In 1999 a church news paper surveyed its Latter Day Saint subscribers to glean what single event they thought shaped the last 100 years in Latter Day Saint history. The number one event, rated by its subscribers was the 1978 Priesthood Revelation. Percentage wise the second event didn’t even come close. Today marks the 30th Anniversary of the event Mormon Priesthood ban being officially lifted. Currently there are black Mormons serving as mission presidents, regional, state, district and congregational leaders, counselors, temple presidencies and even patriarchs. There are even second generation black members who were born into Mormonism. But contrary to popular belief there have been black members of the LDS church since 1832. Two years after the church was created. Lets chronicle the events within the time of the priesthood ban.
Elijah Able, a free black man, was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
A controversial editorial in the church’s Evening and Morning Star titled “Free People of Color” outlines procedures for the migration of free blacks to Missouri, a slave state. It sparks anti-Mormon violence and leads to the church’s eventual eventual expulsion from the state. Also that year, LDS founder Joseph Smith receives a revelation, published in the church’s Doctrine & Covenants, saying, “It is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.”
Rules governing the LDS Temple in Kirtland, Ohio, say it is open to “old or young, rich or poor, male or female, bond or free, black or white, believer or unbeliever . . .”
Elijah Able is ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood to the office of an Elder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. From the evidence it is to be believed he was ordained by Joseph Smith. In December of the same year he is ordained a Seventy and becomes a “duly licensed minister of the Gospel” for missionary work in Ohio. He also serves missions in New York and Canada. The ordination was performed by Zebedee Coltrin.
Elijah Abel is made a member of the Nauvoo Seventies Quorum. At the request of Joseph Smith, he works as a mortician in Nauvoo.
Joseph Smith runs for U.S. president on an anti-slavery platform, proposing the sale of public lands to pay for the release of every slave and to abolish slavery by 1850.
Green Flake, the slave of James Madison Flake, a convert to the LDS Church, is baptized at the age of 15. Green remains a slave but is a faithful member of the church throughout his life. Samuel Chambers, a 13-year-old, is baptized in secret because he is a slave. Walker Lewis, a black man in Lowell, Mass., is ordained an to the office of an Elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood.
Walker Lewis, a black man, is ordained to the office of Elder.
William McCary, a black man, is ordained to the office of Elder.
Elijah Abel arrives in Utah. A carpenter by trade, he works on building the Salt Lake Temple. He and his wife Mary Ann manage the Farnham Hotel. Mary Ann Abel was Negro according to the 1850 Hamilton County, Ohio, census and the 1860 Utah census.
Elijah Abel arrives in Utah, where he works on building the Salt Lake Temple. He and his wife Mary Ann manage the Farnham Hotel. The couple asks to be “sealed” in marriage in the temple, which Brigham Young refuses. Abel had already been through the Kirtland Temple for washings and anointings and he was already baptized for the dead in Nauvoo.
Elijah asked to receive his endowment and was denied by Brigham Young.
Brigham Young frees Green Flake.
All black Melanesians (Fijians) are given the priesthood (blacks in the Philippines even earlier)
Utah Census lists 59 blacks, 29 of them are listed as slaves.
Elijah Able is still on Church records as a Seventy.
Elijah Able in his 70s is sent on yet another mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He returns home early from his mission and dies in early December of 1884.
Elijah Abel’s son, Enoch Abel, is ordained an elder.
Jane Manning James, a faithful black Mormon since the days of Joseph Smith Jr., is given a special temple sealing as a “servant” to Joseph Smith Jr. She continues to pursue her endowment.
Elijah Abel’s grandson is ordained a priest; a year later, he advances to elder.
First Presidency statement on blacks and priesthood states the ban “is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the church from the days of its organization.”
A missionary tract, the Joseph Smith Story, found its way into the hands of a black religious leader in Ghana, Dr. A.F. Mensah. He converts several others, sets up a church congregation and corresponds with the Church missionary department.
After reading the Book of Mormon, J.W.B. Johnson forms the first “Latter-day Saint” congregations in Ghana, Africa.
Fourteen University of Wyoming football players wanted to wear armbands for their games with Brigham Young University as a protest against the ban on blacks. Other athletes also protested.
LDS President David O. McKay tells the Salt Lake Tribune that “There is no doctrine in this church and there never was a doctrine in this church to the effect that the Negroes are under any kind of a divine curse.”
Genesis Group, a support group for black Mormons, is organized in Salt Lake City under the direction of then LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith with apostles Gordon B. Hinckley (pictured, with Genesis co-founder Darius Gray), Thomas S. Monson and Boyd K. Packer as advisers.
1978 June 8th
President Spencer W. Kimball announces a divine revelation opening the priesthood to all worthy males regardless of race or lineage. is announced. The events leading up to it and the revelation itself are judged to be a true miracle.
Now the time before the ban lets look at what life has been like after the ban was lifted.
LDS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, who wrote in Mormon Doctrine that blacks would never get the priesthood, states that “we should forget everything that has been said in the past on this topic.”
Helvecio Martins set apart as first black General Authority as a member of the Quorum of the Seventy — the first black Seventy since Elijah Abel.
Robert Foster elected BYU student body president.
LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley condemns racism during the all-male priesthood session of the church’s Annual General Conference.
Where were you when you heard the Priesthood Ban was lifted.
I don’t know where I was on June 8th 1978 when the ban was lifted. But I can tell you where I was June 8th 2008. I was in Elders Quorum reading Official Declaration—2 to the Elders of Israel.
Latte Day Saints