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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.”

This story is available for republication.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

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