The Mormon Church and Blacks:
A Documentary History

On June 1, 1978, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lifted its 126-year-long ban preventing male Church members of African descent from receiving the priesthood, declaring that “all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard to race or color” (109). In The Mormon Church and Blacks: A Documentary History, Matthew L. Harris and Newell G. Bringhurst present thirty documents illustrating the Church’s stance on blacks and the priesthood before, during, and after the ban.

Matthew L. Harris is a professor of history at Colorado State University–Pueblo and coauthored The Founding Fathers and the Debate over Religion in Revolutionary America. Newell G. Bringhurst is a professor emeritus of history and political science at College of the Sequoias and wrote Saints, Slaves, and Blacks: The Changing Place of Blacks within Mormonism. Harris and Bringhurst have coauthored several books, including Scattering of the Saints: Schism within Mormonism and The Persistence of Polygamy series.

The Mormon Church and Blacks is divided into seven chapters that chronologically document the Church’s evolving stance on the priesthood and blacks. Each chapter begins with a brief historical introduction, followed by a discussion of each primary source before presenting the document to the reader. The collected documents range from early LDS newspaper articles, a patriarchal blessing given to one of the first black Latter-day Saints, letters between Church members and Church leaders, scholarly essays, statements made by prominent Church leaders, and official Church statements.

In part 1, Harris and Bringhurst first explore the scriptural canon that established the Church’s complicated position on blacks and the priesthood. Part 2 investigates the shifting attitudes on blacks and slavery in the early Church. The beginnings of priesthood denial to blacks and the legalization of slavery in Utah are discussed in part 3. Part 4 examines the ban’s perpetuation, and part 5 studies the increasing pressures within and without the Church that prompted Church leaders to reconsider the ban. Documents in part 6 describe the lifting of the ban and the resulting implications. The Church’s actions today regarding its past decisions on blacks are addressed in part 7, followed by detailed notes for each chapter.

The editors successfully provide the full picture of a delicate subject by including documents from all sides of the argument without condemning or accusing the individuals involved in these pivotal moments in Church history. The Mormon Church and Blacks is a comprehensive documentary history for anyone wanting a fuller understanding of the Church’s past and present actions concerning blacks and the priesthood.

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