Changing the Anti-Black Doctrine
On June 9, 1978, Mormon church leaders announced a very important change in their doctrine concerning blacks. They stated that blacks would now be given "all of the privileges and blessings which the gospel affords" (Deseret News, June 9, 1978). Prior to that time blacks of African lineage were not allowed to hold the Priesthood nor go through the temple even though they lived exemplary lives. The Mormon position concerning blacks was clearly stated in a letter written by the First Presidency on July 17, 1947: "From the days of the Prophet Joseph even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by any of the Church leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel" (Letter from the First Presidency, quoted in Mormonism and the Negro, by John J. Stewart and William E. Berrett, pp. 46-47).
Bruce R. McConkie, who now serves as an apostle in the Mormon church, wrote the following in a book published in 1958:
Negroes in this life are denied the priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty. The gospel message of salvation is not carried affirmatively to them.... Negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain spiritual blessings are concerned ... (Mormon Doctrine, 1958, p. 477).
Black Skin and the Pre-Existence
As we have previously brought out, in Mormon theology "a black skin is a mark of the curse of heaven placed upon some portions of mankind" (Juvenile Instructor, vol. 3, p. 157). This idea comes directly from Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon which says that the skins of the Indians became "dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression ..." (Book of Mormon, Alma 3:6).
Although Mormon theology has taught that anyone born
with a dark skin was inferior, blacks of African lineage were placed at the bottom of the scale. President Joseph Fielding Smith explained the LDS view concerning blacks:
Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race. A curse was placed upon him and that curse has been continued through his lineage and must do so while time endures. Millions of souls have came into this world cursed with a black skin and have been denied the privilege of Priesthood and the fulness of the blessings of the Gospel. These are the descendants of Cain. Moreover they have been made to feel their inferiority and have been separated from the rest of mankind from the beginning....
But what a contrast! The sons of Seth, Enoch and Noah honored by the blessings and rights of Priesthood! ... And the sons of Cain, denied the priesthood; not privileged to receive the covenants of glory in the kingdom of God! ...we will also hope that blessings may eventually be given to our Negro brethren, for they are our brethren—children of God—notwithstanding their black covering emblematical of eternal darkness " (The Way to Perfection, Salt Lake City, 1935, pp. 101-2).
In a book published in 1966, Wallace Turner, a correspondent for the New York Times, set forth the limitations blacks were confronted with in the Mormon Church:
The Negro Mormon can hold no office whatsoever in a church which offers some office to every one of its male members at some time in his life. A gray-haired Negro Mormon who may have spent his adult life in the careful practice of all the complicated and demanding rules set down by the LDS church stands disenfranchised before the altar where a youth whose beard is just beginning to fuzz may preside. A twelve-year-old boy may become a member of the Aaronic priesthood, more than this Negro man has been able to achieve through a lifetime of devotion. To hold any church office, a Mormon must be a member of the priesthood (The Mormon Establishment, pp. 243-44).
Some Mormons who questioned this doctrine found themselves in serious trouble with the Church. For example, Grant Syphers related:
"In all humility I must say that God has not inspired me to feel good about the Church's practices regarding Negroes.... when my wife and I went to San Francisco Ward's bishop to renew our temple recommends, he told us that anyone who could not accept the Church's stand on Negroes as divine doctrine was not supporting the General Authorities and could not go to the temple. Later, in an interview with the stake president we were told the same thing: if you express doubts about the divinity of this
"doctrine" you cannot go to the temple (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Winter 1967. p. 6).
To understand the Mormon attitude concerning blacks, a person must first understand the doctrine of pre-existence. One of the basic doctrines of the Mormon church is that the spirit of man existed before the world was created. Joseph Smith once stated:
... the soul, the mind of man, the immortal spirit. All men say God created it in the beginning. The very idea lessens man in my estimation; I do not believe the doctrine, I know better... I am going to tell of things more noble....
The mind of man is as immortal as God himself... God never did have power to create the spirit of man at all (Times and Seasons, vol. 5, p. 615, reprinted in History of the Church, vol. 6, pp. 310-11).
From this doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul, came the idea of some spirits being more noble than others. Joseph Smith's Book of Abraham talks of "the noble and great ones" (Pearl of Great Price, Book of Abraham 3:22). The Mormon leaders taught that the "more noble" or choice spirits are born as Mormons. Blacks, on the other hand, were considered to have been more unfaithful in the pre-existence than any of the spirits who were allowed to take bodies. Apostle McConkie maintained that "those who were less valiant in pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the Negroes. Such spirits are sent to earth through the lineage of Cain, the mark put upon him for his rebellion against God and his murder of Abel being a black skin (Mormon Doctrine, pp. 476-77).
Mormon historian B. H. Roberts asserted that in the pre-existence the Negroes "through their indifference or lack of integrity to righteousness, rendered themselves unworthy of the Priesthood and its powers, and hence it is withheld from them to this day (The Contributor, vol. 6, pp. 296-97).
Apostle Mark E. Petersen presented the Mormon thinking concerning the doctrine of pre-existence:
Is there reason then why the type of birth we receive in this life is not a reflection of our worthiness or lack of it in the pre-existent life? ... can we account in any other way for the birth of some of the children of God in darkest Africa, or in flood-ridden China, or among the starving hordes of India, while some of the rest of us are born here in the United States? We cannot escape the conclusion that because of performance in our pre-existence some of us are born as Chinese, some as Japanese, some as
Latter-day Saints. These are rewards and punishments, fully in harmony with His established policy in dealing with sinners and saints, rewarding all according to their deeds....
Let us consider the great mercy of God for a moment. A Chinese, born in China with a dark skin, and with all the handicaps of that race seems to have little opportunity. But think of the mercy of God to Chinese people who are willing to accept the gospel. In spite of whatever they might have done in the pre-existence to justify being born over there as Chinamen, if they now, in this life, accept the gospel and live it the rest of their lives they can have the Priesthood, go to the temple and receive endowments and sealings, and that means they can have exaltation. Isn't the mercy of God marvelous?
"Think of the Negro, cursed as to the priesthood.... This Negro, who, in the pre-existence lived the type of life which justified the Lord in sending him to the earth in the lineage of Cain with a black skin, and possibly being born in darkest Africa—if that Negro is willing when he hears the gospel to accept it, he may have many of the blessings of the gospel. In spite of all he did in the pre-existent life, the Lord is willing, if the Negro accepts the gospel with real, sincere faith, and is really converted, to give him the blessings of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get celestial glory (Race Problems—As They Affect The Church, Address by Mark E. Petersen at the Convention of Teachers of Religion on the College Level, delivered at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, August 27, 1954).
Descendants of Cain Through the Flood
In Joseph Smith's History of the Church, we read that "the negroes" are the "sons of Cain" (vol. 4, p. 501). Apostle Bruce R. McConkie explains the curse put on Cain as follows:
Though he was a rebel and an associate of Lucifer in pre-existence, and though he was a liar from the beginning whose name was Perdition, Cain managed to attain the privilege of mortal birth.... he came out in open rebellion, fought God, worshiped Lucifer, and slew Abel....
As a result of his rebellion, Cain was cursed with a dark skin; he became the father of the Negroes, and those spirits who are not worthy to receive the priesthood are born through his lineage. He became the first mortal to be cursed as a son of perdition. As a result of his mortal birth he is assured of a tangible body of flesh and bones to eternity, a fact which will enable him to rule over Satan (Mormon Doctrine, 1958, p. 102).
In the "Book of Moses," a revelation given to Joseph Smith in
December 1830, it is stated that the "children of Canaan" were black: "For behold, the Lord shall curse the land with much heat, and the barrenness thereof shall go forth forever; and there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people" (Pearl of Great Price, Book of Moses 7:8).
Brigham Young declared that the flat nose and black skin were part of the mark put upon the descendants of Cain: "Cain slew his brother... and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin ..." (Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, p. 290).
Mormon leaders taught that it was Ham's descendants who were "cursed as to the priesthood" after the flood. They claimed that Ham married a black woman named Egyptus, and that the curse was continued "through Ham's wife." Bruce R. McConkie said that "Noah's son Ham married Egyptus, a descendant of Cain, thus preserving the Negro lineage through the flood" (Mormon Doctrine, 1958, p. 477).
John Taylor, the third president of the church, likewise maintained: "And after the flood we are told that the curse that had been pronounced upon Cain was continued through Ham's wife, as he had married a wife of that seed. And why did it pass through the flood? because it was necessary that the devil should have a representation upon the earth as well as God..." (Journal of Discourses, vol. 22, p. 304).
In the "Book of Abraham" (a part of the Pearl of Great Price, one of the four standard works) the following appears:
Now this king of Egypt was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth.
From this descent sprang all the Egyptians, and thus the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land.
The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden.
When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham. sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land.
Now the first government of Egypt was established by Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham....
Pharaoh, being a righteous man,... seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers ... even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but
cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood (Pearl of Great Price, Book of Abraham 1:21-26).
Mormon writer Arthur M. Richardson made this statement concerning blacks: "Referring to Elder Hyde's statement we find, then, that those assigned to a dishonorable body on this earth came through the accursed lineage of Canaan through Ham's wife who was a descendant of the first murderer Cain ..." (That Ye May Not Be Deceived, pp. 6-7).
Briefly stated, then, the Mormon doctrine concerning blacks was this: In the "pre-existence" the blacks "lent an influence to the devil." Because of their "unfaithfulness in the spirit world," they were "assigned to a dishonorable body on this earth." They came through the "accursed lineage of Canaan," and were "marked" with a "flat nose" and a "black covering" which is "emblematic of eternal darkness." They were an "inferior" race. In fact, they were a "representation" of the "devil" upon the earth. They were "not equal with other races where the receipt of certain spiritual blessings are concerned," and they were "not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel." They were "denied the priesthood," and they could not be married in a Mormon temple. But, "in spite" of all they "did in the pre-existence," they could be baptized and receive the Holy Ghost. If a black man was faithful all his life he could enter the celestial kingdom.
One Drop Disqualifies
Because of their doctrine Mormon leaders have been strongly opposed to intermarriage with blacks. The following appeared in the Juvenile Instructor, volume 3, page 165: "In fact we believe it to be a great sin in the eyes of our Heavenly Father for a white person to marry a black one. And further, that it is a proof of the mercy of God that no such race appear able to continue for many generations."
Brigham Young stated that if a person who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with a black the penalty is death on the spot: "Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so" (Journal of Discourses, vol. 10, p. 110).
One reason the Mormon leaders were so apposed to intermarriage was that they taught "one drop of Negro blood" would prevent a person from holding the priesthood. Apostle Mark E. Petersen explained as follows:
A photograph of the Journal of Discourses, vol. 10, page 110. Brigham Young claimed that marriage to an African should be punished by death on the spot.
Now what is our policy in regard to inter-marriage? As to the Negro, of course, there is only one possible answer. We must not inter-marry with the Negro. Why? If I were to marry a Negro woman and have children by her, my children would all be cursed as to the priesthood. Do I want my children cursed as to the priesthood? If there is one drop of Negro blood in my children, as I have read to you, they receive the curse. There isn't any argument, therefore, as to inter-marriage with the Negro, is there? There are 50 million Negroes in the United States. If they were to achieve complete absorption with the white race, think what that would do. With 50 million Negroes inter-married with us, where would the priesthood be? Who could hold it, in all America? Think what that would do to the work of the Church! (Race Problems—As They Affect The Church, Address by Mark E. Petersen at the Convention of Teachers of Religion on the College Level, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, August 27, 1954)
Outwardly the Mormon doctrine concerning blacks seemed to be firm and absolute. "One drop of Negro blood," the Mormon leaders declared, would prevent a man from holding the Priesthood. The truth is, however, that some people with much more than a "drop of Negro blood" were being ordained to the Priesthood. In the Salt Lake City Messenger for November, 1965, we demonstrated that a black man by the name of Elijah Abel was ordained to the Priesthood in the days of Joseph Smith. and that both his son and grandson were later ordained. Many of Abel's descendants pass as whites and although the Mormon leaders were aware of the situation, nothing was done to take the Priesthood from them. The hypocrisy of this whole matter was made plain in a letter from Joseph E. Taylor to President John Taylor.
Now comes a case of a young girl residing in the Eighteenth Ward of the City by the name of Laura Berry whose mother was a white woman but whose rather was a very light mullatto. It appears she has fallen in love with brother Barons Son and it is reciprocated.
But the question of jeopardizing his future by such an alliance has caused a halt. She now desires to press her claim to privileges that others who are tainted with that blood have received. For example, the Meads family in the Eleventh Ward Mrs. Jones Elder Sister; (the former now resides in Logan) I am cognizant of all these having received their endowments here.
Brother Meads is a white man he married his wife many years ago; she was a quadroon and died some three years ago their children (the oldest a girl, are married to a white man) are all very dark.
The question I desire to ask is: Can you give this girl any privileges of a like character? The girl is very pretty and quite white and would not be suspected as having tainted blood in her veins unless her parentage was known ... (Letter from Joseph E. Taylor to President John Taylor September 5, 1885, LDS church historical department, John Taylor Letter file, b1346, Box 20, file #3, typed copy).
Mormon writer Lester Bush claims that President David O. McKay allowed the church rule to be broken in some cases: "With the concurrence of President McKay, a young man of known Negro ancestry was ordained to the priesthood after receiving a patriarchal blessing which did not assign him to a "cursed" lineage. In another case, President McKay authorized two children with Negro ancestry to be sealed in the temple to the white couple who had adopted them (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 1973, p. 45).
The Mormon leaders certainly had a double standard concerning this matter. While the Abels and others were allowed to hold the priesthood, Lester Bush says that on August 28, 1947, "the Quorum upheld a decision by John Widtsoe denying a temple recommend to a 'sister having one thirty-second of negro blood in her veins'..." (Ibid., p. 66, n.184).
Objections to Doctrine
Many objections to the anti-black doctrine have been pointed out. One of the most important is that it is not in harmony with the Bible. In Acts 10:34 we read: "Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." In Acts 10:28 Peter said: "... God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean." William E. Berrett admits that the Bible does not really lend support to the idea that blacks should be forbidden any rights in the church: "While the Bible contains no account of a Negro bearing the Priesthood of God, one would find rather scant materials upon which to base any policy limiting the rights and participation of the Negro in God's Church" (Mormonism and the Negro, part 2, p. 3).
Although the Book of Mormon states that the Indians were cursed with a dark skin, it does not say anything concerning blacks. It states, in fact, that "all men are privileged the one like unto the other and none are forbidden" (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 26:28). In 2 Nephi 26:33 this statement appears: "...he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond
and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile."
Ninth President David O. McKay conceded: "I know of no scriptural basis for denying the Priesthood to Negroes other than one verse in the Book of Abraham (1:26); however, I believe, as you suggest that the real reason dates back to our pre-existant life" (Mormonism and the Negro, part 2, p. 19)
Tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith admitted that he could not find any scriptural basis for not allowing blacks to hold the Priesthood other than the statement in the "Book of Abraham," which is part of the Pearl of Great Price: "It is true that the negro race is barred from holding the Priesthood, and this has always been the case. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught this doctrine, and it was made known to him, although we know of no such statement in any revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants, Book of Mormon, or the Bible" (The Improvement Era, vol. 27, p. 565).
Blacks and the Gospel
The Bible teaches that the gospel is to be carried to all people. Jesus is recorded as saying: "... go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). Jesus also said: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matt. 28:19). Philip was actually commanded to preach the gospel to an Ethiopian (see Acts 8:26-39). An Ethiopian is defined in the dictionary as a Negro. Jeremiah asks, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin" (Jer. 13:23). Acts 8:38 tells us that Philip baptized the Ethiopian.
Although the Bible teaches that the gospel is to be carried to all people, including blacks, the Mormon church tried to avoid doing missionary work among the black people. Apostle Bruce R. McConkie stated: "The gospel message of salvation is not carried affirmatively to them ..." (Mormon Doctrine, p. 477). William E. Berrett said that "no direct efforts have been made to proselyte among them" (Mormonism and the Negro, part 2, p. 5). The Mormon writer Arthur M. Richardson very bluntly stated: "... The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has no call to carry the gospel to the Negro, and it does not do so" (That Ye May Not Be Deceived, p. 13).
The Pearl of Great Price, considered Scripture by Latter-day Saints, was used to justify not taking the gospel to blacks. In the "Book of Moses," which is part of the Pearl of Great Price, we read: "...and there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people.
... And it came to pass that Enoch continued to call upon all people, save it were the people of Canaan, to repent" (Pearl of Great Price, Book of Moses 7:8, 12).
Joseph Fielding Smith claimed that "the Canaanites before the flood preserved the curse in the land; the Gospel was not taken to them, and no other people would associate with them" (The Way to Perfection, p. 108).
Apostle Mark E. Petersen concluded: "When he told Enoch not to preach the gospel to the descendants of Cain who were black, the Lord engaged in segregation" (Race Problems as They Affect the Church, Address by Mark E. Petersen, August 27, 1954).
Arthur M. Richardson in the same vein declared:
Also, the gospel was not carried to this segregated black group ...the Negroes tread the earth with black dishonorable bodies as a judgment of God because at the time of decision in the pre-existence they were faint-hearted and exhibited an infirmity of purpose—they were not valiant in the cause of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, they were entitled to no better earthly lineage than that of the first earthly murderer, Cain. They were to be the "servant of servants." They were to be segregated. No effort was made to carry the gospel to them as a people (That Ye May Not Be Deceived, pp. 9-10).
Rooted in Prejudice
An examination of early Mormon history plainly reveals that the doctrine concerning blacks grew out of prejudice. At the time the Mormon leaders were formulating their doctrine concerning blacks, slavery was an accepted practice in the southern part of the United States and other parts of the world. In many places blacks were treated like animals. Some people thought they were "without souls and made only to serve the white man."
The Mormons, of course, would not want us to believe that their leaders were influenced by the prejudice of their time. John J. Stewart in defense of Joseph Smith wrote: "To suppose that he would curry the favor of the world by manifesting a prejudice against the Negro is an affront to this courageous man, and to the known facts of history" (Mormonism and the Negro, part 1, p. 15).
Actually, the truth of the matter is that Joseph Smith and other early leaders of the Mormon church did show prejudice against blacks and were influenced by the views of their time.
It would appear that at first the Mormon church had no real doctrine concerning blacks. By the year 1833, however, some members of the church began to compromise with regard to
blacks to appease their slave-holding neighbors. In the Mormon paper, The Evening and the Morning Star; July 16, 1833, the following appeared: "Having learned with extreme regret, that an article entitled, 'Free People of Color,' in the last number of the Star, has been misunderstood, we feel in duty bound to state, in this Extra, that our intention was not only to stop free people of color from emigrating to this state, but to prevent them from being admitted as members of the Church" (Reprinted in History of the Church, vol. 1, pp. 378-79).
By 1836 Joseph Smith himself was endorsing the idea of slavery. He wrote a letter for the Messenger and Advocate (later reprinted in the History of the Church) in which he attacked abolitionists and showed he favored the practice of slavery:
DEAR SIR:—This place [Kirtland] having recently been visited by a gentleman who advocated the principles or doctrines of those who are called Abolitionists,... I fear that the sound might go out, that "an Abolitionist" had held forth several times to this community,... all, except a very few attended to their own vocations, and left the gentleman to hold forth his own arguments to nearly naked walls. I am aware that many, who profess to preach the Gospel, complain against their brethren of the same faith, who reside in the South, and are ready to withdraw the hand of fellowship, because they will not renounce the principle of slavery, and raise their voice against everything of the kind. This must be a tender point, and one which should call forth the candid reflections of all men. and more especially before they advance in an opposition calculated to lay waste the fair states of the South, and let loose upon the world a community of people, who might, peradventure, overrun our country, and violate the most sacred principles of human society, chastity and virtue... I do not believe that the people of the North have any more right to say that the South shall not hold slaves, than the South have to say the North shall.
How any community can ever be excited with the chatter of such persons, boys and others, who are too indolent to obtain their living by honest industry, and are incapable of pursuing any occupation of a professional nature, is unaccountable to me; and when I see persons in the free states, signing documents against slavery, it is no less, in my mind, than an army of influence, and a declaration of hostilities, against the people of the South. What course can sooner divide our union?... I do not doubt, but those who have been forward in raising their voices against the South, will cry out against me as being uncharitable, unfeeling, unkind, and wholly unacquainted with the Gospel of Christ ...the first mention we have of slavery is found in the Holy Bible.... And so far from that prediction being averse to the mind of God, it remains as a lasting monument of the decree of Jehovah, to the
shame and confusion of all who have cried out against the South, in consequence of their holding the sons of Ham in servitude.... I can say, the curse is not yet taken off from the sons of Canaan, neither will be until it is affected by as great a power as caused it to come; and the people who interfere the least with the purpose of God in this matter, will come under the least condemnation before him; and those who are determined to pursue a course, which shows an opposition, and a feverish restlessness against the decrees of the Lord, will learn, when perhaps it is too late for their own good, that God can do his own work, without the aid of those who are not dictated by His counsel (History of the Church, by Joseph Smith, vol. 2, pp. 436-38).
In 1838 Joseph Smith answered the questions "which were frequently" asked him. Question number thirteen was concerning slavery:
"Thirteenth—'Are the Mormons abolitionists?'
"No, unless delivering the people from priestcraft, and the priests from the power of Satan, should be considered abolition. But we do not believe in setting the Negroes free" (History of the Church, vol. 3, p. 29).
Toward the end of his life Joseph Smith seemed to change his mind somewhat concerning blacks and even spoke against slavery. Under the date of January 2, 1843, Joseph Smith was supposed to have said the following: "Had I anything to do with the negro, I would confine them by strict law to their own species, and put them on a national equalization" (History of the Church, vol. 5, p. 218).
While Joseph Smith may have mentioned setting the slaves free toward the end of his life, he was basically a racist. Marvin Hill, who teaches history at Brigham Young University, agrees in this interesting comment:
Even Joseph's "calling for the end of slavery by 1850" in his Presidential campaign is not so liberal as Brodie supposes.... Joseph Smith was, therefore, to some degree a racist, a segregationist, a colonizer, and only incidentally a supporter of abolition. He had some elements of liberalism in his thinking, but these had definite limits. His record ... is marked by ambiguity (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1970, p. 99).
Slavery in Utah
Because the Mormon leaders believed blacks were an "inferior race" it was easy for them to accept the idea that they should be slaves. Slavery, therefore, became an accepted practice in the territory of Utah. The following appeared in the Millennial Star in 1851: "We feel it to be our duty to define our
position in relation to the subject of Slavery. There are several men in the Valley of the Salt Lake from the Southern States, who have their slaves with them" (Millennial Star, 1851, p. 63).
In 1855 Brigham Young said: "You must not think, from what I say, that I am opposed to slavery. No! The negro is damned, and is to serve his master till God chooses to remove the curse of Ham..." (New York Herald, May 4, 1855, as cited in Dialogue, Spring 1973, p. 56).
In his Master's thesis, James Boyd Christensen observed: "In 1850 Utah was the only western territory which had Negro slaves.... In short, they countenanced slavery of Negroes among them..." ("A Social Survey of the Negro Population of Salt Lake City, Utah," Master's thesis, University of Utah, pp. 11-12).
Brigham Young taught that slavery was a "divine institution" and therefore the Civil War could not free the slaves:
Ham will continue to be servant of servants, as the Lord decreed, until the curse is removed. Will the present struggle free the slave? No; but they are now wasting away the black race by thousands....
Treat the slaves kindly and let them live, for Ham must be the servant of servants until the curse is removed. Can you destroy the decrees of the Almighty? You cannot. Yet our Christian brethren think that they are going to overthrow the sentence of the Almighty upon the seed of Ham. They cannot do that, though they may kill them by thousands and tens of thousands (Millennial Star, vol. 25, p. 787; also in Journal of Discourses, vol. 10, p. 250).
In his book History of Utah, page 618, A. L. Neff gives us a further affirmation concerning Brigham Young's views on slavery:
The Mormon viewpoint with reference to the peculiar institution of the South was admirably set forth in the famous interview between abolitionist Horace Greeley, ... and President Brigham Young, at Salt Lake City, July 13, 1859:
"H. G.—What is the position of your church with respect to slavery?
"B. Y.—We consider it of divine institution, and not to be abolished until the curse pronounced on Ham shall have been removed from his descendants.
"H. G.—Are any slaves now held in this territory?
"B. Y.—There are.
"H. G.—Do your territorial laws uphold slavery?
"B. Y.—Those laws are printed-you can read for yourself. If slaves are brought here by those who owned them in the states, we do not favor their escape from the service of those owners."
The Territory of Utah gave up the practice of slavery along with the slave-holding states; however, the fact that they countenanced it when it was being practiced shows how insensitive they were to the feelings of black people. Even after the slaves were set free the Mormons continued to talk against blacks. In the year 1884, Angus M. Cannon said that "a colored man ... is not capable of receiving the Priesthood, and can never reach the highest Celestial glory of the Kingdom of God" (The Salt Lake Tribune, October 5, 1884).
The idea that blacks were inferior and should only be servants to the whites persisted in Mormon theology. In fact, Mormon leaders seemed to feel that blacks would still be servants in heaven. On August 26, 1908, President Joseph F. Smith related that a black woman was sealed as a servant to Joseph Smith:
The same efforts he said had been made by Aunt Jane to receive her endowments and be sealed to her husband and have her children sealed to their parents and her appeal was made to all the Presidents from President Young down to the present First Presidency. But President Cannon conceived the idea that, under the circumstances, it would be proper to permit her to go to the temple to be adopted to the Prophet Joseph Smith as his servant and this was done. This seemed to ease her mind for a little while but did not satisfy her, and she still pleaded for her endowments ("Excerpts From The Weekly Council Meetings Of The Quorum Of The Twelve Apostles as printed in Mormonism—Shadow or Reality? p. 584).
The idea that a black is only worthy of the position of a servant has deep roots in Mormon theology. Mark E. Petersen, who is now serving as an Apostle in the church, once said that if a "Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get celestial glory" (Race Problems—As They Affect The Church, a speech delivered at Brigham Young University, August 27, 1954).
The Mormon church has been very slow in allowing blacks equal rights. In the First Year Book in the Seventy's Course in Theology, written by the Mormon historian B. H. Roberts, and published in 1931, the idea of integration and social equality for blacks is condemned. Mr. Roberts declared:
Perhaps the most convincing book in justification of the south in denying to the Negro race social equality with the white race is the one written by William Benjamin Smith, entitled The Color Line.... from which the following is a quotation:
"Here, then, is laid bare the news of the whole matter: Is the south justified in this absolute denial of social equality to the Negro, no matter what his (personal) virtues or abilities or accomplishments?
"We affirm, then that the south is entirely right in thus keeping open at all times, at all hazards, and at all sacrifices an impassible social chasm between black and white. This she must do in behalf of her blood, her essence, of the stock of her Caucasian race.... The moment the bar of absolute separation is thrown down in the south, that moment the bloom of her spirit is blighted forever... That the negro is markedly inferior to the Caucasian is proved both craniologically and by six thousand years of planet-wide experimentation; and that the commingling of inferior with superior must lower the higher is just as certain as that the half-sum of two and six is only four...." (First Year Book in the Seventy's Course in Theology, pp. 231-33).
Mark E. Petersen, a present-day Apostle in the Mormon church, defended segregation in 1954:
The discussion on civil rights, ... has blinded the thinking of some of our own people, I believe.... We who teach in the Church certainly must have our feet on the ground and not be led astray by the philosophies of men....
I think I have read enough to give you an idea of what the negro is after. He is not just seeking the opportunity of sitting down in a cafe where white people eat ... it appears that the negro seeks absorption with the white race. He will not be satisfied until he achieves it by intermarriage. That is his objective and we must face it. We must not allow our feeling to carry us away, nor must we feel so sorry for negroes that we will open our arms and embrace them with everything we have. Remember the little statement that we used to say about sin, "First we pity, then endure, then embrace." ...
Now let's talk segregation again for a few moments. Was segregation a wrong principle? When the Lord chose the nations to which the spirits were to come, determining that some would be Japanese and some would be Chinese and some Negroes and some Americans, He engaged in an act of segregation.... When he told Enoch not to preach the gospel to the descendants of Cain who were black, the Lord engaged in segregation. When He cursed the descendants of Cain as to the Priesthood, He engaged in segregation....
Who placed the Negroes originally in darkest Africa? Was it some man, or was it God? And when He placed them there, He segregated them.... The Lord segregated the people both as to blood and place of residence. At least in the cases of the Lamanites and the Negroes we have the definite word of the Lord Himself that He placed a dark skin upon them as a curse—as a punishment and as a sign to all others. He forbade intermarriage with them under threat of extension of the curse. (2 Nephi 5:21) And he certainly segregated the descendants of Cain when He cursed the Negro as to the Priesthood, and drew an absolute line. You may even say He dropped an Iron curtain there....
Now we are generous with the negro. We are willing that the Negro have the highest kind of education. I would be willing to let every Negro drive a cadillac if they could afford it. I would be willing that they have all the advantages they can get out of life in the world. But let them enjoy these things among themselves. I think the Lord segregated the Negro and who is man to change that segregation? It reminds me of the scripture on marriage, "what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." Only here we have the reverse of the thing—what God hath separated, let not man bring together again (Race Problems—As They Affect The Church, an address delivered by Apostle Mark E. Petersen at Brigham Young University, August 27, 1954).
With regard to this speech it is important to note that Apostle Petersen is now second in line to be president of the Mormon church.
In his book Mormon Doctrine (1958, pp. 107-8), Apostle Bruce R. McConkie reasons:
Certainly the caste systems in communist countries and in India, for instance, are man made and are not based on true principles.
However, in a broad sense, caste systems have their root and origin in the gospel itself, and when they operate according to the divine decree, the resultant restrictions and segregation are right and proper and have the approval of the Lord. To illustrate: Cain, Ham, and the whole negro race have been cursed with a black skin, the mark of Cain, so they can be identified as a caste apart, a people with whom the other descendants of Adam should not intermarry.
Since 1968 the Mormon-owned Brigham Young University has received a great deal of criticism for its racist policies. Many of the schools where BYU's athletic teams played have had demonstrations against these policies. On November 13, 1969, the Salt Lake Tribune announced that Stanford University said "it will schedule no new athletic or other competitions with Brigham Young University because of alleged racial
discrimination by the Mormon Church." Obert C. Tanner, professor of philosophy at the University of Utah, called Stanford's action "easily the sharpest criticism of the Mormon religion in this century" (Ibid., January 7, 1970).
Mormon leaders made a number of concessions to avoid trouble with the black people. For instance, on November 15, 1969, the Denver Post reported: "The Church of the Black Cross,... is calling for: Boycott of Mormon goods, such as record albums of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir."
Shortly after this article appeared, Mormon leaders decided to bring blacks into the choir. Wallace Turner reported: "Recently the Mormon Tabernacle Choir took in two Negro women as second sopranos, and reportedly, is about to welcome a Negro tenor" (New York Times, January 25, 1970).
That many members of the Mormon church were dissatisfied over the anti-black doctrine became very evident. Mormon defender John J. Stewart said that "there are at least two points of doctrine and history of this Church about which many LDS themselves—to say nothing of many non-Mormons—feel ill at ease or critical. One of these is its doctrine regarding the Negro" (Mormonism and the Negro, part I, p. 7).
Wallace Turner observed: "A ferment is working in the Mormon community over the Negro question, particularly among the intellectual element. The mistreatment of Negroes by the LDS church is the reason given by many intellectuals who candidly admit that they have become silent, concealed apostates. Even among many who cling tenaciously to their belief, there is a swelling opinion that the church is dead wrong on this issue" (The Mormon Establishment, p. 246).
The New "Revelation"
The Los Angeles Times for August 27, 1967, carried an article which reported: "The deeply rooted Mormon attitude apparently discriminating against Negroes because of their race is becoming a burning issue in that church—and beyond the church.... The increasing heat of racial pressure in the country has brought it into focus as one of the few uncracked fortresses of discrimination."
For eleven years after the Los Angeles Times published this criticism the Latter-day Saints continued to cling tenaciously to a policy of discrimination. Church leaders claimed that the doctrine could only be changed by revelation from God. Finally, on June 9, 1978 the Mormon church's Deseret News carried a startling announcement by the First Presidency which
said that a new revelation had been given and that blacks would be allowed to hold the priesthood:
... we have pleaded long and earnestly in behalf of these, our faithful brethren, spending many hours in the upper room of the Temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance.
He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the church may receive the holy priesthood, with power to exercise its divine authority, and enjoy with his loved ones every blessing that flows therefrom, including the blessings of the temple. Accordingly, all worthy male members of the church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color (Deseret News, June 9, 1978, page 1A).
Since we probably printed more material critical of the Mormon anti-black doctrine than any other publisher, the new "revelation" seemed to be a vindication of our work. We printed our first criticism of this doctrine in 1959, and this was certainly not a popular cause to espouse in those days. In 1967 the original papyrus from which Joseph Smith "translated" the "Book of Abraham" was rediscovered. Immediately after the papyrus came to light we began publishing material which showed that Joseph Smith was completely mistaken in his purported translation. The papyrus was in reality a copy of the Egyptian Book of Breathings, a pagan text that had absolutely nothing to do with Abraham or his religion. Since the "Book of Abraham" was the real source of the church's teaching that blacks could not hold the priesthood, we called upon the Mormon leaders to "repudiate the Book of Abraham and renounce the anti-Negro doctrine contained in its pages" (Salt Lake City Messenger, March 1968). For a complete treatment of this subject see chapter 11 of this book.
The translation of the papyrus by noted Egyptologists caused many of the intellectual Mormons to lose faith in Joseph Smith's work and consequently the church's anti-black doctrine began to be more openly criticized by members of the church. Some were even excommunicated because of their opposition to the church's position.
Those of us who have criticized the Mormon church for its racial teaching have been ridiculed for attempting to change the doctrine. Mormon apologist Armand L. Mauss wrote: "My plea, then to the civil rights organizations and to all the critics of the Mormon Church is: get off our backs! ... agitation over the 'Negro issue' by non-Mormon groups, or even by Mormon liberals, is likely simply to increase the resistance to change" (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Winter 1967, pp. 38-39).
John L. Lund said that "Those who believe that the Church 'gave in' on the polygamy issue and subsequently should give in on the Negro question are not only misinformed about Church History, but are apparently unaware of Church doctrine.... Therefore, those who hope that pressure will bring about a revelation need to take a closer look at Mormon history and the order of heaven" (The Church and the Negro, 1967, pp. 104-5). On page 109 of the same book, Mr. Lund emphasized that "those who would try to pressure the Prophet to give the Negroes the Priesthood do not understand the plan of God nor the order of heaven. Revelation is the expressed will of God to man. Revelation is not man's will expressed to God. All the social, political, and governmental pressure in the world is not going to change what God has decreed to be."
When Stewart Udall, a noted Mormon, came out against the church's anti-black doctrine, Paul C. Richards responded:
The Church is either true or it isn't. If it changes its stand on the strength of the "great stream of modern religious and social thought," it will be proven untrue. If that happens, the more serious members would do well to join the Cub Scouts. It's cheaper and there is less work and less criticism....
If the Church is true, it will hold to its beliefs in spite of its members. If it is false, more power to the easy-way-out philosophers who claim to know the "imperious truths of the contemporary world" (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1967, p. 6).
In the Salt Lake City Messenger for March 1970, we commented: "The Lord plainly reveals to us, as he did to Peter many years ago, that 'GOD IS NO RESPECTER OF PERSONS' (Acts 10:34). To accept the anti-Negro doctrine is to deny the spirit of revelation. If we allow others to do our thinking on this vital issue it could lead to violence or bloodshed. Because we felt that it was not right to put our trust in man, we separated ourselves from the Mormon Church."
As early as 1963 we printed a sheet entitled, "Will There Be a Revelation Regarding the Negro?" At the bottom of this sheet we predicted: "If the pressure continues to increase on the Negro question, the leaders of the Mormon Church will probably have another revelation which will allow the Negro to hold the priesthood." In other writings we pointed out that if the church should change its policy and allow blacks to hold the priesthood, it would not be the first time that Mormon doctrine
was revised to fit a changing world. We showed, for instance, that twenty-five years before the Mormon church gave up the practice of polygamy it was declaring that no such change could be made. In the Millennial Star, October 28, 1865, the following appeared: "We have shown that in requiring the relinquishment of polygamy, they ask the renunciation of the entire faith of this people.... There is no half way house. The childish babble about another revelation is only an evidence how half informed men can talk." As the pressure increased against polygamy, Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto (now claimed to be a revelation) which suspended the practice of plural marriage.