Special Feature | BYU Studies

Special Feature

Century of Black Mormons
July 10, 2018
Special Feature
Century of Black Mormons
Author BYU Studies Staff,

The University of Utah, under the direction of historian W. Paul Reeve, has released "Century of Black Mormons" a public history project and database that currently features statistical information and biographical narratives about black Mormons from 1830 to 1930. Before now, information on the Church's first black members has been difficult to find, in part because the LDS Church has never tracked the race of its members. To fill in this gap in Mormon history, Reeve and others have gathered information from a variety of repositories and sources and for the first time have presented it all in one place.

The digital database is currently divided into four main sections: Who, When, Where, and How Many. The first section, "Who," may be of the most interest to visitors; there, they can find biographical narratives of about forty black members of the Church. The database will eventually be expanded to include more than 200 more biographies. The "When" section features a timeline that identifies when each black member was baptized. This timeline makes it easy to identify who was baptized in any given year between 1830 and 1930, as well as other information. For instance, based on the timeline, a visitor can easily see that the first known black person to join the Church was baptized in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1830 and was known as "Black Pete." The last baptism during this time period (at least the last of those baptisms that have been included in the database thus far) is that of Roseanna Hope, in 1929 in Birmingham, Alabama.

In the "Where" section, visitors will find a map of the globe with markers indicating all the locations where a black person joined the Church. Individuals can click on those markers to find information on who was baptized there and when. The "How Many" section contains a slew of statistical information, in the form of graphs and pie charts, on early black Church members. These graphs present information such as how many black Mormons were male and female, how many of the them eventually joined other faith traditions, how many were in America versus elsewhere, and how many were ordained to the priesthood in the LDS Church.

Researchers will appreciate the citations and images of original sources that have been included throughout each section; these sources include census records, journal entries, images of tombstones, obituaries, Church records, and more. Photographs of many of the early black Church members have also been included and add a more personal touch to the biographies and statistical information being presented. All in all, this database is a remarkable feat that not only presents for the first time basic historical information about early black Mormons, but also uncovers their personal stories, allowing Mormons today, as well as the general public, to gain insight into these individuals' lives and experiences with the early Church.