Pacific Union College has always been committed to diversity. Today, in celebration of Black History Month, we are honoring a few of the college’s many accomplished black African-American alumni.
Born a slave in 1855, Charles Kinney moved west and became an Adventist in 1878. Sponsors paid for him to study theology at Healdsburg College (1883-1885), now known as Pacific Union College. Kinney later became the first ordained black Seventh-day Adventist minister. He established regional conferences and oversaw much of the Church’s growth. When he joined the Church, there were only about 50 African-American Adventists. At the time of his death, there were over 25,000.
Frank L. Peterson
Frank L. Peterson, class of 1916, was the first African-American student to graduate from PUC. His long career of service began with teaching at Oakwood College (now University) and pastoring, but he quickly advanced. Peterson served for nine years as the president of Oakwood, and in the 1960s, became a vice president at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
Before he became a friend of Langston Hughes and a respected poet and novelist in the Harlem Renaissance, Arna Bontemps graduated from PUC in 1923. Bontemps studied English at PUC, and he also wrote for the Campus Chronicle, the college’s student newspaper. He is now best known for his novel Black Thunder, which tells the story of an 1800 Virginia slave rebellion. The Nelson Memorial Library at PUC owns a signed copy of this and other Bontemps works.
M. Inez Booth
Mary Inez Booth studied music at PUC and graduated in 1937. During her junior year, she was baptized into the Adventist Church. Booth’s dedication to her faith took precedence in all she did. She spent her career teaching music at Oakwood and she also founded the Oakwood Jail Band Ministry, which she led for 50 years. In 1983, she became a sheriff’s deputy, an honorary post she held until she was 90-years-old.
Ruth Frazier Stafford
When she graduated from PUC in 1938, Ruth Stafford didn’t know her nursing degree would take her all over the United States. Stafford served in hospitals from southern California to Chicago to Tennessee. She wrote a regular column for Message Magazine and taught nursing classes at Oakwood. While she earned a master’s degree from Columbia University, Stafford coordinated the nursing program for Meharry Medical Center.
Will Battles & Paul Cobb
Will Battles, Paul Cobb, and two other PUC students drove 2,400 miles from Oakland to Selma, Ala., to march with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on March 21, 1965. Cobb,class of 1965, convinced three of his PUC classmates to come along in his two-seater car. In this photo by Al Loeb, Battles (wearing a fedora) and Cobb (pencil behind his ear) are seated behind Dr. King as the marchers rest in a grassy area between Selma and Montgomery. You can read more about their amazing story in “A Journey and a March,” in a 2005 issue of the Adventist Review.
Photographs and information courtesy of the Nelson Memorial Library at Pacific Union College.