Curse of Cain?

Racism in the Mormon Church

Part Two

Seed of Cain

After the Mormons moved west, Brigham Young grew very adamant in his disapproval of blacks. Curiously, he never connected the curse of Cain with failed performance in the pre-existence. Instead he [p. 25] declared that "The spirits that live in these tabernacles were as pure as the heavens, when they entered them" (Journal of Discourses, vol. 10, p. 105). However, this position put him at odds with the second Article of Faith which maintained that men are "punished for their own sins." His statement would mean that blacks today are carrying the burden of Cain's sin, not their own.

He repeatedly stated that Cain's posterity would not receive the priesthood until all the rest of Adam's posterity had been offered the priesthood. In 1854 Brigham Young taught:

When all the other children of Adam have had the privilege of receiving the Priesthood, and of coming into the kingdom of God, and of being redeemed from the four quarters of the earth, and have received their resurrection from the dead, then it will be time enough to remove the curse from Cain and his posterity. He deprived his brother of the privilege of pursuing his journey through life, and of extending his kingdom by multiplying upon the earth; and because he did this, he is the last to share the joys of the kingdom of God (Journal of Discourses, vol. 2, p. 143; photo below p. 26).

Preaching in 1859, at the October Conference of the LDS Church, Brigham Young declared:

Cain slew his brother . . . and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. . . . How long is that race to endure the dreadful curse that is upon them? That curse will remain upon them, and they never can hold the Priesthood or share in it until all the other descendants of Adam have received the promises and enjoyed the blessings of the Priesthood and the keys thereof. Until the last ones of the residue of Adam's children are brought up to that favourable position, the children of Cain cannot receive the first ordinances of the Priesthood. They were the first that were cursed, and they will be the last from whom the curse will be removed (Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, pp. 290-291; photo below p. 27).

On another occasion, Young maintained:

The Lamanites or Indians are just as much the children of our Father and God as we are. So also are the Africans. But we are also the children of adoption through obedience to the Gospel of his Son. Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a s[k]in of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the Holy Priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the Holy Priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to (Journal of Discourses, vol. 11, p. 272; photo below p. 28).

There is evidence that as early as 1836 Mormons were associating a black skin with the curse on Cain. A. O. Smoot told of the time a black man appeared to LDS Apostle David Patten, claiming to be Cain:

President Joseph F. Smith, Salt Lake City:

Dear Brother: In relation to the subject of the visit of Cain to Brother David W. Patten in the State of Tennessee, . . . It was in the evening, just twilight, when Brother Patten rode up to my father's house, . . . My mother having first noticed his changed appearance said: "Brother Patten, are you sick?" He replied that he was not, but had just met with a very remarkable personage who had represented himself as being Cain, who murdered his brother, Abel. He went on to tell the circumstances as near as I can recall in the following language:

As I was riding along the road on my mule I suddenly noticed a very strange personage walking beside me. He walked along-beside me for about two miles. His head was about even with my shoulders as I sat in my saddle. He wore no clothing, but was covered with hair. His skin was very dark . . .

Your friend and Brother, A. O. Smoot (Life of David W. Patten: the First Apostolic Martyr, by Lycurgus A. Wilson, Deseret News, 1900, pp. 57-59).

The LDS magazine Juvenile Instructor ran a series of articles on race from September to November in 1868. In the October issue we read:

We will first inquire into the results of the approbation or displeasure of God upon a people,

[p. 26]

(click to enlarge)

[p. 27]

(click to enlarge)

[p. 28]

(click to enlarge)

[p. 29] starting with the belief that a black skin is a mark of the curse of Heaven placed upon some portions of mankind. . . . We understand that when God made man in his own image and pronounced him very good, that he made him white. We have no record of any of God's favored servants being of a black race. . . .

When God cursed Cain for murdering his brother Abel, He set a mark upon him that all meeting him might know him. . . . After the flood this curse fell upon the seed of Shem, through the sin of their father, and his descendants bear it to this day. . . .

We are told in the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price, that Egypt was discovered by a woman, who was a daughter of Ham, the son of Noah. . . .

The pure Negro, as represented by the people of Guinea and its neighboring countries, is generally regarded as the unmixed descendant of Ham. . . . Their skin is quite black, their hair woolly and black, their intelligence stunted, and they appear never to have arisen from the most savage state of barbarism (Juvenile Instructor, October 15, 1868, p. 157; photo below p. 30).

The November 15, 1868, Juvenile Instructor looked forward to the day

when all men capable of receiving the priesthood, enlightened by the spirit of God and guided by its whisperings, will lose their extravagances of character and appearance, and become "a white and delightsome people" physically as well as morally (Juvenile Instructor, vol. 3, no. 22, Nov. 15, 1868, p. 173).

Preaching in 1882, LDS President John Taylor equated the descendants of Cain with representatives of the devil:

Why is it, in fact, that we should have a devil? Why did not the Lord kill him long ago? . . . He needed the devil and great many of those who do his bidding just to keep . . . our dependence upon God, . . . When he destroyed the inhabitants of the antediluvian world, he suffered a descendant of Cain to come through the flood in order that he [the devil] might be properly represented upon the earth (Journal of Discourses, vol. 23, Oct. 29. 1882, p. 336).

A Black Devil?

Early Mormons believed the devil to be black in appearance. In 1980 Sunstone had an article entitled "The Curse Of Cain And Other Stories: Blacks In Mormon Folklore." In it we read:

Legends are important, anthropologists tell us, not just because they reflect a society's dominant concerns and values, but also because they serve as a charter, or warrant, or justification for belief and as a historical precedent for action. From them we learn what we should believe and how we should behave.

For example, many Mormons believe that a black skin is the result of a curse placed on Cain and his descendants. Black is thus associated with evil, an association strengthened by our legends. One of the stories current among nineteenth-century Mormons was that when people apostatized from the Church their skin color darkened. Inversely, today some tales tell us that when blacks join the Church their skin lightens. The many stories circulating in the Church about experiences with evil spirits or the devil further strengthen the association of black with evil. These stories speak of a dark power, a dark form, a dark cloud or mist, or an overpowering blackness. Frequently the evil spirit of the devil is clothed in black, and in some stories he is black himself. President John Taylor once said that the black race was preserved through the flood "because it was necessary that the devil should have a representation upon the earth as well as God" . . .

Some stories tell not of the devil, but of Cain, who also appears as a black man. As early as 1835, Apostle David Patten claimed to have encountered Cain while on a mission in Tennessee. Today Cain stories still circulate ("The Curse Of Cain And Other Stories: Blacks In Mormon Folklore," by William A. Wilson and Richard C. Poulsen, Sunstone, November 1980, p. 9).

The concept of the devil being black was reinforced in the early LDS temple ritual which has since been removed. In discussing changes in the temple ceremony, LDS scholar Keith E. Norman observed:

[p. 30]

(click to enlarge)

[p. 31] Furthermore, modifying the endowment is nothing new. It has been changed numerous times in the past. First standardized under Brigham Young's direction, it took the better part of a day to perform an endowment in pioneer times. Even before the most recent update, I can think of a number of changes implemented just since I have been attending the temple: the congregation no longer sings a hymn, the reference to the devil having a black skin has been dropped, he no longer specified the amount of his salary offer to the minister, members are no longer required to wear the old style ceremonial garments in the temple, and the covenant concerning chastity has been modified to specifically rule out homosexual acts ("A Kinder, Gentler Mormonism: Moving Beyond The Violence Of Our Past," by Keith E. Norman, Sunstone, August 1990, p. 10).

Apostates Become Black?

Not only was the devil believed to be black, but those who apostatized from the LDS Church also became black. Brigham Young stated:

I feel to bless this people, and they are a God-blessed people. Look at them, and see the difference from their condition a few years ago! Brethren who have been on missions, can you see any difference in this people from the time you went away until your return? [Voices: "Yes."] You can see men and women who are sixty or seventy years of age looking young and handsome; but let them apostatize, and they will become gray-haired, wrinkled, and black, just like the Devil (Journal of Discourses, Brigham Young, October 7, 1857, vol. 5, p. 332).

Apostle George Q. Cannon told of an experience of a man turning black after the brethren had tried to cast the evil spirits out of one sister:

Still she seemed to be surrounded by some evil influence. This puzzled us, for we knew the spirit was cast out, but we learned the cause afterwards. Just then it was revealed to us that if we went to sleep the devil would enter one of the brethren.

My nephew, Melvin Brown, neglected the warning, and composed himself to sleep in an arm chair, while we were still watching with the sister. Directly he did so the devil entered into him, and he became black in the face, and nearly suffocated (Gems for the Young Folks, compiled by George Q. Cannon, p. 72, fourth book of the Faith-Promoting Series, Juvenile Instructor Office, 1881).

Preaching in 1874, Orson Pratt declared that Mormons who oppose polygamy would become black:

Now I want to prophecy a little. . . . I want to prophecy that all men and women who oppose the revelation which God has given in relation to polygamy will find themselves in darkness; . . .

Now, if you want to get into darkness, brethren and sisters, begin to oppose this revelation. Sisters, you begin to say before your husbands, or husbands you begin to say before your wives, "I do not believe in the principle of polygamy, and I intend to instruct my children against it." Oppose it in this way, and teach your children to do the same, and if you do not become as dark as midnight there is no truth in Mormonism (Journal of Discourses, vol. 17, p. 225).

In the Juvenile Instructor, an early LDS magazine, we read:

The mark set upon Cain was without doubt such a mark as was placed upon the descendants of the rebellious sons of Lehi . . . We are expressly informed that "the Lord did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them." They were to be made loathsome to the people of God, unless they repented of their iniquities. Not only did this curse fall upon them, but all they who intermarried with them, or mingled with them, were cursed with the same blackness and loathsomeness; . . .

From this it is very clear that the mark which was set upon the descendants of Cain was a skin of blackness, and there can be no doubt that this was the mark that Cain himself received; in fact, it has been noticed in our day that men who have lost the spirit of the Lord, and from whom his blessings have been withdrawn have turned dark to such an extent as to excite the comments of all who have known them (Juvenile Instructor, vol. 26, p. 635).

Through the Flood

Mormonism has traditionally taught that the black race was carried through the flood by the descendants [p. 32] of Ham and Egyptus, a black woman. The Book of Abraham states:

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, . . . who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land (Pearl of Great Price, Book of Abraham, 1:21–24).

In 1880 Apostle Erastus Snow preached:

. . . through this blessing of Noah upon Shem, the Priesthood continued through his seed; while the offspring of Ham inherited a curse, and it was because, as a revelation teaches, some of the blood of Cain became mingled with that of Ham's family, and hence they inherited that curse (Journal of Discourses, vol. 21, p. 370).

John Taylor, third president of the LDS Church, believed that the cursed lineage was preserved through the flood by Ham's descendants. Preaching on Sunday, August 28, 1881, he stated:

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; and that man should be a free agent to act for himself, and that all men might have the opportunity of receiving or rejecting the truth, . . . (Journal of Discourses, vol. 22, p. 304).

While a number of changes have been made in Apostle Bruce R. McConkie's book, Mormon Doctrine, since its first printing, the 1979 edition still teaches that the cursed black race was preserved through the flood by Egyptus. Under the heading EGYPTUS we read:

See CAIN, HAM, NEGROES. Two women of note, a mother and her daughter, both carried the name Egyptus. The mother, a descendant of Cain, was the wife of Ham; the daughter was the mother of Pharaoh, the first ruler of Egypt. Abraham says that in the Chaldean tongue Egyptus "signifies that which is forbidden," meaning apparently that Ham married outside the approved lineage (Abra. 1:20-27; Gen. 6:2) (Mormon Doctrine, Bruce R. McConkie, Bookcraft, 1979 edition, p. 214).

Under the heading of HAM, McConkie states:

See CAIN, EGYPTUS, NEGROES, PRE-EXISTENCE, PRIESTHOOD. Through Ham (a name meaning black) "the blood of the Canaanites was preserved" through the flood, he having married Egyptus, a descendant of Cain. (Abra. 1:20-27.) Ham was cursed, apparently for marrying into the forbidden lineage, and the effects of the curse passed to his son, Canaan. (Gen. 9:25.) Ham's descendants include the Negroes, who originally were barred from holding the priesthood but have been able to do so since June, 1978 (Mormon Doctrine, Bruce R. McConkie, Bookcraft, 1979 edition, p. 343).

One of the curious aspects of the LDS teachings is that they claim to be literal descendents of Ephraim (see section on Patriarchal Blessings). Since Ephraim descended from an Egyptian, this would mean that they have at least a "drop" of black blood in them. This would supposedly have barred them from the priesthood (see Book of Abraham 1:21-24). Hugh Nibley reinforced the teaching that Mormons descend from Ham through Asenath, mother of Ephraim:

Alma 10:2: "I am Amulek, . . . a descendant of Aminadi, . . . and Aminadi was a descendant of Nephi, who was the son of Lehi." He was proud of his genealogy. And here we have an extremely important genealogical note. Lehi was a descendant of Manasseh, who was half Egyptian. His mother was Asenath, who was of the blood of Ham, a pure Egyptian. She had to be—her father was a high priest of Heliopolis. [Lehi] was a descendant of Manasseh whose twin brother was Ephraim. We claim that we are descended from him. He was also a son of Asenath, the Egyptian woman. . . . ("Teachings of the Book of Mormon" — Semester 1: Transcripts [p. 33] of [29] Lectures Presented to an Honors Book of Mormon Class at Brigham Young University, 1988–1990. Introduction and 1 Nephi 1–Mosiah 5. By Hugh Nibley, FARMS, 1993).

According to this, no Mormon could have held the priesthood prior to 1978, including Joseph Smith.

"Death on the Spot"

Mormons were counseled very strongly not to intermarry with blacks as it would mean their children would be barred from the priesthood. The early leaders taught that anyone with black ancestry, no matter how remote, was barred from ordination, the temple and exaltation/godhood.

When Brigham Young, who was both governor of the territory and president of the church, gave an address before the legislative assembly of the Territory of Utah on January 6, 1852, he emphatically warned his people against intermarriage. He even went so far as to suggest that any white member who marries a black should be put to death:

The Lord said I will not kill Cane But I will put a mark upon him and it is seen in the [face?] of every Negro on the Earth And it is the decree of God that that mark shall remain upon the seed of Cane & the Curse untill all the seed of Abel should be re[deem?]ed and Cane will not receive the priesthood until or salvation untill all the seed of Abel are Redeemed. Any man having one drop of the seed of Cain in him Cannot hold the priesthood & if no other Prophet ever spake it Before I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ. . . .

Let me consent to day to mingle my seed with the seed of Cane. It would Bring the same curse upon me . . . And if any man mingles his seed with the seed of Cane the ownly way he could get rid of it or have salvation would be to Come forward & have his head Cut off & spill his Blood upon the ground. It would also take the life of his Children. . . .

Their is not one of the seed of old Cane that is permitted to rule & reign over the seed of Abel And you nor I cannot Help it. . . . I am opposed to the present system of slavery. The Negro Should serve the seed of Abram but it should be done right. Dont abuse the Negro & treat him Cruel.

It has been argued here that many of the Jews were Black. Whenever the seed of Judah mingled with the seed of Cane they lost their priesthood & all Blessings.

As an Ensample let the Presidency, Twelve Seventies High Priest Bishops & all the Authorities say now we will all go & mingle with the seed of Cane and they may have all the privileges they want. We lift our hands to heaven in support of this. That moment we loose the priesthood & all Blessings & we would not be redeemed untill Cane was. I will never admit of it for a moment.

. . . I will not admit of the Devil ruling at all. I will not Consent for the seed of Cane to vote for me or my Brethren. . . . Any is a Citizens Black white or red and if the Jews Come here with a part of the Canaanite Blood in them they are Citizens & shall have their rights but not to rule for me or my Brother. Those persons from the Islands & foreign Countries know nothing about Governing the people. The Canaanite cannot have wisdom to do things as the white man has. We must guard against all Evil. I am not going to let this people damn themselves as long as I can help it (Address by Brigham Young, as recorded in Wilford Woodruff's Journal, 1833–1898, vol. 4, typescript, edited by Scott G. Kenney, Signature Books, 1983, p. 97; see Appendix A for typescript of entire speech).

Lester E. Bush Jr. an LDS historian, made these observations about Young's address to the legislature:

Though Brigham Young reaffirmed his stand on priesthood denial to the Negro on many occasions, by far the most striking of the known statements of his position was included in an address to the Territorial legislature, January 6, 1852, recorded in Wilford Woodruff's journal of that date. In this gubernatorial address, Young appears to both confirm himself as the instigator of the priesthood policy, and to bear testimony to its inspired origin . . . ("Mormonism's Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview," by Lester E. Bush Jr., Dialogue, vol. 8, no. 1, Spring 1973, p. 26).

Brigham Young, preaching in 1863, taught that anyone having intercourse with a black should be put to death:

[p. 34] The rank, rabid abolitionists, whom I call black-hearted Republicans, have set the whole national fabric on fire. . . . I am no abolitionist, neither am I a pro-slavery man; . . . The Southerners make the negroes, and the Northerners worship them; . . .

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; see photo below p. 35).

In a council meeting of the LDS Apostles, August 22, 1895, Apostle George Q. Cannon, who served as first counselor to President John Taylor, stated:

That the seed of Cain could not receive the priesthood nor act in any offices of the priesthood until the seed of Abel should come forward and take precedence over Cain's offspring; and that any white man who mingled his seed with that of Cain should be killed, and thus prevent any of the seed of Cain coming in possession of the priesthood ("Mormonism's Negro Doctrine," by Lester E. Bush Jr., Dialogue, vol. 8, no. 1, p. 33).

On December 15, 1897, this idea was also discussed in a council meeting of the LDS Apostles:

President Cannon said he had understood President Taylor to say that a man who had the priesthood who would marry a woman of the accursed seed that if the law of the Lord were administered upon him, he would be killed, and his offspring, for the reason that the Lord had determined that the seed of Cain should not receive the priesthood in the flesh; and this was the penalty put upon Cain, because if he had received the priesthood the seed of the murderer would get ahead of the seed of Abel who was murdered ("Excerpts From The Weekly Council Meetings Of The Quorum Of the Twelve Apostles, Dealing With The Rights of Negroes In the Church, 1849–1940," George Albert Smith Papers, University of Utah Library).

The Mormon leaders were still extremely concerned about intermarriage in 1954. Apostle Mark E. Petersen warned:

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 the 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," August 27, 1954; see Appendix B)

Writing in 1967, John L. Lund, LDS author and teacher, gave the following explanation of Brigham Young's admonition against intermarriage:

Brigham Young made a very strong statement on this matter when he said, ". . . 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." . . .

The reason that one would lose his blessings by marrying a Negro is due to the restriction placed upon them. [quoting Brigham Young] "No person having the least particle of Negro blood can hold the Priesthood." It does not matter if they are one-sixth Negro or one-one hundred and sixth, the curse of no Priesthood is still the same. If an individual who is entitled to the Priesthood marries a Negro, the Lord has decreed that only spirits who are not eligible for the Priesthood will come to that marriage as children. To intermarry with a Negro is to forfeit a "Nation of Priesthood holders" (The Church and the Negro, by John L. Lund, 1967, pp. 54-55).

Apostle Bruce R. McConkie also taught that Mormons are not to intermarry with blacks. He likened it to a caste system:

Certainly the caste systems in communist countries and in India, for instance, are man made and are not based on true principles.

[p. 35]

(click to enlarge)

[p. 36] However, in a broad general 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. . . . In effect the Lamanites belonged to one caste and the Nephites to another, and a mark was put upon the Lamanites to keep the Nephites from intermixing with and marrying them. . . . The justice of such a system is evident when life is considered in its true eternal perspective. It is only by a knowledge of pre-existence that it can be known why some persons are born in one race or caste and some in another (Mormon Doctrine, by Bruce R. McConkie, 1979 edition, p. 114).

The LDS stand against interracial marriage changed after the priesthood was given to blacks in 1978.

Segregated Blood

Lester Bush, an LDS historian, quoted an early statement of the LDS First Presidency regarding the problem of "negro blood":

By 1907 the First Presidency and Quorum had . . .  ruled that "no one known to have in his veins negro blood, (it matters not how remote a degree) can either have the priesthood in any degree or the blessings of the Temple of God; no matter how otherwise worthy he may be." ("Mormonism's Negro Doctrine," Dialogue, vol. 8, no. 1, p. 38)

Given the statements of past LDS leaders against having "one drop" of black blood in their veins, it is no surprise that Mormons extended this to segregating the blood supply in their hospitals. While this practice was common in the past, the U.S. military ended its policy of segregating blood on the basis of race in 1949. The American Red Cross continued to segregate blood until the 1960s. The hospitals under LDS control segregated blood on the basis of race until the 1970s. Writing in 1978, reporters David Briscoe and George Buck explained:

For all too many Mormons, the figurative role that "blood" plays in Mormon doctrine in denoting ancestry, has been all too literal. Less than two weeks after the Priesthood announcement, Consolidated Blood Services for the intermountain region announced its first agreement ever to handle blood bank services for a group of hospitals with previous LDS connections, including LDS Hospital, Primary Children's and Cottonwood Hospitals in Salt Lake City; McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden and Utah Valley Hospital in Provo. At one time in the past, hospitals administered by the LDS Church kept separate the blood donated by blacks and whites. Although this has not been the case for several years, some patients who have expressed concern about receiving blood from black donors have been reassured it would not happen—as if the policy were still in effect.

The irrational fear among some Mormons surrounding the concept of blood was expected to extend to inter-racial marriage for many of the same people. The extension of the Priesthood to black males effectively shattered the barriers that have kept black-white marriages to a minimum in the LDS Church ("Black Friday," by David Briscoe and George Buck, Utah Holiday, July 1978, pp. 39-40).

Early Black Converts

Black Pete

Possibly the first black to join the LDS Church was "Black Pete." Lester Bush commented:

There once was a time, albeit brief, when a "Negro problem" did not exist for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. During those early months in New York and Ohio no mention was even made of Church attitudes towards blacks. The gospel was for "all nations, kindreds, tongues and peoples," and no exceptions were made. A Negro, "Black Pete," was among the first converts in Ohio, and his story was prominently reported in the local press. W. W. Phelps opened a mission to Missouri in July 1831 and preached to "all the families of the earth," specifically mentioning Negroes among his first audience. The following year another black, Elijah Abel, was baptized in Maryland ("Mormonism's Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview," Neither White Nor Black, Signature Books, 1984, p. 54). [p. 37]

Speaking in 1864, Apostle George A. Smith gave the following reminiscence about Pete:

There was at this time in Kirtland, a society that had undertaken to have a community of property; . . .  These persons had been baptized, but had not yet been instructed in relation to their duties. A false spirit entered into them, developing their singular, extravagant and wild ideas. They had a meeting at the farm, and among them was a negro known generally as Black Pete, who became a revelator. Others also manifested wonderful developments; they could see angels, and letters would come down from heaven, they said, and they would be put through wonderful unnatural distortions. Finally on one occasion, Black Pete got sight of one of those revelations carried by a black angel, he started after it, and ran off a steep wash bank twenty-five feet high, passed through a tree top into the Chagrin river beneath. He came out with a few scratches, and his ardor somewhat cooled.

Joseph Smith came to Kirtland, and taught that people in relation to their error (Sermon by Apostle George A. Smith, in the Ogden LDS Tabernacle, November 15, 1864, Journal of Discourses, vol. 11, pp. 3-4).

Newell Bringhurst gives this information on Pete:

Abel had not been the only black Mormon to create controversy within the Church during the 1830s. "Black Pete," through his activities in Kirtland as a self-styled "revelator," attracted notoriety both within and outside Mormonism. Unfortunately, little is known about his background. According to one account Pete migrated to Ohio from Pennsylvania where he had been born to slave parents. After his arrival in Ohio, Pete joined the Mormon movement in late 1830 or early 1831. This "man of colour" was described in two other accounts as "a chief man, who [was] sometimes seized with strange vagaries and odd conceits." On at least one occasion Pete fancied he could "fly" and took it into his head to try his wings; he accordingly chose the elevated bank of Lake Erie as a starting- place, and, spreading his pinions, he lit on a treetop some fifty feet below, sustaining no other damage than the demolition of his faith in wings without feathers.

There is some confusion over Pete's other activities among the Saints. According to one reminiscence Pete "wanted to marry a white woman" but Joseph Smith could not get any "revelations" for him to do so. According to another, however, Pete was active at a time when Joseph Smith and other church authorities were not around. Whatever the case, the Mormon Prophet brought forth in February 1831 a revelation condemning false revelators such as Black Pete. Smith was told that only certain individuals "appointed unto you" were authorized "to receive revelations." Thereafter, several of the self appointed revelators, possibly including Pete, were "tried for [their] fellowship" and "cut off" from the Church.

Despite the controversy caused by the Mormon activities of both Black Pete and Elijah Abel, Latter-day Saint leaders did not establish a subordinate ecclesiastical place for black people within Mormonism during the 1830s. The number of free blacks casting their lot with the Saints was very small ("Elijah Abel and the Changing Status of Blacks Within Mormonism," Dialogue, vol. 12, no. 2, Summer 1979, p. 25).

Elijah Abel

Ironically, right at the time Joseph Smith was developing his racial doctrines he allowed the ordination of a black named Elijah Abel. Although there was at least one other black ordained to the priesthood during Joseph Smith's life, Elijah Abel was the only one mentioned by LDS historian Andrew Jenson:

Abel, Elijah, the only colored man who is known to have been ordained to the priesthood . . . was ordained an elder March 3, 1836, and a seventy April 4, 1841, an exception having been made in his case with regard to the general rule of the church in relation to colored people (L.D.S. Biographical Encyclopedia, vol. 3, 1901–1936, p. 577).

Even though Elijah Abel was allowed to retain his priesthood and go on a mission after the Mormons came to Utah, he was not allowed to participate in the temple endowments. Armand Mauss commented:

Slavery itself was to come to an end in another decade. . . . The restrictive policy on priesthood, however, lingered on. It was periodically reconsidered after Brigham Young's death in 1877, [p. 38] usually in response to a petition from a black member or sympathizer. The first of these reconsiderations occurred as early as 1879, when Young's successor, John Taylor, responded to a petition from Elijah Abel (the sole surviving black member to have received the priesthood) that he be admitted to the sacred temple rites of the church. Taylor's consultations turned up a claim by two prominent local church leaders that in the mid-1830s they had heard Joseph Smith declare that Negroes could not be given the priesthood and that Abel was supposed to have been stripped of it before Smith died.

Taylor himself, though a contemporary of these witnesses and a close associate of Smith, could recall no such instruction. . . .

After that, each hearing and reconsideration by the church leadership simply brought another confirmation of the policy, so that by about 1920 there was an accumulation of precedents from previous leaders, as well as a rapidly receding institutional memory about the historical origins of the policy (All Abraham's Children, pp. 215-216).

Abel's requests for temple ordinances were repeatedly denied. He died in 1884 and was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. In 2002 a new headstone was placed on Elijah Abel's grave. The Salt Lake Tribune announced:

. . . two organizations have created a new headstone [for Elijah Abel] that proclaims Abel to be the first black man to hold the LDS Church priesthood and gives details about his life. . . . (Salt Lake Tribune, September 28, 2002, p. C1).

Bill Curtis, a retired history teacher from Missouri, had contacted the Abel family, the Genesis Group (an organization of black LDS), and others about raising funds for the new headstone. When it was finally ready, Apostle M. Russell Ballard was asked to "dedicate the new headstone." The article continues:

Abel was born a slave in Maryland in 1808. At 23, he fled to Canada and obtained free papers. A year later, he moved to Ohio and met Joseph Smith . . . Abel joined in 1832, and Smith ordained him into the priesthood four years later. . . .

His carpentry skills led him to become an undertaker. He also worked on the Underground Railroad that spirited slaves north to freedom in the years before the Civil War.

Abel and his family joined the Mormon odyssey to Salt Lake City in 1852, among fewer than 100 black pioneers, and he helped construct the Salt Lake Temple.

That same year, however, new church leader Young prohibited blacks from joining the faith's all-male lay priesthood, a rule that would stand until Church President Spencer Kimball's 1978 revelation. . . . The reason Young and other church leaders cited (and continued to cite for 126 years) was the Bible-based belief that blacks were descendants of the wicked Cain. . . .

According to [Armand] Mauss, Young did not remove Abel from the priesthood, . . . Young also sent Abel on several missions in his later years. When Abel petitioned Young's successor, John Taylor, for his temple endowment, it was denied.

Yet Abel's faith in the church continued until his death in 1884, and Mauss says this is one of the greatest lessons church members now, black and white, can learn from his life.

"Abel is a wonderful symbol for black and white Latter-day Saints as someone who remains faithful in the church in the face of a great many obstacles to his membership and a great many slights and humiliations," Mauss says (Salt Lake Tribune, September 28, 2002, pp. C1 & C8).

Abel's Descendants

While Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith was aware that Elijah Abel had been ordained to the LDS priesthood he affirmed that it was invalid. In a letter dated April 10, 1963 he wrote:

According to the doctrine of the church, the Negro, because of some condition of unfaithfulness in the spirit—or pre-existence, was not valiant and hence was not denied the mortal probation, but was denied the blessing of the Priesthood. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints he has the privilege of baptism, confirmation and membership along with everyone else, as far as this life is concerned.

. . . It is true that elders of the church laid hands on a Negro and blessed him "apparently" with the Priesthood, but they could not give that which the Lord had denied. It is true that Elijah Abel was so "ordained." This was however before the [p. 39] matter had been submitted to the Prophet Joseph Smith. . . . It was afterwards that the Prophet Joseph Smith declared that the Negro was not to be ordained. In the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price is a statement to the effect that the seed of Canaan were denied the Priesthood. . . . Now if the Lord declared to the Prophet Joseph Smith that for some reason the Negro was not to receive the Priesthood, then that is the end of the question. . . .

Now I am not responsible for this restriction. According to the Book of Moses and the Book of Abraham, the descendants of Cain were denied in the beginning. This is set forth in these records (Letter from Joseph Fielding Smith to Joseph H. Henderson, April 10, 1963; see Appendix C).

Three years later Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:

The descendants of Cain were barred from the blessings of the Priesthood. They may be baptized for the remission of their sins, but they cannot hold the Priesthood by divine decree, as pointed out in the Book of Abraham (Letter from Joseph Fielding Smith to Morris L. Reynolds, May 9, 1966; see Appendix C).

However, Elijah Abel's son and grandson were also ordained. Elijah's son, Enoch Abel (also spelled Able and Ables), was ordained an Elder on November 10, 1900, by John Q. Adams in the Logan 5th Ward, Utah. Enoch's son, Elijah, was ordained a Priest on July 5, 1934, by J. C. Hogenson and ordained an Elder September 29, 1935, by Reuben S. Hill in the Logan 10th Ward, Utah. Below p. 40 is a photocopy of the membership record for Elijah Ables, grandson of the original Elijah Abel.

Another grandson of Elijah Abel was Eugene Burns. In the Salt Lake Tribune report of his funeral we read:

Eugene Burns, colored, died last week at his home, . . . of a severe attack of typhoid fever of short duration . . . He was 24 years of age and was to have been married on the day on which his funeral occurred.

Funeral services over the remains of the dead man were held . . . Sunday afternoon. At the request of the family Rev. D. A. Brown, pastor of the First Baptist church, conducted the services. Following his remarks of condolence and sympathy to the bereaved friends who had gathered, Patriarch Miner, president of one of the quorums of the seventies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, made a few remarks. In the course of the dissertation he stated in substance that all that ever existed of the dead man lay in the casket before the altar.

Soul Was Doomed.

He further said that an Ethiopian could not reach the state of exaltation necessary to entrance into Heaven. His soul was doomed before his birth. The patriarch's remarks caused awe and consternation among the hearers and precipitated an ecclesiastical scrimmage. . . .

Burns was a grandson of Abel, the body servant of Joseph the Prophet. Abel was a Negro, and, according to the remarks of Patriarch Miner, is the only one of his race who ever succeeded in gaining entrance within the pearly gates. The reason he was so successful in accomplishing that feat, according to the patriarch, was his loyalty and service to Joseph the prophet, and his belief that the Mormon religion is the only one that ever happened. . . .

"This is hardly the place to bring forth matters of truth," said the venerable patriarch as he ascended the pulpit after Mr. Brown had concluded his remarks, "but the truth ought always to be told. . . .

"I repeat, the truth must be told," continued the aged man in continuing the strange panegyric. He quivered and shook in the throes of intense excitement. "I am president of a quorum of seventies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I am here to bear testimony not to the man who is dead, but to his grandfather, Abel. . . . For his services to the prophet and his faith in our religion he was raised to the order of the Melchesidek Priesthood. He was the only colored man who ever lived that belonged to that order. . . . It is not to be wondered at, too, when you consider the teachings of our church in relation to the colored people. . . . The third and last class of spirits is the class that fell. Because of their fall they are compelled to reside in bondage. They are given carnate bodies, but can never lift the yoke of bondage. That class of spirits includes the Negroes. . . .

"For the colored race, however, there is an exalted state in the next world into which they may

[p. 40]

(click to enlarge)

[p. 41] go. Provision has been made in the teachings of the Prophet Joseph so that the negro may step up into that preliminary state of exaltation, and when he gets there a chance is given him to accept redemption, according to the teachings of Joseph Smith.

Mr. Brown Objects.

Mr. Brown immediately arose and declared that no such teachings existed in the Bible. In refutation of the assertions of the patriarch he read several selections from the Bible, citing instances where men with black skins had been saved. He attempted to calm the feelings that had been aroused by the remarks of the patriarch. . . . Burn's family are Mormons, though the young man is said to have never affiliated himself with the church (Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 1, 1903, p. 8).

Walker Lewis

Another early black convert to Mormonism was Walker Lewis. He was ordained an elder by William Smith. Newell G. Bringhurst wrote:

In addition to Abel, other Mormon blacks found themselves in conspicuous situations during these years. One such member was Walker Lewis, a barber in Lowell, Massachusetts. Little is known of Lewis' background other than that he was apparently ordained an Elder by William Smith, the younger brother of the Mormon prophet. As with Abel, Lewis' role or place within Mormonism was not initially questioned by church officials. Various Mormon apostles visiting Lowell as late as 1844-45 seemed to accept Lewis' priesthood status. One of these visitors, Apostle Wilford Woodruff, merely observed in November 1844 that "a coloured Brother who was an Elder"—presumably Lewis—manifested his support for the established church leadership during this time of great internal division. By 1847, however, Lewis' status within the Church was challenged by William L. Appleby who was in charge of Mormon missionary activity in the eastern states. During a visit to Lowell in 1847, Appleby encountered Lewis, and in a terse letter to Brigham Young expressed surprise at finding a black ordained to the priesthood. Appleby asked the Mormon leader if it was "the order of God or tolerated, to ordain negroes to the priesthood . . . if it is, I desire to know it as I have yet got to learn it." Unfortunately by the time Appleby's letter arrived at Winter Quarters, Young was on his way to the Great Basin with the first group of Mormon settlers, and thus was unable to reply in writing to Appleby's question.

However, by 1849, Brigham Young was willing to assert that all Mormon blacks were ineligible for priesthood ordination. Young's 1849 statement—one of the earliest known declarations of black priesthood denial—came in response to a question posed by Apostle Lorenzo Snow concerning the "chance of redemption . . . for the African." Young replied:

[T]he curse remained upon them because Cain cut off the lives [sic] of Abel to prevent him and his posterity getting ascendancy over Cain and his generations, and to get the lead himself, his own offering not being accepted of God, while Abel's was. But the Lord cursed Cain's seed with blackness and prohibited them the priesthood, that Abel and his progeny might yet come forward, and have their dominion, place, and blessings in their proper relationship with Cain and his race in the world to come.

("Elijah Abel and the Changing Status of Blacks Within Mormonism," by Newell G. Bringhurst, Dialogue, vol. 12, no. 2, Summer 1979, p. 26).

Jane Manning James

Jane Manning, along with her family, converted to Mormonism in the 1840s. According to Jessie L. Embry, instructor of history at Brigham Young University, Jane

grew up in Connecticut during the 1820's, earning her living as a domestic. When Mormon missionaries came to the area, she listened and along with other family members joined the church. In 1843 eight members of the Manning family started toward Nauvoo . . . The Mannings set out on foot and, . . . finally arrived in Nauvoo where Joseph Smith welcomed them into his home. Before the Latter-day Saints left Nauvoo, Jane Manning married another black Mormon, Isaac James. . . . In 1869 Isaac left the family, selling his property to Jane. He returned to Salt Lake City approximately twenty-one years later just before he passed away. . . .

Jane Manning James was a member of the female Relief Society and donated to the St. George, Manti, and Logan temple funds. She repeatedly [p. 42] petitioned the First Presidency to be endowed and to have her children sealed to her. During the time that Isaac was gone, Jane asked to be sealed to Walker Lewis who, like Elijah Abel, had been ordained during Joseph Smith's lifetime.

After Isaac died, Jane asked that they be given the ordination of adoption so they would be together in the next life. She explained in correspondence to church leaders that Emma Smith had offered to have her sealed to the Smith family as a child. She reconsidered that decision and asked to be sealed to the Smiths. Permission for all of these requests was denied.

Instead the First Presidency "decided she might be adopted into the family of Joseph Smith as a servant, which was done, a special ceremony having been prepared for the purpose." The minutes of the Council of Twelve Apostles continued, "But Aunt Jane was not satisfied with this, and as a mark of dissatisfaction she applied again after this for sealing blessings, but of course in vain" (Black Saints in a White Church, by Jessie L. Embry, Signature Books, 1994, pp. 40-41).

Wilford Woodruff, fourth president of the LDS Church, recorded the following in his journal for October 16, 1894:

I had several meetings with H. B. Clawson Concerning some of our Affairs in Calafornia. We had Meeting with several individuals among the rest Black Jane wanted to know if I would not let her have her Endowments in the Temple. This I Could not do as it was against the Law of God. As Cain killed Abel All the seed of Cain would have to wait for Redemption untill all the seed that Abel would have had that may Come through other men Can be redeemed (Wilford Woodruff's Journal, 1833-1898, vol. 9, typescript, edited by Scott G. Kenney, Signature Books, 1985, p. 322).

William McCary

It is not clear when William McCary (there are various spellings of his name) first joined with the Mormons, but by 1846 he was well known. LDS historian Newell Bringhurst wrote:

Brigham Young's decision to deny blacks the priesthood was undoubtedly prompted by several factors. Among the most important may well have been the controversy generated in 1846-47 by the flamboyant activities of William McCary, a half-breed Indian-black man referred to variously as the "Indian," "Lamanite," or "Nigger Prophet." The descriptions of McCary are vague and often conflicting, making it difficult to determine his exact activities and relationship to the Latter-day Saint movement. McCary's origin and occupation are not known. The earliest known account, written in October 1846, claims that Apostle Orson Hyde while at a camp near Council Bluffs, Iowa, "baptised and ordained . . . a Lamanite Prophet to use as a tool to destroy the churches he cannot rule."

By late October 1846, McCary shifted his base of operation east to Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Commercial described the exploits of "a big, burley, half Indian, half Negro, formerly a Mormon" who built up a religous following of some sixty members "solemnly enjoined to secrecy" concerning their rites due to their apparent practice of plural marriage. McCary "proclaimed himself Jesus Christ" . . . and performed "miracles with a golden rod." The blessing that he conferred upon his followers reflected at least some knowledge of Latter-day Saint ritual. . . .

It is not clear whether McCary had any contact with Elijah Abel or any of the other Cincinnati Saints . . . Whatever the case, McCary's Cincinnati-based movement was short-lived. . . .

McCary returned west to Winter Quarters, Nebraska, joining the main body of Saints under the leadership of Brigham Young in their temporary encampment. Young and others initially welcomed McCary into the Mormon camp where he was recognized as an accomplished musician, . . . By late March 1847, however, McCary had fallen from Mormon favor. What he did to offend Brigham Young is not clear but at a "meeting of the twelve and others" summoned to consider this matter [William] McCary made a rambling statement, claiming to be Adam, the ancient of days, and exhibiting himself in Indian costume . . .

Following this March 1847 meeting, Church leaders expelled McCary from the Mormon camp at Winter Quarters. Subsequently, Apostle Orson Hyde preached a sermon "against his doctrine."

This was not the end of McCary's Mormon involvement, . . . McCary remained active in the area around Winter Quarters and proceeded to set up his own rival Mormon group drawing followers away from Brigham Young. According to a July [p. 43] 1847 account, the "negro prophet" exerted his influence by working "with a rod, like those of old." . . .

While the whirlwind generated by McCary's activities upset Brigham Young and other church leaders, the decision to deny blacks the priesthood was probably prompted as much, if not more, by the exposure of the Latter-day Saints to a large number of blacks—both slave and free—following the Mormon migration to the Great Basin.  This region's black population of 100 to 120 individuals, who arrived during the years 1847-49, stood in sharp contrast to the twenty or so blacks that had lived in Nauvoo during the Mormon sojourn there.  The sudden appearance of these Great Basin blacks—a significant proportion of whom were slaves—helped to encourage Brigham Young and other church leaders to clearly define both their secular and ecclesiastical status, and that of black people generally ("Elijlah Abel and the Changing Status of Blacks Within Mormonism," by Newell Bringhurst, Dialogue, vol. 12, no. 2, Summer 1979, pp. 27–28).

Apostle Parley P. Pratt evidently had McCary in mind when he addressed the pioneer group in the Spring of 1847. LDS historian Ronald K. Esplin wrote:

On 25 April 1847, ten days after Brigham Young and other pioneers left the Missouri River for the Great Basin, Apostle Parley p. Pratt addressed the Saints at Winter Quarters. . . . in counseling the Saints about the necessity of moving West as early as possible, Elder Pratt offhandedly referred to priesthood denial to the Blacks. The faithful will go west, he emphasized, and if others "want to follow [James] Strang go it," or even "want to follow this Black man who has got the blood of Ham in him which lineage was cursed as regards the Priesthood," well, that was all right, too ("Brigham Young and Priesthood Denial to the Blacks: An Alternate View," by Ronald K. Esplin, Brigham Young University Studies, vol. 19, no. 3, Spring 1979, p. 395).

Samuel D. Chambers

Samuel Chambers is another important early black convert to Mormonism. While he did not come to Utah until 1870 he and his family still played an important role in establishing blacks in the LDS community. Newell Bringhurst commented:

Samuel was born May 21, 1831, in Pickens County, Alabama. In 1844, as a thirteen-year-old slave in eastern Mississippi, he listened to the preaching of Preston Thomas and accepted baptism from that Mississippian, himself a new convert. But, unlike other converts in the area who relocated to Nauvoo or other Mormon centers, Samuel stayed behind. He was property, a slave, not free to migrate. For a quarter of a century he had no further contact with the Church and no hope of ever joining the body of the Saints. Unable to read or write, and lacking parents or peers or missionaries to encourage him in his youthful faith, he retained his testimony through the Holy Spirit.

During that quarter century Samuel married, fathered a son, lost his wife, then married Amanda Leggroan in 1858. When the Civil War brought freedom in its wake, Samuel as freedman worked four years to earn items needed to make a long overland trek to Utah. With son Peter and wife Amanda and the young family of Amanda's brother, Edward (Ned) Leggroan, Samuel undramatically arrived in Salt Lake City in 1870.

Unlike so many thousands of converts and emigrants, the Chambers group had gathered to Zion on their own without missionary encouragement or Perpetual Emigration Fund assistance.

The Chambers settled in the Eighth Ward where they tithed and donated, received patriarchal blessings, accepted rebaptism during the mini-reformation of 1875 and attended meetings. Samuel "was appointed as assistant Deacon," noted the ward records on May 1, 1873, but he received no priesthood. Amanda became a Relief Society "deaconess." Deacons, whose main work then was to care for the meetinghouses, included adults as well as youths. Samuel represented his ward at monthly stake deacons quorum meetings. . . .

Soon the Chambers moved to southeast Salt Lake City. Over the years their small fruit business prospered. Late in life they owned over thirty acres of good farmland and a brick home which still stands. In Wilford Ward they were well known and well liked. Samuel met with the high priests quorum for a while. The couple became known for their firm testimonies, their strict loyalty to Church leaders, their keeping of the Sabbath and generous church donations.

As promised in his patriarchal blessing, Samuel lived to an old age. To his death at age ninety-eight in Salt Lake City in 1929, he was strong in the faith. [p. 44] (Born one year after the Church was restored, he died one year before its hundredth birthday.)   ("Elijah Abel and the Changing Status of Blacks Within Mormonism," by Newell G. Bringhurst, Dialogue, vol. 12, no. 2, Summer 1979, pp. 13-14)

While Chambers never received the priesthood, he was given the office of "assistant Deacon," which seemed to be a way to get around the priesthood restriction. Lester Bush commented:

There are a few odd cases such as the Black man who was allowed to act in the office of a deacon.  Samuel Chambers, a prominent member of a Salt Lake City ward, was made an acting deacon and was permitted to do almost everything the deacons were authorized to do. As I recall, he was made an acting deacon after Brigham Young's death. His wife was made an acting deaconess. ("Mixed Messages On The Negro Doctrine: An Interview With Lester Bush," Sunstone, vol. 4, no. 3, May 1979, p. 2)

Slaves in Utah Territory

Although most Mormons did not own slaves, the practice was allowed in the Utah Territory. Both Native Americans and blacks were bought and sold. George D. Smith observed:

For many years a slave trade in Indian children, especially from the poor Shoshonean tribes, had flourished along the Spanish Trail. Since Mormons regarded Indians as "Lamanites" of the Book of Mormon who were cursed with dark skin but were destined to be redeemed, they were sympathetic to their cause. Brigham Young advised the Saints to "buy up the Lamanite children as fast as they could, and educate them and teach them the gospel, so that not many generations would pass ere they would become a white and delightsome people." On March 7, 1852, the legislative assembly of the Utah territory had passed an act legalizing Indian slavery. Ironically, as a result of this act, Mormons themselves indentured Indian children (An Intimate Chronicle; The Journals of William Clayton, edited by George D. Smith, Signature Books, 1995, Introduction, p. xlvii).

Armand Mauss explained the LDS reason for making slavery legal:

Some policies were guided less by diplomatic or pragmatic considerations than by the Mormon understanding of their divinely bestowed responsibilities for the spiritual welfare of the Indians as Lamanites. One of the great ironies resulting from this understanding was the territorial legislature's 1852 act permitting slavery in the Utah Territory. This act was partly designed to permit Mormon converts from the Old South to bring with them their black slaves, few though these were. An even stronger motivation for the act, however, was to permit Mormon families to buy Indian children who had already been enslaved by a long-standing slave trade between various Indian tribes and with Mexican slavers. (All Abraham's Children, p. 60)

The 1852 Utah Legislative Act regarding slavery read, in part:


Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the Governor and Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah, That any person or persons coming to this Territory and bringing with them servants justly bound to them, arising from special contract or otherwise, said person or persons shall be entitled to such service or labor by the laws of this Territory provided, That he shall file in the office of the Probate Court, written and satisfactory evidence that such service or labor is due. . . .

Sec. 4. That if any master or mistress shall have sexual or carnal intercourse with his or her servant or servants of the African race, he or she shall forfeit all claim to said servant or servants to the commonwealth; and if any white person shall be guilty of sexual intercourse with any of the African race, they shall be subject, on conviction thereof to a fine of not exceeding one thousand dollars, nor less than five hundred, to the use of the Territory, and imprisonment, not exceeding three years. . . .

Sec. 7. That servants may be transferred from one master or mistress to another by the consent and approbation of the Probate Court, who shall keep a record of the same in his office (Acts, Resolutions, and Memorials, passed by the First Annual, and Special Sessions, of the Legislative Assembly, of the Territory of Utah, Begun and Held at Great Salt Lake City, on the 22nd Day [p. 45] of September, A.D., 1851 . . . pp. 80-81, published by Authority of the Legislative Assembly, 1852).

In 1851 the following appeared in the LDS Church's publication, Millennial Star:

We feel it to be our duty to define our position in relation to Slavery. There are several men in the Valley of the Salt Lake from the Southern States, who have their slaves with them ("Slavery Among the Saints," Millennial Star, Liverpool, England, Feb. 15, 1851, p. 63).

In 1859 Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, interviewed Brigham Young on the subject of slavery:

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 there 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 them 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.
H.G. — Am I to infer that Utah, if admitted as a member of the Federal Union, will be a Slave State?
B.Y. — No; she will be a Free State. Slavery here would prove useless and unprofitable. I regard it generally as a curse to the masters. I myself hire many laborers and pay them fair wages; I could not afford to own them. I can do better than subject myself to an obligation to feed and clothe their families, to provide and care for them, in sickness and health. Utah is not adapted to Slave Labor. (Brigham Young Interview by Horace Greeley, Salt Lake City, Utah, July 13, 1859, reprinted in the Salt Lake Tribune, Aug. 15, 1993)

Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States in November of 1860 but before his inauguration in March 1861, seven southern states had withdrawn and established the "Confederate States of America." The Civil War commenced in 1861 with the firing on Fort Sumter, South Carolina, by the Confederate States. On September 22, 1862, President Lincoln issued his famous Emancipation Proclamation, announcing the end of slavery. This would become effective on January 1, 1863. Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not actually end slavery in America, it was the forerunner to the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution on December 18, 1865.

During the height of the Civil War Brigham Young was teaching that slavery was a "divine Institution" and that the Civil War would not free the slaves. Preaching in October of 1863, nine months after the official signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, Young declared:

Ham will continue to be the 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 published in the Journal of Discourses, vol. 10, p. 250).

Jack Beller, writing in 1929, discussed Utah slavery in the Utah Historical Quarterly:

According to the U.S. census of 1850, Utah was the only western state or territory having slaves.

The U.S. census for 1860 gives the number of colored persons in the Territory of Utah as 59, 30 free colored and 29 slaves. Of the slaves, Davis County had 10 and Salt Lake County 19 ("Negro Slaves in Utah," by Jack Beller, Utah Historical Quarterly, vol. 2, no. 4, 1929, pp. 124-126).

A slave traveling with his owner to California would have been able to gain his freedom. However, if the owner stayed in Utah the slave would still be bound to him. James B. Christensen commented on the situation in his thesis:

[p. 46] It is logical to assume that the slaves desired their freedom in Utah as much as they did in California, but after 1850, Utah was open to slavery, and they could legally be held as slaves, while California was free territory.

During the period from 1850 until the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln, Negro slave trading was carried on to a small extent in the territory ("A Social Survey of the Negro Population of Salt Lake City, Utah," by James B. Christensen, Master's thesis at the University of Utah, 1966, pp. 8-9).

Green Flake

In the book Utah in the 1990s we read:

Three blacks accompanied the Mormon pioneers into the Great Salt Lake Valley in 1847, . . . Coleman estimates that by the mid-1970s there were 150 descendants of the three blacks who entered the Salt Lake Valley with Brigham Young. Nevertheless, the size of the black population in Utah has always been small. . . . By 1990 the black population in Utah had grown to 9,225 but constituted only 0.7 percent of the total population (Utah in the 1990s: A Demographic Perspective, edited by Tim B. Heaton, Thomas A. Hirschl, Bruce A. Chadwick, Signature Books, 1996, p. 71).

The three blacks who were part of the first Mormon pioneers were Green Flake, Hark Lay and Oscar Crosby. They are commemorated on a monument in downtown Salt Lake City. Mark Angus wrote:

This statue by Springville, Utah, sculptor Cyrus Dallin features Brigham Young, early western explorer Peter Ogden, Shoshone chief Washakie, and a generic settler. The statue, commissioned by LDS church president Wilford Woodruff, was first displayed at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and then stood on Temple Square until 1897. The names of those who accompanied Young into the valley in 1847 are listed on the north side of the monument. They include 140 free men, three women, two children, and three black slaves (here referred to as "colored servants"). One of them, Green Flake, drove Young's carriage into the valley and was later given to Young as tithing. Folklore to the contrary, Young was among the last of the vanguard party to see the valley. Because of a fever, he was left behind, and by the time he saw the valley, others were already planting potatoes (Salt Lake City Underfoot: Self-Guided Tours of Historic Neighborhoods, by Mark Angus, Signature Books, 1996, p. 11).

Green's owner, James M. Flake, was a wealthy plantation owner from North Carolina. Kate Carter wrote:

In the winter of 1843-44 the Gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was brought to the Flakes by missionaries, and they were baptized. To avoid persecution, the Flakes joined the Saints in Nauvoo. Three of the Flake Negroes remained with the family, while Mr. Flake gave the others their freedom.

During the winter when Brigham Young commenced preparing for the first of the pioneers to cross the plains, James M. Flake sent his Negro Green with mules and carriage to help the company to their destination. Green was instructed to send the outfit back by some of the brethren who would be returning, and remain himself, in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake to build a house for the family to use upon their arrival (The Negro Pioneer, by Kate B. Carter, Daughters of Utah Pioneers, May, 1965, pp. 500-501).

Richard Van Wagoner and Steven Walker give the following information on Green Flake's life in Utah:

Human Tithing:

1850 When Green's owner was killed in an accident in California, Mrs. Flake moved to San Bernardino with Charles C. Rich and Amasa M. Lyman. Before leaving Salt Lake, she gave her "Negro slave Green Flake to the Church as tithing. He then worked two years for President Young and Heber C. Kimball, and then got his liberty."


1851 A free man, Green moved his family to the Union area of Salt Lake County, where he farmed and mined ore from the Cottonwood Canyons. He was an active member of the Union Ward. . . .

1885 Upon the death of his wife, he moved to Gray's Lake, Idaho, . . . He returned to Salt Lake in 1897 to attend the Utah Pioneer Jubilee on July 24, where he received a certificate honoring him as a surviving member of the Brigham Young pioneer company. [p. 47]


1903 October 20: Died in Idaho Falls, Idaho, at the age of seventy-five. Buried in the Union, Utah, Pioneer Cemetery (A Book of Mormons, by Richard S. Van Wagoner and Steven C. Walker, Signature Books, 1982, pp. 87-88).

Hark Lay

The second black in the 1847 pioneer group was Hark Lay. Kate Carter writes:

Hark Lay was born about 1825 in Monroe County, Mississippi. . . . he was born in slavery in the William Lay household. He did his work well while crossing the plains and helped the pioneers in every way he could after they reached the Valley. At that time he was about twenty-three years of age and entered the Valley in Orson Pratt's vanguard on July 22, 1847. . . .

The Los Angeles County census indicates that Hark Lay went to California and was a resident there in 1852 (The Negro Pioneer, p. 504).

Oscar Crosby

Oscar Crosby was the third black in the first pioneer company. Kate Carter writes:

Oscar Crosby was born about 1815 in Virginia. He was a servant in the home of William Crosby, a wealthy plantation owner and member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Mississippi. He was most trustworthy, and when the personnel of the first company was chosen, William Crosby received permission for his colored servant, Oscar, to secure a piece of ground, plant crops and make ready for the family who planned to arrive in 1848. . . . Oscar accompanied Mr. Crosby to San Bernardino Valley, California, to help establish a Latter-day Saint colony. As California was a free state, he, with other Negroes, was liberated. He died in Los Angeles in 1870 (The Negro Pioneer, p. 504).

Kate Carter gives further information on how Oscar and Hark ended up in the first group of pioneers. She quoted the following from the diary of John Brown, an early Mormon pioneer:

On the 22nd [1846] we reached home (Mississippi) and were instructed by President Young to leave our families and take those families that were ready and go west with them through Missouri and fall in with the companies from Nauvoo, in the Indian country. We started out some fourteen families. I left home on the 8th of April. William Crosby, D. M. Thomas, William Lay, James Harmon, Geo. W. Bankhead and myself formed a mess. We had one wagon, calculating to return in the fall. We crossed the Mississippi River at the Iron Banks and traveled up through the state of Missouri to Independence, where we arrived on the 26th of May, a distance from home of 640 miles. . . .

After a few days' rest we began making preparations to move our families early in the spring, to Council Bluffs, and thus be ready to go westward with the Church (The Negro Pioneer, p. 503).

However, word arrived from the brethren that they were to

remain another year with our families but to fit out and send all the men we could spare to go west with the pioneers.

We held meetings to consider the matter, at which we concluded to send some four colored servants as pioneers, one of us going along to take charge of them William Crosby (Oscar), John H. Bankhead, (not known) William Lay, (Hark) and I each furnished a servant, (Henry) and John Powell arranged for his brother David to go along. It fell to my lot to go and take charge of the company.

In order for us to reach Council Bluffs in time, it was necessary to make this journey of a thousand miles during the winter months. All arrangements being made, we left Mississippi on January 10, 1847. . . . We were well fitted out with two good wagons and supplies, but as we traveled northward the weather became extremely cold. At St. Louis, where we were joined by Joseph Stratton and his family, we purchased more teams and wagons. . . . But the mud was so heavy that we had to lay over several days. Finally it turned cold, giving us the severest kind of weather, which was extremely hard on the Negroes. My servant, whose name was Henry, caught cold and took the winter fever, which caused his death. I buried him in Andrew County, Missouri, . . . we reached the Bluffs a few days before President Brigham Young and the pioneers started for the West. While we were waiting here, John Bankhead's colored man also died with the winter fever. This journey from Mississippi was the hardest and severest trip I had [p. 48] ever undertaken. I left one wagon and its load here with Brother Crimson, to bring along with the families that were to follow, and took the other two wagons and the two colored men, Oscar Crosby and Hark Lay, who had survived the journey, and joined the Pioneer Camp (The Negro Pioneer, pp. 503-504).

Betsy Crosby

Betsy Crosby originally lived on a plantation in Mississippi owned by John and Elizabeth Crosby. After Mr. Crosby's death Elizabeth married John Brown. Her granddaughter related:

John Brown spent "six months teaching, preaching, and courting" before he baptized his future wife Elizabeth Crosby ("Seizing Sacred Space: Women's Engagement in Early Mormonism," by Martha Sonntag Bradley, Dialogue, vol. 27, no. 2, p. 66).

Elizabeth and her family moved to Utah in 1848. She also brought Betsy and two other black servants with her. Kate Carter gave this information:

Betsy Crosby Brown Flewellen was the colored servant of Elizabeth Crosby Brown. In 1848, when she was a little girl, she was brought from the Crosby Plantation, in Monroe County, Mississippi, to Utah, by Mrs. Elizabeth Crosby Brown. She was a servant in the Brown home from 1848 until the slaves were freed during the war between the states (The Negro Pioneer, p. 528).

In 1857 John Brown "consecrated and deeded" Betsy Crosby, an "African Servant Girl" valued at $1,000, to the LDS Church (see The Negro Pioneer, p. 528).


Another Utah slave was Dan. Historian Dennis L. Lythgoe relates that Dan was a slave of Williams Washington Camp, a Mormon convert from Tennessee, who brought several slaves to Utah (see "Negro slavery in Utah," Utah Historical Quarterly, Winter 1971, vol. 39, no. 1). At one point Dan tried to escape but his owner, Mr. Camp, captured Dan and brought him back. This led to a charge that Camp had kidnapped Dan. Evidently Camp was able to establish that he owned Dan and he was acquitted. Hosea Stout, an early Mormon pioneer, recorded in his diary for 1856 some of the details of Dan's escape and capture:

Wednesday 18 June 1856. Law Suit before probate on an examination People vs William Camp et al. For kidnapping a Negro Dan. The case commenced Monday evening and lasted yesterday & today till noon

It appears that Camp was the owner of Dan who had ran away and C. had went with three others to bring him back. The court acquitted them Carrington atty Genl for the people & Mr T.S. Williams & self for defts" (On The Mormon Frontier, The Diary of Hosea Stout, 1844–1861, vol. 2,  edited by Juanita Brooks, University of Utah Press, 1964, p. 597).

Evidently T. S. Williams, the attorney for the defense, acquired Dan from Mr. Camp in 1858. On September 8, 1859, Williams sold Dan to William Hooper, another slave holder, for $800. A record of the transaction was found in 1939. The Salt Lake Tribune reported:

Patrick J. Sullivan, employee of a Salt Lake Abstract firm, while searching the records for real estate information, came across the copy of a bill of sale for a Negro boy named "Dan" in a book containing transactions for the year 1859.

The slave was sold by Thomas S. Williams of "Great Salt Lake City" to William H. Hooper, same address, for $800 (Salt Lake Tribune, May 31, 1939).

The bill of sale states:

the said negro boy is twenty six years of age was born the property and slave of Williams Camp . . . in Tennessee . . . and by the said Williams Camp was sold to me in the year 1858.

And I do for myself my heirs executors, and administrators covenant and agree to and with the said Wm H. Hooper to warrant and defend the sale of the said negro boy, hereby sold unto the said Wm H. Hooper, . . .

Below p. 49 is a photo of the bill of sale, taken from The Negro Pioneer, by Kate Carter, Daughters of Utah Pioneers, May, 1965, page 538.

[p. 49]
(click on each image to enlarge)

[p. 50] Williams apparently owned other slaves as well. Hosea Stout wrote the following in his diary:

Thursday, 21 April 1859.
Suit before Jeter Clinton Esqr

"The people &c vs. Tom Coulbourn negro slave belonging to J. H. Johnson on examination for shooting Shep negro slave belonging to W. H. Hooper. The negros had got into a row about two wenches belonging to T. S. Williams and love and jealousy was the main cause of the fuss. Like their masters under such circumstances would probably would do they went to shooting each other. Shep is badly wounded and his life is precarious. Dist Attorney Wilson prosecuted and Blair and myself defended. Tom was held to bail for $1000 to appear at the next Dist Court (On The Mormon Frontier, vol. 2, p. 695).


Venus, freed slave of early Mormon pioneer Elizabeth Redd, was originally given to Elizabeth as a wedding present. She came with the Redd's to Utah Territory in 1850. She was a midwife and lived in Spanish Fork where she faithfully attended the LDS Church. However, she was never allowed to attend the temple. Kate Carter relates:

Some of the Spanish Fork people remember Venus as being tall, very polite and quiet and always immaculate in her dress. She had a great desire to go to the temple, and when she found that the temple was closed to Negroes, she scratched her arm until it bled and said: "See, my blood is as white as anyone's" (The Negro Pioneer, p. 523).

Curse of Cain? Racism in the Mormon Church
Purchase this book.