JI Resources on Blacks and the Priesthood

By March 4, 2012

[Last week’s Bott controversy (See the Slate article by JI’s Max Mueller) generated not one but two official statements from the LDS Church. With all the discussion around the net on the issue of blacks and the priesthood, I’m posting this updated list of JI posts on the subject for your reference.]

Juvenile Instructor Posts

Paul Reeve’s excellent guest post about Bott’s remarks and dishonoring Elijah Abel’s legacy. This should be required reading. Here’s a sample:

If even one black Mormon was eligible for the priesthood before 1978, then all blacks were.  In Elijah Abel all of the hokey rationalizations and false justifications for a race based temple and priesthood ban fall by the wayside.  If even one black Mormon was eligible for the priesthood before 1978, then all blacks were.  Abel was not in need of white paternalism in 1883 when he served a third mission for Mormonism at the age of 75 and he certainly does not deserve it in 2012.

Andrea Radke-Moss brings us the moving story of Kris, a black Latter-day Saint, who wrote a letter to her stake president challenging the racist words of a bishop.

Andrea also wrote a fascinating post about race in Lucy Emily Woodruff Smith’s 1893-1894 mission journal which went up just a few hours before the Bott controversy erupted. This is part 1 and part 2 is coming on Tuesday.

Rachel Cope, religion professor at BYU, the day after Bott’s remarks contributed this excellent post about how she teaches Official Declaration 2.

See also this review of an article “Black Methodists, White Mormons: Race and Antipolygamy” by Christopher.

An excellent place to start forv background on this issue is David and Steve’s post Revisiting: ?Mormonism?s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview? which gives an overview of some of the standard literature on blacks and the priesthood and argues for the continued relevance of Lester Bush’s seminal early 70s Dialogue article. It’s also in Spanish here.

As important as Bush’s article continues to be, some significant work has been done since then that points even more strongly to a post-Joseph Smith institution of the ban with the impetus being a series of controversies involving marriages and sexual relations between black priesthood holders and white women. Connell O’Donovan has done some of the most important and groundbreaking work on this point (see below). One pivotal scene is that of the controversy involving Enoch Lewis (son of black elder Walker Lewis of Massachusetts), his white wife and their infant son which missionary William Appleby wrote to Brigham Young about in 1847. Here at the JI, Steve Fleming posted about an important passage from Appleby’s record on this point: ?Oh! Woman, thought I, where is thy shame?: William I. Appleby, Intermarriage, and the Ban.

Our own Max is doing some exciting research on Jane Manning James. You can get a taste here in this link to an article he wrote about her in the Harvard Review:

?Playing Jane?: Jane Manning James in the Harvard Divinity Bulletin

Much of the focus on the priesthood ban has generally focused on the 19th century and the origins of the ban, making work on 20th century Mormon interactions with race and the legacy of the ban especially welcome and important. It has been often argued that blackness was so rare in Utah that the priesthood ban was, for all intents and purposes, a non issue for much of the 20th century, not to mention the late 19th. However, some have undertaken to complicate that view. Some exciting work on Booker T. Washington and Mormons in the early 20th century is also being conducted by Max. See this post for a taste: Lecturing about Race and Mormonism at Harvard College. David posted about Wallace Thurmon and “Jim Crow” Utah here: ?[T]he only thing that distinguishes Utah from Georgia is that it does not have jim-crow cars?: Wallace Thurman, Mormon Utah, and Blacks in the West. And Ardis S. had an excellent series of posts on BYU and the Civil Rights Movement:

Black Muslims, Malcolm X, and BYU

CRM, the Daily Universe, and the 1950s

BYU, LDS Teachings, and the Civil Rights Movement 

BYU and Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968

BYU and Martin Luther King in 1969

An important part of understanding the origins of the priesthood ban is an understanding of the development of the idea of a curse of Ham or Cain. David has written two excellent posts dealing with this murky history and its use and abuse. He writes, “It is clear that Genesis 9 does not refer to race nor does it cast Canaan (or Ham) as the progenitor of black Africans. How then did Canaan, or Ham for that matter, come to be associated with Africa, and why did the passage ultimately become one of the primary biblical justifications used by Southern slaveholders to justify the peculiar institution prior to the Civil War?”

Noah?s Nakedness and the Curse of Canaan (Gen. 9:18-27)

Noah?s Curse on Canaan Redux: How Ham Got to Africa

Here are a few posts dealing with the 1978 priesthood revelation, reactions and interpretations:

Summary of the 30th Anniversary Priesthood Commemoration held June 8, 2008 at the Tabernacle

A Brief Note on the Priesthood Ban and the Church in the Dominican Republic

Narrating the Priesthood Ban and Constructing Selves

Universalism, Mormon History, and the 1978 Revelation

Finally, here are a few posts in which JIers have wrestled with how to share some of the insights that this scholarship gives to a wider audience in a faithful context.

Teaching About the Priesthood Ban and Official Declaration 2 in Sunday School

Teaching About Racism (Including the Priesthood Ban) in Sacrament Meeting

Article filed under Race


  1. very useful, nicely done.

    Comment by BHodges — March 4, 2012 @ 5:30 pm

  2. This is great to have. Thanks for putting it together, Jared.

    Comment by Ardis S. — March 4, 2012 @ 5:58 pm

  3. Thanks for this Jared. And I got your comment on my class blog. I’ll be posting some additional links from JI on the site, including yours, but am only approving comments from my students.

    Comment by Reb — March 5, 2012 @ 11:29 am

  4. Hey Reb, thank you. No worries. I didn’t realize it was a class blog. I should have read the About page more closely! Great work, btw.

    Also, thank you Ardis and Blair.

    Comment by Jared T — March 5, 2012 @ 12:03 pm

  5. Thanks for the resources!

    Comment by Believe All Things — March 7, 2012 @ 12:44 am


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