Mormon Racism in Modern American Historiography

By October 20, 2009

As one of the assigned texts for my course this quarter in ?Christianity and Slavery in America, 1619-1865?, I?ve engaged David Brion Davis? latest work on American slavery, Inhuman Bondage. [1] Davis, for those unacquainted with the scholarship on American slavery, has held a prominent place in groundbreaking discussion in the field for many years. This latest work presents something of synthesis of the most recent relevant scholarship in a sweeping effort to see American slavery as part of a global practice and, most especially, to articulate its transatlantic contexts.

A small part of Davis? purpose (and a central component of the course in general) is to understand how the practice and ideology of slavery became integrated to Christianity, and to understand the way it influenced both the development of Christian theology and the course of Christian practice. Although Davis? work does not have a particularly religious orientation (he seems, here at least, to focus on the secular social), his work is comprehensive enough to give a summary overview of slavery in Christian thought.

It was as a paradigmatic summary that I found Davis? discussion of racism and its Christian iterations most interesting. Although it runs against other scholarly opinions and his own previous work, Davis gives great emphasis to the role of the ?Curse of Ham? as unquestionably central in the way that racism was taken up into Christianity. (His argument is quite similar to that recently made here at the JI by David G.). Davis does not expend too much energy unpacking the text itself (which has been done exhaustively elsewhere; here seems dependent on secondary literature) or in demonstrating the way that it influenced Christian thought. He does not, for instance, show how the passage or other influences enabled racism to be taken up into Christianity.

Davis does, however, as part of his summary of racism in American Christianity, identify one group that he seems to regard as quintessentially invested in racist discourse: Brigham Young and the Mormons. As a result, Mormonism is situated rhetorically (and perhaps unconsciously), near the forefront of religious anti-black racism in the United States. Given as a solitary example, Mormonism appears to assume a position of prominence and high visibility.

Davis? rendering, so far as I have been able to see, is representative of general narratives of American racism, which often use Mormonism in this way, typically seizing on popular (that is, widely recognized) statements made by Brigham Young or Joseph Smith to highlight the inroads that racism had made into Christianity. While the focused treatments of American religion, anti-black racism, and the Curse of Ham I have seen do not give Mormonism much play, for some reason broad-brush narratives like Davis? not only include but highlight it. [2] It seems that for historians writing synthetically about racism and/or slavery, Mormonism is conceived in a uniform, normative way as representing the upper limits of Christian racism. The currency of this idea was demonstrated for me when my instructor, Curtis J. Evans, who published his The Burden of Black Religion with OUP recently and has no interest in Mormon history, invoked Mormonism in this way. [3] In fact, as one of his recommendations for research in the course, he suggested that Mormon anti-black racism might taken up.

Of course, Mormonism and racism have been thoroughly discussed in a number of inflammatory contexts. My interest here is not really to revisit those, but rather to investigate specifically whether Mormonism is fairly represented (in this respect) in broader, mainstream American social and cultural history. Does Mormonism deserve a singular or leading place in discussions of Christian anti-black racism in America? Is it fair to use Mormonism, as Davis and other modern historians seem to do (consciously or unconsciously), to epitomize or symbolize such racism? Might modern concerns with race influence retrospective conceptions of race in earlier eras of Mormonism?

[1] David Brion Davis, Inhuman Bondage (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), see esp. 69-70.

[2] The works on the “Curse of Ham” and religious anti-black racism that I consulted include: David M. Goldenberg, The Curse of Ham (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003); Alan Davies, Infected Chrstianity: A Study of Modern Racism (Kingston, AB: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1988), Sylvester A. Johnson, The Myth of Ham in Nineteenth-Century American Christianity (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004); Stephen  R. Haynes, Noah’s Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

[3] Curtis J. Evans, The Burden of Black Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Is it possible that scholars point to Mormonism because to the sources are so accessible?

    Comment by J. Stapley — October 20, 2009 @ 12:56 pm

  2. Nice post, Ryan. I think you’re on to something when you suggest that “modern concerns with race influence retrospective conceptions of race in earlier eras of Mormonism.” For the most part, I think Mormons have borrowed much of their racial ideologies from other Americans (although Hyde’s preexistence innovation, along with the Pearl of Great Price, do add some distinctively Mormon elements). But I think the primary difference lies in the fact that Mormons held onto those ideologies at least until 1969 at an official level (and one could argue that many white Mormons continue to see Cain and Ham/Canaan as progenitors of black Africa), whereas many other churches began to abandon them in the face of social scientific critiques of scientific racism. My guess would be that historians trained in the 60s and 70s were interested enough in the criticisms of the church’s priesthood policy to keep tabs on it, and thereby form an opinion of Mormon anti-black ideologies as being representative.

    Comment by David G. — October 20, 2009 @ 1:46 pm

  3. J: That seems a likely explanation to me, especially if by ‘accessible,’ we mean ‘in active circulation.’ I get the feeling that somehow these Mormon sources have become a methodological staple in discussions of slavery and race.

    David: I would agree entirely with you about the effect of Mormons holding onto racial ideologies. It’s my sense, too, that historians have continued to bear this in mind and that it informs the way they narrate earlier Mormon history. In some respects I think this is unfortunate, since I believe as you suggested that Mormons largely borrowed the racism from other (Christian) sources, not manufactured it themselves. A simple look at the demographics of early (and to some extent, even modern) Mormonism show that racial encounter has been limited, giving, in my mind, little reason for fully developed anti-black racial notions.

    Comment by Ryan T. — October 20, 2009 @ 2:04 pm

  4. Great post, Ryan; it looks like a fun class, as well.

    I think another possible reason is the growing status in recent years of Mormonism as the quintessential “American” religion. Since the movement was born and raised in America, some historians may think that its views are representative of what the American culture symbolized–at least in charismatic religious sects.

    Comment by Ben — October 20, 2009 @ 2:20 pm

  5. In addition, my sense is that given the desire that many (both in and out of the church) have for the church to apologize publicly for its contribution in sustaining white supremacy in American history, there’s a strong desire to keep the statements by BY, JFS II, BRM, et al. in circulation, whereas ordinary folks don’t have much invested in keeping a racist statement by an early Methodist or Baptist leader alive.

    Comment by David G. — October 20, 2009 @ 2:27 pm

  6. Keep in mind that Davis has been writing on Mormonism, on and off, for a long time starting with “The New England Origins of Mormonism” in 1953 (how old is this guy!) If i recall, he says some rather outlandish things about Mormonism in the article like “Mormonism is what happens ? when all classes of ignorant and superstitious people have freedom to draw their own conclusions from scripture,” and that the Book of Mormon was the “gibberish of a crazy boy.” Though none of us should be criticized too stringently for what we wrote 65 years ago, he wasn’t off to a very good start.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — October 20, 2009 @ 2:44 pm

  7. Excellent point, Ben. I can see that logic: Mormonism as American religious symbol; Mormonism as symbol of American religious racism.

    Wow, Steve. I was unaware that he had written pieces on Mormonism. Perhaps I’ll have to go dig them up and dust them off. Apparently Davis is eighty-two years old and still at it.

    Comment by Ryan T. — October 20, 2009 @ 3:33 pm

  8. Davis has been writing a long time on Mormonism, and not always doing it well, that is true. But Ryan’s point that scholars seem to single out Mormonism in discussing American religion and race is confirmed in other sources that examine the Curse of Ham in religious history. Stephan R. Haynes, for example, in Noah’s Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery, uses Mormons as his earliest example of Americans using the Curse of Cain (15). Charles B. Copher in “The Black Presence in the Old Testament,” argues that “although the belief that Cain was the ancestor of Negroes was common among Euro-Americans, the Mormons made it into a basic doctrine” (in Stony the Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation, 149). Colin Kidd in The Forging of Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600-2000, indicates in his preface his grandfather’s copy of the Book of Mormon “provided an inspiration for part of what follows,” (vii) and places Mormons in the same chapter as such white supremacist groups as British Israelites and Christian Identity. Davis’s use of Mormonism to represent American racism is not an isolated occurance.

    Comment by David G. — October 20, 2009 @ 3:39 pm

  9. Colin Kidd in The Forging of Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600-2000, indicates in his preface his grandfather?s copy of the Book of Mormon ?provided an inspiration for part of what follows,? (vii)


    Comment by Ben — October 20, 2009 @ 3:43 pm

  10. Thanks for that documentation, David.

    *shudder indeed.

    Comment by Ryan T. — October 20, 2009 @ 3:44 pm

  11. Haynes also states that “in the 1830s, Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, wrote that the mark placed upon Cain was dark skin and that when Ham married a woman of Cain’s lineage, he and Canaan were cursed with servitude and with Cain’s mark” (258n64). While Haynes acknowledges that this idea was common in eighteenth-century America, his only specific examples are Mormons and Samuel Cartwright, a proslavery divine writing just before the Civil War.

    Comment by David G. — October 20, 2009 @ 3:49 pm

  12. What about the scholarship that’s a little older that Lester Bush cited to demonstrate that seed of Ham/Cain was a widely held 19th century belief?

    Again, the jab at “New England Origins” probably isn’t fair. I understand that his article on anti-Mormonism, anti-Masonry, and anti-Catholicism is considered to be good. Someone should do a review essay.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — October 20, 2009 @ 4:10 pm

  13. I’m kind of thinking out loud here, but a couple of thoughts occur to me. First, while the Mormon church borrowed heavily from other ideologies about race during the 19th century, we handled it by institutionalizing it via an exclusionary policy regarding ecclesiastical authority (the Priesthood), while other Christian churches used segregated congregations to handle it. Whether that is because we have a more ritualized view of that ecclesiastical authority (bestowed by revelation from God on those who are called) as opposed to a less ritualized ecclesiastical authority (go to divinity school, or feel a calling/vocation), I don’t know.

    Second, because of that more ritualized authority and formal hierarchical structure, we can more easily have racism attached to formal doctrine than the other Christian churches where it was less likely to be pronounced and expounded upon. Segregated congregations, while in and of themselves were evidences of the racist ideologies, didn’t require as much of a formal doctrinal foundation. We also make a better subject to study, perhaps, than the other Christian churches, and we certainly have been more introspective about our past and the Priesthood ban than I perceive other churches have been about their segregated approach, an approach that I suspect still troubles some of those denominations today. They haven’t had to deal with it as directly as we have.

    Comment by kevinf — October 20, 2009 @ 4:19 pm

  14. we handled it by institutionalizing it via an exclusionary policy regarding ecclesiastical authority

    because of that more ritualized authority and formal hierarchical structure, we can more easily have racism attached to formal doctrine

    Good points.

    Comment by Ryan T. — October 20, 2009 @ 4:38 pm

  15. Ryan, great post and great subsequent comments all around.

    Comment by Jared T — October 20, 2009 @ 4:48 pm

  16. This post is a great example of why the JI is my favorite, and only “must read”, Mormon blog. Well done, everyone.

    Comment by Bret — October 20, 2009 @ 5:32 pm

  17. Ryan, this is a great post. I’ve been in class all evening, and I’m sorry I missed an opportunity to jump in earlier in the conversation. Unfortunately, I don’t have much to add to what’s been said by others in the comments already.

    On a tangential note, I’m quite jealous that you’re taking a class from Curtis Evans. I read his book a few months back and highly recommend it to anyone interested. Also, I previously tossed around some thoughts regarding his argument about black religion to consider how Mormons have constructed Indian/Lamanite religiosity (see here).

    Comment by Christopher — October 20, 2009 @ 10:57 pm

  18. Thanks, Chris. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with Dr. Evans. The issue you raise in your post about supposed inherent religiosity in blacks has come up often in class; he sees the development of that notion as critical for subsequent discussions about black racial identity. Your adaptation of it is intriguing.

    Comment by Ryan T. — October 21, 2009 @ 12:13 am

  19. Evans did a 3 part interview about his work and his thoughts on the scholarship on black religiosity that is definitely worth checking out. Here’s the first part:

    Comment by David G. — October 21, 2009 @ 9:17 am

  20. While I agree that Brigham Young was a racist, I believe he was only a product of his environment. While Mormonism did reflect racism in regards to issues of priesthood or marriage, one does not often see issues of racism to the extent of Jim Crow laws or cross burnings. Clearly, when a book notes Mormon racism at the top of the heap, they are completely ignoring the KKK, the Christian ministers and groups that actually enslaved blacks for centuries, the Southern Baptist break from American Baptists on the race issue, lynchings, rapes, etc., that were very common in the American South. Just how does banning priesthood ordination and marriage compare as excessive?

    George Wallace was reelected by Alabama’s Christians after he ran the Confederate battle flag up the statehouse flagpole. I don’t recall any Utah governor ever running on the race issue like that.

    So, while I agree there has been racist attitudes in Mormonism; it irks me that some insist that it was worse than what the Southern Baptists and other Christians did for centuries.

    Comment by Rameumptom — October 21, 2009 @ 10:02 am

  21. Rameumptom, don’t mistake my comments as saying we were more racist than others. I like to think from my experiences growing up in the late 50’s and 60’s that we were supporting an institutionalized policy that a lot of other churches hid in the background with segregation. that was what Martin Luther King was talking about when he said the most segregated hour of the week was 10 AM on Sunday mornings, and that the Christian Churches of the South were the “taillights, not the headlights” of the civil rights movement.

    As difficult as it has been for us, I really think we have had an easier transition than other churches, probably due to the 1978 revelation, carrying with it all the weight and authority of the prophetic office. While it didn’t answer the question of why, it certainly left no doubt about what was expected of us as a people. We at least now can discuss questions about whether or not the ban was based on racism or on prophetic direction. Others don’t have that much wiggle room, if the spotlight were to be turned on them as closely as it has been us as a church.

    Comment by kevinf — October 21, 2009 @ 12:19 pm

  22. Rameumpton, just for the record, Mormons also joined the KKK, enslaved blacks in early America, and otherwise participated with other Christians in general attitudes and actions of racism. It is in addition to that that the LDS Church enacted a policy that barred black members from obtaining the highest covenants available within the church. While their churches were indeed segregated, Methodists, Baptists, and others were not denying the sacraments of salvation to African Americans.

    And comparisons of Utah to southern states on the issue of civil rights at any point is problematic because the racial demographics of the two were so radically different.

    Also, for the record, Southern Baptists, the United Methodist Church, and other churches that split over the issue of black slavery in antebellum America have indeed attempted (to varying degrees of success) to deal with their racist pasts and offered public apologies for past policies.

    Comment by Christopher — October 21, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

  23. Themes in counter-subversion is good. it’s dated now but it was important for a long time and is a reasonably read. DBD ain’t super friendly to the Mormons, I will give him that. I’m impressed that he’s still writing.

    I suspect part of the issue is that many of the other Protestant racists contemporary to the Mormons were not terribly centralized. hard to assemble a Baptist take on racism when there were so many different types of Baptists, and there was no even group of people that could be seen as representing Baptist views.

    The other thing not to discount, though, is the role of the sacerdotal genealogy in Mormonism, this incredibly powerful religious reinterpretation of ethnicity that is absent from a lot of other Protestant traditions.

    and finally, the present frames the past. Seeing the Mormon priesthood policy in active circulation until 1978, well within the lifetime of many scholars, makes it much easier to emphasize racism in 19th century Mormonism. (just like it’s easier to imagine Shakers as austere furniture-makers than wildly charismatic worshipers from their Era of Manifestations.)

    Comment by smb — October 21, 2009 @ 12:50 pm

  24. I suspect part of the issue is that many of the other Protestant racists contemporary to the Mormons were not terribly centralized. hard to assemble a Baptist take on racism when there were so many different types of Baptists, and there was no even group of people that could be seen as representing Baptist views.

    This is exactly what I was thinking. The LDS church is far more institutionalized, and always has been, than most other churches.

    Comment by Ian Cook — October 21, 2009 @ 1:13 pm

  25. Some interesting arguments here. Many of them (from kevinf, smb, Ian) suggest that the structure of Mormonism, whether it be its institutional form, its centralization, or its priesthood, ultimately made for a more prominent seat for racist ideas. I also think it striking that several people have suggested that racism may have existed to a similar/even potentially greater degree elsewhere in Protestantism, but that is was more invisible, more diffuse, and more easily concealed or divorced.

    Sam, care to expound on the historiography of “themes in counter-subersion”?

    Comment by Ryan T. — October 21, 2009 @ 1:32 pm

  26. An interesting post.

    To ease your search for his work, you should know that Stephen Haynes first name was misspelled when first noted (post #8).

    Comment by Don Y. — October 21, 2009 @ 2:18 pm

  27. Ryan, you should be familiar with “Themes of Counter-Subversion.” You (should have) read it for Underwood’s class last year. 🙂

    Comment by Christopher — October 21, 2009 @ 2:20 pm

  28. Ah…”Themes in Counter-Subversion” as title of Davis’ article, not mysterious theoretical discourse. And yes, I remember now that we encountered it in Underwood’s course…that must have been back in my preconscious days (although I make no guarantee, Chris, of how thoroughly I read it!) You can bet it’s in my file now, though, and Davis’ discussion of Mormonism is becoming more clear. Thanks to many good comments, I think the historiography of race and Mormonism is also.

    Chris, to your point:

    Mormons also joined the KKK, enslaved blacks in early America, and otherwise participated with other Christians in general attitudes and actions of racism.

    What exactly do we know about Mormons who owned slaves? I know you’ve done work on Mormons in the South; can racism in Mormons there really be attributed in any way to their Mormonism? Shouldn’t it be traced to other, socio-economic factors? Any visible distinctions between Mormons and other slave-holding Protestants?

    Comment by Ryan T. — October 21, 2009 @ 3:32 pm

  29. Ryant T, re Southern Mormons, I offer anecdotal evidence. My wife had some ancestors who joined the church in Mississippi, (I believe, but may have been Tennessee), but ended up selling out their plantation, slaves, and everything else and moved to Nauvoo, and started over. Within a couple of years, they uprooted from Nauvoo, and came west in 1847 or 1848, not clear on that without consulting my wife’s family history stuff.

    Comment by kevinf — October 21, 2009 @ 3:42 pm

  30. Ryan, you’re right, no doubt, that Mormons racism as manifest in their ownership of slaves and participation in racist organizations like the KKK is a result of socio-economic factors, and not their Mormonism. But that’s my exact point. Mormons were as racist in their general worldview as other white Christians in the 19th century (and certainly the 20th, too). When you add to that general racism the institutional racism of intentionally not proselytizing to African Americans (and blacks in other countries for that matter) and denying those blacks who did convert certain salvific sacraments, then it seems to me that Mormons were/are accurately labeled as more racist, or at least uniquely racist among white Christians in America.

    Comment by Christopher — October 21, 2009 @ 3:59 pm

  31. For an example of how southern Mormons around the turn of the 20th century were giving standard racist rhetoric a uniquely Mormon twist, see my post here. For a look at racism in early twentieth century Utah, and how it compared to that in the South, see David’s insightful post here.

    Comment by Christopher — October 21, 2009 @ 4:05 pm

  32. On slavery in Utah, see Nate Ricks’ fantastic and award-winning MA thesis, “A Peculiar Place for the Peculiar Institution: Slavery and Sovereignty in Early Territorial Utah,”. I’ve been trying to get Nate to do a guest post with us for awhile now; maybe if we mention his work enough times he’ll finally do one. 😉

    Don Y., good catch.

    Comment by David G. — October 21, 2009 @ 4:18 pm

  33. The early Mormons are a rich source for the study of racialism during the early republic. They are a useful study of the ideologies of race because they applied those ideologies to other Anglo Americans, not only to Indians and African Americans. Some Mormons saw other whites as racial different. Mormons had explicit views about the biological origins of racial differences, but also held out the possibility that God could change those physical characteristics when a person converted to the church — the convert’s gentile blood was miraculously replaced with the blood of Ephraim resulting in a physical change. I read a journal account of a confirmation meeting in the 1830s were the participants were disappointed when a physical change did not occur. Race was all about the blood. Hence the early preoccupation of search for those who were direct descendants of Ephraim. For those hapless souls whose blood had been polluted with intermarriage, God had a remedy.

    Comment by Janet Ellingson — October 21, 2009 @ 4:21 pm

  34. Chris: I follow you. I hesitate to say with you, though, that “institutionalized” racism can be added to the other things you described. There’s been some good arguments put forward that the ban, although an official and voluntary policy, was ideological residue, the institutional manifestation of result of racial attitudes which showed up because Mormonism was organized differently and had different structures of authority. If that’s the case I can certainly agree with you that Mormonism was uniquely racist, but I don’t see any compelling reason why it can be said to be exceptionally so. In other words, I’m not sure the ban can be “added” directly.

    I should add that David’s and your post certainly give insight into the unique mix of racism and Mormon thought. I’m interested to know whether these coalesced in any uniform way.

    Comment by Ryan T. — October 21, 2009 @ 4:36 pm

  35. Janet: Not sure, but I think you may be injecting the issue of race a little too heavily into metaphorical, doctrinal issues. The ideas you suggest certainly may have been present among Mormons, but they would have been quite outside the norm.

    Comment by Ryan T. — October 21, 2009 @ 4:49 pm

  36. Ryan, are there examples of other Christian churches denying salvific ordinances to a group of people based on race? If not, how is Mormon racism not exceptional in this regard?

    Comment by Christopher — October 21, 2009 @ 4:54 pm

  37. It should also be noted that Janet’s done research to back up the position she puts forth in comment #33. See her disseration (available here to those who have access to ProQuest) for more, especially chapter 5 on “The Blood of Israel.”

    Comment by Christopher — October 21, 2009 @ 5:00 pm

  38. Christopher, I think you’re using one aspect of Mormon racial thinking–a particularly Mormon expression of racism–to try to argue for an exceptional degree or virulence of Mormon racism, which doesn’t follow. The denial of ordinances can be merely bureaucratic rather than the expression of an extreme degree of racial animosity. If you want to argue for a Mormon racism that was not just uniquely expressed but rather pre-eminent among all American religious movements, you’d need some fairly strong comparative evidence to make that charge plausible.

    Comment by Jonathan Green — October 21, 2009 @ 5:14 pm

  39. Jonathan, I’m trying to help make sense of the prevalence of Mormonism in historiographical discussions of racism in American religion as discussed in the post. I’m afraid you’re focusing too intently on one aspect of the larger issues being discussed.

    Comment by Christopher — October 21, 2009 @ 5:25 pm

  40. Chris,

    Well, it’s certainly a small space between “unique” and “exceptional.” When you say, “denied salvific ordinances” I assume you mean ordination, temple rites, etc. (sacrament/Lord’s supper?). But it seems to me you what you said initially about denial of “sacraments” can be misleading, even as you’ve rephrased it. Did other churches deny blacks higher sacraments or ordinances? No…most other churches didn’t have “higher” sacraments or even a sacramental order. That’s unique to the Mormon context. For Mormonism, salvation and its prerequisites seem to be quite different, more complex. Did Mormons deny blacks salvation? Not entirely. No more, I think, than did other Christians whose theology was more fluid, and who saw blacks as savable but still inferior.

    Comment by Ryan T. — October 21, 2009 @ 6:26 pm

  41. And though the issues she raises might be outside the scope of this discussion, I’ll certainly be interested to look at Janet’s work.

    Comment by Ryan T. — October 21, 2009 @ 6:29 pm

  42. Yeah, I’m referring to priesthood ordination and temple rites. Mormons, so far as I’m aware, did not deny the Lord’s Supper to African Americans in the 19th century–at least not explicitly. And again, I think it is key to acknowledge that for various reasons, Mormons did not seek out African Americans to proselytize (and in fact, at points in the 20th century, enacted policies that all discouraged, if not forbid, missionaries from seeking out black converts), thus implicitly denying even the most basic sacraments–baptism and the Lord’s Supper–to them. No other Protestant church in the U.S. that I am aware of, carried out similar policies at an institutional level. Ultimately, their solution was segregated worship, segregated sacraments, and segregated priesthood. But salvation was still being offered to those persons.

    Comment by Christopher — October 21, 2009 @ 6:44 pm

  43. My point is that while Mormons were probably not any more (or any less) racist than other white Christians on an ideological level, there is evidence to suggest that in practice, they were more so, because they denied black people salvific ordinances.

    To bring that point back to the questions posed in your post—namely, whether “Mormonism deserve[s] a singular or leading place in discussions of Christian anti-black racism in America”—I think that in addition to the many other reasons suggested by other commenters, that the ways in which Mormon racist ideology functioned in practice points to another answer. Mormon racism was institutionalized in a way that denied black people ordinances of salvation—in both explicit and implicit ways—and that Mormonism is indeed unique and exceptional in that sense.

    Comment by Christopher — October 21, 2009 @ 6:50 pm

  44. Finally, let me just add that suggestions that Mormons were and are less racist that other Christians really rubs me the wrong way, because (it seems to me) such suggestions are usually articulated with the intent to downplay Mormon racism and excuse ourselves collectively of darker episodes of our past. Ramempton’s comment struck me as saying just that—“Mormons were kind of racist, but not as bad as others! See, the priesthood ban wasn’t all that bad!”

    So upon further reflection, I still stand by my basic argument that the ways in which racism was institutionalized in Mormonism can be accurately labeled as unique, exceptional, etc. But I fully admit that my conclusions are colored by my own bias and are, in part, reactionary.

    Comment by Christopher — October 21, 2009 @ 7:10 pm

  45. I see and appreciate your argument, Chris. I also see the array of evidence that leads to your conclusion. I agree that some significant distinctions exist between the way that racism was enacted in Mormonism and elsewhere. The salvation question is certainly crucial, and also apparently multi-faceted. For the moment, I maintain that the Mormon scheme of salvation must have had a place for blacks in it not too far removed from the niche for blacks in other theologies. While Protestants offered blacks salvation, it wasn’t their, white salvation, just as white Mormons reserved portions of their salvation for themselves.

    It’s interesting that you suggest a separation between ideology and practice; that’s something I’ll have to chew on. And of course the question of responsibility hovers over that distinction. If nothing else, the peculiarities of Mormon racist practices certainly present another reason why historians might be drawn to it.

    Comment by Ryan T. — October 21, 2009 @ 7:11 pm

  46. Thanks to all who have participated for wonderful dialogue, suggestions, material – sharing in general.

    Comment by Ryan T. — October 21, 2009 @ 7:13 pm

  47. I found Armaund Mauss’s data in All Abraham’s Children helpful. According to his surveys from the 60’s until now, Mormons were similarly racist as the rest of the country, but after 1978, a little less racist than everybody else (both the Mormons and everyone else became substantially less racist over this period, but the Mormons a little more so).

    Still, I see your point Chris. As Nephi says, we should not seek to excuse ourselves because of other men.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — October 21, 2009 @ 8:04 pm

  48. Interesting, Christopher. Isn’t your response to me–that I’m focusing too intently on one aspect of a larger issue–pretty much repeating what I said to you? Interesting.

    Comment by Jonathan Green — October 21, 2009 @ 8:49 pm

  49. Yes, Jonathan. It is.

    Comment by Christopher — October 21, 2009 @ 8:53 pm

  50. Hey everyone,

    This has been an excellent discussion with powerful observations from many sides. I just wanted to add that the discussion has demonstrated the multi-faceted nature of racism both in the past and in the present. The public generally identifies racism as certain prejudicial feelings held by one dominant racial group toward a variety of other racial groups. Historians point out that race and racism often permeate into economic, political, and yes, religious structures within society. I think that Davis probably looks at religious manifestations of racism as permutations of societal racial thought and structure, whereas those here at JI take religion and its role in structuring society much more seriously. Questions of exceptional or representative racism often hinge on the way that someone is defining the term. I think there is much more to be teased out here, but I’ll have to get to it tomorrow. I’m going to bed.

    Comment by Joel — October 21, 2009 @ 10:05 pm

  51. The question concerning the gap between ideology and practice is an important one, and one that we are just beginning to understand more fully. Connell O’Donovan has done some ground-breaking, and I think paradigm-shifting, research into how individuals with black ancestry were treated by priesthood authorities, in particular in regards to marriage, priesthood, and temple ordinances. Although the names of Elijah Able, Walker Lewis, and Jane Manning James and their frustrations with the priesthood and temple restrictions are well known among historians, the names of Laura Berry, Harriet Church, and Robert Robins are not. Berry, Church, and Robins (and several others) each likely received temple ordinances and were sealed to their spouses, and each had some black ancestry, including Church, who was born a slave in Tennessee. I think in most cases, those individuals with lighter complexions had a greater chance of getting exceptions than those with darker skins. How representative these examples are needs more research to determine, but given this evidence, I think there is an argument that in some cases the ideology was far harsher than the practice, but as Connell notes, the “the results were very mixed and contradictory,” and were based on case by case evaluations.

    Comment by David G. — October 22, 2009 @ 12:05 am

  52. Along the lines of ideology and practice…the intellectual historian Thomas Bender has edited a volume called The Antislavery Debate containing the apparently epic debate between David Brion Davis, Thomas L. Haskell, and John Ashworth on antislavery thought. Bender uses the debate as a means to explore ongoing, controversial discussions of how ideology relates to causality and responsibility.

    Comment by Ryan T. — October 22, 2009 @ 1:19 am

  53. Nice post. I don’t think you should leave out of “Racism within Mormonism”, the large factor the components of Kinship and lineage play within Mormonism’s culture and theology.

    Comment by Bob — October 22, 2009 @ 12:03 pm

  54. Is the confirmation meeting in that chapter in Janet’s PhD? I’m very interested in the account.

    Comment by smb — October 22, 2009 @ 5:37 pm

  55. Fantastic discussion. I’m late to the party as always.

    It’s absolutely right to point out that the myth of Mormon non-slavery is just that, a myth. Mormon converts in the South owned slaves, and brought slaves with them to Utah. Brigham Young personally advocated for Utah’s slavery law, and Utah was a slave territory for about a decade. Mormons joined the KKK. There were lynchings in Utah.

    It’s also true that Brigham Young’s rhetoric, while fairly representative of many attitudes of the time, was uniquely respected by church members, and so Mormonism provides an environment for the freezing-in-carbonite of 19th-century racism, which we don’t see as clearly in many other places.

    On the other hand, as I’ve written elsewhere, Mormon racial crimes really pale in comparison to racial crimes elsewhere. It’s not much of a defense; a wrong is a wrong. However, it’s not the case that Mormons have a uniquely problematic history with Blacks.

    Utah saw no Colfax, no Tulsa, no St. Louis, no Chicago, no Rosewood, no Wilmington. Every one of those was an organized massacre of Blacks, often with state assistance, with the victims sometimes numbering into the hundreds. (Utah had its own massacre issues, but they were not racially motivated).

    Utah lynchings also pale in comparison to other states. By some estimates, Utah may have had a dozen race-based lynchings in the period from 1865 to 1968; other estimates put the number at perhaps a half dozen, or even lower. In contrast, some Southern states saw a half dozen lynchings in a single *day*. Mississippi and Georgia both easily top 500 total lynchings total. Southern lynch mobs openly defied direct orders from the Supreme Court, with the infamous note “To Justice Harlan: Come and get you n****r now.”

    This relates to Armand’s point, I think. Mormons had very inflammatory racist rhetoric (though they were not alone in this, see examples like Benjamin Morgan Palmer), but in practice Mormon rhetoric did not translate into large-scale oppression of Blacks. This was probably due in part to the fact that there were so few Blacks in Utah.

    In any case, given the extensive list of racial crimes committed in America, Brigham Young’s boneheaded statements are really rather insignificant. From the period of 1865 to 1968, they had a negligible overall impact on the lived experiences of Blacks as a group in America, by almost any conceivable measure. (They did however become a lightning rod of sorts during the seventies.)

    Comment by Kaimi — October 27, 2009 @ 2:24 pm

  56. Also, I hereby incorporate by reference everything that David G said in #2 and #8. And I’m thinking about just incorporating everything said by David or Christopher:)

    Comment by Kaimi — October 27, 2009 @ 2:33 pm

  57. ” And I?m thinking about just incorporating everything said by David or Christopher:”

    That should be my philosophy of life.

    Comment by Chris H. — October 27, 2009 @ 4:17 pm

  58. The cool thing about Mormonism is that ultimately no one has EVER been denied a salvic (or exaulting) ordinance because the ordinances are available to anyone who meets the requirements in the spirit world to accept work done on his or her behalf. When the time scale is eternity, justice delayed can hardly be considered justice denied. A one hundred year wait at the 1 heavenly day = 1 thousand earthly years is a couple hours of waiting. I’ve been places where it took longer than that to fill the font.

    No, there is no excuse for past sins, and yes, this is bad stuff that we who joined even after 1978 get tagged with, but there is so much more here.

    Comment by Eric Boysen — October 27, 2009 @ 10:08 pm

  59. Eric, is there any evidence that such a view was held by church leaders or members?

    Comment by Christopher — October 27, 2009 @ 10:55 pm

  60. #58, bouncing off Chris’ query, I’d like to see where that’s articulated also.

    And this gloss that you’ve given does nothing to address the marginalization that is still glaringly evident in the construction you’ve presented, a marginalization that obviously persists today.

    Comment by Jared T — October 28, 2009 @ 12:17 am

  61. It was more of a personal observation and I do not have much material at hand to research through; however, I submit that there is internal evidence in OD2:

    Aware of the promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us that at some time, in God’s eternal plan, all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood. . .

    I admit the math is probably more figurative than literal. Even so, we cannot forget that our lives neither begin nor end here. Anyone who believes he or she has been mistreated will have ample opportunity to seek redress from the ultimate Judge.

    Comment by Eric Boysen — October 28, 2009 @ 9:10 am

  62. Eric, I think that what you’re suggesting is interesting and potentially comforting way to look at the race-based priesthood and temple ban. But historically speaking, such a position doesn’t hold up.

    Comment by Christopher — October 28, 2009 @ 9:38 am

  63. What do you mean, Christopher? That the statement quoted from OD-2 is not in fact borne out by the historical evidence? (I don’t know the documentary evidence, but I do remember what I was taught, at home and at church–which was that the ban was both temporary (the day would come on this earth when it would end) and temporal (limited to this earth) and would in fact not limit receipt of all the blessings of exaltation by all worthy persons, regardless of race.)

    Or are you simply saying that vague promises of some promised day in the future do not remove the sting from actual racism among Mormons during the pre-1978 period?

    Comment by Mark B. — October 28, 2009 @ 2:07 pm

  64. What doesn’t hold up? Our covenants are with God. If those who administer the ordinances do not provide them to someone who wants them and is worthy of them, those denied become “a law unto themselves.” They will loose nothing by it.

    Comment by Eric Boysen — October 28, 2009 @ 8:34 pm

  65. Mark, on your first paragraph, I’d like to see some more information (not necessarily from you, just generally speaking) that the idea of a “long promised day” when blacks would be given the fullness of gospel blessings pertained to mortality as well as after death and that either idea was taught with as much or even a fraction of the emphasis as the restriction itself. I wonder if your recollection is atypical or if you may be conflating the temporal and temporary natures of the idea (as you’ve described them). Either way I just have doubts that either of those ideas went hand and hand with teachings about the ban, and that because that idea just doesn’t seem to show up in tandem with the idea of the ban in the evidence available. I can’t speak for Chris, but if it were me, that’s what I would be thinking in terms of this not holding up historically. Maybe toward the end, but I’d just really like to see more data on that.

    And also, I’d like to know (again, not necessarily from you, just generally speaking) if anyone ever tried to explain why somehow after death all of the sudden this wasn’t an issue. It seems more to me like that portion of the idea was never developed as much as why the restriction was in place. And there’s definitely a wealth of evidence to suggest that the idea of why was not unique to the LDS by any means. Where it may have been more pressing to figure out the why, it may not have been as urgent to ponder the aftermath, and it seems more a way of just pushing the issue to a side, outside the reach of discussion and therefore, rendering the issue dead.

    The first edition of Mormon Doctrine (not that this is the best or only source that matters, but its supposed influence gives it a prominent place) says: “Brigham Young and others have taught that in the future eternity worthy and qualified negroes will receive the priesthood and every gospel blessing available to any man” (477). Again, this “future day” falls outside of the bounds of mortality.

    I can’t speak for Chris on any of this, but I say yes to your second paragraph but to strike “simply” and add “during and since the 1978 period”

    Comment by Jared T — October 28, 2009 @ 11:15 pm

  66. Eric, I don’t know what to say, but you’re on a totally different wavelength here. Serious question, how old were you when the ban was lifted (you can round to the nearest 5th year if you want).

    Comment by Jared T — October 28, 2009 @ 11:16 pm

  67. “According to Young, ‘a man who had the Affrican blood in him cannot hold one jot nor tittle of the preisthood [sic].’ The ‘Lord told Cain that he . . . nor his seed’ could receive the priesthood ‘until the last of the posterity of Abel had received the preisthood; until the redemtion of the earth [sic].’ This ‘curse’ was to remain upon Cain’s posterity ‘until the resedue of the posterity of Michal and his wife receive the blessings [sic]” (BY, sermon, 5 February 1852, quoted in Bringhurst, Saints, Slaves, and Blacks, 124).

    Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a sin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the Holy Priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the Holy Priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to (Journal of Discourses, 11:272).

    I read BY as saying in these quotes that after “all the rest of the children,” or the posterity of Abel as well as “Michal and his wife” receive the priesthood (which BY thought wouldn’t happened until the earth was redeemed), then Cain and his posterity would receive the priesthood and temple ordinances.

    The second BY quote was included in the 17 August 1949 First Presidency statement, and the 15 December 1969 FP statement quoted Pres. McKay as saying that “sometime in God’s eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the priesthood.” It’s my sense from reading the Kimball and McKay biographies that church leaders in the 1960s and 1970s used this language somewhat frequently, but the question remains as to whether many people believed that it would be in the this lifetime, or in the millennium (as BY and McConkie believed). We know Hugh B. Brown pushed to end the ban during his lifetime. Pres. Lee apparently said that “it’s only a matter of time” before it would happen, indicating to me that he thought it could end prior to the millennium (Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, 205n18). There were also a few recorded instances of individuals receiving patriarchal and other blessings in the early ’70s that strongly hinted that the ban would end in the near future, and when these blessings were brought to the attention of Pres. Kimball and BRM, neither contested the language (Kimball, 206-207).

    Comment by David G. — October 29, 2009 @ 12:20 am

  68. David, thanks for the quotes and the thoughts. As you indicate, I still wonder about the part about a difference between speaking in terms of a future day after death and a future day in mortality and when the idea of a lifting of the ban in mortality might have gained more traction–as I mentioned in a past comment, I can see these ideas having a greater place toward the end of the ban period.

    Comment by Jared T — October 29, 2009 @ 12:44 am

  69. I’d agree that BY’s statements came to be interpreted in that light toward the end of the period, perhaps beginning in the 1940s. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to be talking that way until there’s pressure to end the ban.

    Comment by David G. — October 29, 2009 @ 12:56 am

  70. Since it has to do with the history of the Mormons, everyone has it completely backwards, of course.

    It is beyond absurd for anyone to put Mormonism at the forefront of anti-black racism. Anyone making such a claim is obviously completely ignorant of every important political aspect of the LDS interaction with the slavery issue in the 19th century. (To be fair, no one has presented, in one place, and in appropriate scholarly fashion, all the important elements of history that bear on this question. Nonetheless, it still requires a vast void in relevant historical studies to propagate such blatant errors. Saying such things based on such ignorance should be considered academic malpractice. It smacks of gratuitous anti-Mormon propaganda, not scholarship.)

    Most of the persecution heaped upon the Mormons in the 19th century was exactly because they were against slavery. In fact, they did as much as, and probably more than, anyone, before the Civil War, to end the practice of slavery. Most of their suffering and deaths from Missouri to Utah were directly related to that cause. It can even be fairly said that the Saints’ absolute resistance to the spread of slavery was a direct cause of the Civil War, the final straw leading to that conflict, which war finally came to be the only way that the South could be stopped from its aggressive steps to spread slavery nationwide, and thus the only way the slaves could be freed. That is all a very long tale which I don’t expect to try to present in detail here. If someone wants to hear the full tale, I could supply it from my notes. Someone needs to write the book on this topic, but I don’t suppose it will be me.

    We might first note several basic points: The religions which justified the actual capturing, importing, owning, commanding, trading, breeding, disciplining, etc., of slaves did not include the LDS Church. For example, it was the Baptist Church which split into northern and southern factions over the issue of slavery, and the public communications of that church probably ought to be consulted on why they chose to do that. They actually operated slave plantations. The Mormons did not. That makes it extremely inappropriate to consult Mormon rhetoric on any related point. They might get just as much good information by asking the Swiss about their opinions on slavery. If historians are that confused about the nature and quality of good evidence, they ought to get a job as a day laborer.

    So, if Brigham Young and the Saints clearly had absolutely nothing to do with any slavery operations, many Saints having died in efforts to avoid or end any existing slavery operations, what was Brigham Young talking about in these few isolated items someone found? Here is my opinion, having not delved into that exact point as deeply as I would like: He was most certainly not trying to justify slavery, but only the church’s policy of not conferring the priesthood upon them. Does anyone have trouble distinguishing those two points? Will someone say that not giving them the priesthood is the same as selling them into abject slavery for life? I hope not. However, I fully expect that those with an anti-Mormon bent will want to say that they are the same thing, deliberately misunderstanding the issue.

    I assume Brigham Young would be horrified to think that his comments on a priesthood issue would be used as rhetoric to justify slavery. And if his rhetoric is used in place of, or to amplify, Baptist rhetoric justifying actual slavery, then any historians making those assumptions are indeed foolish people, and they should probably expect a personal visit from Brigham Young on the other side to straighten them out on his meaning.

    I will go into full speculation mode here and say that I believe Brigham Young had to justify not bringing blacks into the church to many church members who were clamoring for that to happen, perhaps themselves calling Brigham Young a bigot, or some such thing, just as we see today, or at least saw in the 1960s. Brigham Young’s answer was a lot more wise and diplomatic than the exact truth, and, Brigham Young being an exceedingly astute man, surely knew the truth: this was a political issue, especially before the Civil War, which is the time period that I believe the two quotes come from — probably from the time period even before the Utah expedition, the Southern led army, came to Utah to impose slavery on Utah and the Mormons. He surely knew that he had to do everything he could to stop the endless rumors about the Mormons wanting to free the slaves. That was the kind of loose talk that had gotten many Mormons killed in Missouri, and it had to stop. In every way imaginable, he had to disavow wanting to free the slaves, and inventing a doctrine which would not allow anyone, any church member, to try to bring slaves into the church on an equal basis, was probably the most absolute method he had available to him.

    I believe the simple truth is that had the church elected to bring many blacks into the church at the beginning, naturally doing everything they could to make them free men as soon as possible, the church would have been utterly destroyed. The extermination order, or a series of extermination orders, would have been literal and complete. Brigham Young surely understood this [he spoke tangentially on this exact issue], but voicing that truth in public would probably cause many more problems, and might even precipitate further murders by the proslavery people. It might be misunderstood as a challenge to the proslavery people as well as a rebuke. Better to find another way to deal with the issue, something less explosive.

    As a practical political matter, it took two civil wars before the very existence of the church would not be threatened by bringing blacks into the church on an equal basis. The first was the Civil War of the 1860s, with its 600,000 deaths, 2 million casualties in all, which started the liberation process. The second Civil War in the 1960s and 1970s, the civil rights process, finally made it feasible to bring blacks into the church without destroying the whole enterprise.

    There has been a vast amount of uninformed speculation and [often self-righteous] reaction to this question about the blacks and the LDS Church. It is pretty much all nonsense, but until we generally understand our own history on this point, this nonsense will go on.

    Comment by Kent — October 29, 2009 @ 2:48 am

  71. “It is beyond absurd for anyone…Anyone making such a claim is obviously completely ignorant…it still requires a vast void in relevant historical studies to propagate such blatant errors…based on such ignorance should be considered academic malpractice.”

    See your last paragraph.

    “That is all a very long tale which I don?t expect to try to present in detail here.”

    Uh, thank you?

    “Someone needs to write the book on this topic, but I don?t suppose it will be me.”

    Uh, thank you?

    “If historians are that confused about the nature and quality of good evidence, they ought to get a job as a day laborer.”

    I’ve got a cousin with an orange grove you should talk to…

    “Here is my opinion, having not delved into that exact point as deeply as I would like”

    Or as any of us would like, I assure you.

    “I will go into full speculation mode here…”

    You mean, only now?

    “There has been a vast amount of uninformed speculation and [often self-righteous] reaction to this question about the blacks and the LDS Church. It is pretty much all nonsense, but until we generally understand our own history on this point, this nonsense will go on.”

    Wow, and waxing autobiographical in the end to boot. Good show.

    I would suggest you submit your paper to the Journal of Mormon History and see what happens. While you’re waiting to hear from them, you might use your time fruitfully reading the thesis mentioned in comment #32:

    On slavery in Utah, see Nate Ricks? fantastic and award-winning MA thesis, ?A Peculiar Place for the Peculiar Institution: Slavery and Sovereignty in Early Territorial Utah,?

    Comment by Jared T — October 29, 2009 @ 3:41 am

  72. Eric and Mark, sorry for my delay in response. David and Jared, I hope, have answered your questions (they said much more much better than I did). My sense is the same as David’s—that such notions picked up currency in the mid twentieth century, roughly beginning with Pres. McKay.

    Comment by Christopher — October 29, 2009 @ 7:31 am

  73. Kent, unfortunately you are incorrect on most of the points you make. But these is no reason to label as “ignorant” and “anti-Mormon” a number of intelligent, thoughtful, and respectful individuals who have articulated the views you attack.

    Comment by Christopher — October 29, 2009 @ 7:44 am

  74. I was a 17 year-old Unitarian-Universalist, and I did not know anything about the Priesthood ban or its end. I was raised in an integrated community in integrated schools. The minister of my church had been a lawyer who worked on civil rights issues and had marched in the company of King. I joined this church four years later. It was a . . . change.

    Comment by Eric Boysen — October 29, 2009 @ 8:50 am

  75. Martyrs for the cause of Zion, er, abolitionism. After reading Kent’s comment, I think I have material for another chapter in my thesis. 😉

    Comment by David G. — October 29, 2009 @ 12:30 pm

  76. I think I can fairly say that my thesis was not well received. 🙂 Did I detect a little scorn somewhere in there? 🙂

    I did not expect otherwise, jumping in as an unknown, but I did think it was useful to mention that there is another way to look at things which puts the Mormons in a very good light, making them heroes in fact. It would probably take a 600 page book to prove my thesis beyond a reasonable doubt, especially in this current academic culture in where it is fashionable to think poorly of the early saints on the racism issue. Do I really want to take on that assignment of trying to change the entire force of academia on these points? Whether I’m right or wrong, it would probably still be a pointless effort.

    There are masses of documentary evidence to demonstrate in detail what I have laid out in summary form. It might take two volumes to cover all the relevant material. One interesting book was written by an army author whose goal was to explain away the obvious. The Army which had been in Kansas trying to tip that state to slavery, and ultimately failed, was the same army, augmented by Missouri proslavery people, which left late in the year 1857 to continue its proslavery political efforts in Utah. The army author was trying retrospectively to show that the Army did not get involved in the partisan slavery disputes in Kansas, when it most obviously had. In fact, it was the efforts in Kansas which kept the Army there until it was almost too late to attempt to cross the plains that year. Pulling out of that Kansas conflict too late, plus the harassing and delaying efforts of the Mormons, meant that the Army spent an extremely unpleasant winter in Wyoming. But who today cares about any of this stuff? Our ideology has supplanted actual history. One interesting detail — the Congress threatened to completely de-fund and disband the entire Army Department if the Army did not get out of Kansas. There’s one historical clue one could check out. (Only the House was still controlled by Northern votes. The Senate, the presidency, and the Supreme Court were controlled by Southern votes.)

    There were some interesting comments by Stephen A. Douglas in the Senate on the Mormons, and Utah, and the army going there — the “popular sovereignty” issue in Utah. And Brigham Young had some interesting comments in the Journal of Discourses on the continual efforts of the proslavery faction in the United States to destroy the Saints.

    I assume it would surprise most Mormons, historians or not, to discover that the Mormon Battalion could best be described as a prisoner Battalion, since it was not allowed to comprise more than one third of the military expedition, the logic being that the other two thirds could compel or destroy the Mormons if need be. The recruiting party sent to “invite” the Mormons to participate in the Mormon Battalion, consisted of about 200 dragoons — well armed infantry soldiers who fought on foot but traveled on horses. One might guess on the face of it that they were prepared to kill all the Mormons on the pretext that they were disloyal to the union, never mind if they had been thrown out of the country and their property confiscated with the blessing of the forces now recruiting them. Some of the Saints old “friends” from Missouri arranged for this confrontation, and hoped to remove the “Mormon problem” from the face of the earth through this ploy, since they had mostly failed in Missouri. The Mormons did comply with their requests, much to the regret of those who were plotting against them.

    And if someone actually had a serious interest in exploring this topic in detail I could give them some more critical clues which would let them ” write the book” themselves, or at least convince themselves that what I’m saying is correct.

    But we are probably in a situation where we have students who must go along with whatever their professors are teaching in order to finish their degrees. So I would not expect anyone to have the time at this point to seriously investigate what I’ve said, although I suppose it could happen.

    Actually, I did submit a proposal to the Journal of Mormon History on this issue. At least they took me seriously enough to respond. If I can paraphrase the response, including reading between the lines, I think I was told that until I wrote my two-volume exhaustive and definitive treatment of the topic, it would make no sense to try to publish a much shorter article in the Journal. That would be just enough to stir things up without actually resolving anything, and the Journal likes only well-documented and well-settled history, as they see it. I had hoped they were more open to alternate interpretations of history, and might even enjoy a little controversy, but I was disappointed.

    I have two law degrees, I have published three books on church history, and I am retired from the US Department of State. I have nothing to gain professionally by promoting these ideas, but I do consider it important that I have them straight myself. If a few other people find these ideas interesting, then that is an extra benefit.

    Comment by Kent — October 29, 2009 @ 3:54 pm

  77. “Did I detect a little scorn somewhere in there?”

    Huh??? Not half as much as was in your original comment.

    “I did not expect otherwise, jumping in as an unknown,”

    The response has nothing to do with your being an “unknown”, but with your failure to demonstrate anything but unsubstantiated speculation all while vigorously and self righteously insulting anyone that doesn’t agree with you. Even in this comment, you fail to note a single book or source to back up your claims.

    “If I can paraphrase the response, including reading between the lines”

    You should probably try harder at reading through the lines of the JMH response.

    “But we are probably in a situation where we have students who must go along with whatever their professors are teaching in order to finish their degrees. So I would not expect anyone to have the time at this point to seriously investigate what I?ve said, although I suppose it could happen.”

    Huh? Are you referring to us? Seriously, from your inferiority complex to this comment, it’s clear you don’t have any good notion of what goes on in graduate programs in history.

    Simple question, so have you read the thesis referred to or not, since this is apparently your subject of expertise? And if so, can you coherently articulate its points and where and why you differ?

    Oh, and what books on Church (LDS?) history have you written? This ought to be instructive.

    Comment by Jared T — October 29, 2009 @ 4:18 pm

  78. Scorn — The ease with which outsiders (and insiders, too?) heap ridicule on the early Mormons, with no sensible basis in fact, is something I find irritating. They are so blatantly incorrect that I’m not sure I should give them the benefit of any doubts. Are they just spouting what they have heard others say without checking it? That is not something to praise, even if they are otherwise good people. Are the Mormons the last group of people who can be smeared with impunity? It seems so.

    If you have the patience, I could eventually back up what I have said in a fairly detailed way, but it would not come in a tidy package. I suppose I could start to draft a book on the topic online, serially, but I don’t know how far I would get in that mode.

    Actually the JMH response was quite humorous, good natured, and intended to be so — something about “too many fireworks.” But the intent was clear enough.

    It is true that I have not been a graduate history student. But there are “religion tests” or liberal political correctness tests galore in academia, even at BYU. The absolute acceptance of the dogma of evolution for science majors is another well-known case. In law school I managed to terminally offend one antitrust professor without being wise enough to know the effect of my comment beforehand.

    I have taken a look at the thesis you suggested. It will take a while to digest. It appears from my quick scan that there never were more than 50 blacks in Utah, half freed, and half still slave, but on their way to California to freedom. Did I miss a table of data somewhere? That is a pretty small sample to base much on. And the “slavery” law in Utah sounds more like a regulation of contract labor. Did Brigham figure out how to define non-slavery slavery, having it both ways, being neither a hated abolitionist nor a real slaveholder? But these are only first impressions.

    I would have to resurrect some old files to get specific quotes and citations, but I could do that if it seems useful.

    Books: by Kent Huff
    Joseph Smith?s United Order: A Non-Communalistic Interpretation
    Brigham Young?s United Order: A Contextual Interpretation (in 2 volumes, 1 published)
    Creating The Millennium: Social Forces and Church Growth in the 21st Century

    Comment by Kent — October 29, 2009 @ 5:21 pm

  79. I should add that I claim no great expertise in this area of slavery, only enough to clear up one important piece of the “Mormon Strategic Studies” project I am actually focused on. I don’t suppose it would be useful or wise to publish my results on this topic, but it is a way of answering many questions that have puzzled me concerning the interplay of religion and politics, including possibilities for the future.

    Comment by Kent — October 29, 2009 @ 5:31 pm

  80. Kent, thanks for giving your book titles, true enough that there are politics in every profession, but to say that, “we are probably in a situation where we have students who must go along with whatever their professors are teaching in order to finish their degrees,” is hopelessly beyond that observation.

    Many people have published articles based on their larger research, I’ll wait with baited breath to see what you come out with in print somewhere…even if on a blog of your own.

    However, again, you’ve offered little substantive here, and quite frankly, I believe you’ve had your say on this thread, and it’s time to take it elsewhere.

    Comment by Jared T — October 29, 2009 @ 5:39 pm

  81. OK, I’ll be quiet after one parting shot…

    [edited for failure to follow directions]

    I have an 8-page abstract of my argument on slavery and related issues which I created for my own personal use, should I ever decide to create a book. I know of no easy way to post it somewhere, so if anyone wants to see it, email me at and I will send a copy.

    [unedited because I’ve seen that document, and wow, it’s a mess of nonsense–I encourage you to see for yourself!]

    [edited for failure to follow directions]

    If anyone is offended, just consider me an attorney for the defense, not a professional historian.

    [unedited for irony]

    [Bye Kent!]

    Comment by Kent — October 30, 2009 @ 1:25 am

  82. Interesting exchange.

    It looks like the JI editors have pulled the plug, understandably. I’ll only note that Kent makes a number of claims — such as the Utah slave law not really being about slavery — which do not seem supported by the evidence. My take on the Utah slave law and the speech urging its passage is that they are both clearly about slavery.

    Also as I’ve written elsewhere, the myth of the early LDS church as abolitionist is a serious overstatement. It is true that some early church members opposed slavery, and also true that a perception among outsiders of the church as abolitionist was a serious contributing factor to anti-Mormon activity in Missouri.

    However, a variety of other pieces of evidence show the incompleteness of the perception of church abolitionism, including for instance Joseph Smith’s own statements against abolitionism, the official retraction of Phelps’ editorial on free Blacks, and Brigham Young’s statements.

    Comment by Kaimi — October 30, 2009 @ 2:17 am

  83. Kaimi, correct indeed. Kent makes so many wild claims, with no basis in fact or reality, that we felt it best not to continue engaging him directly. But that doesn’t mean we can’t keep talking about race and Mormon history, which we don’t tire of. 😉 The best account I’ve read of the vacilations between abolitionism and a proslavery attitude among early Mormons is Ricks’ thesis, linked above a couple of times. Ricks emphasizes that even when taking either of these positions, Mormons were usually moderates, eschewing strong commitments on either side, which I think is an important observation. If you haven’t read it, I’d highly recommend it.

    Comment by David G. — October 30, 2009 @ 6:58 am

  84. Technical update:
    So no one needs to communicate with me directly, I am putting my little 8-page argument summary where it can be downloaded from

    Supposedly, it will be there for at least a month.

    Comment by Kent — October 30, 2009 @ 4:30 pm

  85. Discussions concerning slavery are understandably limited to African slavery in most venues. It’s surprising to me, though, to see this much discussion of Mormonism and slavery without an acknowledgment that Mormons were much more intimately concerned with Indian rather than black slavery.

    No one but Kent has explicitly mentioned slavery in the Utah period so this caution may be unnecessary, but I don’t think anybody should cite Mormon rhetoric about slavery post-1850 as reflecting a specific racial attitude toward blacks without satisfactorily demonstrating that such rhetoric *does* refer exclusively to blacks rather than to Indians.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 30, 2009 @ 7:03 pm

  86. Ardis,

    Thanks for pointing out the very correct fact that, for most Mormons, Indian slavery was much more connected with their actual lives.

    I am still inclined to see the Utah law as reflecting an attitude towards Blacks in particular. Brigham Young’s own speeches on the topic (for instance his 1852 remarks) are often focused on Blacks. Also, I haven’t read the old Indian codes, but I’ve seen sources which refer to them as more lenient than the law on Black slaves (see, e.g., ). (Is that correct, do you know?)

    Comment by Kaimi — October 31, 2009 @ 12:33 pm

  87. I agree with you completely, Kaimi — when Brigham Young or any other Mormon in the Utah period referred to slavery in the abstract, they were referring to black slavery and reflecting an attitude toward that race. We do need to be alert to references that may refer solely to Indian slavery, though, in the context of day-to-day life in Utah.

    My caveat wasn’t for people like you coming from that perspective — I think we need to be alert to people coming from the other direction:

    It isn’t too hard to imagine someone pretending to be a historian, whose goal is to “prove” that Mormons had an exceedingly benign view of slavery, finding a statement in the context of Indian slavery — say, something requiring a child to be freed at majority (or whatever the age was), or prohibiting generational slavery — and using it to support the notion that Mormons were gung-ho for the emancipation of blacks under the same terms.

    Thanks for giving me an excuse to clarify.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 31, 2009 @ 1:12 pm

  88. Ahh — yep, that makes perfect sense, Ardis. Thanks for the clarification. I always find it a good sign when we agree completely. 🙂

    Comment by Kaimi — October 31, 2009 @ 4:27 pm

  89. the bell curve: intelligence and class structure in american life by Richard J. Hermstein and Charles Murray, published in 1994

    funded by the Pioneer Fund

    The Global Bell Curve: Race, IQ, and Inequality Worldwide by Richard Lynn, first published in June, 2008, builds on Hermstein and Murray’s earlier book.

    funded by the Pioneer Fund, Richard Lynn became a board member of the Pioneer Fund.

    Clark Memorandum, J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young Univeristy, Spring, 1997, page 35 discusses the bell curve of hermstein and murray. This law school publication gives credance to the book, and notes it as a source. It was printed from an address given at the J. Reuben Clark Law School, at a fireside, on March 10, 1996, by Elder John K. Carmack, of the First Quorum of the Seventy. A general authority and lawyer supported the racist publication by Hermstein and Murray, at the BYU law school no less.

    John K. Carmack became a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy in 1984. In 2001 he was given emeritus status and released. His career had been a lawyer.

    Dallin Oaks was president of BYU from 1971 to 1980. From 1980 to 1984 he was a justice in the Utah Supreme Court. He became an Apostle in 1984. In 1976 and 1981 he was considered for appointment on the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Cleon Skousen’s nephew Mark Skousen is an economist and associates with Charles Murray.
    At the above link, Skousen promotes Murray and the Bell Curve.

    But Mormons are not really racist, are they?

    Comment by Mike — November 1, 2009 @ 8:14 am

  90. Don’t you just love it when some clown does that? I mean, you can tell he has spent hours and hours collecting his data and laying it out with what he seems to think is killer logic, all so he can close with a snarky zinger — but he fails to connect his dots? Where, for instance, does Dallin Oaks’s CV fit into this conspiracy? How is anyone’s relationship to Cleon Skousen relevant?

    And to cap it off, he is too cowardly to identify himself with anything but the most generic of monikers. Might as well have signed it “anonymous.”

    Yeah, that’s 24 seconds of my life spent considering his words that I want back for some better use, like scratching my left ear.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 1, 2009 @ 9:26 am

  91. I think it’s solid logic Ardis. It reminds me of this scene from my favorite documentary:

    Comment by SC Taysom — November 1, 2009 @ 10:41 am

  92. You’re right, SC. Especially about Col. Sanders.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 1, 2009 @ 11:00 am

  93. Mike,

    Your ability to use flimsy anecdotal evidence in an argument is impressive. If you are not already, you should become a talk radio host, they appreciate such arguments. On an academic blog, like this one, such arguments are, well, stupid.

    Comment by Chris H. — November 1, 2009 @ 11:20 am

  94. Mike: re: The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray (1994).

    First of all, you have to make the case that either this book or Charles Murray is implicitly or explicitly racist, e.g. exhibiting prejudice towards other races.

    Murray and Herrnstein do indeed talk extensively about statistical differences in test scores, the debate over nature vs. nurture and the like with reference to different races. That was enough to make their book wildly controversial (as in not remotely politically correct – the public discussion of racial differences is all but verboten), but it is hardly adequate to establish the proposition that they exhibit, defend, or promote prejudice against or the unfair treatment of members of other races.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 1, 2009 @ 3:17 pm

  95. FYI: Elder Carmack’s article is available here.

    Comment by Justin — November 1, 2009 @ 6:28 pm

  96. Thanks for the link, Justin. Reading Elder Carmack’s quotation from Hermstein and Murray and its context shows the quality of Mike’s argument by innuendo: not only is the quotation itself racially benign, but it is used to decouple IQ from achievement, opening the world’s honors and riches to anybody with the drive to win regardless of origins.

    If merely being aware of Hermstein and Murray makes one a racist, then Mike is the most racist creature to take part in this discussion.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 1, 2009 @ 7:07 pm

  97. Actually, Mark Skousen was the coach of the only little league baseball team I ever played on, in summer 1966.

    We went 0-12. That suggests that nothing that Skousen says should be taken seriously.

    Comment by Mark B. — November 1, 2009 @ 8:38 pm

  98. Or it suggests that you, Mark B. have in fact been part of this nefarious plot for more than 40 years.

    Comment by SC Taysom — November 1, 2009 @ 8:48 pm

  99. Wow, that was some wacky discussion.

    As Ardis points out, Elder Carmack quotes exactly one paragraph of The Bell Curve, on the topic of the _un_ importance of test scores. The passage he quotes is this:

    Perhaps a freshman with an sat math score
    of 500 had better not have his heart set on
    being a mathematician, but if instead he
    wants to run his own business, become a u.s.
    Senator or make a million dollars, he should
    not set aside his dreams. . . . The link between
    test scores and those achievements is dwarfed
    by the totality of other characteristics that he
    brings to life.

    I disagree strongly with the racist conclusions of The Bell Curve, but that passage itself is entirely innocuous. Now, there are still potential concerns of validating a source by citing it, even for innocuous facts. But those are much different than the implication in the earlier comment (that an LDS leader in a BYU publication endorsed the racist findings of The Bell Curve). Carmack cited to a problematic book, quoting an entirely innocuous and uncontroversial passage from it.

    I’m not sure what the other allegations are in the weird comment, but I think it’s true that, yes, Dallin H. Oaks was at BYU at the time that Elder Carmack cited an innocuous passage from a controversial book (which came to racist conclusions, which were not cited).

    It’s also true that there are many Skousen followers who populate the lunatic fringe. Undoubtedly, a portion of them are racist, and some of the writings of the fringe are quite scary.

    And it’s also true that a number of individual Mormons are racist. I’ve talked with many of them.

    I don’t believe that one can accurately proceed from the facts presented — Elder Carmack’s citation of an innocuous passage in a problematic book; or Elder Oaks’ presence at BYU at the time of that citation; or the existence of either Elder Carmack or Elder Oaks’ law degrees (or their other extraneous biographical information); or the existence in the universe of Skousen loonies, unfortunate as that may be; or any combination of the above — to a conclusion that either (1) The Church is racist, or (2) Mormons are racist generally.

    Comment by Kaimi — November 2, 2009 @ 10:45 am

  100. Kaimi, you don’t get it because Mike left out one crucial piece of information. Elder Oaks’s law degree is from the U. of Chicago. Now with that it mind, chew on this: Ryan T., the author of this post that has sparked this discussion, is a graduate student where? At the U. of Chicago! And you probably did not know this, but one time Cleon Skousen had a layover at the Chicago airport! Thus, this post is proof that Mormons are racist. And Chicago, which is in the same state as Nauvoo, one of Mormonism’s most significant historical places of residence, is somehow to blame.

    Duh. 🙂

    Comment by Christopher — November 2, 2009 @ 4:35 pm

  101. Wow, I totally missed that one, Chris. Nevermind, I agree, the conspiracy has now been shown to be real. 🙂

    The funny thing is, the broad topic of race and the church is not exactly an area where new attenuated theories are needed. We* all know (and have discussed online), that it’s pretty easy to assemble real evidence that a number of prior church leaders *did* make real, problematic racial statements. This makes detours like Elder Carmack’s piece really unnecessary — if someone really wants to take on past church leaders on race, there is a whole lot of low-hanging fruit to pick from.

    *”We” = you, I, Dave, Ardis, the whole JI crew, and basically anyone who’s read Mauss or Bringhurst or Darron Smith’s book or Greg Prince’s DOM bio or Embry or Bush&Mauss or any of a dozen other major works.

    Comment by Kaimi — November 2, 2009 @ 7:52 pm

  102. I’m glad I was able to bring entertainment to you folks here.

    Something to clarify with one of the other posters. The book itself is far more than just politically incorrect. Use the links I provided about the Pioneer Fund. Eugenics is a very real study, and is quite harmful. Hitler was influenced by the United States research and publications on this subject.

    I’m laughing that my comments were immediatley categorized into a conspiracy theory. There is no conspiracy. The only truth is that folks are ignorant to history, and fail to understand current topics which are quite damaging to humans. This ignorance can be found even among general authorities.

    Oaks was not the president of BYU when the comment was made, to correct another poster.

    Setting aside conspiracy nonsense, why do educated, general authorities even waste time or money on books such as the one I mentioned?

    Also, I gave links to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Before anyone ridicules that organization, as has been done by the media recently, keep in mind that the Aryan Compound in Idaho no longer exists thanks to SPLC.

    Back to Oaks:

    Oaks spoke at the October 2009 General Conference:,5232,23-1-1117-9,00.html

    He stated that if a person thinks it is wrong that suffering is inflicted on a race, they are simply confused about God’s love. Is there an underlying sentiment there? Why bring race into the discussion of God’s love?

    Racism is not nearly as open as it once was, but is still very real. I noticed at the LDS Newsroom that the LDS Leadership supports Gay partnerships, just not gay marriage. Many might see this comparable to “we are not racist because we provide separate restrooms for colored people”. Kindness and declaring love for other races or groups does not make everything good. If one group believes themselves to be superior, the underlying racism is still there.

    Comment by Mike — November 20, 2009 @ 11:42 am

  103. About the Pioneer Fund

    About the new head of the Pioneer Fund

    Comment by Mike — November 20, 2009 @ 11:47 am

  104. well, i have to be honest, i lack the intelligence and knowledge on this subject to make any real claims here.

    but i have to say that the argument generated here has been quite fantastic. Good job with the initial article and responses. especially kaimi and jared t.

    needless to say that i will be recommending this site, as well as many of the sources sited in this debate to many of my friends who are currently studying in these areas.

    Fantastic article Ryan

    Comment by landon — November 21, 2009 @ 6:05 am

  105. Mike, nobody is defending the Bell Curve here. You are just making ridiculous assertions and connections based on a minor reference. Most of the people take racism within Mormon culture very seriously. I am just not sure what you are trying to contribute.

    Comment by Chris H. — November 21, 2009 @ 12:52 pm

  106. I’m late to the discussion, but I do have an interesting fact to contribute.

    In the early decades of the 20th century, the LD Saints in Baton Rouge, LA did not have a place to meet, so they rented space from the KKK hall. There was also some overlap in the membership of both organizations.

    Comment by Mark Brown — November 21, 2009 @ 5:00 pm

  107. And I am later than Mark but wanted to thank everyone for the discussion I just now found the time to read.

    Comment by BHodges — December 3, 2009 @ 2:50 pm


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