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Louis B. Reynolds

Credit: Louis B. Reynolds Collection, Center for Adventist Research.

Reynolds, Louis Bernard (1917–1983)

By DeWitt S. Williams

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DeWitt S. Williams, Ed.D. (Indiana University) lives in Maryland after 46 years of denominational service. He pastored in Oklahoma, served as a missionary in the Congo (Departmental and Field President), and Burundi/Rwanda (President, Central African Union). He served 12 years in the General Conference as Associate Director in both the Communications and Health and Temperance Departments. His last service was Director of NAD Health Ministries (1990-2010). He authored nine books and numerous articles.

First Published: January 2, 2021

Louis B. Reynolds was a pastor, editor of Message magazine, associate Sabbath School director and then field secretary at the General Conference, and an historian of the African American Adventist experience.

Early Life and Education

Louis Reynolds was born to Josephine and Albert Reynolds in Greenwood County, South Carolina, on February 23, 1917. A hunting accident took the life of Albert Reynolds while Louis was still a small boy. Shortly afterwards, Josephine Reynolds and her sons Louis and George (d. 1974) moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. There, Louis received encouragement from teachers who took note of his intellectual promise and talent for calligraphy. While still in school he found work as a sign letterer. Two of his teachers advised him to pursue a medical degree and initiated an effort to raise funds to support him.1

Before those plans came to fruition, though, both Louis and his mother were baptized and joined the Seventh-day Adventist church through an evangelistic effort conducted in Cincinnati by Thomas M. Rowe. At the encouragement of Bonnie Dobbins, a Bible worker associated with the evangelistic meetings, Louis went to Oakwood Junior College (now University), the Adventist school in Huntsville, Alabama, where he completed his secondary education in 1934 and graduated from the school’s ministerial training program in 1936. He earned school expenses by working on a farm, in a sawmill, and as a rock crusher. Louis sang with the school’s male chorus and in a quartet.2 His cartoons and sketches, along with his articles as editor of The Acorn, the school newspaper, demonstrated his potential as an artist and writer.3

Pastor-Evangelist in Mid-America

The young graduate, still in his teens, was hired as an intern minister by the Missouri Conference where he served from 1936 to 1941. He pastored churches in St. Louis and Sedalia and raised up or organized new ones in St. Joseph and Kansas City.4 Along with pastoring and evangelizing, Reynolds was highly active in the communities around his churches. During this time he was, for example, editor of the religion section of the Kansas City Call, a popular newspaper.

On May 28, 1938, Louis married Ann Bernice Johnson whom he had met at Oakwood. Bernice, as she was called, was born December 30, 1910 in Jacksonville, Illinois, one of eight children in the family of Macklin and May Johnson. The Johnsons lived on a small farm before moving to Omaha, Nebraska, when Bernice was seven years old. She graduated from Central High School in Omaha in 1928. At the invitation of a friend, Bernice attended evangelistic meetings at a Seventh-day Adventist church in Omaha and within months was baptized by J. H. Laurence. After her studies at Oakwood, she became a teacher and earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Tennessee State University in Nashville. Her teaching career would include schools in Boston, New York, Detroit, Kansas City, Chicago and Washington. Bernice and Louis had two daughters: Dawn (b. 1939) and Joan (b. 1941).5

The Kansas Conference called Reynolds from neighboring Missouri in 1941 and placed him in charge of the conference’s “colored district,” comprised of churches in Atchison, Independence, Topeka, Wichita, and Kansas City, Kansas. He was ordained to the gospel ministry on August 30, 1941, at the Central Union Black camp meeting in Kansas City, Missouri.6

Message Magazine Editor

A new phase of Reynolds’ ministry began in 1945 when he became editor of Message magazine. The periodical was successor to the Gospel Herald begun in 1898 by James Edson White as part of his initiative to reach the southern Black population with the Adventist message.7 The launching of Message magazine in 1934 by Southern Publishing Association in a sense revived the Gospel Herald which had been discontinued in 1923. At the same time Message was the implementation of long-deferred plans for a missionary publication targeting Black America rather than being an internal organ of communication for the Black Adventist work. The first four editors of Message magazine were white men. Published some years quarterly, other years bimonthly, it struggled on.8 Reynolds' appointment as the periodical's first Black editor was among the landmark changes that came along with inauguration of Black-administered conferences in 1944.9

Reynolds and his family moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he took up responsibilities in the editorial offices of the Southern Publishing Association. Reynolds was well-suited for the position, both because of his abilities and the practices he had developed during his nine years in pastoral-evangelistic ministry. When he was ordained to the ministry, Reynolds reportedly bought two things – a portable typewriter and a briefcase. As he traveled, he typed out stories and anytime he saw something in a newspaper of interest in the Black community he would clip it out and put it in his briefcase.10

Reynolds served as editor from 1945 to 1959 and again from 1978 to 1980, and the magazine prospered under his hand. He authored and commissioned articles that focused on Black issues and he often featured outstanding Black political and thought leaders. While living in Nashville, Reynolds was for several years chaplain of Riverside Sanitarium, the first Adventist-run hospital for African Americans, in addition to his editorial responsibilities. He also earned a bachelor of arts from nearby Fisk University.11

A General Conference Man

In 1959 Reynolds returned to pastoral ministry, assigned to the New Rochelle, New York, district in the Northeastern Conference. While there he served on the executive board of the Associated Church Press, represented that body at the United States State Department’s Spring Conference on Foreign Affairs, and was an official press representative to the World Council of Churches.

Reynolds was called to the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Washington, D.C. in 1962 as an associate director of the Sabbath School Department. He concentrated much of his energies on the preparation of leaflets, posters, and other material for the Sabbath School lessons and taught around the world the principles and techniques of teaching a good Sabbath School class. In 1968 Reynolds was elected as a general field secretary of the General Conference and served in that capacity until 1970. He continued advancing in education during his years in Washington, D.C., earning a master’s degree at Howard University in 1968. He was also awarded an honorary doctorate from Union Baptist Seminary in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1970.12

Breath of Life and We Have Tomorrow

Creative achievements came to the forefront in the final phase of Reynolds’ career. He was the inaugural scriptwriter for Breath of Life, Adventism’s first Black-oriented television program. In 1974 Reynolds joined the early production team of C. D. Brooks, speaker-director, and Walter Arties, producer and coordinator, with music by the Breath of Life Quartet. Other leading Adventist musicians such as Wintley Phipps, Ullanda Innocent-Palmer, Eleanor Wright, and T. Marshall Kelly also contributed their talents.13

Already a prolific author, Reynolds had published Dawn of a Brighter Day in 1946, Little Journeys Into Storyland (with C. L. Paddock) in 1947, and Look to the Hills in 1960. Then, in the 1970s, he published two books in the area of Biblical studies: Great Texts from Romans in 1972 followed by Bible Answers (with Robert H. Pierson) in 1973. All five books were published by Southern Publishing

His most significant literary achievement, though, was surely his last: We Have Tomorrow: The Story of American Seventh-day Adventists With an African Heritage (Review and Herald, 1984). This volume is “among the most important and complete works on the history of black Adventism, and cemented Reynolds as an important Adventist historian,” according to historian Benjamin J. Baker.14

Reynolds had just finished the manuscript for We Have Tomorrow and was awaiting the edited copy when he passed away on September 12, 1983, in London, Ontario, Canada, one month after his wife Bernice died on August 9, 1983. He was 66. At a service held at the First Seventh-day Adventist Church of Washington, D.C., Reynolds was eulogized for his manifold contribution to the cause of Adventism as pastor, evangelist, editor, and author. He was interred at the Greenwood Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee.15

Sources

“As We Remember Bernice Reynolds.” North American Regional Voice, December 1983.

“As We Remember Louis Bernard Reynolds.” North American Regional Voice, December 1983.

Baker, Benjamin. “Life Sketch of Louis B. Reynolds.” Biographies, blacksdahistory. Accessed October 25, 2021. https://www.blacksdahistory.org/biographies.

Reynolds, Louis B. “Breath of Life, Our Newest Television Program.” North American Informant, July-August 1975.

Robinson, W. R. “The Message Magazine.” North American Informant, March-April 1977.

“Tribute to Louis Bernard Reynolds.” First Seventh-day Adventist Church, Washington, D.C. September 18, 1983.

Notes

  1. “As We Remember Louis Bernard Reynolds,” North American Regional Voice, December 1983, 13.

  2. “Tribute to Louis Bernard Reynolds,” First Seventh-day Adventist Church, Washington, D.C., September 18, 1983; Author biography, Youth’s Instructor, November 20, 1956, 2.

  3. The Oakwood University Archives hold some of Reynolds’ sketches published in the school paper under the headings “Oakwood’s World” and “On the Campus.” These show his skills both as an artist and an observer of human behavior.

  4. Author biography, Youth’s Instructor, November 20, 1956, 2.

  5. “As We Remember Bernice Reynolds,” North American Regional Voice, December 1983, 12-13.

  6. J.H. Roth, “New District Arrangement,” Central Union Reaper, February 4, 1941, 4; “Kansas Conference Newsettes,” Central Union Reaper, September 9, 1941, 4.

  7. Christian A. Teal, “Gospel Herald," Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists, accessed October 26, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=CCEP.

  8. W.R. Robinson, North American Informant, “The Message Magazine,” March-April 1977, pp.12,28.

  9. Recommendations of the Special Committee for the Colored Work, April 10, 1944, Regional Conference Origins – Part 2, 54, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Online Archives, accessed October 26, 2021, https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Resources/RegionalConf/RCO-02.pdf.

  10. Author biographies in Youth Instructor, November 20, 1956, 2 and These Times, July 1957, 3..

  11. Benjamin Baker, “Life Sketch of Louis B. Reynolds,” Biographies, blacksdahistory, accessed October 25, 2021, https://www.blacksdahistory.org/biographies.

  12. Biographical Information sheets issued by the Bureau of Public Relations of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, 1960-1974, copies in the author’s possession.

  13. Louis B. Reynolds, “Breath of Life, Our Newest Television Program,” North American Informant, July-August 1975, 1-2.

  14. Baker, “Life Sketch of Louis B. Reynolds.”

  15. “Tribute to Louis Bernard Reynolds.”

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Williams, DeWitt S. "Reynolds, Louis Bernard (1917–1983)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 02, 2021. Accessed June 18, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=ACFH.

Williams, DeWitt S. "Reynolds, Louis Bernard (1917–1983)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 02, 2021. Date of access June 18, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=ACFH.

Williams, DeWitt S. (2021, January 02). Reynolds, Louis Bernard (1917–1983). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved June 18, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=ACFH.