Should people of other races not seek equality with white people?
If removed from its context, this statement may appear to say that Ellen White did not consider “colored people” to be equal to whites. However, other statements reveal explicitly that she did consider all equal, and this statement in its context shows that her concern was evangelistic, not discriminatory. Notice these statements about equality:
No distinction on account of nationality, race, or caste, is recognized by God. He is the Maker of all mankind. All men are of one family by creation, and all are one through redemption (Christ’s Object Lessons, 386).
The black man’s name is written in the book of life beside the white man’s. All are one in Christ. Birth, station, nationality, or color cannot elevate or degrade men (Selected Messages, 2:343).
Now, note the context of evangelism that immediately follows the statement you quoted.
The relation of the two races has been a matter hard to deal with, and I fear that it will ever remain a most perplexing problem. So far as possible, everything that would stir up the race prejudice of the white people should be avoided. There is danger of closing the door so that our white laborers will not be able to work in some places in the South.
I know that if we attempt to meet the ideas and preferences of some of the colored people, we shall find our way blocked completely. The work of proclaiming the truth for this time is not to be hindered by an effort to adjust the position of the Negro race. Should we attempt to do this we should find that barriers like mountains would be raised to hinder the work that God desires to have done. If we move quietly and judiciously, laboring in the way that God has marked out, both white and colored people will be benefited by our labors.
The time has not come for us to work as if there were no prejudice. Christ said: “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” Matthew 10:16. If you see that by doing certain things which you have a perfect right to do, you hinder the advancement of God’s work, refrain from doing those things. Do nothing that will close the minds of others against the truth. There is a world to save, and we shall gain nothing by cutting loose from those we are trying to help. All things may be lawful, but all things are not expedient.
The wise course is the best. As laborers together with God, we are to work in the way that will enable us to accomplish the most for Him. Let none go to extremes. We need wisdom from above; for we have a difficult problem to solve. If rash moves are made now, great mischief will be done. The matter is to be presented in such a way that the truly converted colored people will cling to the truth for Christ’s sake, refusing to renounce one principle of sound Bible doctrine because they may think that the very best course is not being pursued toward the Negro race (Testimonies for the Church, 9:214, 215; see also 208, 209).
I think statements like these make clear Mrs. White’s position on the matter. She hoped for a better day, in which such prejudices would not dominate, and by God’s grace I think we have come to such a day. But until that could happen, it was still necessary for the gospel message to go forward, and she called on believers to be wise in these matters in order to allow the message to be heard.
See also the following question and answer.