Black Saints in a White Church: Contemporary African American Mormons

A few years ago, I saw a picture (unfortunately I don’t remember where) that immediately caught my attention and made me ponder about it for a long time. The picture showed two women who seemed to be at one of the gates of the Tabernacle in Temple Square, Salt Lake City. One of the women was blonde, tall, and elegantly dressed; the other was Black, shorter than the blonde woman, and simply dressed. The blonde lady was embracing the Black lady in a very tender manner, and since the Black lady wasn’t as tail as the other, her head was at the blonde lady’s upper chest. The blonde lady had her head leaned and rested over the Black lady’s head, while her hands were placed over the other’s opposite face.

Since, at that time, I was still grappling with a couple of recent negative experiences involving what I thought to be racial discrimination, my first reaction to that picture was one of a certain uneasiness. Was that picture, I then thought, some sort of prototypical—or maybe stereotypical—view of what the 1978 revelation on priesthood meant to many of the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Was that picture a symbol of what non-Black Latter-day Saints in America had in their minds—a condescending acceptance of some presumedly lower-class group who needed to “become like us” in order to perhaps (who knows?) gain some form of lower-class existence in a celestial inner city?

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