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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Cook, Tuskegee 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.
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.
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.”
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
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.
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 Fields, Actress
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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-Palmer, Musician
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.
Spider Loc, Rapper
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.
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
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 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.
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.
Brandie Sutton, Opera 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.
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.
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
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
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 Thomas, Motivational 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.
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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