screenshot from the May 14, 1968 Lake Union Herald
News of the unjust death of George Floyd have sparked protests around the country—and here in our union. Historians have compared this time to the unrest of 1968 and 1969. In April 1968, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. sparked a two-day unrest known as the Chicago Riot. The Lake Union Herald archives show how Seventh-day Adventist churches worked to support the neighborhood after the demonstrations.
1968 Chicago Riot
“The Chicago area riot began on Friday evening, April 5, with burning and looting of many stores in and around the area bounded by Roosevelt on the south, Madison on the north, Pulaski on the west, and Damon on the east,” wrote R. W. Bates, Lay Activist Secretary for Lake Region Conference in 1968. “The magnitude of the riot, and the rapidity with which it grew, told us that emergency measures must be taken immediately. By Saturday night the Dorcas and Adventist Men of the West Side and Shiloh churches, and a West Side ladies club known as the Society of Christian Ladies were alerted to report to the West Side for work on Sunday, April 7.”
Today, the Dorcas Society goes by a different name, Adventist Community Services. The Dorcas Society, named after a believer with a passion to serve others, were made up of groups of women who worked to meet the needs of families in the church or their immediate community by providing clothes, food, and/or money.
“The…riot on Chicago’s West Side presented a challenge and opportunity to the Independence Boulevard church. Thousands of the hungry and homeless were given food, clothing, and solace at the church welfare center.
Elder R. W. Bates, lay activities secretary, R. C. Brown, church pastor, the Adventist Men of the church in the city, and the health and welfare workers united to meet the demands for help.”
Chicago Churches Respond to Chicago Riot
When the rioting stopped, no Seventh-day Adventist Church was damaged or destroyed, but many of the community had become unrecognizable. Only one family from the Independence Boulevard church had been affected. Their home, located in the heart “of one of the worst riot-torn areas of the city,” had completely burned and all their belongings with it. During their hardship, the church supported the family.
After evaluating the needs of their community, the Independence Boulevard Church leaders, volunteers, and Chicago area Bible instructors set up a welfare center for food and clothing in the large prayer room of the church.
“Because of the effective welfare work done by the Independence Boulevard Dorcas Society, headed by Dollie Williams, many organizations knew that the society would be distributing to the needy. Without calling or notifying the center, they contributed food and clothing, which started arriving by trucks and cars.”
Not long after, calls from homes, churches, and community organizations began flooding their phone line. “One Catholic group known as the Back of the Yards Club called to tell the center they had 20 boxes of clothes which they would like to contribute. At this point the Adventist Men played a very vital role, picking up and unloading food and clothes.”
For 18 days, from April 8 to 26, the Independence Boulevard Health and Welfare Center served 3,482 community members with families ranging from 9-13 members. It was estimated that the value of items given away was as follows:
This included nearly 18 tons of food sent to the center by the Department of Agriculture.
Once the immediate need was met, distribution centers were narrowed down to 20 for the entire West Side of Chicago. The Independence Boulevard Health and Welfare Center was one of the 20 sub-centers that were selected to continue distributing Department of Agriculture commodities.
“To aid in the purchase of specifics such as bedding, clothing, and shoes, the General Conference sent $2,000. The Illinois Conference allowed a credit of $500 to make whatever purchases were necessary in the line of clothing. The Lake Region Conference has also made available to date $800.”
Nearly a year and a half after the riot in December 1969, the Lake Region Conference reported the works of a Chicago church member working to witness to his community.
“E. V. Williams of the Independence Boulevard church in Chicago, in addition to loyally supporting the church program, is active in community-civic programs.
As president of his block club, he fosters better community relations, better understanding between the neighborhood and the police department, and improved sanitation and garbage pick up. In this job he has many opportunities for witnessing. In every block of our community we need living lights to show the way.”
May, July 1968: Andrews University Introduces Two New Courses
In 1968, Andrews University announced two new courses: Human Rights and (Black) History.
In May 1968, Human Rights was a graduate course offered during the summer taught by Dr. Leif Kr. Tobiassen, professor of history and political science. The class would teach on “human rights on the country, city, state, federal, and international levels; it will study civil rights, especially religious social prerogatives.” This course would also include study of the current civil rights movement in the United States at that time and the promotion of the “inalienable” rights through the centuries.
The course in (Black) History was one of two classes requested by the Student Association’s Human Relations Committee and would be offered starting in the spring quarter of 1969.
“Andrews University will be the first Seventh-day Adventist school of higher learning to include in its curriculum a course which deals exclusively with the historical development of (African Americans) from the slaveship era to the civil rights movement.”
Michigan Senator Visits Andrews University
In the January 7, 1969 issue of the Lake Union Herald, Andrews University shared the news that Michigan Senator Philip Hart made a visit to the school.
“The difference between the Black struggle and other revolutions in history is that these goals are not economical, but psychological,” said Senator Philip Hart Michigan in addressing a joint assembly of Andrews University graduate and undergraduate students on Thursday, December 12.
Hart spoke in commemoration of Human Rights Day (December 10) and Human Rights Week (December 11 to 17). The Human Rights program was under the area of the Andrews University International Relations Club.”
April 1969: Andrews University Conducts Human Dynamics Workshop
Perhaps maybe in an attempt to find a solution to racial strife, Andrews University conducted a human dynamics workshop in April 1969. This six-day workshop aimed to test “blacks and whites living together in unity and harmony in the same environment.”
“According to Dr. Charles C. Crider, chairman of the Andrews University behavioral sciences department and director of the workshop, the workshop was conducted as an experimental project to test a biracial community in a laboratory with the view of projecting the findings into a total community,” the article quotes.
For the workshop, a total of 18 people participated in the three phases of the workshop: Nine Black and nine White ministers and laymen from the Lake Union Conference.
The first phase, participants acquainted themselves with each other and agreed they could work together. During the second phase, the participants raised specific issues and experimented with the problems and releasing their tension. “The entire group was culturally shocked by some of the charges made, but all members agreed that the issues had been discussed with no animosity.” In the third and final phase, the members compiled recommendations and proposals for a program to be tested in a real community.
Katie Fellows is a Berrien Springs-based freelance writer.