Legacy Stories

Ellen Barnette: Bridging the Racial Divide in India

Ellen Barnette: Bridging the Racial Divide in India

Ellen Barnette was one of the first African-American women missionaries sent to India. While there, she not only worked as a teacher, but also to eliminate the lines of segregation that still existed in India and the rest of the world.  
In 1949, the Women’s Division sent Barnette and Pearl Bellinger to India to work as teachers. The two women were among the first four African-American missionaries to go to India, out of a class of 50 graduates of the Kennedy School of Missions at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. Barnette and Bellinger had exchanged letters and visited each other during school holidays, and together they decided to become full-time missionaries.
In India, Barnette taught at the Webb Memorial School in Vadodara (formerly Baroda). But she did more than just teach young Indian girls. She purposely highlighted the racial and class divide that was still present between missionaries and locals. Barnette arrived at her station wearing a sari that she had bought in Bombay. Some of the missionaries with whom she worked there thought she was a local woman. Coming from the U.S. and having experienced the struggle for racial equality happening there, Barnette consciously highlighted the lack of equality she saw in India, subverting traditional racial boundaries between missionary and native, and between high caste and low caste status. With this simple gesture, she was able to question the traditional colonial dividing lines that still existed.
After serving for three years in India, Barnette taught in Lahore, Pakistan, as a
full-time missionary. She died on March 12, 2018, in Washington D.C.

Posted or updated: 8/2/2018 12:00:00 AM

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