Photo credits: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Archives
Franklin Henry Bryant was the first African American Seventh-day Adventist to author a book.
Bryant was also the first African American to earn a law degree from the University of Colorado. In August 1898 he accepted Adventism as a young man in Yazoo City, Mississippi, where he joined the crew of the missionary steamer Morning Star, serving as a stenographer to J. Edson White.
An invalid because of lung problems, Bryant applied himself in school and served as editor for a local paper. While living onboard the Morning Star, he studied “the principles of present truth” in order to “soon become an active missionary to his own people.” He received baptism at the boat landing near the Issaquena Church in 1899. In March 1899, he left the Morning Star to visit family in northern Mississippi and then his father in Colorado before going to North Carolina to begin mission work. In conjunction with D.T. Shireman, head of the Adventist school in Hildebran, Franklin worked as a Bible instructor and teacher among African Americans in nearby Hickory.
In 1901, he went to Battle Creek to receive treatment for “a difficulty with his face.” While there, he published two poems in a Washington, D.C. newspaper entitled, “Hail Columbia,” and “To Alabama, Et Al.” The poems reveal Bryant’s disenchantment with the Republican Party for its failed promises to black Americans. While at Battle Creek, Bryant was disappointed by the cool reception he received. Edson White wrote his brother, W.C. White, asking him to intercede on Bryant’s behalf and telling his brother that he had offered to put Bryant through medical school in Nashville.
In 1903, Bryant published Black Smiles, a book of poems, “descriptive of the Southern negro life, character, and dialect in slavery time.” It was the first book published by an African American Seventh-day Adventist author. He planned to support himself in medical training at Meharry Medical College in Nashville through book sales.
In 1903, Bryant wrote an article in The Tennessean entitled, “Good Advice to the Colored People.” In it he addressed American whites, “We are inseparable from you. Your success, your interests, your land, your God is ours.” Then he addressed American blacks, “demanding rights … is not worth half so much to us as a race of people as is that other principle of being right.”
Bryant went on to study at Northwestern University in Chicago and at the University of Colorado in Denver, where he graduated in 1907 as the university’s first black student to earn a law degree. While in Colorado, Bryant’s political views continued to change. As a student, Bryant was arrested while participating in a socialist march. He later lectured on socialism and other social issues and ran for county judge as a socialist.1 He lived with his father in Denver until 1908 and practiced law there and then in Boulder.
Franklin Bryant died on February 4, 1909, after filing briefs in the Colorado Supreme Court against the state board of medical examiners for the unconstitutionality of a Colorado law. After his death, Edson White obtained the rights to Black Smiles from Peter J. Rennings, the book’s illustrator and first financier, and republished the book for the benefit of the Southern Missionary Society.
Reference: Baker, K. Bryant, Franklin Henry (1877–1909) Retrieved from https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=4CG8
“At Hickory, N.C.” Gospel Herald, June 1900.
“Black Smiles,” The Gospel Herald, April 1912.
Bryant, Franklin Henry. Black Smiles (Nashville: Southern Missionary Society, 1903, 1909. Accessed May 6, 2017, https://archive.org/details/blacksmiles00brya.
Bryant, Franklin H. “Good Advice to the Colored People,” Letter to the Editor. The Tennessean, March 5, 1903.
Bryant, Franklin Henry. “Hail Columbia.” The Colored American, August 24, 1901.
Bryant, Franklin Henry. “Spirit of the Age.” Appeal to Reason [Girard, Kansas], June 27, 1908.
Bryant, Franklin Henry, “To Alabama, Et Al,” The Colored American, September 7, 1901.
James Edson White Letters. Ellen G. White Estate. Accessed April 5, 2019, http://ellenwhite.org/resources/correspondence/james-edson-white-letters.
“Morning Star Group of Southern Missionary Workers.” The Gospel Herald, March 1899.
Review of Black Smiles. The Inter Ocean, October 26, 1903.
*BlackThen.com writer and historian Victor Trammell edited this report.