My family has roots in the Deep South and I have many family members who still live there. If you were to drive along the lush, back roads of Alabama, Mississippi, and rest of the South, you would see cotton fields still are plentiful, just as in the days of the Antebellum South when “Cotton was King.”
The rise of the plantations saw slave owners justify their behavior through Christian principles. Slave holders saw teachings in the Bible as an important justification for what they understood to be their right to own slaves.
After the Reconstruction period, Jim Crow laws continued the institution of racism that existed until the 1960’s. If you were to visit a town in the South during that decade,such as Forest Mississippi, you would have seen one movie theater. There would be two entrances to buy something from the concession stand, one opening for whites and another for the “colored.” The whites would watch the movie from the main floor while the ‘Negro’ would watch from upstairs on the balcony floor.
Other parts of the United States also had institutional racism that created a segregated society. One of the most insidious of these were the racially segregated housing covenants.Racially restrictive covenants refer to contractual agreements that prohibit the purchase, lease, or occupation of a piece of property by a particular group of people, usually African Americans.These existed in Utah where the majority of members lived at the time.
Out of this environment sprang people calling for an end to this type of discrimination and for civil rights to break down these barriers of long held racist tactics. You might wonder, was it Church leaders? Apostles are supposed to have seeric vision and their presence on the earth are to be spokesmen for God. Did they lead the way in this fight for equality?
In August of 1963, Martin Luther King was giving his famous, “I have a Dream” that has inspired people of all colors since that historic day. The Mormon Church was continuing its ban on not allowing men of African descent to hold the priesthood and spouting racist reasons to justify their behavior.
In 1964, three civil rights workers went missing in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Their murdered bodies were later discovered. What was Mormon Apostle, Ezra Taft Benson doing during this period? He was being radicalized by the ultra conservative group, The John Birch Society. He was making statements such as this,
“The man who is generally recognized as the leader of the so-called civil rights movement today in America is a man who has lectured at a Communists training school, who has solicited funds through Communist sources, who hired a Communist as a top-level aide, who has affiliated with Communist fronts, who is often praised in the Communist press and who unquestionably parallels the Communist line. This same man advocates the breaking of the law and has been described by J. Edgar Hoover as ‘the most notorious liar in the country.’ . . .
”Would anyone deny that the President [Lyndon Johnson], the chief law enforcer in the United States, belies his position by playing gracious host to the late Martin L. King who has preached disobedience to laws which in his opinion are unjust?”
(Ezra Taft Benson, “It Can Happen Here,” in “An Enemy Hath Done This,” Jerreld L. Newquist, comp. [Salt Lake City, Utah: Parliament Publishers, 1969], pp. 103, 310)
He also said this, “the kindest thing that could be said about Martin Luther King is that he was an effective Communist tool. Personally, I think he was more than that.”
(D. Michael Quinn, “The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power” [Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1997], pp. 100, 113, 463, 471)
A series of Civil Rights laws were passed during this period. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 was to ensure the right of all to vote.The Civil Rights Act of 1960 continued this fight.The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a landmark piece of civil rights and U.S. labor law legislation that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public. There was the formation of federal agencies to help with this cause during this turbulent period.What were the Mormon leaders doing?
They were bickering among themselves with Hugh B. Brown advocating for an end to the priesthood ban while Harold B. Lee was wanting to continue with the ban and deprive Black Men of the priesthood. Lee won the argument and the ban continued until after his death.
While people were beaten on civil rights marches and Dr.King was murdered, did we get a stirring civil rights talk from our leaders? We did not. Instead, we had to settle for these words from Apostle Mark Peterson that were delivered in 1954 to Church employees.
“The discussion on civil rights, especially over the last 20 years, has drawn some very sharp lines.
It has blinded the thinking of some of our own people, I believe.
They have allowed their political affiliations to color their thinking to some extent, and then, of course, they have been persuaded by some of the arguments that have been put forth…
We who teach in the Church certainly must have our feet on the ground and not to be led astray by the philosophies of men on this subject…
“I think I have read enough to give you an idea of what the negro is after.
He is not just seeking the opportunity of sitting down in a cafe where white people eat.
He isn’t just trying to ride on the same streetcar or the same Pullman car with white people.
It isn’t that he just desires to go the same theater as the white people.
From this, and other interviews I have read, it appears that the negro seeks absorption with the white race.”
Cotton fibers occur naturally in colors of white, brown, pink and green, fears of contaminating the genetics of white cotton have led many cotton-growing locations to ban the growing of colored cotton varieties. This fact can be construed as a metaphor for the Mormon Church.
The Civil Rights workers knew change would not come on its own. Racist views still exist in the Church at all levels. Like Dr.King, I have a dream. I dream racism will be weeded out of the Church and the leaders honestly deal with the hurt that has been caused.