Much has been made of the LDS Church’s unflattering history regarding the priesthood ban. But there are some positive stories. I’d like to address some things that happened prior and during the ban that are more positive in nature to the church.
I’ve found that shorter posts get read more, so I’ll try to keep this brief. I want to highlight some of the good things that happened originally, but if you want a more neutral view, check out my post on the Priesthood Ban, as well as the Special Features on the new DVD, Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons. I highly recommend the DVD, though the video and audio are not always as professional as we’d like. I think it’s messages about race are honest, telling both positive and negative aspects of race relations within the LDS church. It even interviews non-LDS leaders, such as Cecil Murray of the AME Church, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Margaret Young, faculty member at BYU is one of the producers. First let’s talk about some black members who held the priesthood in the early days of the church.
- “Black Pete” was baptizing as early as 1830 or 1831.
- Joseph T Ball – was baptized in the summer of 1832 by either Brigham Young or his brother Joseph Young who served a mission to Boston. Ball later went on mission with Wilford Woodruff, in New England, New Jersey. In 1837, Wilford Woodruff records in his journal that Ball was an Elder. Ball was the Boston Branch president from October 1844 to March 1845 – the largest LDS congregation outside of the Nauvoo area. He was ordained a High Priest by William Smith (the first African American HP) and was sent to Nauvoo by Parley P. Pratt in the spring of 1845 to work on the temple.
- Elijah Abel – became the third known black convert to the LDS church, being baptized in 1832. He received the priesthood in 1836, and served 3 missions to Ohio, NY, and Canada. He helped build the Kirtland, Nauvoo, and Salt Lake Temples, received his washing and anointing in the Kirtland Temple
- Walker Lewis – joined the LDS church in the summer of 1843. He was probably baptized by Parley P Pratt in the fall of 1843. He was ordained and Elder by William Smith, Joseph’s younger brother. Lewis has a very interesting history. He was the son of slaves, and sued for his own freedom. His case is cited as the case which liberated slaves in 1783 in Massachusetts. Winning the court case resulted is his family being able to purchase property. He voted, was educated, and became upper class of black Massachusetts society. In 1826 he helped found Massachusetts General Colored Association which was the first civil rights abolitionist group in the world.
- In June 1844 Joseph Smith was killed. At this time, Joseph was running for president, and advocated abolishing slavery by 1850. Such a stance was quite unpopular in slave state Missouri. It is important to remember that Joseph prophesied in 1832 about the Civil War. Slavery and race relations were hot topics during this time period, and Joseph’s abolitionist views were probably just as responsible for his assassination, as his religious views.
- Enoch Abel, Elijah’s son received the priesthood, and was ordained an elder on Nov 27, 1900.
- Elijah Abel, Enoch Abel’s son, received the priesthood, and was ordained a priest in 1934. In 1935, he was ordained an Elder.
So it’s not all bad news. I have to wonder if Al Sharpton was aware that the first Civil Rights organization was founded by a black Mormon. Would he have made that quip about Mitt Romney?