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Black Mormons and Friends in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina, Part III

By February 25, 2016

This is the third and final post in a series chronicling the experiences of the The Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent support group in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina. Part one and part two can be read here and here.


Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent, August 2011.

Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent, August 2011.

Another purpose of the Friends meetings is to provide instruction. Most black members in the Durham Stake tend to be converts to the Church, many of them having converted fairly recently. Every month a theme is chosen and one person appointed to direct the conversation or to provide a lesson. Themes include “outreach,” “fellowship,” “true v. false doctrine,” or “being a black Mormon today.”[1] In September 2011 Brother Isaiah Cummings taught a lesson titled “Blacks in the Bible.” Brother Cummings has apparently written a book on this subject but has been unable to find a publisher. I was not present at this meeting but Christina shared with me a copy of his lesson outline and it is also posted at the group’s Facebook page. In that lesson he taught that “When you begin to look at ‘Biblical History,’ it is important to realize that the world had two (2) beginnings… The World “before” the Flood and the World ‘after’ the Flood. Hence, the Black Race had two sets of Parents: 1) Cain and his wife and 2) Ham and his wife Egyptus.” The lineage Brother Cummings constructs to illustrate the history of Blacks in the Bible is supported by scriptural references to the Bible and the Book of Abraham in the Mormon book of scripture, the Pearl of Great Price.

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Black Mormons and Friends in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina, Part II

By February 24, 2016

This is part two of a three-part series chronicling the experiences of the The Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent support group in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina. For part one, see here. Part three will be posted tomorrow morning. 


Isaiah Cummings presents a lesson on "Blacks in the Bible," Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent, September 2011.

Isaiah Cummings presents a lesson on “Blacks in the Bible,” Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent, September 2011.

The Friends Group arose out of the African American cultural celebration as the brainchild of Brother Lee Cook, a white member of the Durham 1st Ward. Lee grew up in Richmond, Virginia, as a Southern Baptist. He described his younger self as a hippie and college dropout who joined the Air Force, which is where he met missionaries and joined the LDS Church. After moving around with the Air Force and then living for a while in New York, he returned to the South. It was exciting to see all of the changes that had occurred since the Civil Rights movement occurred, he explained. Yet, he noticed that, in many places, there was still that separation—a “wall of partition,” he called it. So he started visiting black churches as part of his own quest to overcome that partition and he became very spiritually impressed (a common Mormon term for inspiration from the Holy Spirit) “that the Lord has a great work for us to do together.” Then he met Christina and after one of the African American cultural celebrations she confided in Lee that, as he remembered her statement (which he shared with her permission), “this is the only day I feel good as a black Latter-day Saint.” So, to remedy that sense of loneliness that she and presumably other black Latter-day Saints in the stake feel throughout the rest of the year, he proposed the organization of a support group—“so instead of once a year—once a month.”[1]

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Black Mormons and Friends in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina: A History of the African American Night of Celebration and the Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent Support Group, Part I

By February 23, 2016

We’re pleased to present the following series of posts from Stan Thayne, PhD candidate in Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and founding editor of the Juvenile Instructor. The posts, which trace the little-known history and significance of the Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent support group in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina, is longer than our usual offerings, but is well worth the time. It will be published serially over the next three days. –admin


Meeting of the Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent, June 2011.

Meeting of the Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent, June 2011.

When Christina Stitt moved into the Chapel Hill 1st Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2005, she and her grand-daughter Dushana doubled the number of African Americans in the congregation. There were only two other black members at the time, as Christina remembers it: Brother and Sister John and Mary Moore. They didn’t get to know each other right off, Christina and the Moores. Perhaps both overly conscious of the blackness that should supposedly connect them in this sea of whiteness, they were both a little stand-offish toward each other at first, as Stitt recalls. But after Christina sang a gospel piece during sacrament services, Sister Mary Moore approached her and expressed her desire for a program in the church celebrating African American culture. “She planted a seed in me,” Christina told me during one of my interviews with her. “But me, when you say something that really hits my heart, I try to get it done. And that’s what I did. I went to the bishop and I asked him, and he thought it was a good idea too. So that’s where it started.” In February 2006 the Durham Stake hosted the first African American Night of Celebration at the LDS stake center on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd in Chapel Hill. It has since become an annual event held every February during black history month.

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Book of Mormon Stories that my youtube tells to me

By December 12, 2013

Check this out: Epic Book of Mormon Movie Trailer

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Wandering Significance: Hagoth and the many migrations of latter-day Lamanite/Nephite Identity

By December 5, 2013

This post is adapted from a paper given at the Mormon History Association’s annual meeting held in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, in July 2012.


Mormon missionaries have been very good at finding the descendants of Book of Mormon peoples–“Lamanites” and “Nephites”–wherever they have been sent in the western hemisphere, and sometimes beyond: throughout the Americas and the Pacific Islands, even as far as Taiwan and Japan. Hagoth has typically been the figure linking these latter-day Lamanites in far-flung areas with their mainland kin. After mysteriously departing from the narrative near the end of the book of Alma, never to be heard of again–or so the writer thought–Hagoth has covered a lot of mileage since then, linking up a considerable amount of geography as a figure of remarkable, if wandering, significance. Using the figure of Hagoth as a narrative motif, this paper will explore how Mormons have constructed racialized readings of various Indigenous peoples in the Americas and the Pacific Islands based on their reading of Mormon scripture, and, conversely, how they have read their missionary successes back onto the “text,” greatly expanding the Mormon conception of to whom (and to how many) the signifier “Lamanite” applies. Further, the LDS church has not been able to contain the wanderings of this signifier. Members of a recently organized religious group–who profess no connection to Mormonism–have published a nine-volume text that purports to be a record of Hagoth’s (or Hagohtl’s) departure from the Land Southward and his migration up the Colorado River to form a heretofore unknown Indigenous group known as the Nemenhah. As a narrative figure, Hagoth has been complicit in multiple revisions of the histories (and sometimes the identities) of Indigenous peoples throughout the western hemisphere–and his migrations show no sign of flagging.

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Indian Removal, Zion, and the westward orientation of early Mormonism

By November 23, 2013

This post is adapted from a presentation given at the 2012 Sidney B. Sperry Symposium at Brigham Young University.*

Ideologies can turn heads. In United States of America, ideological head turning has often been westward. In this post I argue that it was the ideology and force of Indian Removal that turned the heads of early Mormons and oriented them to the West.

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MHA recap at Religion in American West blog

By July 10, 2012

I posted a very brief recap of MHA, focused primarily on David Marshall’s Tanner lecture, over at the Religion in the American West blog. Please feel free to go read it and leave some feedback (there and here). For those who were there, what were some highlights from the conference that I missed in my (very, very brief) recap? What did you think about Marshall’s Tanner lecture? Agree? Disagree? with his overall thesis or finer points in his presentation? (Did I represent his argument okay?) Please, chime in!

O Canada!

By July 10, 2012

In keeping with a family tradition that we began last year in St. George, Utah, we turned MHA (the Mormon History Association annual meeting), which was held in Calgary this year, into an excuse for a very big (9,000+-mile) family road trip this year. In preparation for our border-crossing, I read a short story by author and English professor Thomas King titled “Borders” (if you haven’t read it, check it out). It is a story about a Blackfoot woman and her son (told from the perspective of the adolescent son) who get stranded at the U.S.-Canadian border–in Blackfoot Territory–when the mother insists that her nationality is Blackfoot and refuses to specify whether she is from the Canadian or American side: she is from the Blackfoot side. The two are on their way to Salt Lake City to visit the woman’s daughter who had previously moved there, convinced by a friend that it is the greatest place on earth, which the daughter reiterates in her postcards and travel brochures sent home (though, upon their arrival, she admits that she is thinking of returning home). Though never directly or explicitly so, the story is an excellent study in the complex mingling of Canadian-American-Blackfoot-Mormon identities that combine and comingle for several individuals in the area often referred to, among others things, as southern Alberta.

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Gathering the Scattered Children of Lehi: Constructions of Whiteness and Israelite Lineage in the Pacific Islands Missions

By June 9, 2012

What follows is a paper I presented at the Mormon History Associations annual conference in 2009, with a few revisions made since then. I was in the History MA program at BYU at the time. I am a little shaky on some of the conclusions I drew and suggestions I made then; it would probably sound a bit different if I wrote it now. And some of it may be rendered a bit obsolete by Hokulani K. Aikau’s recent work. But I still wanted to post it here because it is something I would like to develop further in future work (so feedback is more than welcome), and also because, like many of us, I hate to see work I put effort into drop off into nothingness. So here it is:

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Picturing Lamanites building the New Jerusalem: an addendum to “Trying to make our children’s…”

By September 23, 2011

Ardis Parshall has graciously provided this scan of an image, the possibility of which was discussed in my post of a few days ago.

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Trying to make our children’s Book of Mormon illustrations not quite so politically incorrect

By September 20, 2011

While visiting a friend’s home in Utah this past summer, I noticed on the bookshelf a complete set of the Illustrated Stories from the Book of Mormon, a 16-volume production, geared toward families with kids, published by Promised Land Publications in 1967. I pulled a volume off the shelf and began flipping through. It was great! If I didn’t know any better, though, I might have been a bit confused by the array of colorful pictures that confronted me. Was this a history of the ancient americas or a modern U.S. History textbook? It seemed a strange hybrid of both. Pictures of Nephites and Lamanites and Mesoamerican temples were interspersed with pictures of the Statue of Liberty, Columbus, the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the transcontinental railroad, and the American West!

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Young ladies, absent missionaries, and the peep stones that bind them (1850s Utah Territory)

By March 2, 2011

It seems to be a common assumption that the use of folk magic objects like peep stones and divining rods had pretty well died out by the time the Saints arrived in the Great Basin. At least, we don’t talk much about them being used after that. When we speak of seer stones in a Mormon context Joseph Smith’s early treasure digging days, Book of Mormon translation, and Hiram Page are typically the topic of discussion. Such instruments were used for finding treasure, translating ancient texts, for revelation, and, in a few cases, for locating lost objects.

A while ago I came across a few references to the use of a “peep stone” that surprised me for several reasons. The date was later than I would have expected: 1856. And the peeper was younger than I expected: about 14 or 15. And the object of peeping was rather unusual.

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Freedom from Religion, Boulder, Utah

By July 26, 2009

img_84081 Freedom was closed the day I visited. A pity: I was curious to see what it was all about. 

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Center for Studies on New Religions conference

By June 10, 2009

CESNUR, the Center for Studies on New Religions, is holding their international conference in Salt Lake City June 11-13, that’s tomorrow, Thursday, through Saturday, in the City Council building. There are several sessions on Mormonism. Here is a link to the programme:

“a deguarian likeness of…my uncle Joseph”

By March 14, 2009

Yes, believe it or not, I have re-emerged and am actually posting something.

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From the Archives: The Mormon Reformation of 1856-57

By August 21, 2008

I’ve been going through Joseph F. Smith’s letter correspondence from his first mission to Hawaii of late and have come across several references to the Mormon Reformation, which reached its zenith, according to most accounts, during 1856-1857. These letters surprised me for several reasons.

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“Theosoph[ies] and Mormonism” Part Deux: Christian Science, mainly

By July 7, 2008

  Continued from Part I   

   Nelson begins his discussion of “occultism in general” by addressing some of the “very old ‘sciences,’ (if I may abuse this long-suffering word a little more in my dire extremity  for a generalazation)” that modern Americans knew simply as “superstition,” namely, witchcraft, necromancy, astrology, and alchemy. Labeling the first two as “black magic” and comparing them to the secret combinations of the Book of Mormon, Nelson warns

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AML at RMMLA in Reno rescue call for papers

By June 30, 2008

Bruce Jorgensen is looking for submissions for this year’s Mormon Letters session at RMMLA-a great opportunity to present at a conference, especially for anyone doing stuff in Mormon literature or film. I’ve posted Jorgensen’s CFP and submission details below:

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“Theosoph[ies] and Mormonism,” etc.

By June 28, 2008

  Tradition has it that Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, co-founder of the well-known Theosophical Society, had wanted to travel to Nauvoo to see the Mormons but was unable to do so due to their expulsion from the state of Illinois shortly before she arrived in the U.S. [1]. Though such a visit unfortunately never materialized (it could have been an encounter to rival Joseph Smith’s interview with the prophet Matthias in its historical delectability), tradition also has it that she did pass through Salt Lake City in the early 1850s,

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Africa, Anxiety for Ancestors, and Mormon Work for the Dead: Considerations after Jenkins’s Tanner Lecture

By June 13, 2008

In the Tanner Lecture at MHA this year, Philip Jenkins noted the substantial growth of Mormonism in Africa and asked the question: Why hasn’t it done better?

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