James Kemuel Humphrey

A Baptist minister who converted to Adventism in 1901, James Kemuel Humphrey (1877-1952) quickly rose to prominence as an Adventist minister. By 1920, his First Harlem SDA Church had grown to 600 members and he was supervisor of four other black congregations. Humphrey’s relationship with the church became strained, however, when Adventist officials refused to confront racism within the denomination. In 1930, he announced that he was creating an all-black commune, Utopia Park, that would provide employment as well as social, medical, and psychological services to members of the black community. Church leaders demanded that Humphrey first submit his ideas to them for approval but Humphrey refused to cooperate.  His ministerial credentials were stripped and First Harlem Church was expelled from the Greater New York Conference. Humphrey’s break with Adventism nevertheless spurred significant changes in the denomination, including the formation of regional black conferences and a campus-wide strike at Oakwood College that led to the school’s first black president.

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