E.E. Cleveland, Renowned Evangelist, Dies at 88
Was First African-American Elected To General Conference Staff; Held more than 60 evangelistic efforts


dward Earl Cleveland, a noted Seventh-day Adventist pastor, evangelist, and leader, passed to his rest on Sunday, August 30, 2009. He was 88, and reportedly had been ill for some time. A service of reflection was held on Tuesday, September 8 at Oakwood University Church with the funeral following there Wednesday morning, September 9.

Edward Earl Cleveland
Cleveland, who served the Adventist Church for more than 67 years in active and post-retirement ministry, was renowned for his evangelistic enthusiasm, holding more than 60 campaigns around the world, most of them, of course, in his homeland, the United States. In 1954, his Montgomery (Alabama) tent meetings drew a local seamstress, Rosa Parks, as one of the attendees, and also captured the notice of two African-American pastors, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy.

According to writer Ciro Sepulveda, in his online Adventist History Library weblog, “King told Cleveland: ‘I was informed that a Black Billy Graham was preaching the Gospel, but all I heard was “the Law, the Law and the Law.”’

“Cleveland, unimpressed by theological discourse, responded, ‘You must have arrived late because all I preached was “the Lord, the Lord, and the Lord.”’”i

Ironically, Cleveland would later participate in several civil rights marches, although he said he did so as an individual, and not as a representative of his denomination.

A graduate of what is today Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama, Cleveland began his pastoral ministry in 1942 in the Carolina Conference. He subsequently served as evangelist for the South Atlantic Conference and Southern Union. From 1954-1977 he served as associate secretary of the ministerial association of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and reportedly was the first African-American elected as a departmental official for the denomination.

After leaving the General Conference, he went to Oakwood, where he served as director of the department of church missions and as an instructor in the department of religion.

Because of his legendary service to the Seventh-day Adventist ministry, Cleveland was honored during the 2007 grand opening of the Bradford-Cleveland-Brooks Leadership Center on the campus of Oakwood University. He was the author of numerous books, including Let the Church Roll On; and in 2007, a biography of him was released, authored by Adventist pastors Harold Lee and Monte Sahlin.

Cleveland was preceded in death by his wife Celia Marie Abney Cleveland, who passed away on May 29, 2003. The daughter of a pastor, evangelist, and missionary, she married Cleveland in 1943, and played the piano at many of Cleveland’s evangelistic campaigns.

Survivors include son Earl and daughter-in-law Pinky; a sister-in-law Elizabeth Cleveland; four grandsons; three granddaughters, one cousin, Dolly; and other relatives. 


i Sepulveda, Ciro, “The Tent and the Cathedral: White-Collar Adventists and Their Search for Respectability,” Adventist History Library weblog, http://bit.ly/alwow, accessed August 31, 2009

                      — with additional information from the Southeastern Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

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