Mormon doctrine on 
Blackness

What have Mormon doctrines and policies been concerning black people? When did those teachings change? What were the experiences of early black members of the church?

Throughout the history of Mormonism the doctrines and policies concerning black people have changed. I have created below a working timeline of the teachings, policies, and doctrines to better show their evolution. I have also included individuals who were part of the early church and wish you to read up on them as well. 

1830-1843

June 1830

Moses 7:22

"And Enoch also beheld the residue of the people which were the sons of Adam; and they were a mixture of all the seed of Adam save it was the seed of Cain, for the seed of Cain were black, and had not place among them."

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July 16, 1833

The Evening and the Mormon Star

The Evening and the Mormon Star was published in Independence, Missouri. In this Mormon paper, "free people of color" were told NOT to emigrate to Missouri. "As to slaves we have nothing to say." And again it stated: "We are opposed to have free people of color admitting into the state; and we say, that none will be admitted into the church..."

April 9, 1836

The Latter-day Saint Messenger & Advocate
Volume 2, Number 7

...that the first mention we have of slavery is found in the holy bible, pronounced by a man who was perfect in his generation andwalked with God. And so far from that prediction’s being averse from 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!

“And he said cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.—God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwellin the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall behis servant.”—Gen, 8:25, 26, 27.

Trace the history of the world from this notable event down to this day, and you will find the fulfilment of this singular prophecy. What could have been the design of the Almighty in this wonderful occurrence is not for me to say; but I can say, that the curse is not yet taken off the sons of  Canaan, neither will be until it is affected by as great power as caused it to come; and the people who interfere the least with the decrees and purposes 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 designs of the Lord, will learn, when perhaps it is too late for their own good, that God can do his ownwork without the aid of those who arenot dictated by his counsel. [For the full article, click here.]

February 1842

Abraham 1:26-27

26 Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, 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.

27 Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham, therefore my father was led away by their idolatry;

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Early Black Members 
of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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Green Flake

Green Flake was one of the first slaves to enter Utah Territory. He is perhaps best known as being used as "tithing." The woman who had ownership of it sent him to "work for the Church, as a way of paying the family's back tithing."

Jane Manning (fondly called Aunt Jane) joined the church in the Fall of 1842, when she was twenty years old. She lived for a time with Joseph and Emma, working as a housekeeper. She was among the first to the Salt Lake Valley. As a black woman, Jane was not allowed into the temple or to hold the priesthood, as her fellow white sisters did. She petitioned Church leaders to seal her to the Smith family and as a result she was sealed to Joseph Smith as an "eternal servant."

Joseph T. Ball

Joseph T. Ball joined the church in 1832, when he was 28 years old. He was one of the few black men who held the priesthood in the early days of the church. He was excommunicated probably in 1845 for "practicing and teaching sexual practices contrary to church doctrine."

Peter Kerr

Peter Kerr (sometimes nicknamed as "Black Pete") joined the church in the 1830s when he was in his mid 50s. He is known as the second black man to be ordained to the priesthood.

Kwaku Walker Lewis

Kwaku Walker Lewis was an early African-American abolitionist and Freemason. He joined the church in 1842. In the 1840s and 50s he was part of the Underground Railroad and the anti-slavery movement.

Elijah Able

Elijah Able is perhaps best known of being one of the first black members of the church to recieve the priesthood.

Warner "William" McCary

McCary was an African American who joined the church in late 1845. He was excommunicated two years later, however, because he professed to be a prophet. Some have suggested that it was because of McCary that the priesthood and temple ordinances were banned from African Americans.

Hark Lay Wales

Hark Lay's enslaver Sytha Lay was baptized in April of 1844 and Hark was baptized at the same time (about nineteen years old). Hark was sent along with Oscar Crosby to help settle Zion and was one of three slaves who first entered Utah. In 1851, he along with four other "colored" men were sent by Apostles Lyman and Rich on an expedition to settle California. After arriving in California he was freed.

Oscar Crosby

Oscar Crosby traveled to Utah with a group of Mississippi Mormons that made a difficult journey from the South to Winter Quarters and then west with the first pioneer company in 1847. He is known as one of three slaves to enter into Utah Territory.

1844

February 1844

Joseph Smith's 
Presidential Campaign

Joseph Smith's views on slavery changed drastically over the 1830s and 40s. In his presidential campaign Joseph put forth that all slaves be free by 1850 and that the government buy the freedom of slaves using money from the sale of public lands. 

"Petition, also, ye goodly inhabitants of the slave States, your legislators to abolish slavery by the year 1850, or now, and save the abolitionist from reproach and ruin, infamy and shame.

Pray Congress to pay every man a reasonable price for his slaves out of the surplus revenue arising from the sale of public lands, and from the deduction of pay frorr the members of Congress.

Break off the shackles from the poor black man, and hire him to labor like other human beings for ' 'an hour of virtuous liberty on earth is worth a whole eternity o bondage." [pg. 17]

He went on to say that: "when that people petitioned to abolish slavery in the slave States, I would use all honorable means to have their prayers granted, and give liberty to the captive by paying the Southern gentlemen a reasonable equivalent for his property, that the whole nation might be free indeed!" [p. 21].

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1845

John Taylor
Times and Seasons

"The descendants of Ham, besides a black skin which has ever been a curse that has followed an apostate of the holy priesthood, as well as a black heart, have been servants to both Shem and Jepheth, and the abolitionists are trying to make void the curse of God, but it will require more power than man possesses to counteract the decrees of eternal wisdom.”

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1850s -1880s

1852

John Taylor
Diary from February 7, 1852

"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 [remain] untill all the seed of Abel should be re[deem?]ed and Cane will not receive the priesthood untill or salvation untill all the seed of Abel are Redeemed. Any man having one drop of the seed of Cane 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. I know it is true & they know it. The Negro cannot hold one particle of Government But the day will Come when all the seed of Cane will be Redeemed & have all the Blessings we have now & a great deal more. But the seed of Abel will be ahead of the seed of Cane to all Eternity. Let me consent to day to mingle my seed with the seed of Cane. It would Bring the same curse upon me And it would upon any man. 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 [require] the life of his Children."

“Lorenzo Young asked if the Spirits of Negroes were Nutral in Heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. Presidet Young said No they were not. There was No Nutral spirits in Heaven at the time of the Rebelion. All took sides. he said if any one said that He Herd the Prophet Joseph Say that the spirits of the Blacks were Nutral in Heaven He would not Believe them for He herd Joseph Say to the Contrary” 

[Waiting for World’s End: The Diaries of Wilford Woodruff, Susan Staker, ed., p. 300. Wilford Woodruff recounting Brigham Young’s remarks on December 25, 1869.]

1852

Brigham Young
The Teachings of President Brigham Young
Vol. 3, p. 43-44

"Now then, in the kingdom of God on the earth, a man who has the African blood in him cannot hold one jot nor tittle of Priesthood; Why? Because they are the true eternal principals the Lord Almighty has ordained, and who can help it − men cannot, the angels cannot, and all the powers of Earth and Hell cannot take it off, but thus saith the Eternal, ‘I am, what I am, I take it off at My pleasure’, and not one particle of power can that posterity of Cain have, until the time comes the [Lord] says He will have it taken away. That time will come, when they will have the privilege of all we have the privilege of, and more. In the Kingdom of God on the Earth the Africans cannot hold one particle of power in Government."

“But let me tell you further. Let my seed mingle with the seed of Cain, [and] that brings the curse upon me, and upon my generations, [after me – should we do this] we will reap the same rewards with Cain”

1855

Brigham Young
Journal of Discourses Vol 2.

"There is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding;" and many who do not hold the Priesthood have ideas which are really true, yet they are not always certain whether they are true or not. The cogitations, concerning this people, of men upon their beds, of the President of the United States, of the members of Congress, and of the rulers of different nations, when they meditate upon the condition of the world, and their final exit from this stage of action, are that there is no evil in the Latter-day Saints. And I tell you, in the name of the God of Israel, that their secret reflections tell them this, unless they are so far depraved by wickedness that the Spirit of the Lord has ceased to strive with them. But as soon as they engage in the turmoil of their daily duties, the hue and cry that "the Mormons are about to do this and that," attracts their attention. Formerly the rumor was that "they were agoing to tamper with the slaves," when we had never thought of such a thing. The seed of Ham, which is the seed of Cain descending through Ham, will, according to the curse put upon him, serve his breth ren, and be a "servant of servants" to his fellow creatures, until God removes the curse; and no power can hinder it. These are my views upon slavery. I will here say a little more upon this point. The conduct of the whites towards the slaves will, in many cases, send both slave and master to hell. This statement comprises much in a few words. The blacks should be used like servants, and not like brutes, but they must serve. It is their privilege to live so as to enjoy many of the blessings which attend obedience to the first principles of the Gospel, though they are not entitled to the Priesthood.

1856

George A. Smith
Journal of Discrouses Vol. 3

When the curse of the Almighty comes upon a people, it certainly is the work of generations to remove it. When Cain brought a curse upon his own head, and that of his household, his after generations bore the same curse.

The curse that came upon Canaan, the son of Ham, has extended to a great portion of the human race, and has continued to the present day.

For the last hundred years, philanthropists, who were ignorant of the order of God—of the irrevocable decrees of the Almighty—have exerted themselves vigorously to thwart the purposes of the Almighty, in trying to remove the curse of servitude from the descendants of Canaan; but their endeavors are vain and useless; it is labor lost, and answers no end, only so far as it serves to multiply the difficulties and perplexities which are arising in this generation, to bring about the great destruction of corruption and wickedness from the earth; in this way it all indirectly serves a purpose.

When God has decreed a certain way for men to be in servitude, and  has designed they shall hold that position, it is worse than useless for any man or set of men, to undertake to put them in a position to rule.

The Lord conferred portions of the Priesthood upon certain races of men, and through promises made to their fathers they were entitled to the rights, and blessings, and privileges of that Priesthood. Other races, in consequence of their corruptions, their murders, their wickedness, or the wickedness of their fathers, had the Priesthood taken from them, and the curse that was upon them was decreed should descend upon their posterity after them, it was decreed that they should not bear rule.

1860

Brigham Young
Journal of Dicscourses Vol. 7

You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind. The first man that committed the odious crime of killing one of his brethren will be cursed the longest of anyone of the children of Adam. Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race—that they should be the "servant of servants;" and they will be, until that curse is removed; and the Abolitionists cannot help it, nor in the least alter that decree. 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 favorable 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. When the residue of the family of Adam come up and receive their blessings, then the curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will receive blessings in like proportion.

 

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1865

Brigham Young
Journal of Discourses Vol. 10

The rank, rabid abolitionists, whom I call black-hearted Republicans, have set the whole national fabric on fire. Do you know this, Democrats? They have kindled the fire that is raging now from the north to the south, and from the south to the north. I am no abolitionist, neither am I a proslavery man; I hate some of their principles and especially some of their conduct, as I do the gates of hell. The Southerners make the negroes, and the Northerners worship them; this is all the difference between slaveholders and abolitionists. I would like the President of the United States and all the world to hear this.

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 nations of the earth have transgressed every law that God has given, they have changed the ordinances and broken every covenant made with the fathers, and they are like a hungry man that dreameth that he eateth, and he awaketh and behold he is empty.

The following saying of the prophet is fulfilled: "Now also many nations are gathered against thee, that say, Let her be defiled, and let our eye look upon Zion. But they know not the thoughts of the Lord, neither understand they his counsel: for he shall gather them as the sheaves into the floor. Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion, &c." God rules in the armies of Heaven and does his pleasure upon the earth, and no man can help it. Who can stay the hand of Jehovah, or turn aside the providences of the Almighty? I say to all men and all women, submit to God, to his ordinances and to His rule; serve Him, and cease your quarrelling, and stay the shedding of each other's blood.

If the Government of the United States, in Congress assembled, had the right to pass an anti-polygamy bill, they had also the right to pass a law that slaves should not be abused as they have been; they had also a right to make a law that negroes should be used like human beings, and not worse than dumb brutes. For their abuse of that race, the whites will be cursed, unless they repent.

I am neither an abolitionist nor a pro-slavery man. If I could have been influenced by private injury to choose one side in preference to the other, I should certainly be against the pro-slavery side of the question, for it was pro-slavery men that pointed the bayonet at me and my brethren in Missouri, and said, "Damn you we will kill you." I have not much love for them, only in the Gospel. I would cause them to repent, if I could, and make them good men and a good community. I have no fellowship for their avarice, blindness, and ungodly actions. To be great, is to be good before the Heavens and before all good men. I will not fellowship the wicked in their sins, so help me God.

1867

Brigham Young
Journal of Discourses Vol. 11

I have endeavored to give you a few items relating to the celestial kingdom of God and to the other kingdoms which the Lord has prepared for his children. 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 sin 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. The volition of the creature is free; this is a law of their existence, and the Lord cannot violate his own law; were he to do that, he would cease to be God. He has placed life and death before his children, and it is for them to choose. If they choose life, they receive the blessings of life; if they chose death, they must abide the penalty. This is a law which has always existed from all eternity, and will continue to exist throughout all the eternities to come. Every intelligent being must have the power of choice, and God brings forth the results of the acts of his creatures to promote his kingdom and subserve his purposes in the salvation and exaltation of his children. If the Lord could have his own way, he would have all the human family to enter into his church and kingdom, receive the Holy Priesthood and come into the celestial kingdom of our Father and God, by the power of their own choice.

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1868

Juvenile Instructor, 
Vol 3. No. 20

Amongst the many causes that have contributed to change the appearance of the human family and make mankind appear to be of different races, we must consider the blessing or curse of God the greatest of all. Then add to this, difference of climate, variety of food, entirely opposite modes of life, either civilized or savage, stationary or wandering, combined with the results of the varied religions existing among men, and we shall be able to understand why there is so great a diversity in the human family.

We will first inquire into the results of the approbation or displeasure of God upon a people, starting with the belief that a black skin is a mark of the curse of Heaven placed upon some portions of mankind. Some, however, will argue that a black skin is not a curse, nor a white skin a blessing. In fact, some have been so foolish as to believe and say that a black skin is a blessing, and that the negro is the finest type of a perfect man that exists on the earth; but to us such teachings are foolishness

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. All His prophets and apostles belonged to the most handsome race on the face of the earth — Israel, who still, as represented in the scattered tribe of Judah, bear the impress of their former beauty. In this race was born His Son Jesus, who, we are told was very lovely, and "in the express image of his Father's person," and every angel who ever brought a message of God's mercy to man was beautiful to look upon, clad in the purest white and with a countenance bright as the noonday sun.

When God cursed Cain for murdering his brother Abel, He set a mark upon him that all meeting him might know him. No mark could be so plain to his fellow-men as a black skin.

This was the mark God placed upon him, and which his children bore. After the flood this curse fell upon the seed of Ham, through the sin of their father, and his descendants bear it to this day. The Bible tells us but little of the races that sprung from Ham, but from that little, and from the traditions of various tribes, we are led to believe that from him came the Canaanites, the Philistines, the Egyptians and most of the earliest inhabitants of Africa.

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. This was probably the first portion of Africa inhabited by men after the flood, it being the nearest to the land (Asia Minor) where the ark rested and the children of Noah first settled. From Egypt the families of men gradually spread out to the southward, up the river Nile and along the borders of the Red Sea, and westward by the shores of the Mediterranean.

The pure Negro, as represented by the people of Guinea and its neighboring countries, is generally regarded as the unmixed descendant of Ham. Our engraving of a Negro is of this type. 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. But it must not be supposed that all the inhabitants of Africa are of this unmixed black class, for it is not so; some of the mountain tribes of that continent approach to nearly white. Hence, we sometimes hear travelers speak of white Kafirs, white Arabs, &c. There are also quite a number of African tribes who vary in color from olive to dark brown and reddish black. They are also as varied in their size, height and build as they are in color. We will tell you some little of two of these African races known as the Abyssinians and Kafirs.

Abyssinia lies on the east coast of Africa, immediately south of Nubia, and near the mouth of the Red Sea, opposite the southern portion of Arabia. The people who inhabit this country are of various races, from tribes nearly resembling Negroes, to others who are very much like Bedouin Arabs. Some of these latter people claim to be descended from the Hebrews. We do not put much trust in this story, though King Solomon doubtless traded with them, as he established a port to carry on commerce with Africa at the northern extremity of the Red Sea. It is certainly possible that some of the Jewish traders settled in Abyssinia, and forgetful of the law of Moses, married some of the dark-skinned daughters of the land, who have the reputation of being very beautiful and finely made. In later days, after the captivity in Babylon, some of the returned Israelites may have wandered into Africa, as it is almost certain they did soon after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans and the scattering of the Jews. It is however, much more probable that the greater portion of those people are the offspring of a mixed race of Arabs and of a darker people, kindred to the Negro. Traces of Arab customs, traditions, and words are prevalent all over Africa except in its extreme South-western borders. The Arabs were great wanderers and traders; Abyssinia and Nubia lie opposite their native land or the other side of the Red sea, which was by no means difficult to cross. Many of them doubtless settled on the African shore, and not being restrained by the Mosaic law of marriage, freely mixed with the people and permanently established themselves in the country. When Mohammed came, and his followers compelled adherance to their faith at the edge of the sword, Africa became the field of many of their semiwarlike, semi-religious missions. This overnnning of the country by these foreigners no doubt produced a great change in the appearance of the people, and a number of races rose up from Arab fathers and Negro mothers whose children now form a great portion of the inhabitants of the Barbary States, Nubia, Abyssinia, the north-western coast as far south as Senigambia, and of the people inhabiting the borders of the Atlas mountains.

This is all the more probable as far as the Abyssinians are concerned, as the nearer the coast these people dwell, the nearer they approach the Arabs in type ot features and general appearance, while the more inland tribes approach nearer to the Negro race.

The next people we will allude to are the Kafirs. They appear to have originally dwelt in some of the central regions of Africa near the equator, from whence they have been gradually spreading southward; as, since the discovery and settlement of southern Africa by European nations, these people have advanced considerably further southward than they were originally found by the early navigators. In this march southward they appear to have swept before them or engulfed the earlier inhabitants of the country, who are best seen, at the present time, in the abject Bushmen and Hottentots of the British Colony in the Cape of Good Hope. In the Kafir races are sometimes included the people who inhabit Zanzibar and Mozambique on the east coast of Africa, as also many inland tribes, in addition to the tribes of South Africa more especially known as Kafirs. If we include all these people in the Kafir race, we have a great diversity of appearance and color, from almost a negro blackness to a light shade of brown. The difference of climate in the vast extent of teriitory in which they dwell may in a great degree account for this. In strength, activity and mental capacity they are certainly ahead of the Negro, and their knowledge of certain Mohammedan and Jewish rites, as circumcision and cities of refuge, is held to be a proof that they had come in contact with these people, if they did not to any extent mix with them. At any rate it helps to prove their more northern origin than modern Kafir land, as we have no idea that the soldiers of the Arabian prophet pushed their conquests anything like as far south. The religion and superstitions of the Kafirs give evidence that their acquaintance with Mohammed's doctrines was either very slight or that they have long since departed from his teachings and returned to the former heathenism, while among many of the kindred tribes of this race, dwelling further north, Mohammedanism is the prevailing faith. 

G. R.

(To be Continued.)

[Link to original source]

1868

Juvenile Instructor 
Vol. 3 No. 21

Mixed Races - The Effects of Climate

It is thus by the intermarrying of the children of the three sons of Noah, each with the peculiarities and the specialities of its race that difference of appearance first commenced among the sons of men. And these peculiarities of looks and color Were afterwards heightened and intensified by the great difference of climate and other outward circumstances surrounding each particular race developing peculiarities in one people that were never brought out in others. But the first great cause of the varieties of race among the human family is to be found in God's dealings with mankind, and in His rewards and punishments.

We have already referred at some length to the American Indians, as a people in whom is specially manifested the power of the hand of the Lord when it is laid in anger upon a people. We might also speak of the Jews as another instance of a people laboring under the displeasure of Heaven. But as their sufferings have principally consisted in being dispersed among the nations of the earth, and being persecuted and tortured by them, and as they have not mixed with the races amongst whom they have tarried, their dispersion has done very little towards altering the character or appearance of ihe rest of the human family.

Some writers deny the possibility of a mixed race of people existing for any great length of time upon the earth. They say the race would entirely die out or return in characteristics of mind and body to one of the races from which it sprung. There is a great deal of truth in this when referring to the extreme varieties of man as they now exist. We do not believe in the permanency of a race descended from people so wide apart as the Anglo-Saxon and Negro. 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. This idea, however, of white and black people intermarrying is very popular just now in New England and other parts of the United States, and foolish writers and preachers try to encourage it. This is what is called miscegenation. But because races so far separate from each other as the white man and the negro do not readily blend, it is no reason that others nearer allied in character and appearance should not do so, especially in the early days after the flood, when there was probably nothing like the difference in mankind, that exists between their descendants now. Indeed some of the most learned writers tell us, we do not know with how much truth, that new races of men have sprung up within the last two or three hundred years. Amongst the best known of these are the Griquas of South Africa, descended on one side from the native Hottentots, and from the early Dutch colonists on the other. The Griquas occupy the banks of the Orange river for the space of about seven hundred miles, and their numbers were estimated, some years ago, to be at least five thousand souls.

Then again there is a tribe of people living in Brazil, who are known by the name of the Cafusos. These people sprang in the first place from a mixture of the native Americans with the Negroes imported from Africa. Their appearance is said to be one of the strangest that can be met with. They are slender and muscular, of a deep copper color, with an oval countenance, black eyes, high cheek bones, but not so broad a face as the native American. But their hair is the strangest thing about them. It combines the woolly hair of the Negro with the stiff, long, black hair of the Indian. This causes it to stand out all around the head, almost straight up for a foot or a foot and a half, curling considerably, esjiecially at the ends. It looks more like a big mop than any other thing it can be compared to. There is another race dwelling in New Guinea that boasts a head of hair agreeing exactly with that of the Cafusos. They are called Papuans, and are supposed to be descended from the Malays and the black tribes known as the Pelagian Negroes who inhabit those parts.

We must now consider the effect of climate on men and women in changing their appearance and color. Some have thought that climate had all to do in making the skin of a man black, white or red. This cannot be so from the fact that many comparatively fair races dwell in the hottest regions of the earth, while some very dark races live in temperate or cold countries. We, however, must believe this much, that people of the same or kindred races who have in different climates will be fairest in the coolest portion of their country, and darkest in the hottest parts, that is, if those warmest parts lie within the tropics. But we have nothing to prove that a hot climate will change a European into a Negro, nor a cold climate turn a Negro into a fair-skinned, light-haired being, nor will it so affect his descendants, no matter how many hundred years they may live in this new climate.

You have no doubt all noticed that in summer when your fathers or brothers have been working some time on the farm or in the kanyons, that their faces and hands become darker than those portions of their bodies not exposed to the action of the sun. We then say they are tanned or sunburnt. When winter comes and they stay in the house this wears off and the skin regains very much of its natural color. If they were working all the year round exposcd to a hot sun, they would undoubtedly continue sunburnt; but this is about all the effect the sun would have on the color of their skin. And this difference we find in kindred races who live in different climates. Thus, the people of Northern Europe— the Swedes, Danes, Saxons, etc.,— have generally fair skins, light blue or grey eyes and flaxen hair; while the people of Southern Europe— the Spanish, Italians, Greeks, etc.,— have darker skins and black or brown hair and eyes. It is so also with the Arab tribes; those living in the the low, hot valleys are nearly as black as Negroes, whilst those whose homes are in the higher and cooler regions are often as fair as Spaniards or Portuguese. Go to Hiudostan; there you find the same variation. Many of the hill tribes are quite light, while the people who live on the sea coast or the adjacent islands approach the Negro in color. Journey further east, land on the Philippine Islands; they are no further south than Hindostan, yet the people have the black skin, thick lips, flat nose and woolly hair of the African Negro; in fact, as far as appearance is concerned, are Negroes of the blackest dye. Now let us travel northward until we reach the Aleutian Islands. We are now as far north as Labrador. On these islands we discover a race of people of about the same color as the Indians of these valleys, and apparently belonging to that family of men. If we travel westward we come to Kamtschatka and Eastern Siberia; here we find the people olive-colored, very much resembling the Chinese in features and color; that is, they would be very much like them it they could be persuaded to wash the grease and paint off their faces and comb their hair. But we presume that would be too great a sacrifice of established custom to persuade many to make. Traveling still further westward we at last reach Europe; here in the same longitude, though in a warmer climate, we find some of the fairest people on the earth — the races inhabiting the shores of the Baltic Sea and surrounding country.

We presume most of you are aware that the coldest portions of the earth are its extreme north and south; that is, the parts bordering on the north and south poles. Traveling gradually to the middle of the world, either south from the north pole or north from the south pole, we find it is getting warmer every hundred miles, until we are half way between the two poles. There we are in the very hottest climate — in what is called the torrid zone. Zone means a belt or band. Those coldest portions near the poles are known as the frigid zones, and between the frigid and the torrid zones lie the temperate zones, where there is neither the extreme heat of the torrid, nor the severe cold of the frigid zones. Now, although we have said that climate has not everything to do with changing the color of people, yet it has a good deal to do with increasing the difference between different races, or families of the same race who live far apart. It is well known that the torrid zone is the principal seat of the black races of men. It is the natural home of the Negro. While the regions remote from this burning zone are the dwelling places of the white races; while the climates approaching the tropics are generally inhabited by nations who are neither of the darkest nor of the fairest complexion, but between the two. To this observation may be added that high mountains and countries of great elevation are generally inhabited by people of a lighter color than those where the level is low, such as sandy or swampy plains on the sea coast. Still, from the fact of races as light as many or the Polynesian Islanders, and the Indians of south America dwelling in the very hottest parts of the earth we must come to the conclusion that it is not climate alone that has made the Negro what he is, but must ascribe it to the reason already given: that it is the result of the race suffering the displeasure of Heaven. 

G. R.

(To Be Continued.)

[Link to original source]

1872

Brigham Young
Journal of Discourses Vol. 14

We are here as a human family. Bless your hearts, there is not one of us but what is a son or daughter of Adam and Eve, not any but what are just as much brothers and sisters as we should be if born of the same parents, right in the same family, with only ten children in the family. It is the same blood precisely. I do not care where we come from, we are all of this family, and the blood has not been changed. It is true that a curse came upon certain portions of the human family—those who turned away from the holy commandments of the Lord our God. What did they do? In ancient days old Israel was the chosen people in whom the Lord delighted, and whom he blessed and did so much for. Yet they transgressed every law that he gave them, changed every ordinance that he delivered to them, broke every covenant made with the fathers, and turned away entirely from his holy commandments, and the Lord cursed them. Cain was cursed for this, with this black skin that there is so much said about. Do you think that we could make laws to change the color of the skin of Cain's descendants? If we can, we can change the leopard's spots; but we cannot do this, neither can we change their blood.

1882

John Taylor
Journal of Discourses Vol. 22

The flood came and destroyed the unrighteous, and their spirits were confined in prisons, as they are termed. And I think I hear the devil laughing, as some of them did when we were driven away from our homes, thinking that "Mormonism" had gone to perdition. But we live yet, and they were mistaken; and so was the devil. For although they were destroyed in the body, yet when Jesus came and was put to death in the flesh, yet quickened by the spirit, he went and preached to the spirits in prison that were disobedient in the days of Noah. And then the devil put on a long face and said, I imagined I had got rid of these fellows, but they are going to have a chance yet that I did not think of. 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, and be governed by it or not according to their wishes and abide the result; and that those who would be able to maintain correct principles under all circumstances, might be able to associate with the Gods in the eternal worlds. It is the same eternal program. God knew it and Adam knew it.

[Link to original source]

1920s-30s

1924

Improvement Era
Vol. 27 No. 6

The Negro and the Priesthood

The question arises from time to time in regard to the negro race and the Priesthood. Such a question has been received and the writer says: "The belief prevails to a considerable extent that when the plan of redemption was laid before the spiritual hosts in heaven, that one-third remained neutral, also that from this source the negro race sprung. Are there any scriptural proofs, that will substantiate such a belief?"

We know of no scripture, ancient or modern, that declares that at the time of the rebellion in heaven that one- third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral. This thought has developed from the fact that the Lord states that one-third of the hosts of heaven rebelled and were cast out with Lucifer and became the devil and his angels. Doc. and Cov. 29:36-38.

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. However, in the Pearl of Great Price, we find the following statement written by Abraham: "Now this first government of Egypt was established by Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham, and it was after the manner of the government of Ham, which was patriarchal. Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, 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, Abraham 1:25-26.

President Brigham Young, in a discourse given in 1855, speaking of the negro said: "It is their privilege to live so as to enjoy many of the blesings which attend obedience to the first principles of the gospel, though they are not entitled to the Priesthood." Journal of Discourses, 2:184.

That one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral and therefore were cursed by having a black skin, could hardly be true, for the negro race has not constituted one-third of the inhabitants of the earth.

It is a reasonable thing to believe that the spirits of the premortal state were of varying degrees of intelligence and faithfulness. This thought is conveyed in many passages of scripture, such as Acts 17:24-27; Deuteronomy 32:8; Abraham 3:19-26. However, to dwell upon this topic and point out certain nations as having been cursed because of their acts in the pre-existence, enters too much on the realm of speculation. Therefore, let it suffice that the negro is barred from the Priesthood and the reason some day we may understand. 

— Joseph Fielding Smith.

[Link to original source]

1931

Joseph Fielding Smith
The Way of Perfection

"This doctrine did not originate with President Brigham Young but was taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith. At a meeting of the general authorities of the Church, held August 22, 1895, the question of the status of the negro in relation to the Priesthood was asked and the minutes of that meeting say: ‘President George Q. Cannon remarked that the Prophet taught this doctrine: That the seed of Cain could not receive the Priesthood nor act in any of the offices of the Priesthood until the seed of Abel should come forward and take precedence over Cain’s offspring."

[Link to original source]

April 1939

George F. Richards
Of the Quorum of the Twelve
April General Conference

The negro is an unfortunate man. He has been given a black skin. But that is as nothing compared with that greater handicap that he is not permitted to receive the Priesthood and the ordinances of the temple, necessary to prepare men and women to enter into and enjoy a fulness of glory in the celestial kingdom.

What is the reason for this condition, we ask, and I find it to my satisfaction to think that as spirit children of our Eternal Father they were not valiant in the fight. We are told that Michael and his angels fought, and we understand that we stood with Christ our Lord, on the platform, "Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever." I cannot conceive our Father consigning his children to a condition such as that of the negro race, if they had been valiant in the spirit world in that war in heaven. Neither could they have been a part of those who rebelled and were cast down, for the latter had not the privilege of tabernacling in the flesh. Somewhere along the line were these spirits, indifferent perhaps, and possibly neutral in the war. We have no definite knowledge concerning this. But I learn this lesson from it, brethren and sisters, and I believe we all should, that it does not pay in religious matters, matters that pertain to our eternal salvation, to be indifferent, neutral, or lukewarm.

1940s

Lowry Nelson Letters

Letter 1

THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER DAY SAINTS 

Office of the Heber Meeks 

Mission President Southern States Mission 

485 North Avenue, N. E. Atlanta 5 Ga

 June 20, 1947 

Doctor Lowry Nelson University of Minnesota Minneapolis, Minnesota 

 

Dear Lowry: 

A short time ago at the request of the First Presidency I visited Cuba in view of doing missionary work on that island. While there I met Mr. Chester W. Young who was in Havana representing the Nation Office of Vital Statistics Pan-American Sanitary Bureau. He was very helpful to us and in the course of our conversation I learned that he was very well acquainted with you and wished to be remembered to you. We found both his wife and him to be very delightful and charming people. 

He advised me that you spent some two years in Cuba making a study of rural communities. Your study there would be very helpful to us. I would appreciate your opinion as to the advisability of doing missionary work particularly in the rural sections of Cuba, knowing, of course, our concept of the Negro and his position as to the Priesthood.

Are there groups of pure white blood in the rural sections, particularly in the small communities? If so, are they maintaining segregation from the Negroes? The best information we received was that in the rural communities there was no segregation of the races and it would probably be difficult to find, with any degree of certainty, groups of pure white people. 

I would also like your reaction as to what progress you think the Church might be able to make in doing missionary work in Cuba in view of, particularly in the rural section, the ignorance and superstition of the people and their being so steeped in Catholicism. Do you think our message would have any appeal to them? 

My observation, and we made some very fine contacts with outstanding leaders in many of the fields of activity, was that in the urban communities there are groups to which we could make an appeal, particularly with the youth program of the Church. Many of the leaders expressed themselves that there was a great need for such a program as our Church has, in their communities. 

I assure you I will deeply appreciate any information you can give me along the lines as indicated. 

With kindest personal regards and best wishes, 

I am Sincerely your brother, 

Heber Meeks (signed) 

Mission President 

Letter 2

 June 26, 1947 

President Heber Weeks 

485 North Avenue , N e E Atlanta 5 Georgia 

Dear Heber,

It is nice to have word of you after so many years . I am writing this, as you see, from our alma mater where I am teaching the first term of the summer session. A thousand memories of student days flood in upon me every day. It is pleasant to see old friends and to make new ones among those who have joined the staff since I left.

Yes, I spent a year in the Caribbean from September 1945 to September 1946. Most of my time was spent in Cuba, but I managed to get to some of the other islands as well. I have nearly completed a book about Cuba, but it will be some time before it is published. I was pleased to have word of my friend Chester Young, whom I saw in Havana and also in Santo Domingo during my year down there. 

The attitude of the Church in regard to the Negro makes me very sad. Your letter is the first intimation I have had that there was a fixed doctrine on this point. I had always known that certain statements had been made by authorities regarding the status of the Negro, but I had never assumed that they constituted an irrevocable doctrine. I hope no final word has been said on this matter. I must say that I have never been able to accept the idea, and never shall. I do not believe that God is a racist. But if the Church has taken an irrevocable stand, I would dislike to see it enter Cuba or any other island where different races live and establish missionary work. The white and colored people get along much better in the Caribbean and most of Latin-American than they do in the United States. Prejudice exists, there is no doubt, and the whites in many ways manifest their feelings of superiority, but there is much less of it than one finds in USA, especially in our South. For us to go into a situation like that and preach a doctrine of "white supremacy" would, it seems to me, be a tragic disservice. I am speaking frankly, because I feel very keenly on this question. If world brotherhood and the universal God idea mean anything, it seems to me they mean equality of races. I fail to see how Mormonism or any other religion claiming to be more than a provincial church can take any other point of view; and there cannot be world peace until the pernicious doctrine of the superiority of one race and the inferiority of others is rooted out. This is my belief.

In reference to Catholicism, while the Cubans are nominally Roman Catholic, they take the religion rather lightly. Wherever I went, I asked rural people about the church and invariably they told me that they saw the priest only once a year, when he came around to baptize the babies at $3.00 per head; like branding the calves at the annual roundup. Some families have crucifixes and other paraphernalia in their homes and carry on something of the ancient ritual, but my impression is that it means little to most of them.

The Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists have, as you know, done a great deal of missionary work in the Island, and have rendered Cuba a great service in maintaining schools, hospitals, etc.; however, they have limited their work largely to the urban centers. There is a great service to be rendered rural Cubans if the right approach were made. Mormonism is well adapted to render such service with its system of lay leadership and many activity programs. Many rural Cubans have nothing in the way of organized social life. To them, the family is the basic institution and beyond it, the neighborhood. Our Church would provide them with something very sorely needed. It would develop leadership among them, provide them with hope and aspiration, give them a feeling of importance as individuals which they have never had. They have been exploited by priest and politician; they have been led to believe that the government is not any of their responsibility and that the Church is the business of the priest and the bishop. While there is a great deal of individualism among them, they have definite and discernible feelings of inferiority when it comes to matters of leadership. 

I am talking about the white people now; the rural people are predominantly white. That is, they are as white as Mediterranean peoples are -Spanish, Italians, etc., who have been in contact with "color" for centuries. The Moors occupied Spain, you know, for seven centuries. There are no pure races; on this anthropologists are in general agreement. Of course, this does not mean that Negro blood exists throughout the white race or vice versa. There is grave doubt, however, as to the purity of the Nordic, Mediterranean, or even the Negro. Because I think our system of religious organization could serve the rural Cuban people as no other system could, I am sad to have to write you and say, for what my opinion is worth, that it would be better for the Cubans if we did not enter their island -unless we are willing to revise our racial theory. To teach them the pernicious doctrine of segregation and inequalities among races where it does not exist, or to lend religious sanction to it where it has raised its ugly head would, it seems to me, be tragic. It seems to me we just fought a war over such ideas.

I repeat, my frankness or bluntness, as you will, is born of a fervent desire to see the causes of war rooted out of the hearts of men. What limited study I have been able to give the subject leads me to the conclusion that ethnocentrism, and the smugness and intolerance which accompany it, is one of the first evils to be attacked if we are to achieve the goal of peace. I trust you will understand my writing you as I have. 

Sincerely, 

Lowry Nelson (signed) 

cc: Pres. George Albert Smith 

Letter 3

June 26, 1947 

President George Albert Smith 

47 East South Temple 

Salt Lake City, Utah 

 

Dear President Smith;

I am in receipt today of a letter from President Heber Meeks, an old school friend, copy of which I am enclosing together with a copy of my reply. It is self-explanatory. 

Perhaps I am out of order, so to speak, in expressing nyself as I have, I have done so out of strong conviction on the subject, and with the added impression that there is no irrevocable church doctrine on this subject. I am not unaware of statements and impressions which have been passed down, but I had never been brought face to face with the possibility that the doctrine was finally crystallized. I devoutly hope that such crystallisation has not taken place. The many good friends of mixed blood -through no fault of theirs incidentally -which I have in the Caribbean and who know me to be a Mormon would be shocked indeed if I were to tell them my Church relegated them to an inferior status. 

As I told Heber, there is no doubt in my mind that our Church could perform a great service in Cuba, particularly in the rural areas, but it would be far better that we not go in at all, than to go in and promote racial distinction.

I wanted you to know my feelings on this question and trust you will understand the spirit in which I say these things. I want to see us promote love and harmony among peoples of the earth.

Sincerely, 

Lowry Nelson ( signed) 

Letter 4

THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER DAY SAINTS

Office of the First Presidency 

Salt Lake City, 1, Utah 

July 1, 1947 

 

Dr. Lowry Nelson Utah 

State Agricultural College Logan., Utah 

Dear Dr. Nelson:

Your letter of June 26, addressed to President Smith, has been received. However, it did not contain a copy of your letter to President Meeks. If you will send me a copy of that letter, I shall then be in a position to bring your communication to the attention of the President. The matter is incomplete without this letter. 

Faithfully yours, 

Joseph Anderson (signed)

Secretary to the First Presidency

Letter 5

July 17, 1947 

Dr. Lowry Nelson 

Utah State Agricultural College 

Logan, Utah 

 

Dear Brother Nelson:

As you have been advised, your letter of June 26 was received in due course, and likewise we now have a copy of your letter to President Meeks. We have carefully considered their contents, and are glad to advise you as follows: 

We make this initial remark: the social side of the Restored Gospel is only an incident of it; it is not the end thereof.

The basic element of your ideas and concepts seems to be that all God's children stand in equal positions before Him in all things.

Your knowledge of the Gospel will indicate to you that this is contrary to the very fundamentals of God's dealings with Israel dating from the time of His promise to Abraham regarding Abraham's seed and their position vis-a-vis God Himself. Indeed, some of God's children were assigned to superior positions before the world was formed. We are aware that some Higher Critics do not accept this, but the Church does. 

Dr. Lowry Nelson, your position seems to lose sight of the revelations of the Lord touching the preexistence of our spirits, the rebellion in heaven, and the doctrines that our birth into this life and the advantages under which we my be born, have a relationship in the life heretofore.

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. 

Furthermore, your ideas, as we understand them, appear to contemplate the intermarriage of the Negro and White races, a concept which has heretofore been most repugnant to most normal-minded people from the ancient patriarchs till now. God's rule for Israel, His Chosen People, has been endoganous. Modern Israel has been similarly directed.

We are not unmindful of the fact that there is a growing tendency, particularly among some educators, as it manifests itself in this area, toward the breaking down of race barriers in the matter of intermarriage between whites and blacks, but it does not have the sanction of the Church and is contrary to Church doctrine.

Faithfully yours, 

Geo, Albert Smith (signed) 

J. Reuben Clark, Jr. 

David O. McKay 

The First Presidency 

Letter 6

Department of Agriculture University

Farm, St. Paul 1 

October 8, 1947 

The First Presidency Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 

47 East South Temple Salt Lake City, Utah

 

Dear Brethren:

Your letter of July 17th sent to me at Logan was forwarded here, but I had already left for Europe and so did not get it until I returned to my office September 8. I want to thank you for it, and the attention you gave me. The letter is, however, a disappointment to me, as you may surmise it would be from what I said in my letter to President Meeks.

It seems strange to me in retrospect --as it must have seemed to you --that I should have never before had to face up to this doctrine of the Church relative to the Negro. I remember that it was discussed from time to time during my boyhood and youth, in Priesthood meetings or elsewhere in Church classes; and always someone would say something about the Negroes "sitting on the fence" during the Council in Heaven. They did not take a stand, it was said. Somehow there was never any very strong conviction manifest regarding the doctrine, perhaps because the question was rather an academic one to us in Ferron, where there were very few people who had ever seen a Negro, let alone having lived in the same community with them. So the doctrine was always passed over rather lightly I should say, with no Scripture ever being quoted or referred to regarding the matter, except perhaps to refer to the curse of Cain, or of Ham and Canaan, (I went back and re-read the letter the other evening. It was difficult to find any element of justice in Noah's behavior toward Ham, since the latter merely reported to his brothers that his father was lying there in a drunken state and in a nude condition, and the other boys put a cover over him. Because Ham reported his father's condition, he was cursed. 

But anyway, I really had never come face to face with the issue until this summer. In the meantime, since my youth, I have chosen to spend my professional career in the field of the social sciences, the general purpose of which is to describe and understand human behavior. I probably should have had less difficulty with some of these problems --such as the race problem -- had I remained in agronomy and chemistry, my undergraduate fields of specialization. Be that as it may, my experience has been what it has been. As a sociologist, I have sincerely tried, and am still trying, to understand human social relations; the varied forms of organization, the processes of conflict, cooperation, competition, assimilation, why peoples and cultures differ one from another, etc. 

As one studies the history and characteristics of human societies, one soon comes to recognize certain basic principles. One of these is social change. Any given society over the years undergoes changes. It is forever in a state of flux. Some scholars have regarded such change as progress, and have even considered that progress is inevitable. Others chart the rise and fall of civilizations and think in terms of cyclical change. Others express still different hypotheses, but none of them consider society as a static entity.

Another principle which stands out as one studies the development of cultures is the tendency of institutions to resist change. Although they are established, or grow up, originally as means to the end of satisfying the needs of man, they (the institutions) tend to become ends in themselves. It seems to me that Jesus was trying to get this point over to the society of his day, when he spoke of putting new one in old bottles, and that the sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath. This was an affront to the legalism of the Pharisees, and others of similar outlook, and of course, the institutions had to be protected even at the cost of His crucifixion. 

Now, what does this add up to in my thinking? It means that (1) if one accepts the principle of cultural or social change and applies it to the Hebrews, the Old Testament history of the group is interpreted accordingly. In their early stages of development they had beliefs and practices, many of which, were subsequently supplanted by other ideas. Jehovah to the Hebrews of the Pentateuch was essentially a tribal deity. It was not until Amos that the idea of a universal God was proclaimed. and the concept of God as Love was an essential contribution of the mission of the Savior. (2) This, to me, represents "progressive revelation". It seems to me that we still have much to learn about God, and some of our earlier notions of Him may yet undergo modification. (3) The early Hebrew notion of the colored people with whom they had contact in the Mediterranean Basin, was quite naturally, that those people were inferior to themselves, a consequence of their extreme ethnocentrism.

Why did they not have something to say about the Japanese or Chinese or the American Indian? To me the answer is that they did not know these groups existed. But one can be pretty certain that if they had known about them, they would have developed some similar explanation regarding their origin to that concerning the Negro, and would have assigned them also to a position less exalted than their own.

(4) And once these things got written down –institutionalized –they assume an aura of the sacred. I refer in this respect not only to the Scripture, but to more secular documents as well –the Constitution of the United States, for instance, which many people do not want to change regardless of apparent needs. So we are in the position, it seems to me, of accepting a doctrine regarding the Negro which was enunciated by the Hebrews during a very early stage in their development. Moreover, and this is the important matter to me, it does not square with what seems an acceptable standard of justice today; nor with the letter or spirit of the teachings of Jesus Christ. I cannot find any support for such a doctrine of inequality in His recorded sayings.

I am deeply troubled. Having decided through earnest study that one of the chief causes of war is the existence of ethnocentrism among peoples of the world; that war is our major social evil which threatens to send all of us to destruction; and that we can ameliorate these feelings of ethnocentrism by promoting understanding of one people by others; I am no confronted with this doctrine of my own church which says in effect that white supremacy is part of God’s plan for his children; that the Negro has been assigned by Him to be a hewer of wood and drawer of water for his white-skinned brethren. This makes us nominal allies of the Rankins and the Bilbos of Mississippi, a quiet unhappy alliance for me, I assure you. 

This doctrine pressed to its logical conclusion would say that Dr. George Washington Carver, the late eminent and saintly Negro scientist, is by virtue of the color of his skin, inferior even to the least admirable white person, not because of the virtues he may or may not possess, but because --through no fault of his --there is a dark pigment in his skin. All of the people of India --who are not Negroes according to ethnological authority, but are Aryan --would presumably come under the Negro classification. I think of the intelligent, high-minded, clean-living Hindu who was a member of the International Committee over which I had the honor to preside at Geneva from August 4th to 10th, this year. He drank not, smoked not, his ethical standards were such that you and I could applaud him. Where should he rank vis-a-vis the least reliable and least admirable white person in Ferron? Or I could name you a real Negro with equal qualifications. 

Now, you say that the "social side of the Restored Gospel is orify an incident of it; it is not the end thereof." I may not have the sane concept of "social" as you had in mind, but it seems to me the only virtue we can recognise in men is that expressed in their relations with others; that is their "social" relations. Are the virtues of honesty, chastity, humility, forgiveness, tolerance, love, kindness, justice, secondary? If so, what is primary? Love of God? Very well. But the second (law) is like unto it.

I must beg your forgiveness for this intrusion upon your time. I realize that I am only one among hundreds of thousands with whon you have to be concerned. My little troubles I must try to work out myself. But I desire to be understood. That's why I have gone to such length to set down here the steps in my thinking. I am trying to be honest with myself and with others. I am trying to find my way in what is a very confused world. After seeing the devastation of Europe this summer, I am appalled by the sight of it, and the contemplation of what mankind can collectively do to himself, unless somehow we, collectively --the human family --can put love of each other above hatred and somehow come to a mutual respect based upon understanding, and recognize that others, although they may be different from us, are not by that fact alone inferior. Are we becoming so legalistic (after the fashion of the Pharisees) that we cannot adjust our institutions to the changing needs of mankind? Are we, as some have charged, more Hebraic than Christian? 

Sincerely Your Brother,

Lowry Nelson 

Professor Sociology 

Letter 7

November 12, 1947 

Dr. Lowry Nelson 

University of Minnesota 

Department of Agriculture 

University Farm St. Paul 1, Minnesota 

 

Dear Brother Nelson: 

We have your letter of October 8 in further development of the matter discussed in your earlier letter. 

We feel very sure that you understand well the doctrines of the Church.  They are either true or not true. Our testimony is that they are true. Under these circumstances we may not permit ourselves to be too much impressed by the reasonings of men however well-founded they may seem to be. We should like to say this to you in all kindness and in all sincerity that you are too fine a man to permit yourself to be led off from the principles of the Gospel by worldly learning. You have too much of a potentiality for doing good and we therefore prayerfully hope that you can reorient your thinking and bring it in line with the revealed word of God. 

Faithfully yours, 

THE FIRST PRESIDENCY 

 G. Albert Smith (signed)

Letter 8

May 23, 1952 

Mr. Lowry Nelson 

1075 - 14th Avenue S. E., Minneapolis 14, Minn. 

 

Dear Brother Nelson: 

Your letter "without date, addressed to President McKay, was duly received, with which you transmitted an article which you say you intend to publish. 

President McKay wishes me to say that obviously you are entirely within your rights to publish any article you wish. 

I should like to add on my own account, however, that when a member of the Church sets himself up against doctrines preached by the Prophet Joseph Smith and by those who have succeeded him in the high office which he held, he is moving into a very dangerous position for himself personally. 

Sincerely yours, 

Joseph Anderson (signed)

Secretary to the First Presidency

August 17, 1949

The First Presidency

The attitude of the Church with reference to the Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the Priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: “Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin 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.”

President Wilford Woodruff made the following statement: “The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have.”

The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.

1950s

1954

David
O. McKay

"There is not now, and there never has been a doctrine in this church that the negroes are under a divine curse. There is no doctrine in the church of any kind pertaining to the negro. We believe that we have a scriptural precedent for withholding the priesthood from the negro. It is a practice, not a doctrine, and the practice someday will be changed. And that's all there is to it."

1954

Joseph Fielding Smith
Doctrines of Salvation Vol. 1

"There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient; more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less” 

[Link to original source]

1958

David O. McKay

"We also believe in pre-existence that what we were in the world before we came here determines our position in this life and what we do in this life will determine our position in the next and so on. The Negro is very happy to receive the privilege of coming into this dispensation (this mortal existence) and recieve the blessings which are his." 

[Link to original source]

1960s

April 1969

General Conference

Let us consider some of the precepts of men that may and do cause some of the humble followers of Christ to err. Christ taught that we should be in the world but not of it. Yet there are some in our midst who are not so much concerned about taking the gospel into the world as they are about bringing worldliness into the gospel. They want us to be in the world and of it. They want us to be popular with the worldly even though a prophet has said that this is impossible, for all hell would then want to join us. Through their own reasoning and a few misapplied scriptures, they try to sell us the precepts and philosophies of men. They do not feel the Church is progressive enough—they say that it should embrace the social and socialist gospel of apostate Christendom. They are bothered that President McKay believes that "the social side of the Restored Gospel is only an incident of it; it is not the end thereof." (Letter of the First Presidency to Dr. Lowry Nelson, July 17, 1947.) They attack the Church for not being in the forefront of the socalled "civil rights movement." They are embarrassed over some Church doctrine, and as Lehi foretold, the scoffing of the world over this and other matters will cause some of them to be ashamed and they shall fall away. (See 1 Ne. 8:28.)

 

[Click here for the original source] 

1970s

Official Declaration 2

Presented in Genearl Conference

Official Declaration 2 is a doctrinal statement regarding who may hold the priesthood of God, and is now printed in the final pages of the Doctrine and Covenants. In early June 1978, the Lord "revealed" to President Spencer W. Kimball that the priesthood should be given to all worthy male members of the Church. This made the priesthood available to all worthy men and temple blessings available to all worthy members, regardless of race or color. On September 30, 1978, this declaration was presented to the general conference of the Church and unanimously accepted.

 To Whom It May Concern:

On September 30, 1978, at the 148th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the following was presented by President N. Eldon Tanner, First Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church:

In early June of this year, the First Presidency announced that a revelation had been received by President Spencer W. Kimball extending priesthood and temple blessings to all worthy male members of the Church. President Kimball has asked that I advise the conference that after he had received this revelation, which came to him after extended meditation and prayer in the sacred rooms of the holy temple, he presented it to his counselors, who accepted it and approved it. It was then presented to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who unanimously approved it, and was subsequently presented to all other General Authorities, who likewise approved it unanimously.

President Kimball has asked that I now read this letter:

 

June 8, 1978

To all general and local priesthood officers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout the world:

Dear Brethren:

As we have witnessed the expansion of the work of the Lord over the earth, we have been grateful that people of many nations have responded to the message of the restored gospel, and have joined the Church in ever-increasing numbers. This, in turn, has inspired us with a desire to extend to every worthy member of the Church all of the privileges and blessings which the gospel affords.

Aware of the promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us that at some time, in God’s eternal plan, all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood, and witnessing the faithfulness of those from whom the priesthood has been withheld, 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. Priesthood leaders are instructed to follow the policy of carefully interviewing all candidates for ordination to either the Aaronic or the Melchizedek Priesthood to insure that they meet the established standards for worthiness.

We declare with soberness that the Lord has now made known his will for the blessing of all his children throughout the earth who will hearken to the voice of his authorized servants, and prepare themselves to receive every blessing of the gospel.

Sincerely yours,

Spencer W. Kimball

N. Eldon Tanner

Marion G. Romney

The First Presidency

Recognizing Spencer W. Kimball as the prophet, seer, and revelator, and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is proposed that we as a constituent assembly accept this revelation as the word and will of the Lord. All in favor please signify by raising your right hand. Any opposed by the same sign.

The vote to sustain the foregoing motion was unanimous in the affirmative.

Salt Lake City, Utah, September 30, 1978.

1990

March 1990

General Authority/General Conference

2007

2007

Jeffrey R. Holland
PBS Interview in 2007

Interviewer: I've talked to many blacks and many whites as well about the lingering folklore [about why blacks couldn't have the priesthood]. These are faithful Mormons who are delighted about this revelation, and yet who feel something more should be said about the folklore and even possibly about the mysterious reasons for the ban itself, which was not a revelation; it was a practice. So if you could, briefly address the concerns Mormons have about this folklore and what should be done.

Elder Holland: One clear-cut position is that the folklore must never be perpetuated. ... I have to concede to my earlier colleagues. ... They, I'm sure, in their own way, were doing the best they knew to give shape to [the policy], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong. ...

Elder Holland: It probably would have been advantageous to say nothing, to say we just don't know, and, [as] with many religious matters, whatever was being done was done on the basis of faith at that time. But some explanations were given and had been given for a lot of years. ... At the very least, there should be no effort to perpetuate those efforts to explain why that doctrine existed. I think, to the extent that I know anything about it, as one of the newer and younger ones to come along, ... we simply do not know why that practice, that policy, that doctrine was in place.

Interviewer: What is the folklore, quite specifically?

Elder Holland: Well, some of the folklore that you must be referring to are suggestions that there were decisions made in the pre-mortal councils where someone had not been as decisive in their loyalty to a Gospel plan or the procedures on earth or what was to unfold in mortality, and that therefore that opportunity and mortality was compromised. I really don't know a lot of the details of those, because fortunately I've been able to live in the period where we're not expressing or teaching them, but I think that's the one I grew up hearing the most, was that it was something to do with the pre-mortal councils. ... But I think that's the part that must never be taught until anybody knows a lot more than I know. ... We just don't know, in the historical context of the time, why it was practiced. ... That's my principal [concern], is that we don't perpetuate explanations about things we don't know.

Elder Holland: We don't pretend that something wasn't taught or practice wasn't pursued for whatever reason. But I think we can be unequivocal and we can be declarative in our current literature, in books that we reproduce, in teachings that go forward, whatever, that from this time forward, from 1978 forward, we can make sure that nothing of that is declared. That may be where we still need to make sure that we're absolutely dutiful, that we put [a] careful eye of scrutiny on anything from earlier writings and teachings, just [to] make sure that that's not perpetuated in the present. That's the least, I think, of our current responsibilities on that topic.

[Link to original source]

2013

Gospel Topics Essay 
Race and the Priesthood

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

[Link to original source]

The word "disavow" means to "deny any responsibility or support for." It is not an apology. 

2019

April 2019

General Authority

Peter M. Johnson is known on the Church's website as "the first African-American to be called as a General Authority in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." He was called to serve in the Seventy. He and his wife, Stephanie, were called as mission presidents over the England, Manchester Mission back in 2019 alongside his serving as a General Authority. 

[To learn more, click here]

2022

April 2022

General Authority

Tracy Y. Browning became the first black woman to serve in a general presidency in April of 2022. She was called as the Second Counselor in the Primary Presidency.

2023

October 2023

General Conference

In the October 2023, General Conference, Tracy Y. Browning became the first black woman to ever speak in General Conference.

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