The Skinny: Young Leader Spent Late ’60s Seeking Converts In France
CBS News NEW YORK, Nov. 15, 2007
While his peers back in the States were tuning in and dropping out, a young Mitt Romney was tuning out (newspapers and television) and dropping in (on unsuspecting French people) in his role as a Mormon missionary.
The New York Times delivers an illuminating look at this formative period in the presidential candidate’s life this morning, showing how his two years at the Mormon mission overseas gave him his first taste of power and responsibility.
But David Kirkpatrick’s piece is most powerful in showing what Romney didn’t do – namely, voice any strong conviction about the two defining issues of his generation, the Vietnam War and civil rights. That is, until the authority figures in his life took a position. Then, he followed that position.
Romney left for France as a 19-year-old freshman at Stanford, and returned home two years later to transfer to Brigham Young University to be closer to his high school girlfriend and future wife, Ann.
His missionary efforts were interrupted when France erupted into chaos in May 1968, fueled in part by anger over the Vietnam War. He recoiled from the student unrest, and friends say it reinforced his respect for authority.
Many church leaders considered the war a godly cause, and Romney said at the time he thought it was essential to holding back communism. So it surprised him to hear that his father, George Romney, had turned against the war while campaigning for the 1968 Republican presidential nomination.
“I was surprised when I heard my father, then running for president, say that we were wrong, that we had been told lies by our military, that the course of the war was not going as well as we thought it was and that we had been mistaken when we had entered into the war,” Romney said. “It obviously caused me to reconsider what I had previously thought,” he said, adding, “Ultimately, I came to believe that he was right.”
Back in the U.S. at Brigham Young, when boycotts and violent protests over the university’s virtually all-white sports teams broke out at away games, he stayed on the sidelines.
At the time, the Mormon Church excluded blacks from full membership, considering them spiritually unfit as the result of a biblical curse on the descendants of Noah’s son Ham.
A handful of students and prominent Mormons called for an end to the doctrine, but Romney wasn’t one of them. When he heard over a car radio in 1978 that the church would offer blacks full membership, he said, he pulled over and cried.
But until then, he deferred to church leaders, he said. “The way things are achieved in my church, as I believe in other great faiths, is through inspiration from God and not through protests and letters to the editor.”
SON OF HAM!
SALT LAKE CITY, March 22 /PRNewswire/ — Finally, after 175 years of speculations, this new book, the first in a series, unveils the best kept secrets from the world concerning racism between the Anglos and the people of African lineage!
Many scriptural scholars, to average members of the LDS Church, to simple critics everywhere, have wondered why the Priesthood was withheld from people of African lineage from 1830 to 1978.
Some consider the Mormon Prophets racists while others assume political
motivation. To others the answers go much deeper.
Could this book, “A Son of Ham Under the Covenant”, hold the sought answers to this question?
Among numerous Latter-day Saints worldwide of different ethnic background, Thurl Bailey, an African American of remarkable accomplishment, N.B.A. Star, Inspirational Speaker & Entertainer, strongly believes this book answers his questions. He says “There were … many questions that I desired from the Lord an answer to. The Lord’s promise to me was that if I trusted in Him, He would make all things clear to me in time. Maybe not all today, or maybe not even when I desired, but in time! I believe Luckner that this book was written as part of that promise. Thank you for the work you have done for Our Father and his faithful servants.”
Perhaps for the first time in the Church’s entire history, Luckner Huggins offers a positive response, based on scriptural evidences as to the real reasons the people of African lineage waited so long for Priesthood inclusion. Presented as a novel, this first book explores the roots of voodoo in Haiti, the author’s birthplace. During his exploration he found the connection between voodoo and the exclusion of his African ancestors in Church’s Priesthood.
Luckner’s business experiences have taken him to many parts of the world where he was constantly asked why the Mormon Church Priesthood was withheld from his ancestors of African lineage for 148 years. Finally, after about 20 years of combined intellectual and spiritual experiences, such as interpreting for the Church’s Semi-annual General Conferences and translating the main doctrinal scriptures and curriculum material he came to terms with this controversial issue.
SOURCE Noah’s Family Publishing
Web Site: https://web.archive.org/web/20140103061214/http://sonofham.com/
Note: The black author assumes that all blacks practiced voodoo before 1978.
Biography of early black Mormon honored
UC Santa Cruz Currents
September 11, 2006
UCSC Summer Session program manager Connell O’Donovan has won a $500 scholarship and a trip to the John Whitmer Historical Association annual conference for his biography of Walker Lewis (1798-1856), an important Boston abolitionist and early black Mormon. The conference will be in October in Independence, Missouri.
O’Donovan’s biography, “The Mormon Priesthood Ban and Elder Q. Walker Lewis: ‘An Example for His More Whiter Brethren to Follow,’ ” is slated to be published in the annual journal of the John Whitmer Historical Association this month. O’Donovan’s research reveals why Mormon leader Brigham Young banned black men from becoming Mormon priests beginning in 1847. Young’s actions on the issue have long been of interest among Mormon historians. The race-based ban was rescinded in 1978.
Prof’s apparent link of blacks, welfare draws ire
By JOHN MILLER
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
BOISE, Idaho — An eastern Idaho history professor who appears to link what he described as his region’s low welfare recipient rate with the fact that “we don’t have blacks in this area to speak of” is drawing irate reaction.
Rick Davis, a professor at Mormon-owned Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg, told The Associated Press he was quoted accurately by the Internet publication salon.com in an article about Idaho conservatives.
But he didn’t intend to insult blacks, he said Tuesday.
“I can see that it might sound that way,” Davis told the AP. “I didn’t know I put them (the reference to welfare and blacks) so close together. That’s the curse of being quoted without looking at your copy.”
Members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Idaho said they’re concerned about Davis’s comments. They unfairly perpetuate stereotypical views of minorities and further the impression that eastern Idaho is hostile to anybody but the whites who make up 96 percent of the population, they said.
“His statements are derogatory, discriminatory and racially based,” said Mary Toy, president of the NAACP in Boise. “When you make blanket statements like that, you’ve got to make sure, number one, your facts are correct, and two, that you’re not singling out a group of people, whether it’s race-based, religious-based or politically based.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, just 0.6 percent of Idaho residents are black. In Madison County, where Rexburg is located, it’s just 0.3 percent.
In the salon.com article, author Tim Grieve characterizes Rexburg as the nation’s most conservative region. He describes signs outside apartments advertising “Approved housing for young ladies” and the difficulty of getting a drink in a town where liquor-by-the-glass has been banned since 1947.
Davis, who has taught in Rexburg for three decades, told Grieve why he thought so many people in the area are likely to remain loyal to their conservative roots in the upcoming November election.
“Rexburg Mormons” – “so red that you just bleed,” Davis said – aren’t to be confused with “Boston Mormons,” his description of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints members from outside the Rocky Mountain West who may be more liberal.
Rexburg’s population has “a very high education level… a very high income level,” Davis told salon.com.
“That equates with being conservatives,” he said. “We’re fiscally aware of where the money comes from, and that it doesn’t grow on the great tree in Washington. We don’t have any welfare state in this area at all. We don’t have blacks in this area to speak of. We’ve had them, and they’ve come and gone. Not to say they were driven out; they’ve just felt uncomfortable because there aren’t enough of them – like you and me moving to Montgomery, Ala.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average median income in Madison County is about $32,000 – some $7,000 less than the average for the state. And just 24.4 percent of residents older than 25 have college bachelor’s degrees, only slightly higher than the 21.7 percent average for the rest of the state, the Census reported in 2000.
In addition, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is active in eastern Idaho. In Rexburg, for instance, the number of recipients of a taxpayer-funded program that feeds poor mothers and their kids has risen about 80 percent since BYU-Idaho five years ago became a four-year school and began attracting more families, Idaho’s District 7 Health Department said.
BYU-Idaho President Kim Clark, dean of the Harvard Business School in Boston before coming to Rexburg in 2005, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Marc Stevens, a spokesman for the 13,500-student school, said officials have spoken with Davis.
He faces no official reprimand, though his comments are a “concern,” Stevens said.
“The university has a clear policy on political neutrality,” Stevens said. “Employees are free to share opinions, that’s a basic right. But when their name is connected to the university, that’s where it gets a little difficult.”
One black university student in eastern Idaho said she was shocked by the article.
“My mouth is open,” said Katrina Vollbrecht, a student at Idaho State University in Pocatello and former president of the NAACP chapter there, adding she was amazed that Davis, “who supposedly is well-educated, said this.”
Blacks in the LDS Church
New film and revived group help many feel at home in their church
By Peggy Fletcher Stack
The Salt Lake Tribune
Darius Gray has been answering the same question for 40 years: Why would an African American join the LDS Church, which didn’t allow blacks to be priests in its all-male lay clergy until 1978?
The calls keep coming from blacks and whites in every state, in and out of the church. And, with the ease of Googling, it’s virtually guaranteed that any person of color will be well-aware of Mormonism’s former racial policy.
The Rev. Al Sharpton and others already have raised the issue in Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, with questions about the candidate’s participation in a church that was once restrictive against blacks.
Gray, the gentle author and businessman who led the Genesis Group for African-American Mormons from 1997 to 2003, has become a kind of helpline. He and others in the group have counseled privately with hundreds of black members and responded to media queries. He and Margaret Blair Young co-wrote a trilogy, tracing the history of blacks in the LDS Church.
While the issue may never be conclusively put to rest, Gray and Young hope the documentary film they’ve been working on for four years will add important context and move the conversation forward.
“Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons,” due to be completed in August, explores the African-American presence in the LDS Church from its earliest days and confronts the hard issues that surfaced in the most turbulent years of the civil-rights movement of the 1960s.
It discusses the 1978 revelation ending the ban and describes the lives and challenges of modern black Mormon pioneers. It includes never-released footage of interviews shot in 1968 and many rare archival photographs as well as interviews with members, social scientists, clergy and historians.
“This is not a sanitized nor a bitter piece. We are neither proselytizing nor bashing,” Gray said this week. “We present it in a balanced fashion. Some blacks and whites remain in the church; others have left over this issue.”
The film is a chance for contemporary black Mormons to “share their joys, excitement, sadness and struggles,” he says. “We live with the perception of a racist institution. Our stories dispel that notion and add to the fabric of Mormon culture.”
Understanding the past
Jerri Harwell joined the LDS Church in Detroit in 1977 and was denied in her attempt to serve a mission until after 1978. For 30 years, she has reached out to other black members, helping sustain their faith and understand their importance to the church.
In the past few years, Harwell has delighted audiences at parades, schools and This Is the Place Heritage Park on Salt Lake City’s east bench with her portrayal of Jane Manning James, an early black Mormon convert.
Unlike several black men who accompanied Brigham Young to the valley, James was not a slave. She was a strong, determined, independent woman, convinced that God directed her toward The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In the early days of the church, there was no official policy forbidding blacks from holding the priesthood. Mormon founder Joseph Smith publicly opposed slavery and ordained at least one black man, Elijah Abel.
But after Young took over the fledgling faith, he attached to it prejudices, common in America at the time, that blacks were inherently inferior. No longer were men with even a drop of African blood allowed to be ordained to the priesthood, which otherwise was available to virtually all males starting at age 12. (Women of any race are not ordained in the LDS priesthood.) Black men and women could be members, but not hold any significant positions. They couldn’t be leaders, serve missions or be married in one of the faith’s temples.
The policy mirrored American views until the mid-20th century, with the rising of America’s civil-rights movement. In the 1960s and ’70s, LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University in Provo faced protests from other schools, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was the target of boycotts around the nation.
In response, Mormon leaders and writers sought justification in long-held teachings, some used by Christians to defend slavery.
Some taught that Africans were “cursed with black skin” as descendants of the biblical Noah’s son Ham. The Bible says that because Ham saw his father’s naked body, he and his descendants were cursed to be the “servant of servants.”
To this, Mormons added a unique twist: that blacks were somehow “less valiant” than other races in the spirit world before this life.
In 1968, Gray was a young reporter at Mormon-owned KSL. An independent filmmaker interviewed him and three other black Mormons on “the question.” The current documentary reinterviews three of the four, all of whom remain faithful.
“This is where God wanted me to be,” Gray says. “Then and now.”
A joyous ending
On June 9, 1978, LDS President Spencer W. Kimball announced that the church was opening its priesthood ranks to “all worthy men,” including those of African descent.
The change brought a string of firsts: First black priest ordained in Utah. First black missionary. First black bishop. First black couple married in the temple. First black men ordained in Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Jamaica, Nigeria. First black general authority. Africans began joining the LDS Church in droves.
It brought relief to many white Mormons who were mortified by charges of racism leveled at them and their church. For black Mormons, however, the past is still very present. Eliminating racism is as tough as stamping out mercury. It keeps morphing into different shapes.
Danor Gerald, an actor and film student at Utah Valley State College who is helping to edit the documentary, joined the LDS Church in 1994. Growing up in Texas, Gerald knew overt racism, but he knew nothing about the church’s past statements until he moved to Utah.
“I was surprised by the racist folklore that I had never heard before,” he says.
Today, many black Mormons report subtle differences in the way they are treated, as if they are not full members but a separate group. A few even have been called “the n-word” at church and in the hallowed halls of the temple. They look in vain at photos of Mormon general authorities, hoping to see their own faces reflected there.
They are faithful Latter-day Saints who support the church and “Genesis gives them a sense of belonging,” says Don Harwell, Genesis president since 2003.
The community of black Mormons was created in 1971 as a kind of support group, with the late Ruffin Bridgeforth as president and Gray as one of his two counselors. The group met monthly to share spiritual testimonies, sermons and socializing. After 1978, the need to gather slowly diminished and it became dormant for a decade. But in October 1996, many black members wanted to reconnect, so Genesis re-emerged stronger than ever.
Today the meetings attract some 350 people, many of whom are white families who have adopted black children. They want their children to see African Americans as leaders and role models.
“Many mistake the gospel culture for white culture,” says Harwell, a counselor in his LDS stake young men’s presidency. “We are examples that the gospel is more inclusive.”
Similar groups are springing up in Hattiesburg, Miss., Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, Los Angeles, Oakland and Houston.
“Genesis exists to help missionaries with potential converts and new members to feel at home in the church,” Harwell says. “We are always trying to help.”
Unfortunately, the blacks-as-cursed belief continues to be circulated at the grass-roots level and supported in quasi-official publications such as Mormon Doctrine and the Mortal Messiah series by Bruce R. McConkie, an influential LDS apostle who died in 1985. All attempts to get the church to repudiate these notions have been rebuffed.
The official position: Only God knows the reason it took so long to eliminate the ban.
When a German television reporter asked LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley in 2002 why it took so long to overcome the church’s institutional racism, he replied: “I don’t know. I don’t know. [Long pause.] I can only say that.”
But a significant number of black and white Latter-day Saints feel it would “be helpful and morally right for the church to disavow some of the past statements,” Gray says. “That would clear the way so the gospel can grow unimpeded.”
He and others were pleased when Hinckley strongly condemned racist language in all forms during the church’s General Conference in April 2006.
“I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ,” Hinckley told the men assembled during the priesthood session of the two-day conference.
“How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible?”
Black Mormons everywhere hailed their prophet’s powerful words.
“This was the most helpful statement in 175 years. Not to be greedy, but more is needed,” Gray says. “I hope the uplifting, true stories of contemporary black Mormons will stand as an example of faith and perseverance for all – regardless of race.”