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Black Mormon History Timeline

As with many American institutions, the issue of race and the Mormon Church is complicated and confusing with both positive and negative experiences. This timeline is incomplete as it does not reflect every priesthood ordination, or even every significant issue on this topic. It is simply meant to give an overview of this complicated subject. This timeline is an adaption from the timeline located at http://www.blacklds.org/history

1830 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is organized.

1832 Elijah Abel, an African American, is baptized and given the priesthood in the church. He went on to serve three missions for the church.

1833 Jackson County Missouri locals issue a manifesto suggestion they drive Mormons from the state. One of the given reasons is Mormons are “inviting free Negroes and mulattoes from other states to become Mormons, and remove and settle among us.” The Mormons are expelled from Missouri.

1840 People of every color invited to worship at the Mormon Temple in Nauvoo, Ill.Persons of all languages, and of every tongue, and of every color; who shall with us worship the Lord of Hosts in his holy temple, and offer up their orisons in his sanctuary.”

1842 Church prophet Joseph Smith writes that slaves should be “brought into a free county and set…free—educate them and give them equal rights.”

1842 Joseph Smith writes on the subject of American slavery, “…it makes my blood boil within me to reflect upon the injustice, cruelty, and oppression of the rulers of the people.”

1844 Joseph Ball, an African American, served as president of the Boston LDS Branch.

1844 Walker Lewis, African American abolitionist and Underground Railroad activist from Lowell, MA, is ordained a Mormon Elder.

1847 The Mormons are expelled from Illinois and settle in Utah

1849 Brigham Young states, “The Lord had cursed Cain’s seed with blackness and prohibited them the Priesthood.” No explanation is given.  The “Curse of Cain” was associated with black skin and was used by several American denominations to justify racial segregation and slavery.

1852 Slavery made legal in Utah. In a speech to the Utah Territorial Legislature Brigham Young reaffirms that blacks cannot hold the priesthood. It is unknown when or why such a policy was put in place.

1857 Federal troops sent to occupy Utah to quell the non-existent Mormon rebellion.

1861- 1865 American Civil War. Because of the known difficulties with the Federal government, the Mormons are invited to join with the Southern States but refuse.

1867 Territory constitution is amended to give suffrage to persons of color. It was ratified by an almost unanimous vote.

1869 The explanation that black suffering and priesthood exclusion comes from blacks being neutral in an angelic war in heaven is denied by Mormon prophet Brigham Young. Nevertheless, this folk doctrine continues to be taught by many members.

1879 Status of African Americans debated in Church councils.

1880 African American Elijah Able denied entrance to Mormon Temple even though he is holder of the Mormon priesthood.

1885 Mormon scholar B. H. Roberts speculates on origin of priesthood ban by citing several scriptures. This speculative explanation is quickly adopted by many Mormons.

1912 Mormon prophet Joseph F. Smith again denies blacks were neutral in pre-mortal war in heaven and issues letter on that topic. Nevertheless, this folk doctrine continues to be taught by many members.

1935 African American Elijah Abel, grandson of the first Elijah Abel ordained in 1832, is ordained an Elder in Mormon Church.

1940 Issue is studied again in Church councils.

1947 Issue is studied again in Church Councils.

1949 Official statement from Church that African Americans may be members, but “are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time.”

1954 White members allowed perform proxy temple work for ancestors of black members who are still not allowed to enter temples.

1955 Under the direction of Mormon prophet David O. McKay Melanesian blacks are given priesthood.

1958 Black Fijians are given priesthood.

1958 Mormon church leader Joseph Fielding Smith clarifies Church’s position on equality stating, “No church or other organization is more insistent than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that the Negroes should receive all the rights and privileges that can possibly be given to any other in the true sense of equality as declared in the Declaration of Independence.”

1963 Mormon Church leader Hugh B. Brown states “We would like it to be known that there is in this Church no doctrine, belief, or practice that is intended to deny the enjoyment of full civil rights by any person regardless of race, color, or creed.”

1967 Sociologist Armand Mauss surveys Mormon attitudes about race. Study shows that Mormons were no more likely to give “anti-Negro responses than were the Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, or Baptists.” The survey also shows that the Orthodox Mormons were “consistently less likely to express anti Negro attitudes” than the doubters of key Church doctrines.

1969 Athletes from the University of Wyoming refuse to play Mormon College BYU. Stanford University refuses to schedule events with BYU. Church puts out statement, “We believe the Negro, as well as those of other races, should have his full Constitutional privileges as a member of society, and we hope that members of the Church everywhere will do their part as citizens to see that these rights are held inviolate.”

1969 The Church states, “We have no racially-segregated congregations.”

1978 June, 8—It  is announced that the priesthood should be given to everyone regardless of race or linage. The ban is lifted.

1978 Mormon apostle Bruce R. McConkie states “Forget everything I have said, or what … Brigham Young … or whomsoever has said … that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.”

2006 Mormon Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley states, “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.” http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2006/04/the-need-for-greater-kindness?lang=eng

2012 Mormon Church issues official statement about race. “For a time in the Church there was a restriction on the priesthood for male members of African descent. It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago.” http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/racial-remarks-in-washington-post-article

“The Book of Mormon states, “black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33). This is the Church’s official teaching.”

“The Church unequivocally condemns racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church.”  http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/race-church

Additional resources on this issue can be found at:

From the MormonVoices Website

From the Black LDS Website

From the FAIR Wiki Website
http://en.fairmormon.org/Mormonism_and_racial_issues/Blacks_and_the_priesthood (There are a number of sub articles on this link.)

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