Deep South


The Morning Star and its Mission 


     The Morning Star was built on the banks of the Kalamazoo River at Allegan, Michigan, in 1894, just after Edson's reconversion. It was his ambition, and the ambition of his close friend Will Palmer, to open up a work among the blacks in the Deep South. The boat would provide transportation along the twisting waterways of the Mississippi and its tributaries, as well as house the workers and furnish a portable meeting place for the people.

     As the boat neared completion, it sailed under its own steam down the river to Douglass, a port on the east side of Lake Michigan. There Edson hired a fruit steamer, the Bon Ami, to tow the Morning Star with its own engines running, across the lake to Chicago. It was a night journey. On their way a violent storm arose. The steam tubes of the Morning Star clogged and the hull began to fill with water, nearly sinking the craft. Fourteen hours after leaving the Michigan port, the exhausted crews of the two boats stepped ashore in Chicago. The captain of the Bon Ami gave Edson a $10 donation, saying it was something more than human power that had brought them through the storm.

     From Chicago the Morning Star, with Emma, Edson's wife, on board, and with an enlarging crew, passed through the Illinois and Michigan Canal to LaSalle, Illinois, down the Illinois River to the Mississippi, and on down to Vicksburg, where it berthed on January 10, 1895. Along the route Edson had picked up a team of workers, including Fred Halladay, who would spend the next fifteen years in service to the blacks of the American South.

     Built originally with one deck, the steamer was lengthened and widened in 1897, and received an extra deck. This is how Ellen White found it.

     The Morning Star had been used occasionally for meetings while she lay in Centennial Lake at Vicksburg, but the work had had to be established ashore before the steamer could do her best service along the Yazoo River.

     Edson had begun his Vicksburg work with Sunday schools and night classes in the Mount Zion Baptist church on Fort Hill. When he was excluded from the church for his belief in the Sabbath, he built a little chapel at the corner of Walnut and First East streets. But this was only after ten days of fervent prayer had resulted in permission from adamant city councilmen to grant a permit for building a church for the blacks.

     Now that little chapel and schoolhouse had been outgrown, and Ellen White was on hand to dedicate the new larger church during her 1901 visit. The present Vicksburg church stands on the site of this second building, and in the early 1970s three women who had been aboard the  Morning Star were still worshiping there!

     Edson undoubtedly told his mother that once the work had been established in Vicksburg, they had ventured into the heart of the delta, using the Yazoo River as their main highway. Halfway up the river to Yazoo City, he had tried to establish a school for the hundreds of black children in the area who had no facilities for education. He was soon informed by the county superintendent of education that his work must stop, and later learned that in the mob that accompanied the superintendent was one man who had volunteered to "hold a Winchester on ol' White while you-all fetch the rope."

     He probably told her that a little later the Morning Star had been of great service to the plantation owners of the area, rescuing many of their animals during a flood. That next winter he brought in tons of food and clothing to relieve the suffering among the black tenant farmers who were facing starvation from crop failures and severely cold weather. Then, with some measure of confidence among both the whites and the blacks, they built a little chapel and schoolhouse at Calmar.

     Later the work there was stopped also. On the boat Edson had edited and published a monthly journal, the Gospel Herald One issue carried a mildly critical editorial of the sharecropper system, and this, along with the fact that so many of the blacks were becoming Adventists and refusing to work on Saturdays, spurred the plantation owners to action.

     A mob of twenty-five men on horseback called at the school, sent the white teacher, one of Edson's men, out of town "on a rail," nailed the doors and windows shut, and burned books, maps, and charts in the schoolyard.

     Then they found one of the leading black believers in the area, N. W. Olvin, and thrashed him with a buggy whip, stopping only when commanded to do so by a white man who brandished a revolver.

     While the work was broken up at Calmar, it continued to thrive at Yazoo City and Vicksburg, and in the years shortly after Edson left for Nashville there were encouraging developments in a large number of other Mississippi towns.

     One hair-raising episode Edson may have recounted was the time the  Morning Star escaped being dynamited in Yazoo City, having left town only hours earlier with the General Conference president and secretary on board. F. R. Rogers, who taught the Yazoo City school, was ordered by a mob to close his school, and was shot at in the streets.

     These early workers and believers faced two kinds of prejudice, racial and religious. The black ministers opposed them because they were teaching Sabbath observance and tithe paying; the white people opposed them because they were educating the blacks and introducing new and better agricultural methods, which threatened to break the stranglehold of poverty in the Delta.





     Edson had informed his mother of these developments during her years in Australia, and her instruction was of caution and prudence as the only course available to the church if they wished to continue to witness and work in the South. This was as true for the work among the whites as among the blacks. Even though in his contacts Edson said nothing about political matters, even though he did not mention inequalities or the need for social justice, the mere fact that he was educating blacks and trying to improve their economic condition nearly cost him his life and the lives of his wife, fellow workers, and believers.

The Early Elmshaven Years

Volume 5 1900-1905

P 60-63