[In honor of Black History Month 2014, each Monday in February Mormon Coffee’s blog post will address a topic related to racism in Mormon history. Today guest blogger Lynn Wilder kicks off the series.]
In January of 1964, LDS apostle Delbert L. Stapley wrote to LDS Michigan Governor George Romney urging him not to support the Civil Rights Act; it would bring the integration of blacks. Of course, the apostle pointed out that he did not speak for the church. Stapley wrote that three U. S. Presidents and a friend who had disagreed with the Lord’s voice on this matter met an untimely demise. He justified his counsel to Romney with the words of Joseph Smith from two sources. Here’s a sampling:
“Had I anything to do with the negro, I would confine them by strict law to their own species, and put them on a national equalization.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 270)
“…the curse is not yet taken off from the sons of Canaan, neither will it be until it is affected by as great a power as caused it to come…” (History of the Church, vol. 2, p. 438)
According to these passages, Joseph supported equalization but not integration. He wrote that the sons of Canaan (descendants of Cain) were cursed. It would take an act of God to remove that curse. The implication is it was an act of God that placed the curse in the first place.
In February of 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination according to race, religion, or sex. Four years later, Dr. Martin Luther King—pastor and Nobel Peace prize winner–was martyred for his role as a leader in the movement. After his death, black preachers continued to call for full integration of blacks into white restrooms, buses, schools, jobs, and neighborhoods. A full ten years passed after King’s death until the Mormon priesthood, eternal marriage, and temple endowments were offered to the few black church members. Prior to 1978, blacks could only hope to be servants to the more righteous in the hereafter.
Roots from Joseph Smith
To imply, as the recent LDS Race and Priesthood statement on lds.org does, that racial bias began in the Mormon Church with second prophet Brigham Young is inaccurate. Although the priesthood ban for blacks was not in force during the founding prophet’s lifetime, the seeds of its justification were planted by Joseph. The Book of Mormon (1830) teaches that dark skin is the result of a curse for sin. The Book of Moses (1832-33) teaches that blacks descended from Cain. In the 1835 Book of Commandments, Joseph Smith added a statement (now D&C 134:12) that the Saints pledged not to “interfere with bond-servants…such interference we believe to be unlawful and unjust…”
Later in the Book of Abraham (1842), Joseph introduced the idea of “the right of Priesthood.” In other words, some could have it; some were restricted. Pharaoh was said to come from the cursed Canaanite lineage that could not have the priesthood.
Abraham 1:21 “…king of Egypt [Pharaoh] was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth.”
Abraham 1:27 “…Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood…”
It was Joseph Smith who taught that dark skin was a curse from God for iniquity. He was the one whose Book of Abraham taught that certain blood lines were denied the priesthood power of God. It was Joseph who supported segregation and did not want men to interfere with slavery. The 1842 Book of Abraham and the Southern converts to the church were the final nails in the coffin for any abolitionist teachings from Joseph.