Elijah Abel: “Thy Soul [Shall] Be White in Eternity”

abel.JPGElijah Abel was the first Black man to hold the priesthood in the LDS Church. He received his ordination as Elder on March 3, 1836. Later Elijah was ordained a member of the Third Quorum of the Seventy. In 1838 he went on missions to Canada and New York, and served a mission to Ohio late in his life.

While in Nauvoo, Joseph Smith gave Elijah the calling of an undertaker. Elijah was a good friend of the Prophet’s; he once (unsuccessfully) attempted to rescue the Prophet from illegal detainment in Illinois.

When Elijah arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1853, he contributed his carpentry skills to the building of his third temple, having previously worked on both the Kirtland and Nauvoo temples. Elijah worked at many trades throughout his life, including performing in minstrel shows with his family.

Following is the text of Elijah Abel’s Patriarchal Blessing, pronounced by Joseph Smith, Sr., circa 1836:

[Patriarchal] Blessing of Elijah Able who was born in Frederick County, Maryland, July 25th 1808.

Brother Able, in the name of Jesus Christ I lay my hands upon thy head to bless thee and thou shalt be blessed even forever. I seal upon thee a father’s blessing, because thou art an orphan, for thy father, hath never done his duty toward thee, but the Lord hast had his eye upon thee, and brought thee through straits and thou hast come to be rec[k]oned with the saints of the most High. Thou hast been ordained an Elder and anointed to secure thee against the power of the destroyer. Thou shalt see his power in laying waste the nations, & the wicked slaying the wicked, while blood shall run down the streets like water, and thy heart shall weep over their calamities. Angels shall visit thee and thou shalt receive comfort. They shall call thee blessed and deliver thee from thine enemies. They shall break thy bands and keep thee from afflictions. Thy name is written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Thou shalt travel in the East and visit foreign countries, speak in all various tongues, and thou shalt be able to teach different languages. Thou shall see visions of this world and other worlds and comprehend the laws of all kingdoms, and confound the wisdom of this generation. Thy life shall be preserved to a good old age. Thou must seek first the kingdom of heaven and all blessings shall be added thereunto. Thou shalt be made equal to thy brethren and thy soul be white in eternity and thy robes glittering: thou shalt receive these blessings because of the covenants of thy fathers. Thou shalt save thousands, do much good, and receive all the power that thou needest to accomplish thy mission. These and all the blessings which thou canst desire in righteousness, I seal upon thee, in the name of Jesus, Amen.

W.A. Cowdery Assist. Recorder [emphasis added]

Though Elijah spent his life serving in the LDS Church, he had one desire which was denied him in this life. According to A Book of Mormons,

“Abel had received washings and anoitings in the Kirtland Temple in 1836, before the complete endowment ceremonies had been established. Though he acted as proxy in baptisms for the dead in Nauvoo and Slat Lake City, Brigham Young denied his request to be sealed to his wife and family [8 children]: that was a ‘privilege’ he ‘could not grant,’ a decision later reaffirmed by President John Taylor.” (Richard S. Van Wagoner and Stephen C. Walker, 4)

As race relations in the Church continued to deteriorate over time, LDS Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith even attempted to deny that Elijah Abel had ever been a priesthood holder. Responding to a private inquiry, Mr. Smith claimed Church historian Andrew Jensen had gotten it wrong when he put Elijah’s ordination to the priesthood in the Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia. Mr. Smith suggested that there were two men named Elijah Abel; the historian had confused the “names and the work done by one man named Abel … with the name of the Negro who joined the Church in an early day.” (Joseph Fielding Smith to Mrs. Floren S. Preece, 18 Jan. 1955, S. George Ellsworth Papers, Utah State University, Logan)

A few years later Joseph Fielding Smith changed his position, writing in another private letter,

“According to the doctrine of the church, the Negro, because of some condition of unfaithfulness in the spirit—or pre-existence, was not valiant and hence was not denied the mortal probation, but was denied the blessing of the Priesthood. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints he has the privilege of baptism, confirmation and membership along with everyone else, as far as this life is concerned.

“…It is true that elders of the church laid hands on a Negro and blessed him ‘apparently’ with the Priesthood, but they could not give that which the Lord had denied. It is true that Elijah Abel was so ‘ordained.’ This was however before the matter had been submitted to the Prophet Joseph Smith. …It was afterwards that the Prophet Joseph Smith declared that the Negro was not to be ordained.” (Letter from Joseph Fielding Smith to Joseph H. Henderson, April 10, 1963)

Elijah Abel died in Utah on Christmas Day, 1884. His obituary, which appeared in Deseret News, said Elijah “died in full faith of the Gospel.” He was buried in Salt Lake City Cemetery. In 2002 a monument was erected over his grave and dedicated by LDS Apostle M. Russell Ballard.

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
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3 Responses to Elijah Abel: “Thy Soul [Shall] Be White in Eternity”

  1. iamse7en says:

    The teaching (becoming white in eternity) stems from the scriptures as well, although this has reference to a mortal change, not resurrection:

    “And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites” (3 Ne. 2:15).

    The teaching also stems from the concept of Resurrection: all changes and imperfections to the body as a result of the Fall of Adam, and the consequent actions of others, will be removed in the Resurrection.

    An interesting statement from Joseph F. Smith recorded by Wilford Woodruff:

    “He [Wilford] said in his journal of October, that year (1984) that ‘Aunt Jane,’ the colored sister had been to see him. She was anxious to go through the Temple and receive the higher ordinances of the gospel. President Woodruff blessed her for her constant, never changing devotion to the gospel, but explained to her her disadvantages as one of the descendants of Cain. In after years when President Joseph F. Smith preached the funeral sermon of this same faithful woman he declared that SHE IN THE RESURRECTION WOULD attain the longings of her soul AND BECOME A WHITE AND BEAUTIFUL PERSON.” – Wilford Woodruff by M.F. Cowley

    This teaching is not official doctrine of the Church, though a President of the Church taught such a principle at her funeral in 1908. However, it was believed by the early members of the Church, and perhaps quite a few today. I believe it, as a non-racist, faithful member of the LDS Church. I served my mission in Africa, and one of the black African missionaries believed it with all his heart. It was also “the longing of his soul.”

  2. Fletcher says:

    SO you believe that Black LDS will become while and beautiful in the resurrection, is that what you are saying, because right now they are living with “disadvantages as one of the descendants of Cain?”

    That is awful.

  3. iamse7en says:

    No. All black people, not just LDS. Well all people for that matter. It applies to all races, even including white. White people do not look like resurrected persons… the white people we see today are the result of many generations of degeneration – we are not as pure and healthy as Adam. For example, we do not live as long as they did back then, due to many different reasons.

    All resurrected persons will be white, but a pure white. It’s a personal belief, extrapolated from prophetic statements, not official doctrine.

    I stated my personal belief to be that they will become white and beautiful. I did not state my belief that it is because their black skin is a ‘disadvantage.’ Those were the words of Joseph F. Smith. And I belief he was referring more to the fact that this lady was barred from Temple ordinances as a disadvantage, and not the mere physical color of her skin. There is a different between the curse (barred from certain gospel blessings) and the mark of the curse (physical changes wrought upon individuals to be passed on to their posterity). I believe they will become white like our Heavenly Parents.

    Why is that so awful? Is it awful for this faithful African to believe it too? Is he a racist bigot? I think it’s awful to say we will look as we do now, in the Resurrection… What of people born ugly? Will they be ugly in eternity? What of any physical characteristics that were passed on to children born in this world that are DIFFERENT than our Heavenly Parents? I am in no way saying that black people are ugly, in fact, I find them to be beautiful, even more beautiful than many white people.

    Our resurrected bodies will be like our Heavenly Parents, IN APPEARANCE of course, for we know that celestial bodies differ greatly from terrestrial and telestial bodies in terms of glory.

    I was merely expounding upon the statement found in Brother Abel’s patriarchal blessing: “Thy soul [shall] be white in eternity.” Joseph F. Smith’s statement adds to it. 🙂

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