I’ve really enjoyed reading Newell Bringhurst’s book Saints, Slaves, and Blacks: The Changing Place of Black People Within Mormonism. The epilogue has some really interesting events in the 1960s and 1970s. There were some people inside the church that were more confrontational in their approach to the priesthood ban. Bringhurst notes on page 185,
Douglas A. Wallace, a Mormon High Priest and Vancouver, Washington, attorney was one such individual. In April 1976, Wallace, acting on his own, ordained a black man, Larry Lester, to the Mormon priesthood. While Wallace conceded that he was “stepping outside the bounds of the church” in his action, he said that he hoped that it would “force the issue” of black priesthood denial before the Mormon General Conference meeting in Salt Lake City the following week.40 At the conference Wallace tried to confront Mormon President Spencer W. Kimball with his complaints. However, Wallace and his two companions were swiftly ejected from the Tabernacle.41 A few days later, Wallace was excommunicated from the church for “open and deliberate disobedience of the rules and regulations of the church in violation of the outlines of the church.”42 As for the ordination of Larry Lester, it was declared null and void by church officials in Salt Lake City.43 That did not stop Wallace’s actions against the church. Immediately following his excommunication, Wallace sought a rehearing on his ouster, and in October he tried once more to bring the black issue before Mormon General Conference. Wallace’s latter action was deferred by a court order prohibiting him from attending Mormon church conferences. Undaunted, Wallace then filed a counterclaim against the church asking for $200,000 in damages.44 In April 1977, Wallace made a third attempt to appear at the Mormon General Conference in order to protest Mormon antiblack practices. Against, attorneys for the church obtained a temporary restraining order.45 Wallace promised further protests and legal actions against the Mormon church.46
Another militant Mormon dissident who directly confronted the church on the Mormon-black issue was Byron Marchant, a Latter-day Saint Boy Scout leader. Marchant was the scoutmaster of the Mormon Boy Scout troop that was the focal point of the 1974 NAACP controversy over the eligibility of blacks for leadership positions in Mormon-sponsored troops. Even though this issue was settled, Marchant continued to express his opposition to the general practice of Mormon priesthood denial. Marchant did this by casting a dissenting vote against sustaining Spencer W. Kimball as church president during the Mormon General Conference in October 1977. A few days later Marchant was excommunicated from the church for his conference behavior and open opposition to Mormon racial practices.47 Despite his excommunication, Marchant staged another protest on Temple Square during the Mormon General Conference in April 1978. Even though Marchant was arrested for trespassing on church property, he filed a civil suit against Spencer W. Kimball and promised to organize and stage a protest march on Temple Square during the next Mormon General Conference in October 1978.48
I doubt these protests held a lot of sway with the leaders, but the timing of this last protest is interesting. On June 8, 1978, the priesthood ban was officially lifted with what is now Official Declaration 2 in the Doctrine and Covenants.
There were practical problems in administering the ban. Bringhurst notes on page 188,
In Hawaii, it was disclosed in 1932 that a man of African descent had been ordained to the priesthood and had, in fact, “presided for some time over a branch of the church until it was discovered he was a Negro instead of a dark-skinned Hawaiian.”64 Four years later, Hawaii was again the scene of a similar problem. Two Mormon priesthood holders were found to be “one-eighth negro.” This situation was further complicated because the two individuals had performed “some baptisms and other ordinances.” They were apparently told to stop exercising their priesthood authority. Apostle George Albert Smith was then sent to Hawaii to determine the number of people involved in the ordinances performed by these black priesthood holders and the action to be taken.65 In 1947, the president of the New Zealand mission noted a similar problem where in “an instance or two…men with a trace of Negro blood were ordained to the priesthood.” Â He asked church leaders what should be done about these individuals and whether a person with “colored blood in his veins may received the Priesthood.” The New Zealand mission president was told that no one “known to have Negro blood in his veins…should be ordained to the priesthood.” Also those Mormons of African descent mistakenly ordained were “instructed not to attempt to use the Priesthood in any other ordinations.”66 A year later, another facet of the Mormon-black issue in the South Pacific came up in conjunction with the problem of “deciding who was to be admitted” into the Hawaiian temple from that region’s “melting pot population.”
The church had avoided actively teaching black people. In 1946, a Nigerian man by the name of O.J. Umordak somehow discovered the church and asked for missionaries. The church delayed action until 1959 when it sent some missionary tracts and a representative to Nigeria. In 1963, the church decided to set up a mission there. However, the Nigerian government learned about race restrictions and denied visas to the missionaries for the next 3 years. Then civil war broke out in Nigeria, ending the missionary effort. From page 190,
“Some five thousand [Nigerian people] applied for baptism” into Mormonism according to Apostle Hugh B. Brown.74
Church missionary efforts in Brazil were very complicated. From pages 190-191,
a 1947 Church First Presidency investigation which found “the races…badly mixed” because “no color line is drawn among the mass of people” It concluded that “a great part of the population of Brazil is colored.”76 Later this same year J. Reuben Clark, a member of the Church First Presidency, referred again to the Brazilian situation, noting that “it is very difficult if not impossible to tell who has negro blood and who has not.” He admitted, “if we are baptizing Brazilians, we are almost certainly baptizing people of negro blood, and that if the Priesthood is conferred upon them, which no doubt it is, we are facing a very serious problem.”77
The Brazilian situation took on added significance during the mid-1970s, when the church unveiled plans to build a new temple in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The expected completion of the Brazilian Temple in the fall of 1978 brought to head the “major problem” and “often impossible” task of determining which Brazilian “Church members have black ancestry” and which do not.79
It was certainly a combination of events that led to the momentous event. Bringhurst notes that Joseph Freeman, Jr was the first black member to officially receive the priesthood following the 1978 revelation. Comments?