com

 

Brian McKnight, Musician

McKnight was born and raised in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Buffalo, New York, and Orlando, Florida. He attended Oakwood University from 1987-1989, but was expelled, which gave him a chance to focus on music full time. His brother, Claude McKnight, is a member of Take 6.

See: Oakwood College Acorn, 1989, p. 78

 

  

Ivor and Sean Myers, Rap Group Boogiemonsters                                                                                                           

The Myers brothers were converted to Adventism in 1995. Both are now ordained Seventh-day Adventist ministers.

See: Escape from the Black Hole by Ivor Myers

 

Naturally 7, Musicians

All seven of the members grew up as Seventh-day Adventists in New York City and the UK.

See: “The Christian Roots of the Acclaimed Harmonisers,” CrossRhythms, July 5, 2017

 

O, Rapper

Marquis Johns is currently an ordained Seventh-day Adventist minister.

See: “My Testimony,” Lewisham Adventist

 

Kevin Olusola, Grammy-Award Winning Musician

Olusola (far right in above photo) of the group Pentatonix was born and raised Seventh-day Adventist and attended Loma Linda University.

​​See: “Pentatonix beatboxer keeps God and family close while succeeding in entertainment” by Sarah Peterson, Deseret News, August 7, 2015

 

Wintley Phipps, Musician and Minister

Phipps is a lifelong Seventh-day Adventist. He earned degrees from Oakwood and Andrews University, and is an ordained Adventist minister.

See: “Wintley Phipps,” Dream Academy

 

Prince, Musician

Prince Rogers Nelson was raised a Seventh-day Adventist by his grandmother in Minneapolis, Minnesota, attending Glendale Seventh-day Adventist Church. Prince reflected the following on his Adventist upbringing: “I was made to go to church when I was young. Most thing I got out of that is the experience of the choir….As far as a message was concerned, a lot of it was based in fear, what will happen to you if you do something and I don’t think God is to be feared that way. I think he’s a loving God.” Prince’s music is replete with Adventist symbolism.

See: I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon by Touré, p. 135-153

 

Little Richard, Rock & Roll Pioneer

Richard Penniman was raised a Baptist but he converted to the Seventh-day Adventist Church in his early twenties through the preaching of E. C. Ward. Penniman attended Oakwood, and at various points he has operated as an Adventist evangelist. He has maintained a membership with the church throughout his life, and has even distributed Steps to Christ and other SDA literature at his concerts.

See: “Personal Testimony from Little Richard,” 3ABN Fall Camp Meeting 2017

 

Busta Rhymes, Rapper

Busta Rhymes, aka Trevor Smith Jr., was raised in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York City, by devout Seventh-day Adventist Jamaican parents. With independence from his parents, Busta quickly jettisoned the religion, however, and as a teenager became a member of the Nation of Gods and Earths/Five-Percent Nation.

See: “Follow the Leader,” Vibe, November 1997, p. 98

 

Rome, R&B Singer

Jerome “Rome” Woods was raised an Adventist and attended Oakwood University from 1987-1989, dropping out to pursue a musical career.

See: Oakwood College Acorn, volume 34, 1987, p. 78

 

Brandie SuttonOpera Singer

Sutton was born and raised a Seventh-day Adventist and graduated from Oakwood University.

See: “Brandie Sutton,” BrandieSuttonSoprano.com

 

Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, Musician

Thomas was raised Seventh-day Adventist, but strayed away from the faith while pursuing a very successful music career. She credits Doug Batchelor of Amazing Facts Ministries with helping her reconnect with the Adventist gospel.

See: Instagram @therealchilli

 

Take 6, Grammy Award-Winning Musicians

Take 6 was formed at Oakwood University in 1980. Each of its founding and current members were raised Seventh-day Adventist. 

See: “Bio,” take6.com

 

Shirley Verrett, Opera Singer

Verrett was born and raised in a Seventh-day Adventist home. Throughout her life she maintained ties with the church.

See: I Never Walked Alone: The Autobiography of an American Singer by Shirley Verrett with Christopher Brooks, p. 5, 21, 29

 

Virtue, Grammy-Nominated Musicians

The current members of Virtue, Ebony Holland, Heather Martin, and Karima Kibble, were born and raised Seventh-day Adventist and attended Oakwood University, where they formed in 1994.

See: “Many Oakwood University Aeolians go on to professional careers in music” by Pat Ammons, AL.com

 

Mervyn Warren, Grammy Award-Winning Musician

Warren was born and raised Seventh-day Adventist, graduating from Oakwood University. He is no longer an Adventist.

See: “Biography,” mervynwarren.com

 

Chris Willis, Musician

Willis was born and raised Seventh-day Adventist and attended Oakwood University.

See: Oakwood College Acorn, volume 34, 1987, p. 78

 

Justin Wilson, Grammy Award-Winning Producer

Wilson (right in above photo) was born and raised a Seventh-day Adventist and graduated from Oakwood University.

See: “Justin A. Wilson,” Breath of Life Records

 


Athletes


 

Deandre Ayton, NBA Star

Ayton was born and raised in a Seventh-day Adventist family in Nassau, Bahamas, attending church each Sabbath.

See: “Deandre Ayton is not afraid to be the next big thing” by Myron Medcalf, ESPN, January 10, 2018

 

Usain Bolt, Gold Medal Olympic Athlete

Bolt was raised in a Seventh-day Adventist home, as a youth attending the Sherwood Content Seventh-day Adventist Church in Trelawny, Jamaica.

See: “Olympic Champion Usain Bolt Was Raised in Adventist Home” by Felipe Lemos, Adventist Review

 

Ed Correa, MLB Pitcher

Born and raised a Seventh-day Adventist in Puerto Rico, Correa played in the MLB for almost two years, not pitching on Friday nights or Saturdays. He retired due to an arm injury.

See: “Ed Correa,” Baseball Reference

 

Grace Daley, WNBA Star

Daley’s family joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church when she was 16 years old. She retired from the WNBA after only three years of play to be faithful to her Adventist beliefs. 

See: “Driving Forward” by Lael Caesar, Adventist Review

 

Roy Jefferson, NFL Star

Jefferson was a member of Sligo SDA Church in Takoma Park, Maryland, and for a number of years taught at the church’s school. Beginning in 1970, Jefferson was a leader in social justice efforts for at-risk youth and school desegregation, facilitating Sligo being at the forefront.

See: “Roy Jefferson: The NFL’s Foot Prints in the Sand” by Harold Bell, Bleacher Report, September 2, 2010

 

Magic Johnson, NBA Legend and Entrepreneur

When Earvin Johnson was around ten years old, his mother became a Seventh-day Adventist. Here’s what he remembers of the time:

[W]hen I was about ten, a woman started going from house to house, with religious books and Bibles. She was a Seventh-Day [sic] Adventist, and when Mom was receptive, she came back again and again….

When Mom became an Adventist, things got pretty tense for a while. Dad was deep in the Baptist church, active on all the committees. He and I both sang in the choir. Mom wanted the whole family to become Seventh-Day [sic] Adventists, and for a few weeks we all did — except Dad.

Johnson’s sisters attended Oakwood University, and his mother is an Adventist to this day, almost fifty years since her conversion to the faith. In May 2016 the Oakwood University Church awarded Magic Johnson with the Humanitarian Award, and Johnson pledged $550,000 to the church and school.

See: My Life by Earvin “Magic” Johnson with William Novak (1993) p. 8-9, and “Magic and Cookie Johnson Receive Humanitarian Award

 

Steve Johnson, NBA Player

Johnson was born and raised in a Seventh-day Adventist home, attending Loma Linda Academy in the early 1970s. He left home at 17 so that he could play basketball on the Sabbath and ultimately made it to the NBA and a ten-year career.

See: “The NBA Playoffs: He's the Spurs' Man Friday: As Youth, Steve Johnson Left Home, Religion” by Sam McManis, Los Angeles Times, April 23, 1986

 

Bob Lanier, NBA Legend

Lanier was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. He says of his upbringing:

I’ve really been blessed. You know this story: I started serving people with my mother [Nattie Mae] at church. Getting food to people who were sick or needy, taking it to the hospital, taking it to people’s houses or feeding them right after church. My mother was a Seventh Day [sic] Adventist and she was in the church all the time. She had me and my sister and a bunch of kids, we would all be there every Saturday. You start off doing it not only because your mother tells you to, but the food was good.

See: “NBA legend Bob Lanier reflects on career, current game and impact off the floor” by Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

 

Archie Moore, World Champion Boxer

Moore became a Seventh-day Adventist in 1966, after his career as the longest reigning World Light Heavyweight Champion in boxing history. He was active in the church and youth uplift until his death in 1998.

See: The Ageless Warrior: The Life of Boxing Legend Archie Moore by Mike Fitzgerald 2004

 

Regan Upshaw, NFL Star

Upshaw was born and raised in a Seventh-day Adventist home. His father, Charles R. Upshaw, was the first African American vice president at Andrews University.

See: Pleasant Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church Facebook Page, February 15, 2015

 


Others


 

Johnny Rivers, Chef

Rivers is a lifelong Seventh-day Adventist, attending church in the Orlando area.

See: “‘Johnny Rivers’ Biography,” Orlando Sentinel

 

Robert Shurney, Outer Space Inventor

Dr. Shurney was a lifelong Seventh-day Adventist.

See: “Dr. Robert Shurney,” NASA

 

 

Eric ThomasMotivational Speaker

Thomas earned an undergraduate degree from Oakwood University and is an ordained Seventh-day Adventist minister.

See: The Secret to Success by Eric Thomas, 2011

 

Brenda Wood, News Anchor

Wood is the adopted daughter of the legendary Oakwoodite Alma Blackmon. She attended Oakwood University and graduated from Loma Linda University. Wood currently attends a Seventh-day Adventist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.

See: “Why Brenda Wood is Different” by Vincent Coppola, Adventist Review, December 1997, p. 8-12

 


 


Not Quite Seventh-day Adventists, but Serious Adventist Connections


 

Muhammad Ali, Boxer

In the mid-70s Muhammad Ali purchased a farm in Berrien Springs, Michigan, just minutes from Andrews University. Although he hosted scores of seminary students who tried to win him to Adventism, he remained a Muslim until his death.

See: “Muhammad Ali Enjoyed Warm Relationship With Adventists” by Andy McChesney Adventist Review

 

Frederick Douglass, Civil Rights Activist

Frederick Douglass is best known among Adventists for recognizing as a slave the 1833 Leonid meteor shower as a welcome sign of the second coming of Christ. What is less known is that Douglass’ oldest child and personal assistant for decades, Rosetta Douglass-Sprague, joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church around 1892 and kept the faith until her death in 1906.

See: Rosetta Douglass-Sprague, “Negroes in Washington,” Los Angeles Times, August 4, 1901, p. 9, and “Adventism and America’s Original Sin (Part 3)” by Douglas Morgan, Spectrum.

 

Roberta Flack, Musician

Flack was nine years old when she took piano lessons from Alma Blackmon, a legendary educator and musician of the Seventh-day Adventist faith. Blackmon taught Flack for four years, and made it possible for her to attend college earlier than usual. Flack has always been friendly with Adventists, but never became one.

See: “Robert Flack,” Ebony, January 1971, p. 56

 

Kirk Franklin, Musician

Franklin was never an Adventist, but at 19 years old was the minister of music for the Grace Temple SDA Church in Ft. Worth, Texas. Of the experience he writes: “If anything, Adventist churches are even more reserved and traditional than Baptist churches, but I didn’t let that stop me! My musical style was a little wild for them at first, but they liked it. The choir started growing, so they didn’t complain too loudly.”

See: Church Boy: My Music & My Life by Kirk Franklin

 

Meagan Good, Actress

In 2012 Good married outspoken Seventh-day Adventist movie producer and lay minister DeVon Franklin. Since then she has frequently attended Adventist churches with him, giving her testimony.

See: The Wait: A Powerful Practice for Finding the Love of Your Life and the Life You by DeVon Franklin and Meagan Good

 

Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States

Onyango Obama, Barack’s grandfather, was one of the earliest converts to Adventism in the Kendu Bay-Lake Victoria region of Kenya. Adventist missionaries Arthur and Helen Carscallen (Canada), and Peter Nyambo (Malawi) began missionary work among the Luo people in 1906. Baptized into the faith at 9-years old, Onyango attended an Adventist boarding school established by missionaries. So deeply was Adventism implanted among the Obama family that about half of the family is still Adventist today, celebrating Barack Obama’s inauguration sans alcohol and unclean meat.

See: The Obamas: The Untold Story of an African Family by Peter Firstbrook, p. 8, 126-128, 142

 

Rosa Parks, Civil Rights Icon

In the summer of 1954 the dynamic Adventist evangelist E. E. Cleveland held an evangelistic tent meeting in Montgomery, Alabama. Some 500 people were baptized by the end of the year, quite a sizeable amount for any city, let alone the small Alabama town. Among those who attended the meetings on many nights was Rosa Parks, along with Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ralph Abernathy. The next year the town of Montgomery — and the nation — would be turned upside down when Rosa Parks refused to vacate her seat on a city bus for a white man. On that bus was Parks’ friend, an Adventist woman named Minneola Dozier Smith, who vacated the bus in protest after Parks was arrested. Throughout her years of activism, Parks was mentored by the Oakwood and Loma Linda University alumnus T.R.M. Howard.

See: “Ala. woman recalls Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up seat” by Alvin Benn, USA Today, May 28, 2013 

 

Sojourner Truth, Civil Rights Activist

In her long life, Truth was often around Adventists, even though she may never have actually joined the church. She toured the Millerite circuits as a featured speaker, and her biographer Nell Irvin Painter states that it was among the Millerites that Truth underwent a personal transformation and discovered her life’s purpose. Eyewitnesses claimed that Truth was later baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church by Uriah Smith; a biography of her was published by the Review and Herald; one of her funeral services was held at the Dime Tabernacle in Battle Creek; and she is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery with other Seventh-day Adventist luminaries, including James and Ellen White.

See: “Lifted Lamp in the World’s Wild Storm” by James E. Dykes, Message, February, 1958

 


 

Benjamin Baker, PhD, is the creator of blacksdahistory.org. He writes from Maryland.

Images: public domain, compiled by the author.

This article has been updated to include more names (Feb. 19, 2019, 9:00 a.m. ET); the information for Martin Leslie Cook has been updated (Feb. 22, 2019).

 

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