The Morning Star
Sister White loved the colored people, who were so many in the South, and who had had little chance to learn about the soon coming of Jesus. She said they were not thought of and cared for as they ought to be. And she urged that more time and effort be given to them. Most of them were very poor and had little schooling. Many of them could not read or write. She wanted simple lessons made for them, about Jesus and His love, and how He saves poor sinners and lifts them up to higher life. She wanted to have schools made for them, that they might be taught to read the Bible and other good books. She wanted to have them taught how to live better and have better health. She wanted them taught trades, and how to work and save and make better homes.
When she left America and went to Australia she kept on writing. Among other things, she wrote about the needs of the colored people in the South. She wrote letters to her son, Edson White, and after a while his heart was fired with pity and love for the poor and needy, and he said that he would give himself to the work for the Southern Negroes.
Now Edson White was a practical man, who could do things with his hands as well as with his brain. For a while he had run a steamboat on the upper Mississippi River, and now he thought he would build a steamboat and go in it to the South, and teach the colored people. He said this steamboat could be a home for him and his wife and the workers who were with them. Its deck could be a meeting place, to hold Sabbath school and church. He could have a small printing press there, and print lessons for the children and the grownups; for he was a printer too. And the boat could move around from place to place, and not be held to one spot.
So Edson White built a steamboat up in Michigan, at Allegan, on the Kalamazoo River. When it was done he took his wife and some other workers with him, and in the boat they went down the river to Lake Michigan, across the lake to Chicago, and along the Illinois River to the Mississippi. Down the Mississippi River they went to the South, until they reached a city named Vicksburg, where there were a good many colored people.
They tied the boat up to the bank, and went out into the city to visit the people. Brother White had made a little book called The Gospel Primer. It was just what a primer is for, to teach children to read. And since there were so many grownups who had not learned to read, it would teach grown people too. This primer told the gospel story, about Jesus’ love in making the world, and creating men and women and children, and how He would save them from their sins, and would make a home for them in glory. It was a pretty little book, with many pictures in it, and it told a beautiful story.
So they showed the book to the people, mothers and fathers and children, and they sold some. To those who could not read, they said, “Come down to the boat, the Morning Star, and we will teach you to read. Come tomorrow,” they said, “and we will have a gospel meeting. And after that we will make a school.”
Now, the next day was Sabbath, and they planned to have Sabbath school on the deck of the boat. They did not know how many of the colored people would come, but they were surprised. For the people had talked among themselves, and those who could, read out of The Gospel Primer to those who could not read. And they said, “Let's go down to the Morning Star. Isn't that a pretty name? It means the night is almost over. You see the morning star just before the sun comes up, and you know the day is at hand. Maybe the Morning Star will help us. Let's go!”
So Sabbath morning they began to come down to the boat. They didn't know it was Sabbath. It was just another day to them. But there was the Morning Star, and they stood on the bank and gazed on it, and talked and laughed a good deal. Finally it came nine o'clock, time for Sabbath school to begin. There was an awning over the deck, and there were chairs placed for them to sit on. That is, for some of them. There were too many people for the chairs they had.
The plank was placed from the deck to the shore, and they were asked to come on board. Some of them came, fathers and mothers and children, and sat down as they were told. But most of them held back. It was well they did, for there was not room enough on the boat. So they sat on the bank and listened.
Brother and Sister White were good singers, and the workers they had with them were good singers too. They had a little organ on the boat, and one played while they all sang:
“On Jordan's stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wishful eye
To Canaan's fair and happy land,
Where my possessions lie.”
And they sang:
“We have heard a joyful sound,
Jesus saves, Jesus saves;
Spread the gladness all around,
Jesus saves, Jesus saves.”
They had a good many meetings after that. The colored people had beautiful songs too; and after they had worked off their shyness, sometimes they sang such songs as this:
“I looked over Jordan, and what did I see,
Coming for to carry me home?
A band of angels coming after me,
Coming for to carry me home.
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home,
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home.”
Then Brother White would preach to them. They loved to hear him preach. He spoke very simply, and told them many stories. Sometimes he would tell them of the glories of heaven, and sometimes he would talk about how to get rid of bad habits. Sometimes it was the Sabbath he taught them, and then again it would be the tender love of Jesus.
One day he was preaching to them about the Ten Commandments, the law of God. He held up a stick, and said, “How long do you think this stick is?”
“Ten inches,” someone called.
“Two feet,” said another.
“Twenty inches,” was another guess.
Then he took out his pocket rule, laid it on the stick, and measured it. It was just eight and one-fourth inches long.
“You see,” he said, “it won't do to guess. You need a rule to tell you what is true. Now, God's rule is His law, the Ten Commandments. Don't try to guess what you ought to do. Take God's rule and be sure.”
They started a school right away. The children came, and the young people came, and the old people came. Of course, the children learned more quickly than the fathers and mothers and the uncles and aunties. For it is easier to learn when you are young than when you are old. But they all learned, and they read out of The Gospel Primer. Long afterward Auntie Chloe Miller told me how she went to the school.
“I learned to read at Brother White's school,” she said. “I was ‘bout fifty years old. Never had a chance to learn or nuthin'. But I started, and in a month I could read, but I couldn't understan'. I used to cry over it. But then Sister White—she's the blessed woman!—she'd encourage me. Come set right down by me, she would, and help me. And in two months I could read and I could understan'. Sister White she was a good woman! And she could sing! Brother White and she suttinly could sing! I reckon she was the best singer that ever went out!”
Very soon the work went beyond Vicksburg. It went up the Yazoo River, and more than one school was started. Then it went out through the State of Mississippi, and over into Alabama, and up into Tennessee, and several other States. There came to be fifty such schools, and many, many colored people began to keep the Sabbath and to look with joy for the coming of Jesus. They cleaned up too, leaving off the use of tobacco, liquor, and bad foods. They became neat and clean, and they worked hard, and made their
homes happy places for their children to grow up in.
By and by Edson White moved the center of his work to Nashville, Tennessee. There he started a print shop, printing books and the monthly paper, Gospel Herald. He used the Morning Star on the river that runs through Nashville. And everywhere the Morning Star went, there came good cheer and hope among the colored people.
When his mother, Sister White, came back from Australia, in 1900, she came to visit Edson White in the South. She went about to many of their churches and schools, and encouraged and blessed the people with her prayers and her ministry. She was very glad to see the work begun which she had urged should be done for the colored people.