Saturday, March 03, 2012

Chronology of events leading to black men being restricted from the priesthood

BYU Professor Randy Bott's controversial comments to the Washington Post earlier this week elicited a response by the church which said in part:

"For a time in the Church there was a restriction on the priesthood for male members of African descent.  It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago. Some have attempted to explain the reason for this restriction but these attempts should be viewed as speculation and opinion, not doctrine. ... We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church."

The following chronology provides a sense of events leading to the establishment of the priesthood ban.
Some components of the story are not included, such as establishing that some black men had priesthood during Joseph Smith's lifetime.  Also not included are events related the the politically charged climate surrounding the slavery question (such as church leaders taking an abolitionist position in the pro-slavery state Missouri). For a full chronology of this topic, see "Chronology Pertaining to Blacks and the LDS Priesthood" (1) by Richley Crapo (from which much of the chronology below is based).


-- During 1830 
The Book of Mormon is published. The Book uses a dark-skin motif as a sign of sinfulness by the Lamanites, descendants of Israel through Menasseh whom are considered ancestors of contemporary Native American Indians, "The Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon [the Lamanites]", cf. 1 Ne. 5:21.

        The dark skin is equated with a curse which was a result of rebellion, "And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them", cf. 2 Ne. 5:21.

        The dark skin is explicitly presented as a "mark", a "curse because of transgression" and as a means of separating different cultures, "And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren, who consisted of Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men. And their brethren sought to destroy them, therefore they were cursed; and the Lord God set a mark upon them, yea, upon Laman and Lemuel, and also the sons of Ishmael, and Ishmaelitish women. And this was done that their seed might be distinguished from the seed of their brethren, that thereby the Lord God might preserve his people, that they might not mix and believe in incorrect traditions which would prove their destruction", cf. Alma 3:6-8.

        It also states that it was "against [Nephite civil] law" to hold slaves, cf. Alma 27:9 and Mosiah 2:13. (1)

[Book of Moses] Enoch ministers the gospel to surrounding nations but does not go to those of the lineage of Cain, which are identified as being "black", cf. Moses 7:12 for Enoch not calling on the people of Canaan to repent; Moses 7:22 for the seed of Cain being "black". Regarding the "seed of Cain were black", the LDS community has traditionally interpreted Moses 7 as referring to a black skin color rather than "black" in deeds or spirituality. [Editorial note: due to an incorrect date, I've re-dated and excerpted this entry] (1)

-- During Jul 1831 
Smith identifies Negroes as lineage of Canaan, "The first Sabbath after our arrival in Jackson county, Brother W. W. Phelps preached to a western audience over the boundary of the United States, wherein were present specimens of all the families of the earth; Shem, Ham and Japheth; several of the Lamanites or Indiansrepresentative of Shem; quite a respectable number of negroesdescendants of Ham; and the balance was made up of citizens of the surrounding country" (History of the Church, 1:190). (1)

-- Aug 21, 1831 
Nat Turner led about seventy slaves on a killing spree across the plantations of Southampton, Virginia, leaving fifty-five whites dead, escalating fears that and increasing rhetoric over the slave issue. (2)

-- Dec 25, 1832 
Section 87, Place: Kirtland, Geauga County, Ohio.

Historical Note: Section 87, commonly known as "the prophecy on war," was received on Christmas Day 1832, some twenty-eight years before the American Civil War commenced at Fort Sumter on Charleston Bay in South Carolina.

In November 1832, before the reception of this revelation, South Carolina had adopted a States' Rights position intended to nullify federal regulations not in their interests (specifically, high tariffs on foreign imports, which protected northern manufacturing interests). In addition to the economic problems of the upcountry cotton planters, the wealthy rice aristocracy of the lowcountry had become sensitive to the beginnings of northern antislavery movements. Reacting to the protective tariffs and the agitation against slavery, radical South Carolinians saw nullification as the logical defense to the "tyranny" of the majority. On 24 November 1832 a special convention passed an Ordinanace of Nullification that prohibited the collecting of tariff duties in the state after 1 February 1833. Students of the period generally agree that the situation in South Carolina was explosive, and the passage in early March 1833 of a compromise tariff temporarily averted civil war.

Although Joseph Smith considered this action on the part of the South Carolina convention a "rebellion," he later clarified that the commencement of warfare prior to the Second Coming would arise through the slave question.

Brigham Young, who noted that section 87 was intentionally left out of the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, indicated that this revelation was received "when the brethren were reflecting and reasoning with regard to African slavery on this continent, and the slavery of the children of men throughout the world.".  (3)

-- 1833 July [13] 
The July issue of the Evening and Morning Star contains a controversial article by W. W. Phelps quoting Missouri state law and constitution regarding freed blacks entering the state and freedom of religion. (4)

-- During 1834 
According to Zebedee Coltrin (as recalled in 1879, some 45 years later) Joseph Smith in the presence of Coltrin receives a revelation that Blacks are not to be ordained. (1)

-- During 1835 
"Messenger & Advocate" uses "black skin" motif, indicating that it is a mark of sinfulness that can come on members of any race. No mention of a racial ban on the Priesthood related to race. W. W. Phelps writes in January that Ham married a black wife. (1)

Lineage of Ham via Canaan is cursed by Noah for "seeing the nakedness of his father". This curse is equated with a black skin and Priesthood ban by inference, (cf. Abr. 1.) [Editorial note: due to a mis-dated entry, I've redated and excerpted this entry] (1)

-- During March 1836 
In a discourse on the subjects of slavery and abolition, Smith states that the curse of Ham is "not yet taken off" from the Negroes. ...

-- 1839 
[Schism] Late 1830s Sect: "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" Now Defunct. Established with the special mission of ministering to African Americans;  formed prior to the death of Joseph Smith by William Chubby (5)

Six months after his excommunication, [Orson] Hyde had a "vision in which it was made known to him that if he did not make immediate restitution to the quorum of the Twelve, he would be cut off and all his posterity, and that the curse of Cain would be upon him." He was reinstated in June, 1839. (6)

-- During Oct 1841 
In a discourse on fault-finding among the brethren, Smith tangentially comments upon the curse Noah laid upon Ham, and states that the curse remains upon the posterity of Canaan until the present day. "I referred to the curse of Ham for laughing at Noah, while in his wine, but doing no harm. Noah was a righteous man, and yet he drank wine and became intoxicated; the Lord did not forsake him in consequence thereof, for he retained all the power of his priesthood, and when he was accused by Canaan, he cursed him by the priesthood which he held, and the Lord had respect to his word, and the priesthood which he held, notwithstanding he was drunk, and the curse remains upon the posterity of Canaan until the present day" (History of the Church, 4:446). (1)

-- During 1843 
Apostles Heber C. Kimball, Orson Pratt and John Page restrict Elijah Abel's missionary work to his own people. There is no indication from the documentation of this meeting that any of these three Apostles remark upon there being something wrong with Abel's holding the Priesthood. (1)

-- During 1844 
Joseph Smith Jr. campaigns for the presidency of the United States and espouses an anti-slavery platform aimed at ending all slavery by 1850. His earlier position had been anti-slavery but also anti-abolitionist. Smith states, "Pray Congress to pay every man a reasonable price for his slaves out of the surplus revenue arising from the sale of public lands, and from deduction of pay from the members of Congress, break off the shackles from the poor black man, and hire him to labor with other human beings, for an hour of virtuous liberty on earth is worth a whole eternity of bondage." (1)

-- Apr 27, 1845 
Orson Hyde refers to Negroes as the cursed lineage of Canaan and says that the curse of servility which they bore was for actions in the Preexistence ("Speech Delivered Before the High Priests Quorum in Nauvoo", MS in Utah State Historical Society). He also expressed the fear that the curse of Cain would come on him and his posterity if he did not repent his apostasy. (1)

-- During Apr 1845 
Article addressing issue of abolition appears using a mix of apparently literal (i.e. "black skin") and figurative (i.e. "black hearts") "black" references. No author is cited, but the periodical at that time was edited by John Taylor. "The descendants of Ham, besides a black skin which has ever been a curse that has followed an apostate of the holy priesthood, as well as a black heart, have been servants to both Shem and Japheth, and the abolitionists are trying to make void the curse of God, but it will require more power than man possesses to counteract the decrees of eternal wisdom" (Times and Seasons, Vol.6, p.857). (1)

--Nov 2, 1845
William Smith said Young started ban, "The twelve also concluded to abandon the old Mormon faith, and henceforth preach the new Mormon doctrine....They next preach that when Lucifer was kicked out of Heaven, as he fell through the wet, misty clouds, deeper and still deeper in sin, until he reached this world of Gentiles, he turned black, as a mark of his sin. This, then, is their reason for receiving no negroes into their church, &c., &c., &c." (11)

--Sept 12, 1846
[Brigham Young Journal] "...I then told them I should feel myself more degraded in the eyes of the Lord to be acting under a comission from Gov ford, than should to be changed into an affrican in the evening I went to visit some sick returned home..." (10)

-- Mar 26, 1847 
Brigham Young confronts Black Indian member, William McCary, concerning his erratic behavior and says "its nothing to do with the blood for of one blood has God made all flesh, we have to repent (and) regain what we av [sic] lostwe av [sic] one of the best Elders an African in Lowell [i.e., Walker Lewis]." This positive reference to an African Priesthood holder in the context of "its nothing to do with the blood" appears to indicate that no ban existed as of this date. (1)

-- During Apr 1847 
Apostle Parley P. Pratt writes concerning William McCary, "This black man has got the blood of Ham in him which linege [sic] was cursed as regards to the Priesthood" (1)

-- During Jun 1847 
William L. Appelby (in charge of eastern states church activity) questions the right of Walker Lewis to hold the Priesthood in a letter to Brigham Young (dated 2 Jun 1847) and inquires whether it is acceptable. The letter arrives at Winter Quarters after Young's departure, so it is not replied to by Young. (1)

-- During 1847 
Brigham Young declares Blacks ineligible for certain temple ordinances, potentially reactionary to the William McCary affair. (1)

-- Feb 13, 1849 
[Quorum of Twelve] G.S.L. City Feb 13 1849 Council met at the same place at 11 o'clock ... Conversation turned upon mesmerism until Elder Lorenzo Snow presented the case of the Africans wishing to know the chance of their redemption.

        Pres[iden]t Young replied with much clearness that the curse remains upon them because Cain cut off the lines of Abel to prevent him & his posterity getting the ascendancy (sic) over himself & his generations his own offering not being accepted of God while Abels was. But the Lord has cursed Cain's seed with blacknes (sic) & prohibited them the Priesthood that Abel & his progeny may yet come forward & have their dominion place and Blessings in their proper relationship with Cain & his race in a world to come. (7)

-- Jun 1, 1851 
[Apostle Wilford Woodruff Journal] June 1st 1851 Sunday When I arived at meeting President Young was speaking & the following is a synopsis of His discourse:

        .... The Master of Slaves will be damned if they Abuse their slaves. Yet the Seed of Ham will be servants untill God takes the Curse off from them. But they are not all the Slaves their is in the world. The whole world are Slaves to sin & wickedness & passion.

        I Have two Blacks. They are as free as I am. Shall we lay a foundation for Negro Slavery? No God forbid. And I forbid.... (8)

-- Jun 29, 1851 
[Apostle Wilford Woodruff Journal] 29th Sunday President Young Remarked ... Their has been a great stir to exhalt the Negro & make him equal to the white man but there is a curse upon the seed of Cain & all Hell cannot wipe it out & it cannot be taken off untill God takes if off. When A person unlawfully seeks for power & exhaltation by taking the blessings which belongs to Another He will sink far below the other. As Lucipher the son of the morning Sought the glory that belonged to Christ the first Born He was thrust down to Hell. So Cain sought Abels Blessing & took the life of his brother. The consequence was Cain was cursed & his seed & this curse will remain untill Abels posterity will get all the Blessing their is for him. Then the curse may be taken from Cain or his posterity but his posterity will be below Abels. ...` (8)

-- Jul 6, 1851 
[Apostle Wilford Woodruff Journal] Sunday 6th President Young Remarked we get good from all men who speak by the spirit of God & according to their calling. ... The Blacks cannot take the curse off themselves untill God takes it off. Make all men Saints & they will treat each other well. So the Lamanites are Cursed. But is there not Blessings for them? Yes the Same as their is for the Saints for Joseph, Brigham, & Jesus Christ & All Faithful men & women in their time & Season. So be Contented. (8)

-- Feb 5, 1852 
Brigham Young announces policy of denying priesthood to all those black African ancestry: 

"The Lord said I will not kill Cane But I will put a mark upon him and it is seen in the face of every Negro on the Earth And it is the decree of God that that mark shall remain upon the seed of Cane & the Curse untill all the seed of Abel should be redeemed and Cane will not receive the priesthood untill or salvation untill all the seed of Abel are Redeemed. Any man having one drop of the seed of Cane in him Cannot hold the priesthood & if no other Prophet ever spake it Before I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ. I know it is true & they know it. The Negro cannot hold one particle of Government But the day will Come when all the seed of Cane will be Redeemed & have all the Blessings we have now & a great deal more. But the seed of Abel will be ahead of the seed of Cane to all Eternity. Let me consent to day to mingle my seed with the seed of Cane. It would Bring the same curse upon me And it would upon any man. And if any man mingles his seed with the seed of Cane the ownly way he Could get rid of it or have salvation would be to Come forward & have his head Cut off & spill his Blood upon the ground. It would also take the life of his Children."

Contrary to Joseph Smith's example in authorizing the ordination of Elijah Abel, denial of priesthood to Blacks is LDS policy for the next 126 years. Young announces this policy in connection with Utah legislature's legalization of African-American slavery. The law provides for only one interference with property rights of slave-owners: "if any master or mistress shall have sexual or carnal intercourse with his or her servant or servants of the African race, he or she shall forfeit all claim to said servant or servants to the commonwealth; and if any white person shall be guilty of sexual intercourse with any of the African race, they shall be subject, on conviction thereof, to a fine of not exceeding one thousand dollars, nor less than five hundred, to the use of the Territory, and imprisonment not exceeding three years." (9)

1 - Crapo, Richley, Chronology Pertaining to Blacks and the LDS Priesthood,
2 - Grunder, Rick, Mormon Parallels: A Bibliographic Source
3 - Cook, Lyndon, Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith: A Historical and Biographical Commentary of the Doctrine and Covenants
4 - Kenny, Scott, Saints Without Halos, "Mormon History 1830-1844,"
6 - Van Wagoner, Richard and Walker, Steven C., A Book of Mormons
7 - Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: Minutes of Meetings and Other Documents--Excerpts, 1835-1896,
8 - Wilford Woodruff's Journal: 1833-1898 Typescript, Volumes 1-9, Edited by Scott G. Kenney, Signature Books 1993
9 - Advent Adam website (defunct)
10 - Brigham Young Journal # 4 in the handwriting of: William Clayton, Evan Greene, John D. Lee, Willard Richards. First person account kept by others. 'Lieut. Genl Brigham Young's Journal 1844'
11 -

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