The Making of Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons, Part 1

By February 20, 2008

Margaret Young has graciously agreed to provide us a multi-part commentary on the making of the film, Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons. She needs little introduction, as she has blogged at various sites, including Times and Seasons, Mormon Mentality, and By Common Consent. She is, in a word, prolific.

Journal: Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons
Margaret Young
Next showing (and the only screening currently scheduled in Utah):
Saturday March 8th at 11:00 a.m.
Egyptian Theater, Ogden
Part of the Foursite Film Festival (www.foursitefilmfest.com ).

David Grua suggested I detail the miraculous way this documentary came to be. This particular post will simply be a reminder of some of the manna from Heaven which fell in our direction.

Miracle #1: The Bickerton Footage
After Rob Foster, the first Black Student-body president, announced his decision to make a documentary about Black Mormons (initially titled Eleventh Hour Laborers, he got a phone call from Richard Bickerton, a retired filmmaker who had shot some remarkable footage in 1968. A handful of Black Mormons had told why they had joined a Church which kept them from being ordained to the priesthood (a concept not fully understood by many, who likely think of priests as celibate men who choose the “calling”, not as power and authority to act in God’s name which was offered to all worthy males-except those of African lineage). Besides these Black Mormon converts, Bickerton also filmed protesters, who were candid and devout in their reasons for protesting BYU because of the way the LDS Church seemed to regard Blacks.

Bickerton’s film had never been finished. By the time we viewed it, I had also brought Richard Dutcher into the project. Darius Gray was present as well. We found a room in BYU’s Wilkinson Center and then realized we didn’t have the equipment to view a reel of film. I ran to the office of technical support to find an uptake roll. They gave me something which looked like it might work, but it turned out to be a real for audio tapes (the big kind we had in the 1960s). I went back, and we finally found something which would let us play the footage.

Because the film was unfinished, there were no names or titles on any of the interview subjects. But I instantly recognized my former stake president (Ben Lewis), BYU’s long-since deceased basketball coach, Stan Watts, and several people who had been in my ward during my childhood. Darius recognized all but one of the Black Mormons-and had the privilege of seeing himself as a healthy young man, saying, “I’m the Sunday School superintendent. I got called just like everyone else.”

Getting that footage was the first miracle. Dick Bickerton had kept the film with him since 1968, transporting it during every move. He had no idea if it would ever see the light. But suddenly, it was simply time.

I’m eager for some audience member to recognize himself or herself as one of the protesters, from forty years ago. I have no doubt that it’ll happen.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. Thank you Margaret. That really was a miracle.

    Comment by David G. — February 20, 2008 @ 5:01 pm

  2. Oops–looks like I failed to say that Rob Foster was the first Black studentbody president at BYU. There had been other black studentbody presidents at other universities. Duh.

    Comment by Margaret Young — February 20, 2008 @ 5:37 pm

  3. Thank you for this, Margaret. I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation on the documentary last night. My favorite line was when you said that “We had come to expect Manna from Heaven.” Such should be expected for such a worthy project.

    Comment by Ben — February 20, 2008 @ 5:39 pm

  4. Margaret,

    Following up on my e-mail, did you ever run across Richard Otieno?

    Thanks!

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — February 20, 2008 @ 7:55 pm

  5. Thanks for the write-up, Margaret. It was nice to meet you in person last night. The clips you showed made me even more eager for the Ogden screening in a couple of weeks.

    Comment by Christopher — February 20, 2008 @ 8:05 pm

  6. Thanks for this Margaret. I enjoyed seeing clips of the film at your presentation last night and look forward to seeing the entire film. And thank you for inviting Darius Gray up to answer questions. His stories and thoughts were very moving–I could have stayed and listened for hours.

    Comment by stan — February 20, 2008 @ 8:07 pm

  7. Fascinating, Margaret. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Ray — February 20, 2008 @ 9:04 pm

  8. Stephen–I’m sorry I never answered that. I have not run across Richard Otieno. I’ll have to ask Darius if he knows him.

    I was so glad that Darius could come to the presentation last night. I believe there were some in the audience who really needed to hear what he had to say. (He told about learning he wouldn’t be able to hold the priesthood–the night before his baptism. The rest of the story is in the doc.) It does strengthen young people to hear that story, since they have rarely contemplated what it must’ve been like pre-1978.

    Comment by Margaret Young — February 20, 2008 @ 10:46 pm

  9. Margaret and Darius are both so Truly Blessed! they are really “Manna from Heaven” unto me personally, they have always been such a GIFT everything they work on is always so Positive and Honest.

    Being in the UK though I have all of Margaret and Darius’s works so far I have not seen “Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons” but I know I will and the Blessings will be many.

    If you get the chance to see this documentary please do so, you will not regret it.

    John

    Comment by John B Sheffield — February 22, 2008 @ 1:51 pm

  10. I certainly enjoyed your Post immensely. I have not yet seen the Documentary, and would love to have seen it. Yesterday (July 18, 2010), after Church, I approached several people of whom I thought were educated, about whether they know anything about the History of early African-Americans in the Church, and whether they have heard of Margaret Young and Darius Gray? I was totally surprised to receive their response, “No.” The reason why I was surprised, is I attends a highly educated Ward in Arlington, Virginia, I was sure that I could find some knowledgeable persons on the History of Blacks in the Church. I am an African-American member and have been since September 17, 1977. Been researching on the subject matter since my days at Brigham Young University in 1981, and continued doing more research. Fascinating stuff to learn from, and enjoyed learning more. I think the we need to have this available to our Stake Libraries, so that it can be made available to the Wards, as well as to members who would desire to view it in a group setting or a Fireside. There are many ways that this Documentary can be shown. I am a retired Librarian with the United States Senate’s Library, and that’s why I think that our Stake Libraries should have this DVD in their collections. I will attempt to approach my own Stake Librarian about this DVD. Stay tuned for additional response soon. Sorry for writing a long blog, but I do want you to know thatI do appreciate and enjoyed reading your Post. Have a great day, and keep up with helping others to appreciate the rich history of people of color in the early years (1830- and on) of the Church.

    Chester Lee Hawkins

    Comment by chester lee hawkins — July 19, 2010 @ 9:10 am

  11. […] earlier posts on the priesthood ban or on this film, see here, here, here, and here. Comments (29) […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » “I Was Told That It Was True, and It Was a Marvelous Day” — January 31, 2011 @ 11:29 am


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