A carte de visite that is believed to depict Jane Manning James.

Mormons celebrate African American members and 40th anniversary of historic announcement

In June 1978, LDS President Spencer W. Kimball reversed a policy that had prevented men of African descent from holding the Mormon priesthood, and all church members of African descent from entering the temple.

Forty years later, Mormons are celebrating that revelation, as well as the contributions that black church members have made to LDS thought, art, music, and leadership.

As such, there's a whole heck of a lot going on in June, and it all kicks off tomorrow. I've tried to provide a one-stop-shopping compendium below of the events I know about, but I'm sure this list is incomplete. So if you know of public events celebrating black Mormons in June that are not listed here, could you please leave a comment about it, and I will update the post with that information? -- JKR

June 1: "Be One" Celebration

The Church will hold a huge event tomorrow night, the anniversary of the revelation being received, in the Conference Center. It promises to be a night of music and celebration, with LDS performers like Gladys Knight and Alex Boyé joining the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and top LDS leaders.

The live event is sold out (well, the tickets were free, but they are gone). However, it will be streamed live on the Church's website starting at 7:30 p.m. MT.

According to the Church's website,

While the June celebration will hail the history of black Mormon pioneers and reaffirm the reality that “all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33) in His global family, the event is intended to be much more than a celebration. It will also be a renewal of our collective commitment to pursue oneness in our relationships with each other and with heaven.

I will be running a roundtable post of reactions to the "Be One" celebration. It was supposed to go up on Saturday, but I just learned that the RNS site will be down for maintenance over the weekend, so look for it on Monday.

June 2: Black LDS Legacy Conference

From 9 to 3:30 at the Sandy Cottonwood Creek Stake Center, come hear prominent African American Mormons share their experiences and focus on the legacy of black pioneers.

There is no charge for the event. According to the website, "This is a conference for all interested communities in and outside of the LDS Church. It is focused on the experiences and voices of Black Saints, though people from all backgrounds are invited to listen, learn, and join the moving conversations we will have."

I'm kind of devastated that my flight to SLC arrives on Saturday afternoon, just as this event is closing up shop. But at least while I'm in the area I can attend . . .

Through June 9: Exhibit on Black LDS History

Significant artifacts from black Mormon history will be on display at the Church History Library, including Elijah Abel's priesthood ordination record from the 1830s, and the transcript of Jane Manning James's dictated autobiography.

The exhibit also features more modern artifacts, like conversion stories from the 1970s to the present. These demonstrate the Church's recent international reach to places like Ghana, Nigeria, and Brazil.

June 8: Publication of "Decolonizing Mormonism"

June 8, which is the anniversary of the revelation being announced to the world, will see the publication of Decolonizing Mormonism: Approaching a Postcolonial Zion, co-edited by Gina Colvin and Joanna Brooks.

According to its publisher, "this volume seeks nothing less than to shift the focus of Mormon studies from its historic North American, Euro-American 'center' to the critical questions being raised by Mormons living at the movement’s cultural and geographic margins." Look for a Q&A with the editors on this blog.

Week of June 17: Local Juneteenth Celebrations

I've heard of several stakes and wards who are doing Juneteenth celebrations this year, from Chicago to Dallas to Salt Lake City. Check your area to see whether and when this is happening. Normally Juneteenth celebrations are held as close as possible to June 19, but since the 17th is Father's Day some areas may hold theirs on Sunday, June 24.

June 18: Showing of "Nobody Knows"

Up in Calgary, Alberta, there will be a showing of the 2008 documentary Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons, made by Darius Gray (see below) and Margaret Young.

The event page explains that this is a local celebration and that attendees will get the chance to "hear from some members who have lived this experience in a very personal way. If time permits, we can discuss ideas of what moving forward could look like."

The event is free, but the organizers request a food bank donation.

June 29-30: Black, White, & Mormon Conference

This conference, held at the Salt Lake City public library, will focus on race in the LDS Church since the 1978 revelation.

Keynote speaker Darius Gray (a pre-1978 convert to Mormonism and an amazing thinker and person) will lecture on a "54-year journey towards racial equality in the Mormon Church" on Friday evening, and then Saturday will be taken up with various panels.

A detailed description of the panels and the culminating cultural celebration can be found at the University of Utah website.

And coming up soon . . .

The motion picture Jane & Emma will release this fall, focusing on the relationship between Emma Smith and Jane Manning James. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the filmmakers got the idea from a line in a historic diary that said when the Saints went west, "it was hard to tear Jane and Emma apart."

Comments

  1. Many of those events sound interesting.

    One of my friends asked ‘why would you even celebrate that anniversary?’ but I’m more inclined to ask Why wouldn’t you celebrate it?

  2. Probably because it should have come 100 years before it did, meaning it was not a “revelation”, but an embarrassing shame of foot-dragging?

  3. I think it *does* take a certain amount of courage by the LDS “church” to (in effect) draw attention to a situation from prior to 40 years ago. (Even if the idea of change as a result of a “revelation” is a ridiculous lie, on its face.)

    That said…I’d love to know if racism/race hatred/etc is regarded as a serious sin by the LDS “church”.

  4. Hey, in a few months we’re coming up on the 16-year anniversary of the Catholic Church finally admitting that Galileo was right (350 years after the fact). Maybe that deserves a milestone celebration too.

  5. This is all the usual smoke and mirrors of the LDS Church. While the 40th Anniversary of the Priesthood “Revelation” is itself noteworthy, the Church is making such a big deal out of it, so as to hide the skulduggery of rewriting LDS history and doctrine to try to sweep past racism under the carpet. It’s like the last time that I took the Beehive House tour back in the late 1990s when my children were young; the Brigham Young estate historical docents went out of their way to downplay the fact that Young was a polygamist and that the Beehive House itself was his harem house. When I was a kid, docents at the mansion made no effort to hide the polygamy and had no shame in it. I can only wonder how very PC tours at that place are nowadays, given the current effort to put “white face” on the past racism of Mormonism as the real reason to “celebrate” the 1978 Priesthood “Revelation.” But if Mormons were “never” racists on the issue, why did it take a “revelation” to end a mere “policy” that was itself a “mistake?”

  6. Indeed. That is one of the many reasons the LDS leadership is not thrilled about Mormons studying their own history–unless, of course, such history is in books or articles that have been written by devout–and of course, vulnerable–Mormons, and approved by the hierarchy.

  7. There are many who say that this revelation came about to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit in the same way the polygamy revelation came about. Only this time the very wealthy LDS Church had much more to lose.

  8. Perhaps. I am a skeptic of any “revelation” from any person, past or present (including some New Testament writers), who claims to be tangentially following Jesus, except one. The main revelation from Jesus was that we are to be loving our neighbors or actively trying to love our neighbors ABOVE everything else. Who are the neighbors? All people, of course. (Arguably animal life as well—-but that’s another subject.) Man, o man, why have organized religions resisted this so? The Mormons are quirky for sure, but we needn’t pick on them too much, when we know that most of organized Christianity has a questionable history. Shouldn’t have been. We’ve had the one “revelation” we needed for 2000 years

  9. Until they change JoD V10 : 110 I’d say no.

  10. I found the lds.org page re Journal of Discourses, but I was unable to find a way to bring up any specific volume/page/etc from JoD.

    HAHAHA–what a surprise.

    The LDS “church” not only discourages members from reading “:too much” unapproved material, it’s clear to me that it discourages *thinking* about certain topics.

    Given the way the LDS “church” operates, I’m not gonna hold my breath regarding any changes.

    HOWEVER, years ago I did something very interesting. There was a book titled “Encyclopedia of Mormonism”, something like that, by Bruce McConkie. It had quite a vicious, idiotic section on “Negroes” (1962 or so). The following year, that volume had been replaced, by one published post-1978, and of course the idiotic stuff McConkie had written, had disappeared.

    I have no doubt that (a) most remaining Mormons are brainwashed (esp. younger ones), and (b) the Internet is not good for the LDS “church” (or, of course, for that matter, any authoritarian, lying organization).

  11. I think it will make a great banner to hang over the event: “Church of LDS: Treating Blacks as Fully Human For Nearly 40 Years!”

  12. I turned 18 in December of 1972, so if occurred the previous spring when I was a junior in high school and active in Explorers, it would fit, but that’s still 6 years before the revelation. My Institute of Religion instructor was a big fan of Bruce R McConkie (1973-1976 for my JC pre-mission years). Religion classes were a big part of the local “pray the gay away” plan for me. I was a freaking “Encyclopedia of Mormonism” by the time that they let me put in my papers for a mission. And then I had the infamous 3rd interview with a General Authority before my papers went in. With all of that, it was just a bit ironic when I met an indigenous shaman in Mexico on my mission, was blessed by him and given his clairvoyant vision of me. He told me that I was of two spirits, like him, that shamanism ran in my blood and bloodline. Great shamans came before me and would come from me. I put all of that aside in my head until my youngest son told me as a young adult that he was going to become a shaman. Through him I learned that several of my less active Mormon cousins were also shamans. Even more ironic, my shamanic blessing and Mormon Patriarchal Blessing aligned on that issue, if you accept “natural spiritual teacher” with the “gift of Knowing” in the Mormon blessing for “two-spirit natural shaman” in my shamanic blessing. Anyway, all of that is pretty intertwined for me with the whole LDS Priesthood Revelation, since it was all very synchronistic for me, given my unusual liberal Mormon background and personal story.

  13. Thank you.

    AFAIK, LDS scripture has numerous examples of racism. Not only that, but of course Bring’Em Young, and Ezra T Benson were notorious racists.

    So it’s reasonable to ask “gee, how come god didn’t condemn racism prior to 1978?”

    (And of course, there is that little matter of the LDS belief that the Constitution was somehow “god-inspired”–complete, of course, with that “3/5ths” part….)

  14. The McConkie book was called “Mormon Doctrine.” Even at the time of its original printing it was controversial, not just with regard to blacks but also as to topics like the Roman Catholic Church and psychiatry.

  15. This seems like another way of saying they waited until the zeitgeist was firmly on the side of integration to make their decision.

  16. I thought you don’t profess to know the mind of God.

  17. Sorry, the Colorado story does not support what you’re using it for. The genetic study found that a group of Native Americans that moved from Mexico to Colorado about 200 years ago shared the BRCA1 mutation, prevalent in Ashkenazi Jews (those of Central and Eastern European descent), that causes breast cancer. It is the researchers’ theory that a group of Ashkenazim expelled from Spain in 1492 reached Mexico and intermarried with the indigenous population, which eventually moved to Colorado. The existence of the BRCA1 mutation is inconsistent with the Mormon timeline, in which a group of Israelites would have left Jerusalem around 600 BCE, shortly before the Babylonian conquest. Because the mutation is only seen in Ashkenazim, and not, for instance, Mizrahi Jews from Arab and Muslim lands, it likely developed significantly post-600 BCE.

  18. Do you mean the Council of Jerusalem that in the first century CE eliminated the Jewish dietary laws and circumcision as requirements for Gentiles to join the Church? I don’t see it as all that different from the 1978 revelation, I just think it was for practical reasons.

  19. Gee, whatta surprise….

    I’ll give a compliment to the Mormon “church”: it is absolutely brilliant when it comes to social engineering…..

  20. How I heard it was the 3/5ths of a person part was about how they distiributed voting power. If they counted as whole persons for the vote, ironically it could have helped entrench slavery. The south wanted their slaves to count as whole persons under the law, giving them greater voting power (for the white me in the south). It would have been the north who objected to counting them as whole. (could be wrong, I haven’t really looked into it).
    For now, let’s just say that was all true. Would you perfer that the 3/5ths of a person statement never came out, and that slavery had deeper entrenchment? Or do you perfer living knowing we once had that disgusting statement, and that it lowerd the leverage of a group of states who wanted to continue slavery?

    Now concerning blacks and the priesthood, as a believer I don’t know why the revelation was there. But as a (I’m assuming) non-believer could you guarantee the safety of black and white church members would not be risked if they modeled equality of black and whites in a time of deeply embedded rasicm? Could you guarantee that that in a time of lynchings, that no one would be killed? And if people were to die, how many would you find acceptable if it’s to send the message?

    For me it’s 0.

    Now I guess it’s diffrent when you belive in God or not. With God you can say God knew things would turn out for equality, without him you can say the knowledge wasn’t there, and they should have fought for it. But then I would counter that they would be the wrong people to be allies with. The Mormon church also had a lot of animosity towards it, and it probably didn’t have a complete cross over (Plus church members or Blacks could also have had animosity towards each other). People who hated black people or church members could start to hate or lose sympathy for the other side by association ( Ever stopped listening to someone or things because of one of their/its associations?). They would probably see it as an alliance between the hated (blacks) and the degenerate (Mormons). They both had better chances on their own.

  21. I wish I had the time (and knowledge) to reply to your comments, but I just don’t.

    However, the bottom line is that

    (1) the LDS church finally admitted that a lot of the racism originated with Bring’Em Young;

    (2) Pres. ET Benson was a vicious racist (you can find his stuff somewhere), as were other LDS presidents, and of course the church has NOT acknowledged this (and afaik nor has it honored Benson by naming any sign ificant buildings, etc after him);

    (3) it tells us a tremendous amount about the LDS church that only the leaders get revelations from god–and then, at suspiciously convenient times, e.g. in the wake of the Oral Roberts decision;

    (4) there are, of course, those embarrassing racist passages in LDS scripture.

    That said….even given the racist history of the LDS church, I’ve always found individual members to be far less racist than, say, Southern Baptists. (Or maybe they just are smart enough not to mention it to others.)

  22. Thanks. You so eloquently explained the unexplainable.

Leave a Comment