One of the themes I come back to time and again is the phrase, “by their fruits ye shall know them.” If this truly is the “True Church,” then it’s fruits should stand out from man made religious and civic organizations. It should be a blazing comet in the sideral heavens putting lesser lights to shame. If there really is such a thing as the Only True and Living Church, it should stand as a light upon a hill and be an example for all the world to see. The problem is when we start to taste the fruits of this organization, it is found wanting and often lags behind others in areas such as financial expenditures, service, kindness, and so on. Today we will examine how the leaders have treated people of color in its brief history.
When the saints arrived in what would become Utah, they had a few slaves with them. One of these was Green Flake. Green had joined the Church along with his plantation master when Benjamin Clapp shared the gospel with them. Green was eventually given to the Church as a tithing payment. How does that taste as a fruit of the restored gospel? According to some reports, he worked for brother Brigham for two years before he was granted his freedom. Go to any apologetic website that discusses this and you will see an attempt to smooth this over about how everything turned out all right in the end, as if this were some Hollywood movie with a happy ending.What happened to let every man esteem his brother as himself?
Brother Brigham has also infamously gone down in history as the one to begin the ban on men of African descent being denied the priesthood. I saw The Book of Mormon play a few months ago where they skewered the Church on this point.
“I BELIEVE that in 1978 God changed his mind about black people,” sings Elder Kevin Price in the Broadway musical The line is meant to be funny, and it is — in part because it’s true.
In a June 1978 letter, the First Presidency of the Church proclaimed that “all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color.” How nice to finally allow them to sit in the front of the bus!
Jane Manning wanted to sit in the front of the bus after she came to the Salt Lake Valley with the other saints. She petitioned the First Presidency to be endowed and sealed. They considered her request for a decade and finally she was allowed to go to the temple but had to be adopted as a servant into the Joseph Smith family through a specially created temple ceremony. Not satisfied to be an eternal servant in the Smith family, she continued to petition to receive her own temple endowment but was denied these rites during her lifetime. She was posthumously endowed by proxy in 1979. Supposedly, this means after 100 years of being a servant, she no longer has to clean Joseph’s home in the eternities. When pressed to comment if this shows racism in the Church, current sole owner of the Corporation, Thomas Monson, told our roving reporter, “All is well that ends well.” So much for having a serious conversation on this topic with him.
In Utah, African Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos suffered formal discrimination for many years. An 1898 state law prohibited marriage between a man and woman of different races, city ordinances barred African Americans from swimming in municipal pools, and laws were enacted that prohibited Native Americans from voting. In addition, discrimination occurred from restrictive real estate covenants, policies of private businesses, and patterns of residential living.
African American entertainers and celebrities who visited Utah had difficulty finding hotel rooms, and Blacks People who bought tickets to hear them perform or who went to watch movies found themselves listening and watching from the balconies of concert halls, theaters, and resorts. Salt Lake City hotels refused accommodations to Metropolitan Opera contralto Marian Anderson in 1937. In 1938, the Hotel Utah, owned by the Church, rented her a room only after she agreed to ride up in the freight elevator.
Michael Quinn said this about Utah’s racist legacy.
“For more than a century, Utah restricted African-Americans from patronizing white restaurants and hotels, prohibited them from public swimming pools, and required them to sit in the balconies of theaters. During World War II, African-Americans wearing their nation’s uniform had to sit in the balcony of Utah theaters, while German prisoners-of-war sat on the main floor with white servicemen and civilians. Utah law also prohibited marriage between a white person and a black (including persons only one-eighth Negro).
Utah’s racial discrimination did not occur by happenstance nor did it continue into modern times by accident. It was promoted by the highest leaders of the state’s dominant church. As late as 1941, Counselor J. Reuben Clark used the word [rhymes with ‘trigger’] in his First Presidency office diary. In 1944, the First Presidency authorized local LDS leaders to join ‘as individuals a civic organization whose purpose is to restrict and control negro settlement’ in Salt Lake City. A year later, LDS president George Albert Smith wrote: ‘Talked to Pres Clark & Nicholas [G. Smith, an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles] about the use of [LDS] meeting houses for meetings to prevent Negroes from becoming neighbors.’ The church president’s diary did not indicate whether he endorsed or opposed this activity, but his brother Nicholas G. Smith described it as ‘race hatred.’
In 1947, when discussing the site of the future Los Angeles temple, First Presidency Counselor J. Reuben Clark asked the LDS church’s attorney in that area ‘to purchase as much of that property as we can in order to control the colored situation.’
In 1947, the First Presidency wrote that ‘the intermarriage of the Negro and White races, [is] a concept which has heretofore been most repugnant to most normal-minded people from the ancient patriarchs till now.’
In 1953, a First Presidency secretary informed a white Mormon that ‘The L.D.S. Hospital here in Salt Lake City has a blood bank which does not contain any colored blood.’ According to presidency counselor J. Reuben Clark, this policy of segregating African-American blood from the blood donated by so-called ‘white people’ was intended ‘to protect the purity of the blood streams of the people of this Church.”
Keep in mind, these men are supposed to be Prophets, Seers, and Revelators who are inspired to run the Church and set an example for all people.The Church was organized to be a “Zion” community where the pure in heart dwell. Does this sound like a Zion community to you? Here are a few selected quotes from these supposedly inspired men on this topic.
“I do not believe that the people of the North have any more right to say that the South shall not hold slaves, than the South have to say the North shall…. the first mention we have of slavery is found in the Holy Bible…. And so far from that prediction being averse to the mind of God, it [slavery] 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.”
Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., Letter to Oliver Cowdery as found in the Messenger and Advocate, Vol. II, No. 7, April 1836.
“Cain slew his brother…. 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.”
– Prophet Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, v. 7, pp. 290-291.
“I know of no scriptural basis for denying the Priesthood to Negroes other than one verse in the Book of Abraham (1:26); however, I believe, as you suggest that the real reason dates back to our pre-existent life.”
Prophet David O. McKay, as quoted in Mormonism and the Negro, Part 2, p. 19.
“It is very clear that the mark which was set upon the descendants of Cain was a skin of blackness… 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.”
Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith, Juvenile Instructor, v. 26, p. 635.
“Let us consider the great mercy of God for a moment. A Chinese, born in China with a dark skin, and with all the handicaps of that race, seems to have little opportunity. But think of the mercy of God to Chinese people who are willing to accept the gospel. In spite of whatever they might have done in the pre-existence to justify being born over there as Chinamen, if they now, in this life, accept the gospel and live it the rest of their lives they can have the Priesthood, go to the temple and receive endowments and sealings, and that means they can have exaltation. Isn’t the mercy of God marvelous? Think of the Negro, cursed as to the Priesthood…. This Negro, who, in the pre-existence lived the type of life which justified the Lord in sending him to the earth in the lineage of Cain with a black skin, and possibly being born in darkest Africa – if that Negro is willing when he hears the gospel to accept it, he may have many of the blessings of the gospel. In spite of all he did in the pre-existent life, the Lord is willing…. to give him the blessings of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the Celestial Kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get celestial glory.”
Apostle Mark E. Peterson, “Race Problems – As They Affect the Church,” Address given at the Convention of Teachers of Religion on the College Level, delivered at BYU, August 27, 1954.
There are so many more quotes we could go over, but you get the idea. This last quote from Peterson was from one of the most racist talks you will ever read. His mindset and racism are dripping from every word. He even mentions how he is more than willing to let the Negro have a Cadillac if he so chooses. Does anyone seriously think these men speak to God or for Him? Members like to justify these leaders behavior by saying they were just men of their time and culture and are not perfect. Then what good are they? If the fruit these men produce is bitter, time to move on to fertile soil.
When we look around, we see members who do not have these coveted titles outshining the top brass of the Church in thought, deed, behavior, and insight in the area of race relations. One such person was Robert Freed.
When the Freed family and their partner, Ranch Kimball, took over the lease of Lagoon swimming pool, the terms forbade Blacks in the pool and the ballroom in accordance with a town ordinance. By the late 1940s, Robert Freed had succeeded in fully opening Lagoon to Blacks; and when his company acquired the Rainbow Gardens (Terrace), the same policy was adopted.
Another person who stood as a light set upon a hill in this regard was Stewart Udall.In the 1960’s Stewart Udall was one of the most visible Mormon government officials. He had served 3 terms as a U.S. congressman representing his home state of Arizona and in 1961, newly elected President John F Kennedy selected Udall to sit in his cabinet as Secretary of the Interior. After the death of Kennedy Udall continued to serve under President Johnson. He sent a letter to the First Presidency in 1961 inregard to criticism the Church was receiving because of racist policies. It said this.
“I am deeply concerned over the growing criticism of our Church with regard to the issues of racial equality and the rights of minority groups…but of greater importance have been the inquiries and comments which from time to time have been directed to me personally by leaders who of prominence in our Nation’s Capital.
Unquestionably, the sensitivity of the American people on this question is deepening. It is my judgment that unless something is done to clarify the official position of the Church these sentiments will become more intense and vocal, and sooner or later I fear they will become the subject of widespread public comment and controversy.
Under the circumstances –and in a spirit of humility- -I felt that I should convey my concern to you. I strongly feel that this deserves your wise attention, and I stand ready to give assistance or counsel if such should be in order.”
Stewart L. Udall
Secretary of the Interior
Their response was the typical self justification based on bigotry, cloaked in the guise of religious authority and doctrine. Mr. Udall did not stop there. He later wrote an essay published in Dialogue Magazine and sent copies to two Apostles and the Prophet.Here is part of what it said,
“For more than a decade we Americans have been caught up in a revolution in thinking about race and human relationships. The Supreme Court has wisely and effectively related the Constitution to the facts of life in the twentieth century; three Presidents and five Congresses have laid new foundations for a society of equal opportunity; most of the churches, with unaccustomed and admirable militance, have enlisted foursquare in the fight for equal rights and higher human dignity.
The whole future of the human race is now keyed to equality — to the ideal of equal opportunity and of equal civil rights and responsibilities, and to the new dignity and freedom which these would bring. The brotherhood of all men is a moral imperative that no religion and no church can evade or ignore. Enlightened men everywhere see now, as their greatest prophets and moral teachers saw long ago, that brotherhood is universal and indivisible.” He went on to call out the Church leaders for their hypocrisy in this area.
One of the Apostles, Spencer Kimball would go on to end the priesthood ban when God had changed His mind ten years later. He wrote this reply to Mr.Udall.
These days, papers and magazines are flooded with articles relating to this matter written by people relatively unknown. Most of them are rehashes. All of them show a woeful ignorance of the subject they so presumptuously attempt to treat.
I never dignify any of them with a reply or comment but you have sent me a copy of your letter to President McKay with a personal note attached. I am acknowledging that note and my brief reply is to you personally.Stewart, I cannot believe it! You wouldn’t presume to command your God nor to make demand of a Prophet of God! I wish you had edited it after fasting and prayer. I am not surprised at the Browns and the Greens and the Blacks for they perhaps do not know better but you with your background !For days now, I have deliberated long and earnestly, trying to assess a motive. It couldn’t be politics — you would not stoop to that; it couldn’t be money — you have enough for your needs. Surely, it couldn’t be for prestige and renown— you have that in great abundance. It couldn’t be hate or revenge or disloyalty, I am sure. I know you have regard for your forebears and for your people. I have kept wanting to think it was the result of a sincere but ill-advised effort in behalf of the welfare of a minority. I have tried to believe that you just did not understand.I have watched you climb to high places in the secular world. I have seen your picture numerous times in countless places. I have read many of your pronouncements and in much that you have done and said, I have been proud of you.
But my dear Stewart, neither your eminence in secular matters nor your prominence in government circles has justified you in any such monumental presumption. You are here with a little boulder in your hand, but out there beyond this earth is a sun, a galaxy, a universe. You too have clothed this whole matter in ragged, human apparel.To such presumption, I must quote the Lord:
“And thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church.” D&C 28:6
Stewart, I earnestly hope this note may be for your good. I am not angry with you. I am sorry for you.
Sincere kind wishes .
So much for having a serious conversation with him or any top leader when NO one tells them what to do. The Church operates as a top down corporation and no one is allowed to tell them they are wrong.
Another member, Douglas Wallace wanted to have a conversation with him in the 1970s about the priesthood ban. He tried to confront Mr.Kimball at General Conference and was ejected from the Tabernacle with his companions. He even ordained a man he was not supposed to to get the attention of the top brass. He was rewarded for his efforts with an appointment at a Court of Love, where he was excommunicated. So much for open and honest dialogue.
Today the Church has a trite essay on it’s website that attempts in a half hearted fashion to do away with its racist legacy.It says the leaders do not agree with past racist statements as to the reason for the priesthood ban. It does not say the ban was never inspired or apologize for racist words and actions.
“What is it you most dislike? Stupidity, especially in its nastiest forms of racism and superstition.”
― Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir
“Whoever debases others is debasing himself.”
― James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time