By Ronald R. Day, Senior
The claim was made in a Facebook group that there is plenty of evidence to show that Charles Taze Russell was a racist. It is claimed that in the Watch Tower of July 15, 1902, Russell described African tribes as "degraded", the white race "superior." It is further claimed that Caucasians were said to have "greater intelligence" and aptitude, ostensibly as a result of divine intervention in their genetic history. These claims appear to be lifted from the jwsurvey.org site page entitled, "The Racist History of the Watchtower". While we are not with the Jehovah's Witnesses, the things listed from 1900 to 1914 are related to Charles Taze Russell. Russell was never a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses and Russell never advocated anything such as a "governing body"; nevertheless, he was not either promoting racism.
While we have already addressed some the things presented on the site elsewhere, here we will be focusing on the things alleged concerning the Watch Tower of July 15, 1902.
The article written by Charles Taze Russell under consideration is entitled "The Negro Not a Beast"; contrary to what many present this article to be, the entire article is refuting several false teachings relative to the Negro race that were in existence at that time among many Christian church-goers. In reality, instead of showing Brother Russell to be downgrading the black people, the article shows that he was way ahead of most in his time in speaking against false doctrine concerning the Negro (Negro means "black") race.
Years ago, this writer recalls how, while growing up in the South (USA) back in the 1950s, it was not uncommon to hear the claims of many white churchgoers that the Negro was not human, that the Negro did not "have a soul", and many similar statements. From study of the Bible at that time, however, I knew that all humans as well as animals are souls. Additionally, my mom directed me away from such thinking as related to the blacks or any other race. Nevertheless, many years later, in the 1980s, I heard the argument that the Negro is a beast, after I had moved to Pennsylvania. These teachings are still around.
However, to get some background as to what Brother Russell was refuting: There was a prevailing view that developed during the 15th and 16th centuries in Europe that seemed to be generally accepted amongst both Protestants and Catholics; although this view had several differing viewpoints, the general view was that in some way black people (as well as Asians and American Indians) were not human beings. One of the most prevalent was that the Negro is the beast of the field spoken of in Genesis 3. The idea, however, that the Negro was not a human being was held by many Christian writers, commentators, preachers, theologians and "lay people" of many different denominations and groups. The theory was often presented that the Negro, as a "beast", had been in existence before Adam, and thus that it was a Negro that serpent who tempted Eve. Of course, the teachers of such doctrine, not actually understanding what a "soul" is, were claiming that animals and these beasts (negros) of the field "had" no soul. This writer grew up among some children (especially Baptists and Methodists) who were evidently being indoctrinated with such teachings back in 1950s. I one uses a search engine to scan internet, one will find that such teachings still exist.
Getting back to Brother Russell, in 1900, a book was released entitled, The Negro a Beast, by Charles Carroll. Brother Russell's attention was drawn to some the claims being made in this book, and thus, in 1902, he wrote his refutation of some of the claims presented in that book in his article, "The Negro Not a Beast" (the opposite of the title of Carroll's book). If one will read the article without bias, one would see that Brother Russell was not downgrading the Negro in that article, but rather he was refuting some of the false claims being made by Charles Carroll and many other "Christian" church-going people of that day. What many do, however, is take quotes out of context (and in some case misquoting or otherwise misrepresenting events) so as to make it appear that Russell was "racist".
Carroll's book is online at:
Brother Russell's entire article is online at:
Russell's Usage of the Word "Degraded":
Let us take the first word given, that is, "degraded", and see how Brother Russell used that word in the article. However, I would first point out that Brother Russell, in harmony with the Bible, believed that the whole human race became degraded through the sin of Adam. (Romans 5:12-19) Concerning the human race as a whole, Russell stated:
Ever since the sentence passed, the race has been having its portion with the beasts, and the human heart has become beastly and degraded. How striking the picture, when we consider the present and past half-civilized and savage condition of the great mass of the human race, and that even the small minority who aspire to overcome the downward tendency succeed only to a limited degree, and with great struggling and constant effort. The race must remain in its degradation, under the dominion of evil, until the lesson has been learned, that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. And while men are in this degraded condition God permits some of the basest characters among them to rule over them, that their present bitter experience may prove in the future to be of lasting benefit.-- The Battle of Armageddon, page 95.
Russell, in refuting the idea that "divine favor has gone with the whites exclusively, and against the black and other colored races", stated in the article "The Negro Not a Beast", amongst other things, the following:
Eighteen centuries ago the white peoples of Europe, with their straight silky hair, were savages, idolaters, barbarians – far more degraded than were the millions of India and the millions of China at the same time.
Here Brother Russell is not speaking of the blacks as being degraded, but he is speaks of the whites.
Concerning mankind as they were originally, Russell stated:
We may suppose that they were neither as white as some of us, nor as black as the negro, but of a swarthy, tawny color. If this be true, the extreme whiteness of some peoples is not to be considered the original standard, but a deflection on the one side, as the negro and others are deflections on the other side. We are not to forget, either, that Africa is inhabited by various tribes or nations of negroes – some more and some less degraded than the average. Those brought to America as slaves were of various tribes; – from among whom we doubt not the Lord is making choice of some for the prospective "Royal Priesthood."
He is not here singling out the blacks as being degraded, but he does speak of some being more and some being less degraded than the average, "the average" here would include whites, as well as all races, since all, regardless of color of skin, have been degraded as a result of Adam's sin.
The next instance of the word "degraded" is in reference to a question concerning Noah's cursing of Ham:
(4) Question. – Those who hold that the negro is a beast deny that he is the offspring of Noah's sons, and claim that the curse of Noah was not upon Ham, but upon one of Ham's sons, Canaan. They belittle Noah's curse, by saying that it was the senseless babbling of a drunken sot. What say you on this point?Answer. – Those who use such language evidently are not familiar with the subject sufficiently to discuss it at all. The word "curse" is used by Noah after the same manner that God is said to have cursed the earth, and cursed mankind; from which curse man was redeemed by our Lord. The word "curse" here is used in the sense of penalty, retribution, and not in the sense of an imprecation or a profane denunciation. God declared man to be under the sentence of his divine law, – a death-sentence "curse" or penalty. Noah declared, prophetically, that Ham's characteristics which had led him to unseemly conduct disrespectful to his father, would be found cropping out later, inherited by his son, – and prophetically he foretold that this degeneracy would mark the posterity of Canaan, degrading him, making him servile. We are not able to determine to a certainty that the sons of Ham and Canaan are the negroes; but we consider that general view as probable as any other.
Whatever may be said of this degradation, or upon whom such a curse was placed, that there was a curse is what is recorded in the Bible. The curse was not made by Jehovah, but by Noah. Nevertheless, if one is to reason that such a curse left Ham's descendants in degraded condition more so that the general degradation of all mankind, whether Ham's descendants were black people or not (Brother Russell did not claim either that Ham's descendants were black or that they were not black), again it would be the result of the curse of Noah, not because of Russell. Nevertheless, this curse has nothing at all to do with skin color. The prevalent view is that Ham's descendants are the black people of Africa; Russell stated that he was not able to determine this for a certainty, but amongst any other views presented, this one was just as probable as any other. This stated in response to Carroll's claims in his book. Nevertheless, regarding skin color itself, in context, Russell notes that the color of skin probably has more to do with climate, rather because of such a curse. (This is similar to what I was taught in High School back in the 1950s.) Russell, of course, probably had no knowledge of the ozone field, and how the lack of such a field after the flood of Noah's day could cause more rapid changes in genes. Nevertheless, nothing in this means that Russell was a racist.
The above are all the instances of the word "degraded" that may be found in the article.
In another article in the issue of July 1, however, we do find this statement:
The declaration that the Lord will visit the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of those that hate him, and show mercy unto thousands of them that love him and keep his commandments, does not represent anger, bitterness, resentment, selfishness; – rather these words express the law of nature, under which in wisdom God has placed humanity. Every one who uses his mind and his talents in accord with the Lord's will, brings a blessing not only upon himself but extends, in a natural way, that blessing to his children and theirs. On the contrary, those who live contrary to the Lord, who mind earthly things, become more and more "earthly", "sensual," "devilish," and surely transmit these groveling and deficient tendencies to their children, influencing and injuring them unto the third and fourth generation, in a perfectly natural manner.The Apostle points out to us that this is the secret of the extreme degradation that we see about us in various parts of the world today. There was a start to all this degradation. Of course the original start to degradation and sin was in the disobedience of father Adam, and in the death-sentence upon him. But in proportion as people since have disregarded the Lord's will and arrangement and laws, so far as they knew them, in the same proportion have they injured and degraded themselves and their posterity. The Apostle's words are, "When they knew God they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and to four-footed beasts and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves: who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator." – Rom. 1:21-31.
Here, Brother Russell was not speaking of any race in particular, but of the human race in general. Any people, however, who have and who hold to the principles of the Bible may be seen to be less degraded than others, and more morally superior than others, and that was his point.
Russell's Usage of "Superior" and "greater intelligence":
Let us now look through the article for the word "superior" and the phrase "greater intelligence" and see how Brother Russell used those words.
Actually, we do not find the word "superior" itself in the article. We do find the word "superiority" once. We have seen the sentence quoted in part out of context, or even misquoted, as "proof" that Russell claimed that the white race was the superior race. In the same paragraph, Brother Russell used the word "greater intelligence". In context, Brother Russell is actually refuting those who were claiming that white race is God's chosen race, to which he replied:
While it is true that the white race exhibits some qualities of superiority over any other, we are to remember that there are wide differences in the same Caucasian (Semitic and Aryan) family; and also we should remember that some of the qualities which have given this branch of the human family its preeminence in the world are not such as can be pointed to as in all respects admirable. Indeed we can not but wonder whether if the Gospel had been sent into Asia instead of into Europe it might not have found amongst the people of India a soil much more naturally adapted to the development of the peaceable fruits of righteousness. However, that the Gospel was divinely directed into Europe is most manifest (Acts 16:6,9), and sooner or later we shall see the full meaning of this divine providence. Perhaps the Lord intends to show that as typical Israel was a stiff-necked generation, so also spiritual Israel will be taken from amongst similar classes; and all the more show forth the power of the truth, by taking the elect Church chiefly from amongst the most quarrelsome, aggressive, selfish and dominating of humanity, and transforming these through the power of the truth into exemplifications of patience, humility, love and peace. The secret of the greater intelligence and aptitude of the Caucasian undoubtedly in great measure is to be attributed to the commingling of blood amongst its various branches; and this was evidently forced in large measure by circumstances under divine control. It remains to be proven that the similar commingling of the various tribes of Chinese for several centuries would not equally brighten their intellects; and the same with the peoples of India and Africa.
The phrase, "it is true that the white race exhibits some qualities of superiority over any other," is what is often singled out, and offered as proof that Russell was claiming that the white race was superior. Actually, he was just presenting an observation of fact, and fact, in response to the claims being made that the white race IS superior. However, as he goes on to show, this could apply all races at various times. In other words, had Russell been refuting the claims of the "black supremacist" theories, he might just as well have said, "While it is true that the black race has exhibited some quality of superiority over others," etc. He would be saying that the black race IS superior to other races, but only that they have, in some respects, shown some superiority. Likewise, in his statement he was not saying that the white IS superior, but only that in some things he at times has shown some superiority.
In context, Brother Russell describes the people of Europe as being "the most quarrelsome, aggressive, selfish and dominating of humanity". This hardly describes the white race as being superior (although some people might consider such qualities to mean superior). Additionally, Russell attributes the "greater intelligence and aptitude of the Causcasian" as being the result of the "commingling of blood amongst its various branches" -- that is, amongst the various races of mankind. Today, with the commingling of peoples of all races, Russell's observation can be seen to be true, that if all peoples commingled, their intellect would be brightened. This writer, while in college in 1970s, had a professor who promoted a similar theory. Nevertheless, Russell's reference to the "greater intelligence" of the Caucasian is actually refuting the idea that the white race is, of itself, with "greater intelligence".
We are at times amazed at how people can take phrases out of context, and make them appear to say almost the opposite of what was actually intended. Many who do this are simply repeating what others have said, but the person who started such misrepresentations related to Brother Russell had to more or less willfully ignore the context in order to make it appear that Russell was saying something that he did not intend.
Another author that spoke out against the book "The Negro A Beast" is William G. Schell, who wrote a book entitled, "The Negro is Not a Beast". Mr. Schell presented similar statement to Russell, but as far as I know, no one takes his quotes out of context as they do with Brother Russell, so as to make it appear that he saying the opposite of what he was saying. It appears that more than likely one simply is already prejudiced against Brother Russell, and due that prejudice, one looks for something to take offense to in his writings.
There is nothing at all that has happened in history, however, that is outside of God's divine providence; nothing can happen at all that God does not permit, including the various races and including the degradation of mankind within those races, etc., and/or any moral uplift given to any peoples through the Bible, or under the influence of the principles of the Bible, etc.
See also our related studies:
Negro Race Supposition
Russell Says The Jews Are Superior Morally and Intellectually?
Can Restitution Change the Ethiopian’s Skin?
Negro Race Supposition
Russell Says The Jews Are Superior Morally and Intellectually?
Can Restitution Change the Ethiopian’s Skin?
The book by Charles Carroll:
The Negro a Beast
The Negro a Beast
Brother Russell's refutation of the book:
The Negro Not a Beast
The Negro Not a Beast