Burden of the Cross – Part II

Professor England was not alone in this argument.  In the late 1960s a few graduate students and Professors, most of whom were LDS established Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought as a journal to present scholarly studies of Mormon history and theology.  With this forum several of the writers presented articles critical of the ban.  The first major work was done by LDS scholar Stephen Taggart.  Taggart published an article called Mormonism’s Negro Policy: Social and Historical Origins.  The Article was supposed to be published first in Dialogue in the 1969 winter edition but Taggart passed away prior to publication.  His argument was that the ban on blacks was simply an outgrowth of the violent Missouri period in Mormon History and the common prejudices which existed at the time.[1]

In response another scholar Lester Bush published an article which used a number of sources to show that much of the folklore while present in Missouri did not become a problem for African American members until the leadership of Brigham Young in the 1850s.  These two arguments raised a spectre that past leaders, living in a world where the African Americans were treated by the whole nation wrongly were influenced by that culturally.  The idea that it was not a revelation from Joseph Smith but rather cultural influences which created the ban was a serious accusation.   It called into question the whole reason for the ban and challenged the views of various leaders of the church that the ban was received by Joseph Smith and applied as such by succeeding leaders. For the liberals the ban was now historically and doctrinally suspect.[2]

As the civil rights changes took place and the debates about the role of African Americans were being argued in the country, LDS politicians could not escape taking a position on civil rights and because of this had to confront their own church on the Priesthood ban.  Several Democratic and Republican candidates and leaders in Washington wanted a change if only to free them politically from the bad public relations the ban presented.   Stewart and Morris Udall, long time members of the church and active in the Democratic Party pleaded with church leaders to remove the ban.  Stewart served as secretary of the Interior under Lyndon Johnson and Morris would run for the Democratic nomination in 1976.

Stewart went so far as to make his opinion public through an open letter to the Church leadership published in an edition of Dialogue.  Udall said the ban, “… must be resolved – and resolved not by pious moralistic platitudes but by clear and explicit pronouncements and decisions to come to grips with the imperious truth of the contemporary world.”  For Udall this was not a question of status quo but time for radical change and recognition of past mistakes.[3]

As the Church battled critics inside and outside over the ban, a Michigan Governor named George Romney was exploring a possible run for the Republican nomination for President.  Romney while not questioning the church leadership openly did express to President McKay privately a desire to see the ban lifted.[4] 

In 1965 Wallace Turner immediately began to question how Romney, perceived as a Civil Rights activist, would be able to survive the National stage with the ban hanging over his Church.  Romney, a relative to one of the leaders of the church, Apostle Marion G. Romney, and father to Mitt Romney was from a family which was long time members of the church.  So the issue of the ban would certainly weigh on his campaign early on.[5]

Romney in 1967 did face questions about the position of the Church on the ban.  He was told he should resign his membership by one black politician.  Another called him a bigot.  Others questioned how his generally good record on Civil Rights balanced against the Churches’ stand on the Priesthood ban.  It left his team almost consistently responding rather than leading the discussion.  Romney in effect took upon the cross of the ban and carried it into full public view with no way to have any influence on the issue.  His wife Lenore went so far as publicly stating her views on the issue.  She said in a New York Times article that, “I just can’t believe any inferiority, and it makes me very cross when some commentators say we think Negroes inferior.”  George Romney’s campaign came to an end over his changing position on the Vietnam War rather than the ban.[6]

In 1976 the Church excommunicated two members who, in celebrated cases, carried out Priesthood Ordination on African Americans.[7]  As this was happening Morris Udall was running against Jimmy Carter for the democratic nomination for President.  Udall was taken to task over the positions of the church by supporters of Carter.  Yet another LDS politician was forced to defend himself from attacks about the position of the Church.  It was ironic given Udall’s position on the ban expressed earlier.[8]

As liberals within the church fought to push their fellow members to remove the ban the revival of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the 1950s in Salt Lake City saw the beginning of the backlash against the church.  The NAACP Salt Lake chapter was founded on February 12, 1919.  Reverend George W. Harts, Minister of the Calvary Baptist Church headed up the organization in order to fight against discrimination in the schools in Salt Lake and area.[9]

The first major opposition to the policy appeared in 1963 from the NAACP.  In May the Church was reported to be discussing removing the ban.  Hugh B. Brown was quoted in the New York Times on June sixth as saying, “We are in the midst of a survey looking towards the possibility of admitting Negroes.”  However Brown did point out that the Church, “…didn’t want to go too fast in the matter.  We want to be fair.” [10]

The NAACP had spent a great deal of time lobbying the church to make a comment on the issues of Civil Rights in the lead up to the LDS General Conference in October.  As the summer of 1963 developed and no answer was coming from the Church to support civil rights the NAACP decided to act.  Discussions were held early in October decision to picket the church headquarters was discussed.  It was decided that the organization would wait to see what the Church did during the general conference where leaders of the church would speak to Latter-day Saints.[11]

Brown would deliver the address that the NAACP wanted as he called on, “all men everywhere, both within and outside the church, to commit themselves to the establishment of full civil equality for all of God’s children.”  It appeared to have satisfied the local leader of the NAACP, Albert Fritz, enough that no protest was held the next week.  But even with this modification on the Civil Rights question there was still no comment on the ban.[12]

As the In 1964 the NAACP got involved with again with the church over the Civil Rights bill in the Utah Legislature.  The NAACP was concerned the bill would not pass.  The organization felt that as the legislature was controlled by Mormons it would best to deal directly with the church rather than simply treat it as a political issue.  Staging protests outside the church offices and bringing in a local football hero to talk about racism in Utah.  John Driver, the leader of the NAACP in Utah felt that the Churches’ unwillingness to speak on the matter hurt both African Americans and the Church.  As Eugene England, founder of Dialogue, described it, “Perhaps the greatest shame is that we in the Church – including our leaders – have been cut off from the major thrust of social conscience in our times, from a social revolution against racism in we could have exercised beneficial leadership…”[13]

The NCAAP also started a process to get African countries to ban LDS Missionaries over the ban.  The Church as a part of its early discussions in the sixties noted that some Nigerians in 1953 had found a copy of the Book of Mormon left by a Missionary.  From this by 1965 there was said to be 7,000 Nigerians who believed in the church and held a Mormon style of worship services.  The Nigerians had pleaded with the Church to help them.  The Church caught out over this issue began to consider making a move to send Missionaries to Nigeria.[14]  The NAACP seeing this and convinced the only way to change the Church policy was to stop the missionary effort.  So they lobbied the Nigerian government to deny passports to missionaries. The NAACP resolution from Utah asked that countries in Africa and Latin American block missionaries from the LDS Church, “until such time as the doctrine of non-white inferiority is changed and rescinded by that church and a positive policy for civil rights is taken.”[15]

The Church did not respond well to the challenge.  They ignored the points from the NAACP and their own possible converts in Nigeria.  If anything the whole process seemed to do little for the movement of removing the ban and seemed to create a view that hardened the position of conservative members of the church.  Even liberals such as LDS Sociologist Armand L. Mauss went so far as to tell Civil Rights organizations to, “Get off our backs! The Mormon leadership has publicly condemned racism.  There is no evidence of a carryover of the Mormon doctrine on the Negro into secular civil life… no matter how much racism you think you see in Utah you can’t be sure it has anything to do with Mormonism.”[16] Yet even though they were upset by the NAACP’s challenge liberals realized the Church would need to go to Africa to gain converts was adding pressure internally to soften their stance.[17] 

[1] Stephen G. Taggart, Mormonism’s Negro Policy: Social and Historical Origins, (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1976), 64-75.

[2] Lester E. Bush Jr., “A Commentary on Stephen G. Taggart’s Mormonism’s Negro Policy: Social and Historical Origins,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol 4. No. 4, (Winter 1969), 86-102

[3] Stewart L. Udall, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 2 No. 2, (Summer 1967), 5-7.

[4] Prince, 339.

[5] Wallace Turner, “Mormon Stand on Negroes Poses a Problem for Romney if He Runs for President,” New York Times, December 28, 1965 

[6] “Mormons Defended by Romney’s Wife on Negro Status,” New York Times, January 24, 1967

[7] New York Times, October 4, 1976 and Bringhurst, 186-187

[8] New York Times, May 16, 1976

[9] Jeanetta Williams, email message to author, October 31, 2007

[10] Wallace Turner, “Mormons Consider Ending Bar on Full Membership for Negroes,” New York Times, June 6, 1963.

[11] “Mormon Stand Discussed,” New York Times, October 6, 1963.

[12] Associated Press, “Mormon aide backs Negroes on Rights,” New York Times, October 7, 1963.

[13] Eugene England, “The Mormon Cross,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 8, No. 1, (Spring 1973), 85.

[14] “Black Saints of Nigeria,” Time Magazine, June 18, 1965, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,898887,00.html, (Accessed October 29, 2007)

[15] UPI, “Mormon Ban Sought,” New York Times, July 2, 1965

[16] Armand L. Mauss, “Mormonism and the Negro,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol 2 No. 4, (Winter 1967), 38.

[17] Mauss, “The Fading of the Pharaohs’ Curse”, 154-156.


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