View All Photos

C. B. Stephenson

Photo courtesy of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Archives.

Stephenson, Claiborne Bell (1868–1946)

By Milton Hook

×

Milton Hook, Ed.D. (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, the United States). Hook retired in 1997 as a minister in the Greater Sydney Conference, Australia. An Australian by birth Hook has served the Church as a teacher at the elementary, academy and college levels, a missionary in Papua New Guinea, and as a local church pastor. In retirement he is a conjoint senior lecturer at Avondale College of Higher Education. He has authored Flames Over Battle Creek, Avondale: Experiment on the Dora, Desmond Ford: Reformist Theologian, Gospel Revivalist, the Seventh-day Adventist Heritage Series, and many magazine articles. He is married to Noeleen and has two sons and three grandchildren.

First Published: April 18, 2023

Claiborne Bell Stephenson served as the third secretary (director) of the North American Negro Department, and as president of several conferences in the southern United States.

Early Experience

Claiborne Stephenson was born on September 11, 1868, to a Presbyterian minister, Mills Washington Stephenson and his wife, Sallie (Gillespie). He was one of nine children in the family. At the time they were living at Ethelsville in Pickens County, western Alabama. Later they moved to Mississippi and Florida.1

As a young man, Stephenson began work as a telegrapher and station agent with the Orange Belt Railroad in southern Florida. On June 13, 1891, he married Edith Isabelle Hand in Orange, Florida. They had a large family of nine children: Clarence (b. 1892), Elizabeth Lee (b. 1894), Daniel Webster (b. 1896), Charles Henry (b. 1899), Crisler Claiborne (b. 1903), Edith (b. 1907), Ramona Louise (b. 1911), George Ide (b. 1913) and Kathryn Alberta (b. 1915).2 Soon after they married, Claiborne and Edith became Seventh-day Adventists as a result of evangelistic efforts by George I. Butler and Charles P. Whitford.3 By 1900, Stephenson was living in Fort Ogden, Florida, and working as a clerk for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad.4

Conference President

Claiborne left his secular employment and joined the ministerial team of the Florida Conference in April 1902.5 He began his evangelistic work in Brooker, northern Florida. G.I. Butler and L.T. Crisler were president and secretary-treasurer respectively of the conference. Both men were highly esteemed by Stephenson to the extent that he named two of his children after them. He was ordained in 1904 and that same year elected president of the Florida Conference.6 His responsibilities covered 20 churches and a total of 450 baptized members.7 He held the position for two years and then returned to ministerial work in the conference for three years.8

Stephenson was elected president of the Georgia Conference in 1909 and served in this capacity for close to three years. In 1912 he was called to the presidency of the Southeastern Union Conference, which comprised the Cumberland, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina conferences. His responsibilities included the role of superintendent of the Negro Mission Department within the union conference.9

Early Development of Black Work

Stephenson became secretary of the North American Negro Department in 1913, the third to be given charge of the department since it was organized in 1909. His headquarters office was originally in Boston, Georgia,10 and later moved to Graysville, Tennessee.11 This role involved raising funds to advance evangelism among the ten million Blacks in America. In particular, funds were sought to operate mission schools and employ more evangelists. The Oakwood Manual Training School in Alabama was one center of focus for development. Stephenson made visits to the school to become familiar with its needs. In 1916, for example, he attended the dedication of a new church in nearby Huntsville, a venue that provided a pulpit for trainee ministers at the school.12

As he attended Black camp meetings he also learned that many Black Adventists did not want to send their children to public schools but had no money to pay a teacher for their own church school. Furthermore, some groups longed for a chapel of their own but instead had to worship in a hall or private home. To meet these needs, Stephenson was diligent in making fervent appeals in connection with the annual offering for the “colored work” on a Sabbath designated each Fall by the General Conference. In 1916, he reported that appropriation of funds from the denominational coffers to the North American Negro Department had been “materially shaved” in recent years, necessitating an appeal directly to church members for an extra measure of generosity.13

Near the close of his five years as head of the department, Stephenson reported that funds were flowing for the building of churches and schools and for the wages of tent evangelists. The American Black membership at the close of 1917 numbered approximately 3,500. The Huntsville school was being upgraded to the status of a junior college, additional buildings were planned and the industries were flourishing. Abundant crops of corn, sweet potatoes, sorghum and cotton made the school’s farm profitable.14

Later Experience

In 1918, Stephenson was appointed president of the Cumberland Conference, an entity covering east Tennessee and the northwestern counties of Georgia. After two years in this role he returned to the Florida Conference for two further years as president. He then served for a year (1921-1922) as manager of the Florida Sanitarium in Orlando.15

In 1922 Stephenson began what turned out to be his final leadership assignment as president of the Alabama Conference, a constituency of 821 members among 27 churches. Four years later, though, in late 1926, after nearly 25 years in leadership responsibility, Stephenson suffered a nervous collapse. He struggled on for several months but eventually accepted lighter responsibilities by returning to Florida and leading out in the Gainesville and Jennings Lake churches.16 His full-time denominational employment came to an end in May 1927. He remained elder of the Gainesville church until he suffered a heart attack and passed away on July 18, 1946, at age 77.17 He was laid to rest in the Antioch Baptist Church Cemetery, La Crosse, north of Gainesville.18

During their years in Florida, Edith Stephenson, had worked as a licensed mid-wife, delivering approximately 1,000 infants.19 She passed away at the age of 83 on September 29, 1958, and was interred alongside Claiborne in the Antioch Baptist Church Cemetery.20

Sources

Butler, George I. “Camp Meetings in the Southern Union Conference.” ARH, November 9, 1905.

“Claiborne Bell Stephenson.” FamilySearch. Accessed January 26, 2023. https://www.familysearch.org/tree/pedigree/landscape/K65Q-VC3.

“Claiborne Bell Stephenson.” Find A Grave. Memorial ID 53054908, May 31, 2010. Accessed January 26, 2023. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/53054908/claiborne-bell-stephenson.

“Claiborne Bell Stephenson obituary.” Southern Tidings, August 28, 1946.

Durrant, Adam N. “Work Among the Colored People and Italians in Pittsburgh.” ARH, February 7, 1918.

“Edith Isabelle (Hand) Stephenson.” Find A Grave. Memorial ID 53054917, May 31, 2010. Accessed January 26, 2023. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/53054917/edith-isabelle-stephenson.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbooks. General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist Online Archives. https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Yearbooks/Forms/Allitems.aspx.

Stephenson, Claiborne B. “Church Dedication at Huntsville, Ala.” ARH, April 6, 1916.

Stephenson, Claiborne B. “Offering for the Work Among the Colored People.” ARH, November 2, 1916.

Stephenson, Claiborne B. “Sabbath, November 18.” Southwestern Union Record, November 7, 1916.

Stephenson, Claiborne, B. “Work Among the Colored People.” ARH, February 7, 1918.

Stephenson, Claiborne Bell. Sustentation Files, RG 33, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A. (GCA).

Notes

  1. “Claiborne Bell Stephenson obituary,” Southern Tidings, August 28, 1946, 6; “Claiborne Bell Stephenson,” FamilySearch, accessed January 26, 2023, https://www.familysearch.org/tree/pedigree/landscape/K65Q-VC3.

  2. “Claiborne Bell Stephenson,” FamilySearch.

  3. “Claiborne Bell Stephenson obituary.”

  4. “Claiborne Bell Stephenson,” FamilySearch.

  5. Claiborne Bell Stephenson Sustentation Fund Application, May 11, 1927, Sustentation Files, RG 33, Record 2648, GCA.

  6. George I. Butler, “Camp Meetings in the Southern Union Conference,” ARH, November 9, 1905, 16-18.

  7. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook for 1906, 29.

  8. “Claiborne Bell Stephenson,” Sustentation Fund Application.

  9. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook for 1913, 64.

  10. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook for 1914, 16.

  11. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook for 1915, 16.

  12. Claiborne B. Stephenson, “Church Dedication at Huntsville, Ala.,” ARH, April 6, 1916, 14.

  13. Claiborne B. Stephenson, “Sabbath, November 18,” Southwestern Union Record, November 7, 1916, 1; Claiborne B. Stephenson, “Offering for the Work Among the Colored People,” ARH, November 2, 1916, 2, 23.

  14. Claiborne B. Stephenson, “Work Among the Colored People,” ARH, February 7, 1918, 14.

  15. “Claiborne Bell Stephenson,” Sustentation Fund Application.

  16. “Claiborne Bell Stephenson,” Sustentation Fund Application.

  17. Edith I. Stephenson to Harold H. Cobban, July 31, 1946, Sustentation Files, RG 33, Record 2648, GCA; “Claiborne Bell Stephenson obituary.”

  18. “Claiborne Bell Stephenson,” Find A Grave, Memorial ID 53054908, May 31, 2010, accessed January 26, 2023, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/53054908/claiborne-bell-stephenson.

  19. Edythe (Stephenson) Cothren to Reginald H. Adair, October 8, 1958, Sustentation Files, GCA.

  20. “Edith Isabelle (Hand) Stephenson,” Find A Grave, Memorial ID 53054917, May 31, 2010, accessed January 26, 2023, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/53054917/edith-isabelle-stephenson.

×

Hook, Milton. "Stephenson, Claiborne Bell (1868–1946)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 18, 2023. Accessed February 29, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=CA87.

Hook, Milton. "Stephenson, Claiborne Bell (1868–1946)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 18, 2023. Date of access February 29, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=CA87.

Hook, Milton (2023, April 18). Stephenson, Claiborne Bell (1868–1946). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved February 29, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=CA87.