The Welcome Table—Reprise

By April 21, 2008

By Margaret Young

I won’t give his real name. Apparently, he is a remarkable man, a supremely talented jazz musician who has played with Duke Ellington’s orchestra. He joined the Church before the priesthood revelation in 1978 and so, as an African American, he understood that he would not have the same privileges as white Mormons. The Era magazine (precursor to the Ensign) did a story about him, which inspired at least one other Black musician to stay in the Church during some difficult times.

We wanted to interview him for our documentary on Black Mormons. I had already heard he left the Church years ago, after not being admitted to a sacrament meeting in the South while touring there. (All of my information is second or third hand, so I can’t be certain of anything. And given what we know about African Americans who joined the Church before the 1978 change, we can be pretty certain that his departure wasn’t capricious or simply the result of one unfortunate event.) We did finally find a way to contact him. His response was simply that he wasn’t interested in being interviewed. It appears that his Mormon life is a distant and perhaps bitter memory.

During our last editing session, as we prepared special features, we worked on one in which Darius Gray talked about his stretch of inactivity. That stretch came about after some overt prejudicial acts in 1972, which resulted in ALL of the young Black men Darius was working with ceasing any association with the Church. As we viewed the footage, tears came to Darius’s eyes, and he went into even more detail than what we had revealed on film. He talked about the pain of watching those young men leave, and about his own sense of betrayal. Those he had counted on to support him and the young men had fallen through, and the hurt was great enough that Darius quit church for several years (though he never really left it, he is quick to point out).

I thought Elder Wirthlin’s talk in Conference was particularly moving. He urged us to stand up for the ones who might be a little different. As a mother of one who is “different,” I found myself weeping when Elder Wirthlin spoke of defending a kid his playmates were bullying. Many memories passed through my mind and I thought, “I wish you had been there for my son, Elder Wirthlin.”

What if an Elder Wirthlin, or anyone else, had been present when those events occurred which took Darius Gray out for a time? I’d like to think he would have spoken up. What did we lose when someone in the South told the brother I referred to initially that he was forbidden entrance into that particular Mormon chapel?

One of my heroes is Elder Marion D. Hanks. Elder Hanks tells the story of Len and Mary Hope, whose family was not allowed to attend church with the white members, and so held monthly testimony meetings in their home in Cincinnati. (This was just prior to WWII.) Elder Hanks was one of the missionaries who attended those meetings with the Hopes, and became lifelong friends with Len and Mary. But none of the Hope children remained in the Church after their parents’ deaths. What did we lose when we lost them?

When I met my husband for lunch at the MTC and told him that the jazz musician had declined to be interviewed, he joined me in a moment of sorrow. He knew about the ward somewhere in the South, where someone had decided that a Black man couldn’t come inside the church. Bruce said, “Couldn’t they see? Didn’t they know that that is completely against the scriptures?”

When Darius Gray reflects about his years of inactivity, he wonders what good he might have done if he hadn’t been absent. It still hurts him. But I don’t want to place the onus on Darius, on Len Hope’s children, or on the jazz musician I previously mentioned. I want US to bear the burden, even by proxy for those of prior generations. Will some of our ancestors have to face the people they turned away? Will they glimpse the generations affected by the absent welcome? What can we do to right the wrong and reclaim what was lost? Is there any way we can repent for them? Can we, all these years later, stand up for those who were cast aside as “different”?

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. We could bear that burden, but that would require a level of humility that many Mormons are not comfortable with. I think too many of us are willing to accept blacks into the church as of the 1978 revelation, but we will take no blame for anything prior to that. It was God’s will, after all, that we not accept black men as members in full fellowship.

    I have been looking in vain for sermons addressing the one who has offended another (by sin or negligence) and needs to work in a spirit of humility and courage to apologize and make amends to those who have been hurt. We have plenty of sermons about how the offended person needs to forgive. But where are the tender descriptions of how painful it is to ask for forgiveness in a spirit of humility? I think the last memorable one has to do with two men, a bishop singing hymns to them, and a dispute over water rights, and that is decades old.

    Ours is not a church of humility. There is no place for sorrow over past wrongs. It is a perpetually cheerful, optimistic, “let’s look to the future” culture where pain and sorrow are shut out. Those who experience that sorrow have to find their way pretty much on their own, unless they are fortunate enough to find a sensitive member who can counsel with them.

    Thank you for a memorable story about your wonderful movie project, Margaret.

    Comment by no-man — April 21, 2008 @ 11:59 am

  2. This was especially moving, Margaret. While I don’t think I can form any specific answers, I join in your anguish for these unfortunate events.

    Comment by Ben — April 21, 2008 @ 11:59 am

  3. This is beautiful, Margaret. I don’t really have anything to add, but thank you.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 21, 2008 @ 12:01 pm

  4. What can we do to right the wrong and reclaim what was lost?

    I really have no idea.

    Comment by BHodges — April 21, 2008 @ 12:10 pm

  5. Can we, all these years later, stand up for those who were cast aside as “different”?

    I don’t know what we can do about the past, Margaret, but we can make sure we welcome everyone now. Outsiders didn’t go away in 1978, many of them are still waiting for someone to actively befriend them and accept them.

    Comment by Mark IV — April 21, 2008 @ 12:13 pm

  6. Thanks Margaret. I suspect that telling these stories is part of the repentance process for all of us, and I thank you for it.

    Comment by Steve Evans — April 21, 2008 @ 12:14 pm

  7. I like Steve’s idea the best (were any other ideas even offered?). By remembering these stories, we struggle against the injustices that they portray. We need to own these stories, asking ourselves who we are that this could happen, in order to take this burden upon ourselves.

    Comment by David G. — April 21, 2008 @ 12:19 pm

  8. I like Steve’s suggestion, too. I think, for any repentance and/or progress to take place, and for modern Mormons to embrace the diversity that now exists within the church, it is necessary for us to confront these rather unpleasant episodes from our collective past.

    Thank you for the reminder, Margaret.

    Comment by Christopher — April 21, 2008 @ 12:42 pm

  9. I watched a snippet of MSNBC news last night. The reporter said that some had been concerned that news stations had basically abandoned their formats to provide the Catholic Church with a long commercial. The Pope’s visit and two masses were fully televised with limited interruptions. A respondant said that the events were very newsworthy–particularly the fact that the Pope had spoken with Catholics (or former Catholics) who had experienced sexual abuse by their priests. “This is not the Catholic Church of twenty years ago,” said one reporter, “where such a thing might be quietly pushed aside.” Indeed, three victims were interviewed about their audience with the Pope. None, as far as I could tell, had anything to do with Catholicism currently, and all talked about the depth of betrayal they had experienced as children. But now they also talked about the Pope’s compassion, the fact that he LISTENED, that he expressed shame on behalf of the Church, that he apologized. I had a sense that some real healing was starting.

    I won’t be surprised if the LDS Church pays some attention to the 30th anniversary of the priesthood revelation on June 8th. I don’t know that an apology will be offered, but I think attention will be paid.

    Comment by Margaret Young — April 21, 2008 @ 1:33 pm

  10. Another question:
    I just found out that the DVD Darius and I produced years ago (using footage which Deseret Book had filmed years ago to advertise our books but had never used) is now available in China. (No surprise. I spent two weeks in China and saw all sorts of pirated DVDs offered openly in little stores.) But here’s the kicker: It’s on you-tube.

    Darius and I own the rights to this footage about Jane Manning James. Why is this okay for somebody to put it on You-tube?
    Here’s the link:
    http://youtube.com/results?search_query=%22Jane+elizabeth+Manning+James%22&search_type=

    Comment by Margaret Young — April 21, 2008 @ 1:36 pm

  11. Margaret,

    My thoughts were on my “different” son during Elder Wirthlin’s talk, also. I was in my early 20’s when the 1978 revelation was announced. I certainly can look back, and think that I could have acted differently in my high school years.

    Telling the stories is perhaps one of the best ways we can help us as a church deal with the sometimes difficult parts of our history. Elie Wiesel set an example for us, speaking of the holocaust,by saying that it is the responsibility of survivors to testify. Perhaps it is our responsibility to help people remember what it once was like, so that we can do better in the future.

    Comment by kevinf — April 21, 2008 @ 4:41 pm

  12. Margaret, I would email the poster and ask him to take the clips down.

    Comment by Justin — April 21, 2008 @ 4:45 pm

  13. Well, Justin, I looked at the guy’s website. It’s clear that he wasn’t intentionally violating copyright; he was just doing missionary work. I want to meet him. He sounds like a remarkable man. Maybe Youtube is a way to introduce Jane to folks who might not otherwise meet her. Now the _Untold Story_ documentary will be another story. That one I’m guarding under lock and key.

    Btw, I asked DKL to put a poll on the best movies China could pirate for our missionary purposes. Check it out and vote for your choice at http://www.mormonmentality.org .

    Comment by Margaret Young — April 21, 2008 @ 7:34 pm

  14. Thank you, Margaret, for another beautiful and deeply moving post. As someone who has a black son who, due to his upbringing, doesn’t “fit in” with the Church and is completely inactive, I feel the pain you describe.

    On T&S months ago, I shared an experience I had while serving in a Stake Mission Presidency almost 15 years ago in the Deep South. I was allowed to see the effects of racism on the Church in my own day, both the racism that still infected a minority of the membership and the racism that still infected a majority of the overall population – the white AND black communities.

    What can we do? Pardon my soapbox, but:

    Be open and direct, but focus on addressing the problem that exists now. Of course, we should admit our role in the racism of yesterday, but an apology without change is just more “faith without works”. When push comes to shove, I don’t care one bit what someone says they believe; I care what they DO.

    We need to preach Elder Wirthlin’s message, but we also need to LIVE it. We need to quit pre-judging others’ ability or readiness or worthiness and simply invite EVERYONE to worship with us – regardless of race, personal habits, sexual orientation, religious or denominational affiliation, etc. We need to embrace each person we meet no matter how our differences manifest themselves. We need to quit “challenging” people and start “inviting” them – and loving them no matter what they choose to do. We need to want people to be with us in our worship even if they never join our actual recorded membership roles.

    We need to recognize and admit the bad parts of our heritage, even while we honor and respect the great and noble parts. We need to develop the characteristics of perfection listed in the Sermon on the Mount. We need to be a little better – do a little better – become a little better. **We need to treat each other on these blogs like we say we would treat each other if we were sitting face-to-face.**

    In summary, we need to be the people we say we want to be – and telling these stories is a big part of that process when it comes to racism.

    Again, thanks.

    Comment by Ray — April 21, 2008 @ 7:58 pm

  15. Margaret, one more thought:

    Which do you think Darius wants more – a personal apology from those who let him down or a change of heart that would mean no other man in his situation will be let down in that same situation from this moment forward?

    Comment by Ray — April 21, 2008 @ 8:03 pm

  16. Important points and questions, Ray. I will never demand an apology from the Church. But I will tell you that Darius received an apology from a man who, way back in 1965, called him into his BYU office and told him there had been complaints about his associations with white girls at BYU, and that all such associations must cease. Thirty years later, after a presentation we did, the man approached Darius. Darius said, “You don’t need to introduce yourself. I know who you are.” The man’s eyes filled as he extended his hand and said, “I’m sorry.” All was understood.

    The words are only symbols. As you know, Ray, my family just lost a member to cancer. My husband and I talked about the semiotics of grief–the common words/signs we use which might seem horribly trite. “I’m sorry for your loss…” “If there’s anything I can do…” But the communal offering, the simply BEING THERE as proxy pall-bearers and witnesses, as it were, conveys the message that we are all carrying the burden. Words like “I’m sorry” and “I love you” matter because of what they say about our community (just as some of the past, divisive words said something else about our community).

    In the race issue, we all carry the weight of our common loss–the moment we recognize that we have indeed suffered a loss. Each of us will come up with our own way of bearing the burden and adding our offering to the metaphorical reparation. With whatever offerings we make, we are doing what Elder Wirthlin urged us to do. We are standing up not only those who have been directly hurt, but for the community itself, that it might be bridged and healed.

    Comment by Margaret Young — April 21, 2008 @ 9:13 pm

  17. Well said, Margaret. Well said.

    Comment by Ray — April 21, 2008 @ 9:52 pm

  18. […] concluded by reading Margaret Young’s most recent post here in toto. I said in the comments of that post that one thing we can do to in part right past […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Teaching About Racism (Including the Priesthood Ban) in Sacrament Meeting — May 6, 2008 @ 12:04 am


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