In the NBC Rock Center program of Mormon in America, a statement was made that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints treated blacks as second class citizens. In her segment that focused on a typical Mormon Family, Kate Snow stated this:
Remember as late as 1978, Black Mormons were second class citizens. Banned from the priesthood and barred from the temple.
This statement was made when Snow interviewed Al Jackson, who is an African American and an active member of the Church. Her first question to him focused on his perception of being the only “black” Mormon in a sea of white faces. His answer, simple and direct, shared that it did not bother him at all.
What, then, is the nature of the Blacks not being able to hold the priesthood until 1978? How is it that the Church would not allow any blacks to hold the higher priesthood authority? What changed their minds and why did it take so long? These are the questions that most sincere individuals that are not of our faith would like to know. The short answer is that we do not have a sufficient answer as to how and why blacks were not allowed to hold the priesthood. There are some qualified answers that may help facilitate an understanding, but these answers do not stem from or are supported as official from the First Presidency or the Quorum of the twelve apostles.
Understanding history of Blacks, Slavery and the growth of the United States
One of the best resources that members of the Church can refer their friends to is a website solely devoted to members of the Church that are of African descent. This website is blacklds.org. According to this website, one reads:
We hope to correct racial myths and misunderstandings that linger from critics of Mormonism as well as from Latter-day Saints themselves. We strive to build the Gospel vision that we are all children of God, of great and equal worth in His sight.
One of the links leads to a timeline history that provides basic details on American History, Slavery in the United States and the rise of the Mormon Faith. Some of the markers of this timeline reveal that much of the sentiment of early American society held particular views about the Blacks and Slavery.
- Slave rebellion against southern slave masters where it is estimated that 60 whites were killed and 15 homesteads were destroyed. In response, approximately 3000 whites murdered innocent African Americans as a result – their agenda to squash the rebellion.
- Baptism of Elijah Abel in 1832 and then the first Black man to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood in 1836 where he later received ordination and calling as a seventy and the first African American to serve as a “missionary” in Ohio.
- Missourians become upset with an article written by W.W. Phelps regarding Slaves being free and a Mob Manifesto is produced before the official Governor Boggs Extermination Order was established.
- Blacks were allowed to enter into the Kirtland Temple along with all other members of the Church who were considered worthy to enter (See History of the Church 2: 368-69).
- Murder of Elijah Parish Lovejoy by an angry mob because of his Anti-Slavery newspaper (which also had been destroyed many times prior to his death).
- In the same year that Joseph Smith is arrested, Baptists argue that Slavery is Biblical and in which came the birth of the Southern Baptist Convention where they viewed the inferiority of Blacks and the right to enslave them – which was repealed in 1996.
There are several other statements from a historical perspective about how social treatment of African Americans being second class citizens was more of a social issue in early American Society than that of Joseph Smith. One should also understand that the Prophet Joseph Smith himself advocated the freedom of Slaves and the error of slavery against a social norm of racism.
Many of the Church’s critics do not go so far to focus on the cultural context of American Society and Slavery and even on how such was developed. Their focus is more on producing schisms and hatred with misrepresentations of the facts than spreading the truth – as they are commonly proclaiming. Much of their criticism rests on later teachings of Brigham Young and other early Leaders who were brought up in the cultural context of American Slavery and Abolition movement. Some of these, including Brigham Young made particular statements, that today we would be even appalled to hear if someone were to make them.
To read more of this article, please clicked on this title here: Mormonism, Blacks and the Melchizedek Priesthood. It will take you to the Marysville LDS Church Examiner column where the entire article is published.