Journal of Discourses, 26 vols., 7:, p.291
Remarks by President Brigham Young, delivered in the Tabernacle, Great Salt Lake City, October 9, 1859.
Reported by G. D. Watt.
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 any one 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 favourable position, the children of Cain cannot receive the first ordinances of the Priesthood. They were the first that were cursed, and they will be the last from whom the curse will be removed. 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.
1 Nephi 11:8 And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me: Look! And I looked and beheld a tree; and it was like unto the tree which my father had seen; and the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.
1 Nephi 11:13 And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white.
1 Nephi 12:23 And it came to pass that I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations. (Joe Smith calls dark skinned people ugly, filthy, lazy, and perverts.)
1 Nephi 13:15 And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance; and I beheld that they were white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful, like unto my people before they were slain.
2 Nephi 5:21 For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.
2 Nephi 30:6 And then shall they rejoice; for they shall know that it is a blessing unto them from the hand of God; and their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a pure white (1830 edition) and a delightsome people.
Jacob 3:8 O my brethren, I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God.
Alma 3:6 And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren, who consisted of Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men.
3 Nephi 2:15 And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites.
Mormon 5:15 And also that the seed of this people may more fully believe his gospel, which shall go forth unto them from the Gentiles; for this people shall be scattered, and shall become a dark, a filthy, and a loathsome people, beyond the description of that which ever hath been amongst us, yea, even that which hath been among the Lamanites, and this because of their unbelief and idolatry.
Church removes racial references in Book of Mormon headings
By Peggy Fletcher Stack
The Salt Lake Tribune
Published Dec 17, 2010
The LDS Church has made subtle — but significant — changes to chapter headings in its online version of the faith’s signature scripture, The Book of Mormon, toning down some earlier racial allusions.
The words “skin of blackness” were removed from the introductory italicized summary in 2 Nephi, Chapter 5, in describing the “curse” God put on disbelieving Lamanites.
Deeper into the volume, in Mormon, Chapter 5, the heading changes from calling Lamanites “a dark, filthy, and loathsome people” to “because of their unbelief, the Lamanites will be scattered, and the Spirit will cease to strive with them.”
In both cases, the text itself remains unchanged.
Members of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe founder Joseph Smith unearthed a set of gold plates from a hill in upstate New York in 1827 and translated the ancient text into English. The account, known as The Book of Mormon, first published in 1830, primarily tells the story of God’s dealings with two Israelite civilizations living in the New World. One derived from a single family who fled Jerusalem in 600 B.C. and eventually splintered into two groups, known as Nephites and Lamanites.
Since that initial printing, millions of copies have been distributed throughout the world in more than 160 languages.
Chapter summaries were added in the 1920s, then rewritten by the late LDS apostle Bruce R. McConkie in 1981. That same year, a verse that used “white and delightsome” to describe what will happen to dark-skinned peoples when they repent was changed to “pure and delightsome.”
Critics argued the change was made to address allegations of racism, since the Utah-based faith had a racial policy that, until 1978, barred blacks from being ordained to the church’s all-male priesthood.
Not so, said Royal Skousen, a linguistics professor at Brigham Young University, who has noted every change in the scriptural text from 1830 to the present. Skousen said Smith himself changed “white” to “pure” in 1840, but left it elsewhere in the book.
“Eight other verses still use the phrase,” Skousen said. “If the [church] was just responding to sensitivities, why wouldn’t they have changed all the other ones?” (still a racist church)
A decade later, the faith’s governing First Presidency approved minor changes to some Book of Mormon chapter headings, explained church spokesman Michael Purdy.
The tweaks described above were made in several foreign editions, including Portuguese, Spanish and German translations. The original headings remained in most English editions until 2004, when Doubleday published the first trade version of the LDS scripture and implemented the editing.
Until this month, the 1981 headings remained in the church’s online version at lds.org. When the church upgraded its website, the Doubleday changes were included online. The former version will continue — for now — in the printed English versions.
“When these types of changes are made, they are rolled out to various online and print editions as they become available,” Purdy said in a statement. “A new English edition of The Book of Mormon is not scheduled to be printed at present. Since these changes are so minor, it is not necessary to include them until it is printed.”
Nathan Richardson, a BYU graduate student at the time of the Doubleday edition, noticed some changes and decided to do a side-by-side comparison.
Richardson, now a speech therapist and book designer in Orem, concluded that the changes were done for “clarity, a change in emphasis and to stick closer to the scriptural language.” (His study can be seen at ldsphilosopher.com)
Skousen, editor of a 2009 Yale edition of The Book of Mormon, sees the heading changes as a nod to contemporary readers.
LDS officials don’t want readers to focus on the kind of “overt statements about race that were in McConkie’s 1981 summaries,” he said. “There is a [personal] interpretation simply by what you choose to put in them. It’s not a question of dishonesty or trying to hide things.”
The online headings also change many words from a more archaic to a modern language, Skousen said. “Given our times, I think they did the right thing.”
To Grant Hardy, an LDS historian at the University of North Carolina in Asheville who edited a “reader’s edition” of The Book of Mormon in 2005, the changes are interesting.
“Headings do give readers a preview, a take on how to interpret what happens,” Hardy said. “The church is clearly downplaying the ‘skin of blackness.’ ”
Still, Hardy does not believe racist views are unusually prominent in the Mormon scripture.
“Even though this gets a lot of attention, there aren’t that many verses that talk about skin color,” Hardy said. “Race is not a main theme of The Book of Mormon. When it is talking about Lamanites, it is mostly cultural and spiritual differences.”
There is a “temptation to read ancient texts in terms of modern suppositions,” he said. “Probably everybody in history was racist in terms of modern America.”
Does Hardy think the Nephites were racist? Well, yes, he said, but that would not be surprising.
Downplaying that element, Hardy said, “probably fits The Book of Mormon better overall.”
Brief history of blacks in Utah
The Salt Lake Tribune
1824-26 -- Black mountain man James P. Beckwourth travels through Utah.
1847 -- Green Flake drives Brigham Young's wagon into the Salt Lake Valley. Two other black pioneers are part of the initial Mormon migration.
1850 -- Census reports 50 blacks in Utah -- 24 free, 26 slaves.
1852 -- Territorial Legislature recognizes legality of owning slaves.
1869 -- Two black military units, dubbed "Buffalo Soldiers," patrol Utah.
1890 -- Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church opens in Salt Lake City.
1890s -- Several black newspapers such as the Broad Ax and Utah Plain Dealer are launched.
1919 -- NAACP opens a Salt Lake City branch.
1921-- Mignon Richmond is the first black to graduate from college in Utah.
1925 -- Mob lynches black prisoner in Price.
1939 -- A petition circulates calling for restricting blacks to one section of Salt Lake City. The petition eventually is declared unconstitutional.
1945 -- World War II brings many blacks to Utah bases.
Late 1940s -- Ella Fitzgerald is refused by whites-only hotels in Salt Lake City.
1950 -- Ruby Price becomes the first black schoolteacher in Utah.
1963 -- The Legislature rescinds law prohibiting mixed-race marriage.
1969 -- Grover Thompson is elected the University of Utah's first student-body president.
1976 -- The Rev. Robert Harris is elected Utah's first black legislator.
1978 -- LDS President Spencer W. Kimball announces that blacks can hold the priesthood.
1984 -- Tyrone Medley is named Utah's first black judge.
1986 -- Legislation declares the third Monday of January as Human Rights Day. It later is named Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
1993 -- 600 South in Salt Lake City is renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
1996 -- Grace Sawyer Jones becomes the state's first black college president, taking the reins at the College of Eastern Utah.
2001 -- South Ogden's George Garwood us elected Utah's first black mayor.
Source: Tribune archives
Biography of early black Mormon honored
UC Santa Cruz Currents
September 11, 2006
UCSC Summer Session program manager Connell O'Donovan has won a $500 scholarship and a trip to the John Whitmer Historical Association annual conference for his biography of Walker Lewis (1798-1856), an important Boston abolitionist and early black Mormon. The conference will be in October in Independence, Missouri.
O'Donovan's biography, "The Mormon Priesthood Ban and Elder Q. Walker Lewis: 'An Example for His More Whiter Brethren to Follow,' " is slated to be published in the annual journal of the John Whitmer Historical Association this month. O'Donovan's research reveals why Mormon leader Brigham Young banned black men from becoming Mormon priests beginning in 1847. Young's actions on the issue have long been of interest among Mormon historians. The race-based ban was rescinded in 1978.
Prof's apparent link of blacks, welfare draws ire
BOISE, Idaho -- An eastern Idaho history professor who appears to link what he described as his region's low welfare recipient rate with the fact that "we don't have blacks in this area to speak of" is drawing irate reaction.
Rick Davis, a professor at Mormon-owned Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg, told The Associated Press he was quoted accurately by the Internet publication salon.com in an article about Idaho conservatives.
But he didn't intend to insult blacks, he said Tuesday.
"I can see that it might sound that way," Davis told the AP. "I didn't know I put them (the reference to welfare and blacks) so close together. That's the curse of being quoted without looking at your copy."
Members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Idaho said they're concerned about Davis's comments. They unfairly perpetuate stereotypical views of minorities and further the impression that eastern Idaho is hostile to anybody but the whites who make up 96 percent of the population, they said.
"His statements are derogatory, discriminatory and racially based," said Mary Toy, president of the NAACP in Boise. "When you make blanket statements like that, you've got to make sure, number one, your facts are correct, and two, that you're not singling out a group of people, whether it's race-based, religious-based or politically based."
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, just 0.6 percent of Idaho residents are black. In Madison County, where Rexburg is located, it's just 0.3 percent.
In the salon.com article, author Tim Grieve characterizes Rexburg as the nation's most conservative region. He describes signs outside apartments advertising "Approved housing for young ladies" and the difficulty of getting a drink in a town where liquor-by-the-glass has been banned since 1947.
Davis, who has taught in Rexburg for three decades, told Grieve why he thought so many people in the area are likely to remain loyal to their conservative roots in the upcoming November election.
"Rexburg Mormons" - "so red that you just bleed," Davis said - aren't to be confused with "Boston Mormons," his description of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints members from outside the Rocky Mountain West who may be more liberal.
Rexburg's population has "a very high education level... a very high income level," Davis told salon.com.
"That equates with being conservatives," he said. "We're fiscally aware of where the money comes from, and that it doesn't grow on the great tree in Washington. We don't have any welfare state in this area at all. We don't have blacks in this area to speak of. We've had them, and they've come and gone. Not to say they were driven out; they've just felt uncomfortable because there aren't enough of them - like you and me moving to Montgomery, Ala."
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average median income in Madison County is about $32,000 - some $7,000 less than the average for the state. And just 24.4 percent of residents older than 25 have college bachelor's degrees, only slightly higher than the 21.7 percent average for the rest of the state, the Census reported in 2000.
In addition, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is active in eastern Idaho. In Rexburg, for instance, the number of recipients of a taxpayer-funded program that feeds poor mothers and their kids has risen about 80 percent since BYU-Idaho five years ago became a four-year school and began attracting more families, Idaho's District 7 Health Department said.
BYU-Idaho President Kim Clark, dean of the Harvard Business School in Boston before coming to Rexburg in 2005, couldn't be reached for comment.
Marc Stevens, a spokesman for the 13,500-student school, said officials have spoken with Davis.
He faces no official reprimand, though his comments are a "concern," Stevens said.
"The university has a clear policy on political neutrality," Stevens said. "Employees are free to share opinions, that's a basic right. But when their name is connected to the university, that's where it gets a little difficult."
One black university student in eastern Idaho said she was shocked by the article.
"My mouth is open," said Katrina Vollbrecht, a student at Idaho State University in Pocatello and former president of the NAACP chapter there, adding she was amazed that Davis, "who supposedly is well-educated, said this."
Blacks in the LDS Church
New film and revived group help many feel at home in their church
By Peggy Fletcher Stack
The Salt Lake Tribune
Darius Gray has been answering
the same question for 40 years: Why would an African American join the LDS
Church, which didn't allow blacks to be priests in its all-male lay clergy until
The calls keep coming from blacks and whites in every state, in and out of the church. And, with the ease of Googling, it's virtually guaranteed that any person of color will be well-aware of Mormonism's former racial policy.
The Rev. Al Sharpton and others already have raised the issue in Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, with questions about the candidate's participation in a church that was once restrictive against blacks.
Gray, the gentle author and businessman who led the Genesis Group for African-American Mormons from 1997 to 2003, has become a kind of helpline. He and others in the group have counseled privately with hundreds of black members and responded to media queries. He and Margaret Blair Young co-wrote a trilogy, tracing the history of blacks in the LDS Church.
While the issue may never be conclusively put to rest, Gray and Young hope the documentary film they've been working on for four years will add important context and move the conversation forward.
"Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons," due to be completed in August, explores the African-American presence in the LDS Church from its earliest days and confronts the hard issues that surfaced in the most turbulent years of the civil-rights movement of the 1960s.
It discusses the 1978 revelation ending the ban and describes the lives and challenges of modern black Mormon pioneers. It includes never-released footage of interviews shot in 1968 and many rare archival photographs as well as interviews with members, social scientists, clergy and historians.
"This is not a sanitized nor a bitter piece. We are neither proselytizing nor bashing," Gray said this week. "We present it in a balanced fashion. Some blacks and whites remain in the church; others have left over this issue."
The film is a chance for contemporary black Mormons to "share their joys, excitement, sadness and struggles," he says. "We live with the perception of a racist institution. Our stories dispel that notion and add to the fabric of Mormon culture."
Understanding the past
Jerri Harwell joined the LDS Church in Detroit in 1977 and was denied in her attempt to serve a mission until after 1978. For 30 years, she has reached out to other black members, helping sustain their faith and understand their importance to the church.
In the past few years, Harwell has delighted audiences at parades, schools and This Is the Place Heritage Park on Salt Lake City's east bench with her portrayal of Jane Manning James, an early black Mormon convert.
Unlike several black men who accompanied Brigham Young to the valley, James was not a slave. She was a strong, determined, independent woman, convinced that God directed her toward The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In the early days of the church, there was no official policy forbidding blacks from holding the priesthood. Mormon founder Joseph Smith publicly opposed slavery and ordained at least one black man, Elijah Abel.
But after Young took over the fledgling faith, he attached to it prejudices, common in America at the time, that blacks were inherently inferior. No longer were men with even a drop of African blood allowed to be ordained to the priesthood, which otherwise was available to virtually all males starting at age 12. (Women of any race are not ordained in the LDS priesthood.) Black men and women could be members, but not hold any significant positions. They couldn't be leaders, serve missions or be married in one of the faith's temples.
The policy mirrored American views until the mid-20th century, with the rising of America's civil-rights movement. In the 1960s and '70s, LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University in Provo faced protests from other schools, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was the target of boycotts around the nation.
In response, Mormon leaders and writers sought justification in long-held teachings, some used by Christians to defend slavery.
Some taught that Africans were "cursed with black skin" as descendants of the biblical Noah's son Ham. The Bible says that because Ham saw his father's naked body, he and his descendants were cursed to be the "servant of servants."
To this, Mormons added a unique twist: that blacks were somehow "less valiant" than other races in the spirit world before this life.
In 1968, Gray was a young reporter at Mormon-owned KSL. An independent filmmaker interviewed him and three other black Mormons on "the question." The current documentary reinterviews three of the four, all of whom remain faithful.
"This is where God wanted me to be," Gray says. "Then and now."
A joyous ending
On June 9, 1978, LDS President Spencer W. Kimball announced that the church was opening its priesthood ranks to "all worthy men," including those of African descent.
The change brought a string of firsts: First black priest ordained in Utah. First black missionary. First black bishop. First black couple married in the temple. First black men ordained in Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Jamaica, Nigeria. First black general authority. Africans began joining the LDS Church in droves.
It brought relief to many white Mormons who were mortified by charges of racism leveled at them and their church. For black Mormons, however, the past is still very present. Eliminating racism is as tough as stamping out mercury. It keeps morphing into different shapes.
Danor Gerald, an actor and film student at Utah Valley State College who is helping to edit the documentary, joined the LDS Church in 1994. Growing up in Texas, Gerald knew overt racism, but he knew nothing about the church's past statements until he moved to Utah.
"I was surprised by the racist folklore that I had never heard before," he says.
Today, many black Mormons report subtle differences in the way they are treated, as if they are not full members but a separate group. A few even have been called "the n-word" at church and in the hallowed halls of the temple. They look in vain at photos of Mormon general authorities, hoping to see their own faces reflected there.
They are faithful Latter-day Saints who support the church and "Genesis gives them a sense of belonging," says Don Harwell, Genesis president since 2003.
The community of black Mormons was created in 1971 as a kind of support group, with the late Ruffin Bridgeforth as president and Gray as one of his two counselors. The group met monthly to share spiritual testimonies, sermons and socializing. After 1978, the need to gather slowly diminished and it became dormant for a decade. But in October 1996, many black members wanted to reconnect, so Genesis re-emerged stronger than ever.
Today the meetings attract some 350 people, many of whom are white families who have adopted black children. They want their children to see African Americans as leaders and role models.
"Many mistake the gospel culture for white culture," says Harwell, a counselor in his LDS stake young men's presidency. "We are examples that the gospel is more inclusive."
Similar groups are springing up in Hattiesburg, Miss., Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, Los Angeles, Oakland and Houston.
"Genesis exists to help missionaries with potential converts and new members to feel at home in the church," Harwell says. "We are always trying to help."
Unfortunately, the blacks-as-cursed belief continues to be circulated at the grass-roots level and supported in quasi-official publications such as Mormon Doctrine and the Mortal Messiah series by Bruce R. McConkie, an influential LDS apostle who died in 1985. All attempts to get the church to repudiate these notions have been rebuffed.
The official position: Only God knows the reason it took so long to eliminate the ban.
When a German television reporter asked LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley in 2002 why it took so long to overcome the church's institutional racism, he replied: "I don't know. I don't know. [Long pause.] I can only say that."
But a significant number of black and white Latter-day Saints feel it would "be helpful and morally right for the church to disavow some of the past statements," Gray says. "That would clear the way so the gospel can grow unimpeded."
He and others were pleased when Hinckley strongly condemned racist language in all forms during the church's General Conference in April 2006.
"I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ," Hinckley told the men assembled during the priesthood session of the two-day conference.
"How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible?"
Black Mormons everywhere hailed their prophet's powerful words.
"This was the most helpful statement in 175 years. Not to be greedy, but more is needed," Gray says. "I hope the uplifting, true stories of contemporary black Mormons will stand as an example of faith and perseverance for all - regardless of race."
Documentary Chronicles History of Blacks in Mormon Church
March 9, 2008
MURRAY, Utah -- Elijah
Abel, Jane Manning James and Green Flake hold a unique, but rather obscure place
in Mormon history: all three were members of their church in the mid-1800s and
all three were black.
Abel was the first black man ordained to the priesthood in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. James worked in the home of church founder Joseph Smith and followed the faith's next president, Brigham Young, across the plains to Utah in 1848. Flake came to Utah as well, but as the slave of white members. He was freed by Young in 1854.
Such stories won't remain unknown if Darius Gray and Margaret Young have anything to do with it -- they've chronicled the struggles of black Latter-day Saints in a new documentary "Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons."
"To me it's parallel with the story of African Americans period," said Gray, a black member of the church since 1964. "We talk about the black history and contributions being either lost, stolen or strayed generally and it's the same within the LDS church."
Nearly six years in the making, the film is an extension of a longtime partnership between Gray, a former broadcaster, and Young, a writing teacher at the church-owned Brigham Young University. Together the pair have written three books on black Mormons.
Wrapped in soulful black spirituals, the 72-minute film takes viewers on a journey from the days of Mormon pioneers to the 1960s Civil Rights era, when some university athletics teams refused to compete against BYU because of the way blacks were treated by the church. It ends with current black church members sharing their own stories -- good and bad.
"We're not hiding anything, we're not sugar-coating anything," said Young. "We're telling a very difficult history, but the people who are telling it have come through it."
Tamu Smith, of Provo, is one of those storytellers.
"It liberating," Smith said of sharing her struggle to fit in and find other people of color in her faith. "We don't talk about black Mormon history and it's sad. Every person in the church needs to see this."
Church history shows that founder Smith granted blacks full membership in the faith not long after founding the church in 1830. Brigham Young reversed the policy after the Saints came to Utah and blacks remained marginalized until June 8, 1978, when a revelation by then-president Spencer W. Kimball, restored the priesthood for black men.
It was a stunning change that Gray said he thought would "have to wait until the second coming for it to occur."
A player in the film in addition to his behind-camera role, Gray said black Mormons needed to tell their own story instead of letting others continue to interpret their history.
"It's important to be validated and it's important to share it with our white brothers and sisters so that can have an appreciation for who we are and from whence we've come," he said. "Part of it is sweet, part of it is bitter, but it's our story."
Young said a goal of the film, which was not produced in conjunction with the church, is to build a bridge between blacks and whites both in and out of the church.
Gray and Young have been shopping their project to film festivals across the U.S. To date it's been shown in Dallas, Detroit and San Diego, where so many turned out that festival organizers had to move the showing to a larger theater. They hope to find a distributor that will allow the film, which was funded largely through a University of Utah grant, to be widely seen.
On Saturday, the film drew a crowd of more than 100 at the Foursite Film Festival, in Ogden, Utah.
"This was very impressive," schoolteacher Tamara Lei Peters said. "There have been so many questions about black people in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It made me weep in a few places."
Peters said she knew nothing about black Mormon history before seeing the film.
David Rowe, who teaches at the Salt Lake Theological Seminary, knew the history, but said he was surprised by the film.
"I would say it was bracingly forthright about the black Mormons' struggle," said the self-described evangelical. "I didn't expect them to allow quite as much criticism along with the commendation. I expected a bit more of PR gloss, but I didn't find it overly romanticized."
Mormon Jeanette Lambert of Salt Lake City said perhaps the film can begin to heal the divisiveness wrought by the past treatment of black church members. Sadly, some old doctrines that support the idea that blacks are less than full church members are still taught, said Lambert, a hospice nurse.
"I think there needs to be a concerted effort made to acknowledge that some things were wrong. It's a part of the repentance process," said the mother of two teenagers.
Early Latter-day Saints like Abel, James and Flake, "should be some of our heroes," she said.
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Thirty years have passed, but Heber G. Wolsey still cries when he recalls the day the Mormon church abandoned a policy that had kept black men out of the priesthood.
"It was one of the greatest days of my life," said Wolsey, who was head of public affairs at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
On June 8, 1978, Wolsey was called to a secret rendezvous with N. Eldon Tanner, a member of the church's First Presidency, in a tunnel beneath the Salt Lake City temple.
He was handed a slip of paper: "The long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the church may receive the holy priesthood ... without regard for race or color."
"I started to bawl," Wolsey recalled, his eyes again welling with tears. "It's something we'd all been praying for a long, long time."
Latter-day Saints will mark the 30th anniversary Sunday with an evening celebration of words and music in the Salt Lake City Tabernacle.
Heralded as a revelation from God to church President Spencer W. Kimball, the four-paragraph statement gave blacks full membership in the church for the first time after nearly 130 years.
Some say it was the most significant change in church policy since Mormons abandoned polygamy in 1890 to gain statehood for Utah.
Unlike other religions, the Mormon priesthood is not a set of trained clerics. It is a lay status granted to virtually every Mormon male at age 12, allowing them to bestow blessings and hold certain church callings.
Until 1978, black men could attend priesthood meetings but could not pass sacraments or give blessings, even on their own families. They could not enter Mormon temples for sacred ceremonies, including marriage.
"It left you on the outside," said Darius A. Gray, who is black and joined the church as a young man in 1964.
Gray said he learned about the restriction the day before his baptism. He was raised to value his race, and the policy went against that. But prayer and study had left him with a belief in the church that he couldn't ignore.
"So you go forward and walk through the darkness in faith," he said. "I never knew if the restriction was of God, or if it was of man, if it was just or unjust."
Early teachings and sermons by church founder Joseph Smith don't reflect a racist stance. Blacks were not denied membership, baptism or the priesthood under his leadership. Smith ordained the former slave Elijah Able to the priesthood in 1836 and sent him on a proselytizing mission.
But after Smith's death, Brigham Young reversed the policy, declaring in 1852 that blacks were the unworthy descendants of Cain and could not hold the priesthood, Mormon historian Newell Bringhurst said.
"Brigham Young cites divine sanctification and that's pretty hard to refute," said Bringhurst, who is white and the co-editor of the book "Black and Mormon."
Although Young's policy was never considered doctrine, his teachings left the church so entrenched that it was unable to change, even during the civil rights era of the 1960s and despite pressure from inside and outside the faith, Bringhurst said.
"It's a tragedy in a way," said Bringhurst, who left the Mormon church partly because of its stance on blacks. "There was this missed opportunity in the 1960s where they could have easily changed."
Labeled as racist, the church suffered years of repeated drumming in the news media and from people angered by the divisive policy, Wolsey said.
"Every day I was working with people who were highly antagonistic to the church," said Wolsey, who recalled some schools in the '60s wouldn't compete against Brigham Young University sports teams.
Prior to 1978, Wolsey and Gray spent nearly five years touring the country to answer questions about the church's position during meetings that often would spark angry, contentious words.
"I said, 'I am not a racist. I don't have any racial feelings against the blacks at all. I have a part of my belief that says the blacks can't hold the priesthood,'" Wolsey said. "Women can't hold the priesthood either; children can't. But I said I believe in the church, so I accept it."
Church statisticians don't track membership by race, but scholars believe there were less than 3,000 black Mormons in 1978.
Since then, the church has expanded its missionary work in predominantly black nations, including the Caribbean, South America and Africa, where it now claims more than 250,000 members out of 13.1 million worldwide.
There are no blacks in the senior leadership tiers of the Salt Lake City-based church. A black Brazilian, Helvecio Martins, was a member of the Second Quorum of Seventy from 1990-95. He died in 2005.
In Africa, more than 2,000 men serve in local and regional leadership posts, spokeswoman Kim Farah said.
Gray and Wolsey said the change in 1978 was good for all members of the church, not just for blacks.
"It removed an impediment that stood between the brotherhood and sisterhood that needed to be removed," Gray said. "It has allowed blacks and whites — not just blacks — to be more open about these issues, to embrace one another and to be the Christians that God intended us to be."
WORD FAITH INDEX