By July 4, 2018
NOTE: The original version of this post was based, in part, on faulty research, for which I take full blame. What appears below is a revised version (with a slightly modified title). There is no documentation identifying either Francis or Martha Grice as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Believing, however, that the source shared below is still sufficiently interesting and important, I’m keeping the post. A copy of the original can be seen here.
I’ve been slowly making my way through Paul Ortiz’s new book, An African American and Latinx History of the United States. In a chapter on the Cuban Solidarity Movement of the 1860s through the 1890s, Ortiz quotes an 1873 letter from “an African American in Salt Lake City,” published in the black-owned newspaper, The Elevator. Curious to learn more (and anxious to see if there were any clues where the SLC correspondent was a Latter-day Saint), I searched for the original letter in the digitized version of the paper (courtesy of the California Digital Newspaper Collection), and to my great delight, discovered that it was written by Francis H. Grice, a “mulatto” artist, miner, and restauranteur who moved to Salt Lake City in 1871.
By June 25, 2018
Regular readers of JI may remember a post that I wrote a few years ago about Joseph F. Smith’s beheading of a cat.
It was a fun post to write and remains one of my favorite posts that I wrote during my time at JI. I recently discovered, however, that Joseph F.’s hatred of cats may have been a family trait.
I am currently researching the life and thought of Ina Coolbrith, who was a first cousin of Joseph F. Smith and California’s first poet laureate. She hid her connection to the Mormon community as an adult but was a frequent correspondent with the Smith family. One newspaper even suggested that Joseph F. Smith may have proposed marriage to her.
By March 13, 2018
(detail from John Arrowsmith, Map of the Windward Islands, 1844. Click on image for original)
Last month, Elder Dale Renlund visited the West Indian island of Barbados, which he dedicated for the preaching of the gospel. The timing of his doing so carries with it some special significance. As Elder Renlund noted in his remarks, the West Indies Mission was first dedicated thirty years ago, in 1988. And it was, of course, forty years ago this summer that the temple and priesthood ban denying black women and men certain blessings and opportunities in the church was lifted, which opened up Barbados and the other predominantly black Caribbean islands for full-fledged missionary work.
By June 27, 2017
Among my very favorite parts of archival research is the small and unexpected glimpses into the lives of historical figures that have nothing directly to do with the research at hand.
I was reminded of this last week while going through some of Leonard Arrington’s correspondence to his family at the Arrington Papers at Utah State University. Stashed in between Arrington’s near-weekly typewritten letters to his children was a copy of his diary entry for June 24, 1978 describing a retreat “up the slopes of Ensign Peak” with “all of the persons in the History Division of the Historical Department,” minus the secretaries “and Glen Leonard, who was ill.” As part of the retreat, Maureen Ursenbach Beecher passed out a questionnaire, inviting those assembled “to participate in some self discovery” and “respond to fifteen questions.”
By April 17, 2017
For years, our hi-fi stereo languished in the attic. But it?s been dusted off and now resides in a place of honor in our teenager?s room, because vinyl is hip again, and suddenly we?re glad we saved our record collection all these years. Recently an LDS friend passed along some records she thought our teen might enjoy spinning, and tucked into the stack was a genuine piece of 1970s Mormon culture, a double album cast recording of the 1977 musical My Turn on Earth. With lyrics by poet Carol Lynn Pearson and music by Lex de Azevedo, My Turn on Earth turned the Plan of Salvation into a modern-day child?s parable tracing one girl?s journey from her preexistence in heaven, through allegorical earth life and back.
By January 12, 2017
When you live in a place over twenty years, and you come to know people who?ve lived there even longer than you, now and then you stumble over something in what we might call the local archives. Much of both the material and intellectual culture of Mormonism ? indeed, of any group through which a thread of commonality can be drawn ? never makes it into a formal archival collection. This is true even for old things, which have had more time to make their way out of private trunks, attics, and boxes into museums and historical societies and libraries. Just this week I saw someone on Twitter threatening to make a list of things offered for sale on eBay that, by rights, should belong in a public records office. But I daresay it?s even more true for things from recent history. For starters, no one fully knows which items of the endless detritus of the 20th century deserves preserving, and for seconds, a lot of it is still counted among living people?s prized possessions.
One of those possessions was recently lent to me by a friend. The provenance of this object is probably convoluted, but suffice it to say, it?s from the local archives, and there?s more where this came from. It?s uncatalogued. But it?s a gem, nonetheless.
The object in question is a revised 1973 edition of a book that was first published in 1966. Its author, whose name no doubt is familiar to all our readers, has just released a new book, which arrived crisp and thick in my mailbox this very week. But this is her very first book.
By December 30, 2016
It?s the time for year-in-review articles and retrospectives, as we get ready to kick 2016 out the door. I’m not sure how to put my thoughts about this year into coherent words, so maybe I’d rather write about some other proxy year instead. Some months ago, I posted about the Church?s annual Church in Action films by profiling the 1973 version. I recently began teaching Institute in my stake and because of a boundary change I took over mid-semester in the Cornerstones class about Church history and the Restoration. Joey Stuart?s thought-provoking piece earlier this fall on Mormonism’s biggest “change year” challenged me to find a way to present some of the rapid transformations in Church demographics, policies and practices that have taken place in recent decades for the last class in the semester. I thought bringing in one of the Church in Action recaps might highlight both continuity and change in recent Mormonism. It definitely did; we had a lively discussion about the film and what had / hadn’t changed since then.
By May 19, 2016
In September 1853, John C. Frémont embarked on his fifth and final overland expedition of the American West. Accompanying the noted explorer on his final journey was Solomon Nunes Carvalho, a South Carolina-born Sephardic Jew of Spanish and Portuguese descent. Carvalho was an accomplished painter and photographer, and in spite of having a wife and three children at home, eagerly “accepted [Frémont’s] invitation to accompany him as artist of an Exploring Expedition across the Rocky Mountains.”
Over the course of the next year, Solomon Nunes Carvalho traveled with the Frémont expedition “across the Great American Desert,” including an extended stay in Utah, where he spent three months recovering from sickness. Unfortunately, almost all of the sketches, paintings, and daguerrotypes from Carvalho’s journey (including several from his time among the Mormons) are no longer extant, evidently destroyed in a fire. But an account of his journey was published in 1856 as Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West, a volume that proved popular enough to go through several additional printings on both sides of the Atlantic.
By December 28, 2015
This post begins with a rather cryptic instruction for Relief Society leaders, published in the Bulletin No. 13, July 1981, p. 2, which reads:
Homemaking Meeting Materials:
Relief Society leaders should ensure that all materials used in homemaking meeting are reliable and accurate. They should be especially careful about materials focusing upon color analysis for wardrobe planning. Materials presented in homemaking meeting should use basic color principles and promote an understanding of the use of color. Sisters should avoid ?systems? of color analysis, many of which contain misinformation. 
Fellow JI blogger J. Stapley stumbled upon this puzzling little gem; I have a pretty solid hunch about it, but I also invite further interpretation / speculation about its meaning in the comments. The specific context might very well be forever lost in the mists of time, but it?s worth seeing if we can unpack this passage a little.
By April 3, 2015
This is second and final entry in a series of posts from guest Shannon Flynn on missionary work, race, and the Priesthood Ban that draws on his experience as a missionary in Brazil from 1977-1979. See Part I here.
The final document in this series is a scan of a letter that we missionaries received at the end of February 1978. The handwritten note is from the Mission President at the time, Roger B. Bietler.
This letter indicates to me that there was beginning to be a softening of what had been, at various times, a hardened position. By the time this letter was written, the date of the completion of the temple in Sao Paulo would have been known at church headquarters. It is my estimation that the temple dedication was the signal event that provided the final impetus to change church policy/doctrine regarding blacks and the priesthood. There would have been a flood of people entering that temple whose linage had not been thoroughly checked and such a situation could have caused a significant problem. What is known to few, is that a number of men in Brazil before June 1978 had discovered a partial black linage after having been ordained and served in many leadership capacities. I know of one story in particular where Elder Grant Bangerter had to travel to Belo Horizonte to release a stake president because that stake president had discovered, through diligent family history work, that he was partially descended from black people. I don?t know what percentage it was, but it couldn?t have been much. The stake president had informed Elder Bangerter, who in turn had consulted with higher authorities in Salt Lake and then went to Belo Horizonte to reorganize the stake. Nothing was ever said to the stake members and it was handled as delicately as possible. Nothing was done to ?remove? his priesthood, he was just asked to not perform anymore ordinances or serve in leadership capacities. I was told Elder Bangerter was personally mortified to have to do that to this man but his personal discomfort was outweighed by his need to maintain loyalty to his ecclesiastical superiors and fidelity to established policy.