Neither White nor Black
Lester E. Bush, Jr. and Armand L. Mauss, eds.

Chpater 5
The Fading of the Pharaohs’ Curse:
The Decline and Fall of the Priesthood Ban Against Blacks in the Mormon Church
Armand L. Mauss

The recent history of Mormon teachings and policies on blacks had never received the same detailed analysis as had the earlier periods, an oversight which loomed larger after the priesthood revelation of 1978. Armand Mauss corrected that deficiency in 1981 with a detailed and descriptive analysis of the final years of the priesthood ban. He finds clear developments that anticipated the revelation and documents a surprisingly complex picture of Mormon responses to the challenges of the race question. In the process, he documents his view that the policy change was related far more closely to internal Mormon developments than to external pressure from critics. This essay originally appeared in Dialogue 14 (Autumn 1981).

Now Pharaoh, being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of priesthood, notwithstanding … would fain claim it from Noah through Ham … [Noah] blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and … wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the priesthood. 1

When President Spencer W. Kimball announced to the world on 9 June 1978 a revelation making Mormons of all races eligible for the priesthood, he ended a policy that for 130 years denied the priesthood to those having any black African ancestry. Now, just three years later—in a day when Eldredge Cleaver is talking about joining the Church—it is easy to forget the major changes that led to this momentous announcement.

The history of the policy of priesthood denial can, of course, be traced back to the middle of the last century. Most Mormons have assumed that it is even older, much older, having been applied against the ancient Egyptian pharaohs. In this article I shall not be concerned with [p.150] the full sweep of this history, on which a considerable body of scholarly literature already exists,2 but rather with the final stage, or “decline and fall,” starting around the end of World War II.

The first stirrings of this final stage might be seen in the 1947 exchange of letters between Professor Lowry Nelson, a distinguished Mormon sociologist, and the First Presidency of the Church.3 The latter’s remarks to Nelson, who questioned the validity of church policy on race, are important because they were the first official (though not public) church utterance on the race subject for a long time. Following the traditional rationale, the Presidency explained the policy on blacks in terms of differential merit in the premortal life; stated that the priesthood ban was official church policy from the days of Joseph Smith onward; and raised, with great misgivings, the specter of racial intermarriage.4

Two years later, the First Presidency issued its first general and public statement on the priesthood policy. This letter went beyond the earlier private one in its theological rationale, and included references to the black skin as indicating ancestry from Cain. It elaborated further upon the notion of differential merit in the preexistence, and held out the prospect that the ban on blacks could be removed after everyone else had had a chance at the priesthood.5 Apparently based upon The Way to Perfection, the 1931 distillation by Joseph Fielding Smith of the cumulative racial lore since Brigham Young, this well-known letter expressed the position held, with rare exception and certainly without embarrassment, by Mormon leaders until very recent times.6 The durability of that position, however, was to prove more apparent than real.

As things turned out, the three or four year tug-of-war in Congress over the access issue ended indecisively and eventually became moot with the automatic expiration of statutory and regulatory restrictions on the archival census data in question. However, in 1976 the hazards of the Church’s group of lineage specialists were brought quietly to the attention of certain members of the Twelve. Some friction among the Brethren subsequently developed, for the lineage screening program, it seems, was a surprise even to some of the Twelve, and approval for the enterprise was not universal among them. Exactly what ensued thereafter is not clear, [p.167] but the sensitive screening program at the headquarters level does seem to have been dropped, for an official letter from the First Presidency eventually transferred to stakes and missions the final determination of “whether or not one does have Negro blood.”89

Let us, then, not look back to hang our heads. If we look back at all, let us do so only to remember the lessons suggested by our struggle with the race issue: the principle of parsimony both in what we believe and in what we teach, lest we again digest dubious doctrine in the service of temporary policy; the human element that must be recognized, appreciated, and endured in the conduct of even high Church office, lest we deify our prophets instead of sustain them; and the ultimate vindication of patient loyalty to our leadership, lest the office of prophet become the pawn of contemporary politics. Let us consider too, with deepest appreciation, the example of sacrifice and subtle efficacy provided all these years by our black brethren and sisters in the gospel. If we can do all these things, we will have nothing to live down but much to live up to.

Revelation and Aftermath

In the spring of 1978, as the new revelation waited in the wings, there was no inkling of its pending dramatic entrance to center stage. The charged deliberations of the presiding brethren during the weeks immediately preceding had obviously been carried on in great secrecy, preventing the preliminary rumors that had been “leaked” during earlier and abortive deliberations in 1963 and 1969. Yet, as we have seen, the new revelation was not as sudden a reversal of the status quo as it may have seemed. The stage had clearly been set. Many trends had merged into a common strain toward greater parsimony and ever greater limitation on the impact and implications of the traditional priesthood ban. These trends had the effect of preparing both the leaders and the membership of the Church for the new revelation.

First, there was the gradual constriction of the scope of the ban within the Church, a casting of the net less broadly, as it were. Whole categories of people were moved out from under the ban, as in the South Pacific. The burden of proof in the case of dubious lineage was shifted from the questionable family or individual to the priesthood leaders and the Church, not only in North American but also in South Africa and even in the hopelessly mixed countries of Latin America. A certain looseness at the boundaries of the ban was also apparent in the decentralization and delegation of the decision-making about priesthood eligibility, at first partially and then (by February 1978) totally. Another way of seeing this trend would be to say that by the time Spencer W. Kimball became president, there were far more categories and situations among mankind eligible for the priesthood than had been the case when David O. McKay had assumed the presidency.

Then there was a corresponding trend toward reducing the implications, or damage, as it were, deriving from the priesthood ban in the external relationships of the Church with the world. First, starting in the early 1960s, the Church increasingly attempted to strip the priesthood policy of any social or civic implications, embracing the civil rights doctrines of the nation and eventually putting the Church behind progressive legislation in Utah. Every official statement from 1963 on emphatically denied that the internal church policy provided any justification for opposition to civil rights for all races. At least equally important was the deliberate and rapid public redefinition during the 1970s of blacks, Mormon or otherwise, as acceptable and desirable associates and equals. A new [p.168]media image for blacks always had been part of the thrust of the civil rights movement as a whole in America, but for Mormons, the most salient medium was ultimately their religion, and particularly its public and official posture. As long as the black man appeared to be regarded by Mormon leaders as persona non grata, or even as “the invisible man,” Mormons would probably keep their distance, despite a formally proper equalitarian stance in civic affairs. The new message seemed to be, then, that the priesthood ban justified neither the denial of civil rights nor the apprehensive social avoidance of black people.

The third important expression of the trend toward parsimony was the gradual discarding of the traditional theological justifications for priesthood denial. This evolution is obvious from a systematic comparison of official Church statements across time: the First Presidency letters of the 1940s (so reminiscent of the nineteenth century lore distilled by Joseph Fielding Smith in 1931); their counterparts in the 1960s, either avoiding theology altogether or espousing only “reasons which we believe are known to God, but which He has not made fully known to man”; and finally the stark declaration by the Public Communications director of the Church (presumably on behalf of the First Presidency), on the eve of the new revelation, that “any reason given … [for priesthood denial] … except that it comes from God, is supposition, not doctrine.”90

With the doctrinal scaffolding thus removed, the priesthood ban itself reduced in scope to the bare minimum, and a new visibility and identity created for blacks in the Mormon milieu, all that was left of the residue of racism was a restrictive policy of priesthood eligibility under increasing strain. The public announcement of its demise was dramatic but not elaborate—scarcely 500 words long. It began by citing the expansion of the Church in recent years, and then alluded briefly to the expectations expressed by some Church leaders in earlier years that the priesthood would eventually be extended to all races. Most of the brief statement, however, was devoted to legitimating the policy change by reference to direct communication with Deity, which the prophet and his two counselors “declar[ed] with soberness” that they had experienced “after spending many hours in the upper room of the temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance.” After these strenuous efforts, the Lord’s will was revealed, for he “by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood … without regard for race or color.”91

The optimistic (if unsupported) observation of Arrington and Bitton may be true, that the new revelation “was received, almost universally, with elation.”92 Some credence for that observation may be found in a systematic survey of Salt Lake City and San Francisco Mormons more than a decade ago, which found that more than two-thirds of the sample [p.169] were ready to accept blacks into the priesthood or at least did not oppose it.93 If one can accept the proposition that Mormon public opinion had been well prepared for changes in the status and image of blacks, then widespread acquiescence in the new policy would be expected, the more so in a religion stressing the principle of modern revelation.

At the same time, however, in parts of the Mormon heartland, at least, there was a period of discomfiture that expressed itself in the circulation of some rather bad jokes at the expense of our newly enfranchised black brothers and sisters.94 And it may well be awhile yet before most white Mormons, at least in North America, will be free of traditional reservations about serving under black bishops or watching their teenagers dance with black peers at church social events. In all such matters, one can hope that we follow the compelling example of the Saints in New Zealand, where “Mormons are the most successful of all churches in the implementation of a policy of integration … This applies to the absolute numbers of Maoris who are in meaningful interaction with Pakehas [whites] in face-to-face religious groups … [as well as to] … their effectiveness in reaching and moulding their members into cohesive communities …”95

The public relations build-up on blacks was greatly intensified in the year immediately following the new revelation and has only partly slackened since then. The first rush of publicity had to do with the rapid ordination and advancement of many faithful Mormon blacks into the ranks of the priesthood, into stake presidencies and high councils, into the mission field and into regular temple work for themselves and for their dead.96 Besides the coverage of these events in Church publications, Salt Lake City’s Sunday evening television talk show, Take Two, in early June, 1978, featured the entire presidency of the Genesis Group, by then fully ordained, who presented a very upbeat image in expressing their own feelings and in answering numerous “call-in” phone questions.97 Interest apparently has remained high also in stories about conversions of American blacks to Mormonism: The Church News carried a major feature article on this subject in 1979, and another firstperson account published in 1980 has sold well in bookstores around Utah.98 Appearances at BYU by Eldredge Cleaver in February and July of 1981, together with the highly publicized prospects that he might join the Mormon Church, introduced a note of ultimate irony into the continuing Mormon-black detente.99 [He was baptized 11 Dec. 1983.]

At least as much publicity has been lavished on the burgeoning (if belated) proselyting efforts among black populations in Africa and elsewhere. It seemed especially appropriate and symbolic that the first new missions to be opened, just weeks after the new revelation, were in Nigeria and Ghana, where the proselyting efforts of fifteen years earlier had been so tragically aborted. The two mature and experienced missionary couples [p.170] first sent to West Africa in 1978 literally exhausted themselves baptizing eager new members of the Church. After only a year, they had baptized 1,707 members into five districts and thirty-five branches of the Church in Nigeria and Ghana.100 Meanwhile, the rapid growth of the Church already under way in Latin America and the Pacific Islands continued with much publicity toward the day of the dedication of the Brazilian temple late in 1978. The Church was clearly making up for lost time in all such areas, and it was anxious for the world to know it.

Apart from these developments, it seems fair to add that the new revelation has provoked neither the wholesale departure of die-hard traditionalists from the Church, as one had heard predicted occasionally, nor the thundering and triumphant return of marginal Mormon liberals, who had long become accustomed to citing the priesthood ban on blacks as the major “reason” for their disaffection. Those disposed to apostatize over the ending of the ban seem already to have done so over the Manifesto of 1890, for polygamous fundamentalists offered the only apparent organized opposition to the new priesthood policy (as just another “retreat” from orthodoxy)103



If the Church, then, has reacted to the new revelation mainly with white acquiescence and black conversion, does that mean that all is well in Zion? The answer depends upon how much we care about certain unresolved historical and ecclesiastical issues. Some of these, of course, have been lingering in the minds of concerned Mormons for decades, as many of us have struggled to understand and somehow explain (if only to ourselves) the anomaly of the pharaohs’ curse in the Lord’s church. Even the change in policy evokes reflections and questions for the loyal but troubled mind: (1) Why did we have to have a special revelation to change the traditional policy toward blacks; and, if it was going to come anyway, why didn’t it come a decade earlier? (2) Since the policy was changed by revelation, must we infer that it also was instituted by revelation? (3) How can we distinguish authentic doctrine in the Church from authoritatively promulgated opinion? (4) Now that the era of the pharaohs’ curse is over, how should we deal with it in our retrospective feelings?

There is obviously no point in debating whether a revelation from [p.171] the Lord “really” occurred. The committed Mormon will take the proposition for granted, while the secular and the cynical will reject it out of hand. In practical terms, it makes little difference whether the Lord or the prophet was the ultimate source of the revelation, for we are obliged as much to seek understanding about the mind of the one as of the other. It is clear from the reflections of President Kimball and other participants in the revelational process that they all shared a profound spiritual experience, one which swept away life-long contrary predispositions.104 This experience was apparently a necessity if the priesthood ban ever were to be dropped, if for no other reason than that all earlier attempts to resolve the problem at the policy level had bogged down in controversy among the brethren. Only a full-fledged revelation defined as such by the president himself would neutralize that controversy and bring the required unanimity among the First Presidency and the Twelve. Moreover, for years nearly all the General Authorities who had spoken publicly on the priesthood ban had been clear in stating that it could be changed only by direct and explicit revelation.

Why didn’t the revelation come earlier, before all the public relations damage was done? This is much too complex a question to be answered by the facile conventional wisdom of Church critics that the obstinately backward Mormons finally got their “revelation” when the progressive forces of the outside world applied sufficient pressure.105 Such an “explanation” betrays ignorance of the complex dynamics operating within the Church during the 1960s and 1970s and of certain crucial Mormon ecclesiastical imperatives. Furthermore, it ignores the several years’ respite from external pressure which the Church had generally enjoyed before 1978 and which, indeed, gave the new revelation much of its quality of surprise.

Prophets in the Mormon tradition do not sit around waiting for revelations. Like Church leaders at all levels, they grapple pragmatically with the day-to-day demands and problems that go with their callings, presumably striving to stay as close as possible to the promptings of the Holy Spirit on a routine basis. They are not infallible, and they sometimes make mistakes. They carry the initiative in their communication with Deity, and when they need special guidance they are supposed to ask for it. Even this inquiry is often a petition for confirmation of a tentative decision already produced by much individual and collective deliberation (D&C 9:7-8). That means that prophets are left to do a lot on their own; it means, too, that receiving a special revelation may depend on previously identifying an appropriate solution.

All of this leads to the point that the timing of the new revelation on priesthood eligibility was dependent in large part on the initiative of President Kimball himself, who had to come to a realization that the [p.172] Church had a serious problem; then he had to “study … out in his mind” a proposed solution to the problem and only then petition the Lord for confirmation of the proposal.106 Bruce R. McConkie, a direct participant in the process of collective affirmation that followed President Kimball’s own solitary spiritual sojourn, described the president’s approach very much in these terms, strongly implying furthermore, that he was the first president of the Church to have taken the black problem that far. If so, we already have much of the explanation for the timing of the end of the pharaohs’ curse.

Given the relatively restrained role of Deity in the revelational process just described, we are then entitled to wonder just what were the considerations that brought President Kimball to frame his proposal and petition the Lord for its confirmation.

I have argued that inside pressures from outside Utah were probably more compelling than outside pressures from inside Utah. Brazil was not the only consideration, of course, but it was surely the most immediate and weighty of the Third World examples. When the 1974 decision was made to build a temple in Brazil, the realization among the brethren must have developed rapidly, if indeed it was not there to start with, that the priesthood ban would be untenable and unmanageable. This point has been noted not only by so astute an outside observer as Jan Shipps, but also explicitly by Apostle LeGrand Richards and implicitly by Bruce R. McConkie and by President Kimball himself.

The exact timing of the revelation ending the “Negro issue” for the Church, however it is best explained, was providential in a public relations sense as well. Damage to the public image of the Church could probably have been averted altogether only by dropping the priesthood ban before it became a public issue. One viable chance for that, and maybe the last one, was lost when the First Presidency failed to reach consensus in 1954. Once the NAACP and other civil rights partisans took up the issue in the early 1960s, the Church could not have changed the Negro policy without resurrecting from polygamy days the specter of a pressure-induced “revelation on demand.” Even with the pressure off in the late 1970s, critics of the Church made cynical comments in that vein but with much less credibility. Had the new revelation come a decade earlier, at the height of the political agitation, there would have been little room for anything but a cynical interpretation of how the prophetic office is conducted. It seems certain that to most Mormons, maintaining the integrity and charisma of that office was a more important consideration than either racial equality or societal respectability. There could be no reenactment in Mormon vestments of the assault of aggiornamento upon the papacy.107 It seems understandable, then, that the timing of the new revelation should have fallen well after the apex of the civil rights movement, but before a temple opened in Brazil.

[p.173] There is no known record of any revelation in this dispensation that either denies the priesthood to blacks or ties them to the lineage of the pharaohs. Nor is there any record that the Church had a policy of priesthood denial in the lifetime of Joseph Smith. There is much evidence that the policy developed after Brigham Young took charge of the church.108 Was that policy established by revelation? We may never know, but it is not necessary to believe so. There is an especially relevant biblical precedent suggesting that ecclesiastical policies requiring revelation for their removal do not necessarily originate by revelation. The controversy over circumcision among the New Testament apostles offers us a parallel problem of “racial discrimination.” If Jesus had given some priority in the teaching of the gospel “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek,” he certainly never instituted the requirement of circumcision before baptism for the Gentiles, as some of his early apostles apparently believed. In spite of Peter’s vision about “unclean meat,” which should have settled the question, it is clear from Paul’s epistles that the circumcision controversy in the early church lasted for many years.109 We may well wonder why the Lord “permitted” a racially discriminatory policy to survive so long in either the ancient or the modern church, and what circumstances finally brought about his intervention. It does seem plausible, however, that both the ancient and the modern instances could have had strictly human origin. An open admission of this realization may be the best way to start dealing with the black issue in Mormon history. There is no reason for even the most orthodox Mormon to be threatened by the realization that the prophets do not do everything by revelation and never have.110

The changing definitions surrounding the black man in Mormon history raise the question, as few other issues have, of just what is authentic doctrine in the Church? That we had an official policy or practice of withholding the priesthood from blacks cannot be denied. The doctrinal rationale supporting that policy, however, is quite a separate matter. Note, in this connection, that the revelation of June 1978 actually changed only the policy and did not address any doctrine at all, except indirectly by overturning a common belief that priesthood for the blacks could come only in the next life. It is against this background that Presidents McKay and Brown and like-minded colleagues seem to have been correct all along (though perhaps beside the point) in considering the priesthood ban a policy and not a doctrine.

Yet the question of authentic doctrine remains. As we have seen, the flow of doctrinal commentary from the days of Brigham Young, reflected in the First Presidency letters of the late 1940s, is clearly followed by an ebb thereafter to the doctrinal nadir of April 1978, when a spokesman for the Church declared, in effect, that there wasn’t any doctrine on the [p.174] subject at all. In their private beliefs, however, not all of the brethren followed the lead of the First Presidency in this process of doctrinal devolution. Perhaps the most perplexing case in point is Elder McConkie, who, a few weeks after the June, 1978, revelation, counseled us to forget doctrines expounded earlier by himself and others who had spoken “with limited understanding,” but then chose to retain virtually all the old Negro doctrines in the 1979 revision of his authoritative reference book!111

In the quest for authentic doctrine, I find it useful to employ a typology or “scale of authenticity,” which I have derived from empirical induction, rather than from anything formal. It is thus an operational construct, not a theological one, not synonymous with “truth” in any ultimate, objective sense. The nature of “truth,” even in an LDS doctrinal context, is an altogether different epistemological issue. By “authentic” here, I mean only that a claim can legitimately be made that a given doctrine or policy had divine origin. At the top of this scale is a category of complete or ultimate authenticity, which I call canon doctrine, following conventional Christian terminology. This would include both doctrines and (for these purposes) policy statements which the prophets represent to the Church as having been received by direct revelation and which are subsequently accepted as such by the sustaining vote of the membership. The four standard works of the Church (with recent addenda) obviously fall into this highest category of authenticity, but it is difficult to think of anything else that does.

A secondary category, nearly as important, is official doctrine (and, again, policy). Included here are statements from the president or from the First Presidency, whether to priesthood leaders or to the world as a whole; also church lesson manuals, magazines, or other publications appearing under the explicit auspices of the First Presidency. General Conference addresses in their oral form would not routinely be included here, or, if so, only tentatively, given the revisions that they have frequently undergone before being allowed to appear in print. There is no assumption of infallibility here, but only that the legitimate spokesmen for the Church are expressing its official position at a given point in time. “Official” positions or doctrines may be subsequently changed, repudiated, or proved wrong but are still official at the time they are promulgated.

The third category of authenticity I would call authoritative doctrine. Here would fall all of the other talks, teachings and publications of authorities on Mormon doctrines and scriptures, whether or not these are published by a Church press like Deseret Book. The presumption of authoritativeness may derive either from the speaker’s high ecclesiastical office (e.g., Bruce R. McConkie), or from his formal scholarly credentials and research (e.g., Hugh Nibley), or from both (e.g., James E. Talmage).

The lowest (least authentic) category is popular doctrine, sometimes [p.175] called “folklore.” This is to some extent a residual category, but it clearly includes the apocryphal prophecies that often circulate around the Church, common beliefs such as that temple garments offer protection from physical injury, and a host of other notions having either local or general circulation. Occasionally a popular doctrine will be considered subversive enough by the General Authorities to warrant official condemnation, but usually folklore flourishes unimpeded by official notice.

Now obviously a particular doctrine can be found in all four categories simultaneously. In fact, such would ideally be the case for canon doctrine, so the “authenticity scale” I have recommended may have a cumulative property in many cases. Indeed, it is rare for a doctrine in a given category not to have some “following” in the lower categories. What becomes crucial for us to determine, however, is how high up the scale is the primary source of a given doctrine or policy. This is a determination rarely made or even considered by most church members, who therefore remain very susceptible to folklore, as well as to doctrines that may be authoritative or even official for a time but which later prove erroneous.

Let us take the traditional “Negro doctrines” as a case in point: These seem to have begun at the level of folklore in the earliest days of the Church, imported to a large extent from the traditional racist lore in Christianity more generally.112 It is not clear from surviving records how often these doctrines received authoritative endorsement by church leaders during the lifetime of Joseph Smith, but there is little reason to believe they ever became official. By 1850, though, they seem to have been elevated to the official level, if only because President Brigham Young taught them in his official capacity. Most of them were still officially embraced by First Presidency letters in the late 1940s and widely promulgated at the authoritative and folk levels as well. There they now survive despite withdrawal of official endorsement. Let us note, for the historical record, that neither the priesthood ban itself nor its supporting doctrinal justifications were ever canon doctrines. No known revelation was ever promulgated to establish the ban, or even to tie it to the curse of the pharaohs in the book of Abraham, though that tie was at least “official.”

The historical “career” of the priesthood ban and its accompanying doctrines suggests to us the importance of the principle of parsimony in our approach to doctrine. While accepting wholeheartedly the standard works of the church, we must be very reluctant to “canonize in our own hearts” any doctrines not explicitly included there. We may hold other doctrines as postulates, as long as we realize that they may in the long run prove erroneous, and that we have no right to consider their acceptance among the criteria of faithfulness. The premises of our church membership also oblige us to act in conformity to official policies and teachings of our church leaders; but here we are entitled to entertain reservations and [p.176] express them to our leaders, since official statements can turn out to be wrong.113 It is not blind faith that is required of us but only that we seek our own spiritual confirmation before questioning official instruction.

As for a teaching that is only authoritative, we owe it nothing more than respectful consideration, and we are perfectly free to reject it thereafter, even if it appears in a book entitled Mormon Doctrine. And toward folklore, we should be suspicious and require authentication, but we should never lose our sense of humor! A principle of parsimony thus applied by the Saints is ideally matched by restraint on the parts of leaders and teachers up and down the Church, and particularly on the parts of General Authorities, in the claims made for the authenticity of doctrines outside the four standard works. For despite sincerity and good intentions, much mischief can be done in a situation of doctrinal ambiguity when those in authority claim too much.

Reconsidering the Past

It has been noted that Mormons have yet to “come to terms” with polygamy; our ambivalence toward the “polygamy era” expresses itself in a studied (and sometimes puritanical) effort to “live it down,” while still lionizing the polygamists in our past. How will we “come to terms” with our era of racial discrimination? We must begin, I think, by maintaining a comparative historical perspective. Before we jump too quickly to demand, “Isn’t the Mormon heritage racist?” let us be sure to ask, “Compared to what?” A sense of historical balance and fairness calls for a comparison of Mormon ways with the ways of others in similar times, places, and circumstances.

Careful review of the history of Mormon racism will reveal that it has followed closely the comparable history for America as a whole, sad as that may be. Ambivalent expressions from our leaders about the status of blacks during our Missouri period were certainly understandable in a border state. After the move to Illinois, Joseph Smith and others who spoke on the subject seemed to share the dominant Northern sentiment of the time, a moderate and gradual abolitionism, rather than either a perpetuation of slavery or the more radical and precipitous solutions of the abolitionist movement itself. Even the outspoken racism of Brigham Young and some of his colleagues in Utah, and the relatively benign form of slavery permitted there in the 1850s and 1860s, were close to mainstream opinion in America at the time. Abraham Lincoln himself did not believe in social or political equality for blacks in those days.114 After the Civil War, Jim Crow laws spread to Utah and remained entrenched there until the 1950s and 1960s, just as they did in the entire nation.115 The Jim Crow tradition may have receded more slowly in some respects in Utah than in some other states but, in general, about as rapidly as in most [p.177] places.116 Mormon attitudes toward blacks, measured at the height of civil rights controversy in the society, differed little from national norms, given appropriate statistical “controls” for important demographic differences.118

Even the priesthood ban itself must be seen in comparative context. The pragmatic rather than theological fact of life is that the churches of America, like most other institutions, have all practiced racial discrimination. At least the major denominations had racially segregated congregations well into the age of civil rights, and blacks have never constituted more than a small proportion of the clergy of any denomination, even to this day.119 As in medicine and law, a professional clergy can (and does) restrict black access to power and privilege by the more subtle means of restricting access to the specialized education by which alone the requisite credential (or ordination) can be obtained. In more egalitarian religions like Mormonism, which has no professional priesthood, the functional or sociological equivalent of such institutionalized racism was necessarily and ironically much less subtle: a categorical and formal denial of access to the priesthood altogether. For all of their moral posturing, then, in practice the “liberal” Christian denominations never had appreciably more blacks ordained than the Mormons did.

Let us, then, not look back to hang our heads. If we look back at all, let us do so only to remember the lessons suggested by our struggle with the race issue: the principle of parsimony both in what we believe and in what we teach, lest we again digest dubious doctrine in the service of temporary policy; the human element that must be recognized, appreciated, and endured in the conduct of even high Church office, lest we deify our prophets instead of sustain them; and the ultimate vindication of patient loyalty to our leadership, lest the office of prophet become the pawn of contemporary politics. Let us consider too, with deepest appreciation, the example of sacrifice and subtle efficacy provided all these years by our black brethren and sisters in the gospel. If we can do all these things, we will have nothing to live down but much to live up to.


It is with deepest gratitude that I acknowledge how much my work has benefited by the generosity of many other scholars who have shared with me their knowledge, suggestions and criticisms. Besides those acknowledged in [p.178] various notes, other colleagues deserving of my special thanks are William G. Hartley, Newell Bringhurst, Gordon Irving, and, above all, Lester Bush.

1. Pearl of Great Price, Abr. 1:26-27. I have reordered the two verses.

2. The most important of these are Stephen G. Taggart, Mormonism’s Negro Policy: Social and Historical Origins (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1970); Lester E. Bush, Jr., “Commentary on …” Taggart’s book in Dialogue 4 (Winter 1969): 86-103; then Bush’s definitive “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview,” Dialogue 8 (Spring 1973): 11-68; Ronald K. Esplin, “Brigham Young and Priesthood Denial to the Blacks,” BYU Studies 19:3 (1979); and Newell G. Bringhurst, Saints, Slaves, and Blacks: The Changing Place of Black People within Mormonism, 1820-1980 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1981); plus numerous shorter and/or less thoroughly researched articles cited, in turn, by these works.

3. Nelson had first been approached by church leaders for his assessment of the feasibility of opening missionary work in Cuba after World War II. His letter grew out of concerns about such an effort, given the Church’s racial policy.

4. Excerpts from the exchange of correspondence between Nelson and the First Presidency are reproduced in John J. Stewart, Mormonism and the Negro (Orem, Utah: Bookmark Division, Community Press, 1960), pp. 33, 46, 47, 54. For more on Nelson’s interaction with Church leaders during the 1940s, see his letter in Dialogue 2 (Autumn 1967): 8-9, and Bringhurst, Saints, Slaves, and Blacks, epilogue, and notes.

5. Stewart, Mormonism and the Negro, Part 2, pp. 16-18; Bush, “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine,” pp. 43-44 and note 199.

6. Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, 11th ed. (Salt Lake City: the Genealogical Society, 1958), especially Chapters 7, 15, and 16. The first edition of this book appeared in 1931 and reflects the recorded teachings and opinions of the author’s father and sixth church president, Joseph F. Smith, who in turn seems to have adopted many of the ideas of Brigham Young. All such teachings have been given prolonged credibility in more recent years by their repetition in Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), esp. pp. 526-28.

7. President McKay’s private views on the matter over the years are discussed and documented in Bush, “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine,” pp. 45-48, with accompanying notes.

8. Ibid., p. 46; and Roger O. Porter, “Educator Cites McKay Statement …, ” Salt Lake Tribune, 15 Jan. 1970.

9. One major consideration here, in my opinion, was President McKay’s apparent preference for a colleagial style of administration, as opposed to a more autocratic or assertive one, so that he would not have been inclined to insist very hard on his own policy preferences in the face of much resistance from his counselors or the Twelve.

10. See especially C. 1. in the South African Mission Proselyting Plan Disc. #13, Dec. 1951, Elder Gilbert G. Tobler, comp., Mowbray, C. P. South Africa.

11. This transformation of policy in South Africa, and the importance in particular of President McKay’s visit, is laid out in Farrell Ray Monson, “History of the South African Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1853-1970” (M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1971), esp. pp. 42-46. See also A. Hamer Reiser, Oral History Interviews by William G. Hartley, 1974, vol. 2, pp. 165-69, James Moyle Oral History Program, Historical Department Archives, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

12. See note 8 on McKay-McMurrin conversation. On deliberations among the General Authorities, also in 1954, see excerpt from Adam S. Bennion papers in Lester E. Bush Jr., “Compilation on the Negro in Mormonism,” (1972, in LDS Church Archives or BYU library Special Collections) in which Apostle Bennion is thanked by Wallace R. Bennett for a recent talk reporting that “the Church leadership is even now undertaking a careful re-evaluation of our [Negro] doctrine.” Bush p. 254 also reports an alleged re-evaluation about 1948, about the time of the Nelson correspondence. This may have led to the 1949 statement and a decision to give Negritos in the Philippines the priesthood. See note 14.

13. Lester E. Bush, Jr., “Introduction”to special section Dialogue 12 (Summer 1979), p. 12, note 1, and more details on church policy in and around Fiji in Norman Douglas, “Mormon Missionaries and the Fijian: Caution, Confusion, and Compromise,” typescript, LDS Church Archives, where the inconsistencies in Fiji policies across time are set forth in some detail. See also Douglas, “The Sons of Levi and the Seed of Cain: Racial Myths in Mormon Scripture and their Relevance to the Pacific Islands,” Journal of Religious History 8 (1974): 90-104. Additional information for this paragraph comes also from the Manuscript History of the Tonga Mission, 31 March 1959 Quarterly Report, via my personal interview with R. Lanier Britsch on 31 May 1981.

14. The information on the Negritos comes to me via a personal interview with John L. Sorenson, 31 May 1981, and a subsequent letter from him, 3 Aug. 1981. While a missionary in the Pacific in 1948, Sorenson was told by visiting Apostle Matthew Cowley that he was carrying a letter from the First Presidency authorizing the extension of the priesthood to all the peoples of the Philippines, explicitly including the Negritos. The reference to the delay for the West Irians of New Guinea is based on a letter in my files from the mission president in Singapore in 1973, letter of 3 Aug. 1981. He reported a letter from the First Presidency in the mission files in which the priesthood was authorized for the West Irians as it had been earlier for other Micronesian and Melanesian peoples; signed by President Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, and N. Eldon Tanner, and dated either 1971 or early 1972.

15. Bush, “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine,” p. 68, note 209.

16. As far as I can tell from personal interviews with missionaries who served in Brazil at various times in the 1950s and 1960s, the genealogical “burden of proof” was shifted from the Saints there to the Church during the term of Wm. Grant Bangerter as mission president (1958-63).

17. Personal conversation with Mark Grover, 6 June 1981. Grover, who served a mission in Brazil in the late 1960s, is currently working on a doctoral dissertation on church relationships with the Third World and has interviewed (or read interviews of) a number of the principals in the leadership of the church in Brazil since World War II. Also consulted in assessing the church racial experience in Brazil were transcripts of a dozen or so oral histories taken from various missionaries, mission presidents, and local church members who lived or served there and in other Latin American countries during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Since the race relations topic is still considered sensitive by many of these informants, nearly all of whom are still alive. I have deliberately avoided specifying in most cases which information derived from which interviews.

18. Ibid. For an example of one of the versions of the lineage lesson, see Handbook: Brazil North Central Mission (Sao Paulo, about 1970), pp. 39-42, which was still in use at least as late as 1975. Excerpts contributed to my files by Mark Grover.

19. Bush, “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine,” p. 45 and p. 68, notes 207, 208. I also have personal knowledge of such cases among friends.

20. The Nation 174 (24 May 1952): pp. 488 ff.

21. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine was first published in 1958, though the second (1966) edition has had much greater circulation. See also e.g., Mark E. Petersen, “Race Problems—As They Affect the Church,” an address given 27 Aug. 1954 at a Brigham Young University convention of religion teachers; Alvin R. Dyer, “For What Purpose?”, an address given at a missionary conference held in Oslo, Norway, 18 March 1961; and Stewart, Mormonism and the Negro. An example of the same genre but published somewhat later was John L. Lund, The Church and the Negro (Jacksonville, Fla.: Paramount Publishers, 1967).

22. Bush, “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine,” p. 42.

23. Thomas F. O’Dea, The Mormons (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), especially Ch. 9. O’Dea’s 1972 essay on the Mormons discussed the race issue at some length, but by then it was obvious to everyone. See O’Dea, “Sources of Strain in Mormon History Reconsidered” in Marvin S. Hill and James B. Allen, eds., Mormonism and American Culture (New York: Harper and Row, 1972).

24. See Charles S. McCoy, “The Churches and Protest Movements for Racial Justice,” in Robert Lee and Martin Marty, eds., Religion and Social Conflict (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964) and Thomas F. Gossett, Race: The History of an Idea in America (New York: Schocken Books, 1965). Antiblack prejudice and some of its consequences among the clergy are described and measured in Rodney Stark et al., Wayward Shepherds: Prejudice and the Protestant Clergy (New York: Harper and Row, 1971), pp. 111-17.

25. E.g., G. W. Davidson, “Mormon Missionaries and the Race Question,” Christian Century, 29 Sept. 1965; D. L. Foster, “Unique Gospel in Utah” Christian Century 14 July 1965; and several articles by Lester Kinsolving in the San Francisco Chronicle, 4 June 1966, p. 35; 24 June 1967, p. 26; 20 Dec. 1969, p. 15; and 21 March 1970, p. 17.

26. Utah Chapters, NAACP, “Proposed Resolution of Censure Regarding Discrimination Practiced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” See summary of this document in the San Francisco Examiner, 2 July 1965, p. 6.

27. E.g., Wallace Turner in various syndicated columns and in The Mormon Establishment (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co., 1966).

28. Among the most prominent were Sterling M. McMurrin, Stewart Udall, and Morris Udall. See the several examples of their critical comments in the epilogue to Bringhurst, Saints, Slaves, See also Stewart Udall’s letter in Dialogue 2 (Summer 1967): 6-7, and the letter of Samuel W. Taylor in the San Francisco Chronicle, 11 July 1967, p. 32.

29. The lack of canonical basis for the priesthood policy and its supporting doctrines was a major argument advanced in my first article in Dialogue 2 (Winter 1967); see also Taggart, “Mormonism’s Negro policy,” and Bush, “Commentary on …”

30. This line of reasoning was articulated most fully in the Dec. 1969 statement of the First Presidency.

31. See Bringhurst, Saints, Slaves, epilogue, especially notes 50-57, where a number of other sources are cited on Romney’s campaign and its implications for the Church at that time.

32. Sterling M. McMurrin, “A Note on the 1963 Civil Rights Statement,” Dialogue 12 (Summer 1979): 60-63. It is unlikely, as McMurrin seems to imply (p. 61), that President Brown was unaware of the threat of demonstrations since the threat had been reported in the Salt Lake City papers (see e.g., the Deseret News for 5 Oct. 1963). For reiterations of the favorable Church stand on civil rights after 1963, see April 1965 General Conference (San Francisco Chronicle 17 April 1965) and in 1966 April General Conference (Dialogue 1 [Summer 1966]: back page).

33. See note 26. Public demonstrations against the Church in 1965 are discussed also by Bringhurst in Saints, Slaves, epilogue, where he relies mainly on stories in the Salt Lake Tribune for 7-10 March 1965.

34. See accounts of these early Nigeria contacts in Bush, “Compilation,” “The Nigerian Mission,” pp. 360-68; Bush, “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine p. 45; Time magazine, 18 June 1965; Bringhurst, Saints, Slaves epilogue, including notes 69-72; and Bringhurst, “Mormonism in Black Africa; Changing Attitudes and Practices, 1830-1981,” Sunstone 6 (May/June 1981): 17-18.

35. This incident was recounted to me by Eugene E. Campbell, who had read the minutes of the First Presidency meetings involved (letter in my files from Campbell, 7 April 1981).

36. E.g., Wallace Turner, “Mormons Weigh Stand on Negro—May End Ban on Complete Membership in Church,” New York Times (western edition), 7 June 1963, an article widely disseminated in various newspapers around the same time.

37. “Mormon ‘Fight’ Over Civil Rights,” San Francisco Chronicle, 17 April 1965, which refers to the rejection by President Brown of Elder Benson’s publicly stated characterization of the civil rights movement as subversive or even Communist-inspired. The apparent pessimism of President McKay cited here is a reference to his widely quoted prediction during a 1964 visit to the Oakland (Calif.) Temple dedication, that a change in the priesthood policy would not come “in my lifetime or yours.”

38. Hugh B. Brown, N. Eldon Tanner, Joseph Fielding Smith, Alvin R. Dyer and Thorpe B. Isaacson all served as counselors in the First Presidency during the final year or so of President McKay’s life.

39. See notes 6, 21 above. Lee’s views are treated briefly by Bush, “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine,” p. 47, and notes 195, 217. The relevant developments during President Lee’s later administration as church president remain an area of uncertainty in this history. Bush reports in personal correspondence a conversation with a General Authority in 1974 who informed him that Lee had announced in a general meeting of the authorities a decision to allow two black children to be sealed to white parents in response to a special request. It was the General Authority’s feeling that Lee was perceived as moving surprisingly quickly on the whole black issue (given, one presumes, his objections to Brown’s initiative in 1969). The inference was that the new insights of the scholarly articles appearing on the subject had played some modest role. Any further developments were aborted by Lee’s unexpected death in December 1973.

40. The letter is reproduced in Dialogue 4 (Winter 1969), pp. 102-3. The incident which culminated in this letter came to me via Richard Poll, to whom it had been related by a close relative and confidant of a member of the First Presidency involved. I obtained direct verification from his source as recently as August 1981.

41. E.g., “LDS Leader Says Curb on Priesthood to Ease,” in the Salt Lake Tribune, 25 Dec. 1969, p. 4-D; and a shorter version of the same article in the San Francisco Chronicle, 27 Dec. 1969, p. 22.

42. Mormons Hold to Doctrine—New Leaders Ban Changes,” San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle, 25 Jan. 1970, p. 14-A.

43. Bush, “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine,” pp. 46-47.

44. For a thorough, if biased, overview of the book of Abraham controversy, see Chapter 11 of Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1980). Examples of the scholarly analysis and commentary on the rediscovered papyrus fragments will be found in the following issues of Dialogue between 1967 and 1969: vol. 2, no. 4; vol. 3, 2; vol. 3, no. 3; 4, no. 1 and no. 4; articles by Hugh Nibley intermittently in the Improvement Era from January 1968 to May 1970; and Nibley’s ponderous but not entirely relevant The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1975).

45. A generally fair review of the BYU controversy will be found in William F. Reed, “The Other Side of ‘The Y’,” Sports Illustrated, 26 Jan. 1970, pp. 38-39. Numerous newspaper articles on the controversy appeared around the West in late 1969 and early 1970, especially in the Utah papers, the San Francisco papers, and the Seattle papers; some of these were quite supportive of BYU (e.g. James J. Kilpatrick, “Stanford’s Bigotry toward Mormons,” Chicago Daily News, 11 Dec. 1969; and Dave Ruben, “Cards React 10 to 1 against Break with BYU,” San Francisco Chronicle, 9 Dec. 1969, p. 5). See also Saints, Slaves epilogue, Bringhurst.

46. The ad can be found, for example, in the Spokane Spokesman-Review, 1 April 1970, p. 11.

47. See Salt Lake Tribune, 22 Feb. 1970; and almost daily, March 3 through 10, 1970. One indication of the total paralysis of any sense of humor during this episode was the apparently sober public reaction to a widely circulated claim by Jerry Rubin during a visit to Salt Lake City that both the Yippies and the Black Panthers were moving their headquarters to the city in order to join the war against the Mormons and that Eldredge Cleaver was already in hiding there!

48. William A. Wilson and Richard C. Poulsen, “The Curse of Cain and Other Stories: Blacks in Mormon Folklore,” Sunstone 5 (Nov./Dec. 1980): 9-13.

49. Reported by Wallace Turner in “Mormons Ease Ban on Blacks,” San Francisco Chronicle, 8 April 1972, p. 38 (New York Times News Service).

50. Lester Bush has reported to me that one of the Twelve expressed to him fear for the safety of church leaders even after this tense period. Better known, of course, is Ezra Taft Benson’s claim during the late 1960s, often reiterated, that the civil rights movement was being used by the Communists; see his general conference address, 1967, Improvement Era, and note 37.

51. Press coverage disappeared abruptly about the end of March 1970.

52. A tendency to the parochial assumption that Utah or Great Basin Mormons are somehow representative of “the Mormons” can be seen in the handling of the “vigilantism” episode in Wilson and Poulsen “Curse of Cain,” p. 10; and in O. Kendall White, Jr., & Daryl White, “Abandoning an Unpopular Policy: An Analysis of the Decision Granting the Mormon Priesthood to Blacks,” Sociological Analysis 41 (Fall 1980): 231-45. The treatments in these two articles of Mormon collective reactions to black pressures in Utah indicate well enough the emotional intensity of some of those reactions, but the authors are in no position to judge the pervasiveness of the reactions, since they lack systematic data even from Utah, to say nothing of elsewhere. See my critique on White and White in Sociological Analysis, 42 (Fall 1981): 277-82.

53. In this respect, Lowry Nelson’s misgivings expressed to the First Presidency in the 1940s proved prescient (see notes 3 and 4) and somewhat ironic.

54. Bush, “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine,” p. 47, Turner, “Mormons Ease Ban,” p. 38.

55. Bringhurst,

56. Ibid.

57. Ibid., and Lewiston Tribune (Idaho), 19 July 1974, III-25.

58. An account of the excommunication of Douglas Wallace, and events leading up to it, are recounted in the Spokane (Washington) Spokesman Review, 10 April 1976, p. 6. For the excommunication of Byron Marchant, see the Lewiston (Idaho) Tribune, 16 Oct. 1977, p. 8-D. Various papers around the country, especially in the West, carried corresponding stories about the same time. Marchant, interestingly, had been the Scoutmaster in the Boy Scout troop where the race issue had arisen three years earlier. A few other excommunications apparently occurred during this same general period or earlier over tactics used in opposing the Church’s racial policy, but these other cases got little or no publicity outside of Utah. Subsequent to their excommunications, both Wallace and Marchant continued to make local news through their various attempts to draw public attention to their controversy with the Church. See accounts in Tanner and Tanner, Changing World, pp. 320-22, and newspaper stories cited there.

59. See Deseret News, 1975 Church Almanac, p. F-3; 1980 Church Almanac, p. 263; and “Church Public Communications Program,” Annual Guidelines, 1977-78, Salt Lake City, UT, Corporation of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1977 (for Church officers).

60. William G. Hartley, Interview with Heber G. Wolsey, 14 May 1981; written summary in my files. 1975 Church Almanac, p. F-3; 1980 Church Almanac, p. 263; and “Church Public Communications Program,” Annual Guidelines, 1977-78 Salt Lake City, UT.; Corporation of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1977. (for Church officers).

61. “Marketing the Mormon Image: An Interview with Wendell J. Ashton,” Dialogue 10 (Spring 1977): pp. 15-20. The interview was conducted in October 1976. See also note 59.

62. A written excerpt from the NBC interview in my files, courtesy of Lester Bush. For his “explanation” of the Church’s priesthood ban on blacks in this interview, Ashton simply fell back on the First Presidency letter of December 1969. In that connection, it is interesting to note the information in the Wolsey interview that the Public Communications Department, which reports directly to the First Presidency, is free to speak for the Presidency in any matter where the policy or position is already clearly established (as would have been the case with the reference by Ashton in 1973 to the 1969 First Presidency letter). In any other matter, Wolsey explains, First Presidency clearance must be sought for what the PCD publicly asserts. In either case, it would seem that the PCD speaks officially for the Church.

63. “Marketing the Mormon Image,” pp. 18-19; and the transcript of the Today Show interview with President Kimball.

64. “Marketing the Mormon Image,” p. 16. Compare Dennis L. Lythgoe, “The Changing Image of Mormonism,” Dialogue 4 (Winter 1968): 45-58, esp. pp. 50-52, with Stephen Stathis and Dennis Lythgoe, “Mormonism in the 1970s: The Popular Perception,” Dialogue 10 (Spring 1977): 95-113, esp. pp. 106-07.

65. Reed (note 45). Few blacks recruited to BYU lasted long until Keith Rice in 1977 (see BYU Monday Magazine, 23 Jan. 1978, p. 14). BYU recruiting appeals to black athletes and other students before 1970 seem to have been ambivalent. As reported in a BYU Daily Universe sports column for 31 Oct. 1969, young blacks were sometimes warned that they might not be happy in Provo with so few others of their own race. Also, I have from the files of Lester Bush a transcript of a document entitled, “Church Schools and Students of Color,” obtained in 1968, ostensibly from the BYU president’s office. It appears to be a set of instructions to university staff members involved with student recruiting and includes a sample letter to be sent to black applicants. Even the most optimistic and guileless black applicant would be hard put to find in this letter any other message than “don’t come!”

66. Reed, “Other Side of the ‘Y’;” also “BYU-Washington Situation Unsettled,” BYU Today, 1970 March, p. 1; and the Spokane Daily Chronicle, 26 Nov. 1969.

67. BYU Today, Aug. 1971.

68. Deseret News, 13 March 1976, p. 28A.

69. The relevant portion of Brooke’s address can be found in Dialogue 11 (Summer 1978): p. 119-20. As late as 1969, if not later, BYU had an administrative policy permitting no more than two black speakers on campus per year, according to a report in the Daily Universe (5 May 1969). This policy resulted in denial of permission to invite both Ralph Abernathy and Julian Bond as speakers in the spring of 1969. The policy appears to have been changed, perhaps with the change of university presidents in the summer of 1971, but certainly by mid-decade. Senator Brooke’s tone during the BYU address was typical of a more general tendency toward moderation apparent in the public comments on Mormons of many black people by the mid-1970s; see, e.g., “Blacks Discuss Lifestyle in Utah,” Deseret News, 13 Mar. 1976, p. 28-A; and Sandra Haggerty (a black columnist), “Mormons and Black Folks,” Los Angeles Times column in Pacific Stars and Stripes, 8 July 1974, p. 10.

70. BYU Today, March 1970, p. 4. In the same vein, there was a little-known expression of appreciation for Mormons (perhaps somewhat grudging) by the prominent black separatist, Wallace D. Muhammed (successor to Elijah Muhammed as leader of the Black Muslims) on 1 Oct. 1975, during a national PBS radio program called “Interface.” Both Muhammeds cited the Mormons as an example, which they aspired as Muslims to emulate, of a people who had succeeded in building a nation within a nation. Somewhat earlier, a group of black civil rights activists who visited Utah came away expressing admiration for the political and economic separateness that they saw among the Mormons and for the ability of the latter to endure outside criticism without responding in kind, concluding “if we ever [hear] someone say anything against the Mormons again, we [will] defend them, even though they haven’t really changed their views on us.” See “Race and the City,” Santa Barbara, Calif.: Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, an interview in the early 1970s by Halleck Hoffman. The quotations are from Lou Smith.

71. Wynetta Martin Clark, I am a Negro Mormon (Ogden [Utah], 1970). See BYU Today, Feb. 1971, p. 5.

72. William G. Hartley, “Samuel D. Chambers,” Ensign 4 (June 1974) was the first of these in an official Church magazine since 1966, when John Lamb (a black convert) published “My Responsibility,” Improvement Era (69) Jan., 1966.

73. Debra E. Richards, “Open the Gates of the Temple,” BYU Daily Universe, 12 April 1976, p. 3. Actually blacks had been permitted to do baptismal work in the temples since the turn of the century. However, a letter from the First Presidency to stake, ward, and mission priesthood leaders, dated 15 Aug. 1966, made it clear that higher ordinance work for deceased blacks was prohibited.

74. See note 71; also Carey C. Bowles, A Mormon Negro Views the Church (Maplewood, New Jersey, privately published pamphlet, 1968); Alan Gerald Cherry, It’s You and Me, Lord! (Provo, Utah: Trilogy Arts Publication, 1970); and a somewhat more critical handling of the subject by Daily (David?) Oliver, A Negro on Mormonism, 1963. All of these tended to reject the theological rationales traditionally offered for the status of Negroes in the Church, but (except for Oliver) were nevertheless generally appreciative for their membership.

75. Sally Wright, “The Mormon Issue-Plain as Black and White,” a two-part series in the Concord Transcript (California), 11 & 12 March 1970. Among other topics, these articles dealt with black Mormons in the area, particularly one Paul Gill, described as “black, proud, and a Mormon.”

76. The information on the Genesis Group in the next several paragraphs comes from the following sources: (1) My interviews with Ruffin Bridgeforth, president of the Genesis Group, 20 Aug. 1975 and 2 June 1981; (2) a paper by Wayne Swensen, “The Genesis Group: The Beginning or the End?”, submitted in August 1972 to Eugene E. Campbell for History 490 at BYU, a paper itself based largely on Swensen’s interviews with the main leaders of the group during summer 1972; (3) an interview by Dennis L. Lythgoe with Lucille Bankhead, 10 Aug. 1972; (4) Peggy Olsen, “Ruffin Bridgeforth: Leader and Father to Mormon Blacks,” This People, Winter 1980; and (5) History of the Salt Lake Valley View Stake, 1965-1978 (Salt Lake City: Fine Arts Press, 1979), pp. 134, 282, 283.

77. As of mid-1981, the Genesis Group was thriving again, according to Bridgeforth, after having gone through a period of doldrums just prior to the June 1978, revelation. See “Black Mormon Group Dwindling,” in Monday Magazine (Salt Lake City), 17 April 1978.

78. Lucille Bankhead, long-time Relief Society president for the Genesis Group, is obviously an exception to this generalization, having come from one of the oldest pioneer families. President Bridgeforth explained that in general it was easier for blacks converted as adults to remain active in the Church, since they had come in with the discriminatory policy already understood, rather than having to cope with it while growing up black and Mormon.

79. Oliver, Negro on Mormonism, p. 12, reports in 1956 an”Elder Peterson, of the Church Offices, held a number of cottage meetings in Negro homes for the purpose of finding out why so few Negroes belonged to the Mormon Church. One of such meetings was held in my home, at which he explained that if sufficient numbers of Negroes would join the Church, they would build them a chapel of their own, where they could worship to themselves.” If this is Mark E. Petersen, the incident would seem to anticipate the Genesis Group. Oliver goes on to say, however, that “Elder Peterson” stipulated that the priesthood leadership of such a branch would all have to be white, though he was hoping for a revelation soon that would make Negroes eligible for the priesthood.

80. The three apostles were Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson and Boyd K. Packer. At first the Genesis Group was placed under the jurisdiction of the Liberty Stake (like many other ethnic branches), but eventually it was transferred to the Valley View Stake.

81. The reference here is to the Southwest Los Angeles Branch, an independent branch in the Lawndale Stake of California (Watts area). Its 109 members are nearly all black, owing to the residential location of the branch, but there are also a few families of mixed race and about ten white members. This information was obtained in an interview with the branch president, Robert L. Lang, on 10 June 1981. At the time, the branch had been going for a year and a half and was considered by its president to be high in morale and activity of all kinds, including missionary work. Furthermore, President Lang said, “We’re the only unit in the stake paid up on our budget!”

82. Lester Bush reports, furthermore, that as late as 1977, President Kimball still cited the book of Abraham as the basis for the traditional denial of the priesthood to blacks. That would, of course, still leave him the doctrinal flexibility to end the “pharaohs’ curse” at any time.

83. Bruce R. McConkie, “All Are Alike Unto God,” a speech delivered 18 Aug. 1978, at a BYU symposium of church educators; copy in my files.

84. See also various commentaries on the subject in the Church News, 6 Jan. 1979, p. 15, including President Kimball’s own comments; and from the interview with his son Edward L. Kimball, Dialogue 11 (Winter 1978): 61.

85. 1975 Church Almanac, A-7; 1980 Church Almanac, p. 296, notes that the decision to build the Sao Paulo Temple was officially and publicly announced on 1 March 1975, during an area conference there. Obviously the decision had been made during the previous year.

86. These concerns had been expressed constantly since the 1940s. See Bringhurst, Saints, Slaves, and Blacks, especially notes 76 and 77, based upon the Adam S. Bennion papers, the full text of which is found in Bush, “Compilation,” esp. p. 250. See also note 17 above. The closer one gets to 1978 in the recorded thoughts of these church leaders experienced in Brazil, the more pointed the dismay becomes about the futility of sorting out lineages.

87. Jan Shipps, “The Mormons: Looking Forward and Outward,” Christian Century 95 (16-23 Aug 1978): 761-66; McConkie, “All are Alike,” and Bush, “Introduction,” p. 10 and note 3.

88. The information in these three paragraphs is based upon conversations with one of the principals. Although the Church’s primary interest in obtaining the census records was unrelated to the race issue, there was some justification to the concerns expressed about other uses to which the data would be put.

89. First Presidency letter to priesthood leaders, 22 Feb. 1978.

90. See David Briscoe article in the Ogden (Utah) Standard-Examiner, 30 April 1978, p. 22A, quoting Heber G. Wolsey, Public Communications director for the Church.

91. The revelation was received by the president on 1 June 1978, ratified a week later by his immediate colleagues, and announced publicly on 9 June. The topic dominated the next issue of the Church News (17 June 1978), and the process is also discussed in some detail in McConkie’s 1978 “All Are Alike.” The Church News 6 Jan. 1979, p. 15, had a follow-up story. The handling of the initial coverage of the revelation and policy change in the June 17 Church News was curious, almost ambivalent: The cover of the issue featured a full-page picture of three LDS members of an Air Force band (the story of which was buried on page 10); and one of the prominent articles inside, without author byline, consisted of comments and quotations taken out of context from earlier statements by President Kimball advising against racial intermarriage (more on sociological than on theological grounds).

92. Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, Mormon Experience (New York: Alfred Knopf Co., 1979), p. 324.

93. See my “Moderation in All Things: Political and Social Outlooks of Modern, Urban Mormons,” Dialogue 7 (Spring 1972): 64.

94. Wilson and Poulsen, “Curse of Cain.”

95. Hans Mol, Religion and Race in New Zealand, Christchurch, N.Z.: National Council of Churches, 1966, pp. 46, 47, and 59.

96. See Salt Lake City newspapers for 10-18 June 1978, especially, but other major city newspapers (e.g., in San Francisco) also provided fairly extensive news coverage and editorials during the same general period. See also both Time (p. 55) and Newsweek (p. 67) for 19 June 1978. Bringhurst, “Mormonism in Black Africa,” refers to the publicity also covering new Church missionary initiatives in Africa in the months immediately following the new revelation (esp. p. 18 and notes 36-42).

97. Personal letter from William G. Hartley, 13 June 1978.

98. See article by Jan Hemming Church News 19 May 1979, p. 10, on the conversion of author Styne Slade after finishing her photo book, The Mormon Way. See also Mary Frances Sturlaugson, A Soul So Rebellious (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1980), which was selling briskly around Utah in mid-1981.

99. Cleaver’s serious contacts with the Church apparently have come partly by way of his participation with Cleon Skousen and others in the programs of the Freeman Institute. He was a featured speaker also at BYU in both February and July 1981, and has had some contacts with leaders of the Genesis Group, who assess his interest in the Church as genuine. See articles in various large city newspapers during the first week of April 1981, e.g., Deseret News for 3 & 6 April 1981, where Cleaver is reported to have declared a definite intention to join the Church. See also Jo Scoffield, “‘Symbol of Freedom’ says Cleaver of U. S.,” BYU Daily Universe, 13 Feb. 1981; and John Forster, “Cleaver Does About-face on Marxism,” Deseret News, 12-13 Feb. 1981.

100. Rendell and Rachel Mabey, “A Mission to West Africa,” This People, Sesquicentennial Issue (Spring?), 1980, pp. 24-37; and Bringhurst, “Mormonism in Black Africa.”

101. See full-page advertisement by “Concerned Latter-day Saints” (Joseph Jenson, Chairman) in the Salt Lake Tribune for Sunday, July 23, 1978, p. 4-6.

102. Among the most interesting of these “post-mortems” are several found in Dialogue 12 (Summer 1979); Janet Brigham, “to Every Worthy Member,” Sunstone 3 (July-Aug. 1978): 11-15; interview with Lester Bush, “Mixed Messages on the Negro Doctrine,” Sunstone 4 (May-June, 1979): 8-15; Wilson and Poulsen, “Curse of Cain;” White and White, “Abandoning an Unpopular Policy;” Jan Shipps, “Looking Forward;” and Bringhurst, Saints, Slaves, and Blacks.

103. See Note 96. Most of the comments in the press were fair and matter-of-fact. Partisan comments tended to partake mostly of the tone, “Well, it’s about time those backward Mormons got their so-called ‘revelation’!” or, from the excommunicants, “You see? We were right all along, and look how much misery we all went through in the meantime!”

104. Obvious from McConkie, Mormon Doctrine and “All Are Alike.” President Kimball himself was very candid also about having “a great deal to fight … myself, largely, because I had grown up with … [the traditional beliefs].” See Gerry Avant, “Pres. Kimball says revelation was clear,” Church News, 6 Jan. 1979.

105. See, e.g., White and White, “Abandoning an Unpopular Policy,” and Tanner and Tanner, Changing World, Ch. 10.

106. Notice even the wording of the June, 1978, revelation: “He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long promised day has come …” (italics added).

107. More or less literally translated, aggiornamento means “updating” or “modernizing,” and was a term in vogue during the 1960s and 1970s to refer to modernizing tendencies in the Roman Catholic Church consequent to Vatican II.

108. Bush, “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine,” Bringhurst, Saints, Slaves, and Blacks. Esplin, “Brigham Young,” has made the most valiant effort to date to tie the origin of the black priesthood exclusion policy back to the Prophet Joseph Smith, but his evidence is only speculative and inferential, resting mainly on the general assumption that everything Brigham Young taught he had learned from Joseph Smith.

109. See Acts 15:1-31, 16:3; Gal. 2:1-15, 5:2-6, 6:12-16. McConkie, “All Are Alike,” also noted a parallel here between the ancient and the modern Church but more in terms of any Gentile access to the gospel at all, rather than in terms of the circumcision issue.

110. The full text of J. Reuben Clark’s magnificent treatise on this subject is in Dialogue 12 (Summer 1979): 68-81.

111. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. (1979 paperback version), especially pp. 109, 214, 343, 526-529, and 616. On that last page, dark skin color is still explicitly tied to a “degenerate status” and to “racial degeneration,” with what impact on our new black converts one can only wonder!

112. Gossett, Race, and H. Shelton Smith, In His Image, But … : Racism in Southern Religion, 1780-1910 (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1972).

113. One has only to notice the number of times in a year that “corrections” are issued to earlier policy directives coming from the First Presidency to stake and ward leaders. In the case of the policy on blacks, furthermore, the official 1949 letter of the First Presidency explicitly endorsed Brigham Young’s teaching that blacks would not get the priesthood until all the other descendants of Adam had done so—a position obviously proved wrong by the June 1978 revelation.

114. On development of Mormon attitudes toward blacks during the Missouri Period, see Bringhurst, Saints, Slaves, and Blacks, Ch. 2; also, of course, Bush, “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine,” and Taggart, Mormonism’s Negro Policy. On Lincoln’s pre-war views, see Gossett, Race, p. 254.

115. C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (New York: Oxford University Press, 1957).

116. The overturning of racially discriminatory laws and customs proceeded very unevenly around the entire nation and generally had to be fought out category by category (i.e. housing, jobs, education, etc. separately). The state of affairs was what produced the pressure, in fact, for the federal civil rights acts of 1964 and 1968. Even relatively “liberal” California in 1964 wiped away its entire slate of fair housing legislation with the passage of Proposition 14 by a 2-to-1 margin. It is a gross over-simplification of complex and subtle causal relationships to explain Utah’s civil rights history, whatever it may be, by reference to Mormon theology, many critics to the contrary notwithstanding.

117. Reported in my “Mormonism and Secular Attitudes toward Negroes,” Pacific Sociological Review 9 (Fall, 1966) and verified in general with more extensive data in my forthcoming Mormons and Minorities.

118. As far as I have been able to determine, none of the claims of “carry-over” was ever substantiated by systematic research with the partial exception of David L. Brewer in a doctoral dissertation later summarized in “Religious Resistance to Changing Beliefs about Race,” Pacific Sociological Review 13 (Summer 1970). Brewer, however, studied Utah elites, not church membership. All elites surveyed were, of course, largely Mormon in religion, but only among the ecclesiastical elite did denomination make a difference in racial attitudes; even here, Brewer failed to make appropriate comparisons by age or generation, obviously important with a Mormon ecclesiastical elite born disproportionately in the nineteenth century. In general, the available evidence simply does not support an indictment of more racism among Mormons than among others. The point has been made (e.g., Wilson and Poulsen, “Curse of Cain,” p. 13) that we are entitled to but little comfort from a discovery that we are not worse than most others. This is true, but we are entitled to such comfort as we can take from impeaching the unduly racist picture that has been painted of us by critics inside and outside the Church. That our racism may have taken unique forms is apparent; but this is different from saying it is uniquely virulent or extensive.

119. I am, of course, excluding black clergymen serving only in segregated congregations. See McCoy, “Churches and Protest Movements.”