Remembering Black Protests of the 1960s-70s

In my previous post on how to agitate faithfully, I noted that the only revelations we have received in the past 125 years came about as a result of agitation.  With regards to polygamy, the US government agitated in such a coercive manner that we got the Manifesto in Official Declaration 1 in which Wilford Woodruff declared “I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.”

With February being Black History Month, as well as a few comments declaring that we should never agitate, and that the 1978 revelation was in spite of the protests, I thought it might be a good idea to re-visit some of these protests that have been largely forgotten by many of us because they occurred 50 years ago.  From the book Saints, Slaves, and Blacks by Newell Bringhurst, page 180,

By the 1960s Utah civil rights activists started to demonstrate against the Mormon church itself, in their efforts to secure favorable civil rights legislation….  The Utah legislature did repeal the state’s long-standing antimiscegenation law, but failed to enact other desired legislation.  In response, the NAACP decided to organize a protest against the Mormon church leaders, whom they perceived as blocking civil rights measures in the state legislature.  NAACP leaders had some cause for concern, as church leaders had failed to make known the church’s position on civil rights.  The Salt Lake NAACP chapter made tentative plans to picket Temple Square during the LDS General Conference in the fall of 1963.  In addition, NAACP chapters across the country announced plans to picket local Mormon mission headquarters in support of the Salt Lake chapter.12  The threatened NAACP demonstrations, however, were averted when Apostle Hugh B. Brown of the Church First Presidency released a statement outlining hte “position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the matter of civil rights.”  This statement let it “be known that there is in this Church no doctrine, belief, or practice that is intended to deny the enjoyment of full civil rights by any person regardless of race, color, or creed.”13  The church’s 1963 pro-civil rights statement was followed by a relatively tranquil period from October 1963 until the early spring of 1965, during which time civil rights protesters did not confront the Mormon Church.14

This all changed, however, in early March, 1965, when the NAACP charged the Mormon Church with “working behind the scenes” to prevent the passage of civil rights legislation pending before the Utah state legislature.15  After the church-owned Deseret News refused to endorse pending legislation calling for fair employment and fair housing, the NAACP organized a series of three marches on the church administration building.16  In the wake of these demonstrations, the Deseret News reaffirmed the church’s 1963 pro-civil rights statement, labeling it “A Clear Civil Rights Stand.”17  The state legislature enacted both a public accomodations act and a fair employment practices act.18  Subsequently demonstrations against the church tapered off, at least temporarily.19

By the late 1960s, however, the Mormon church faced new difficulties as advocates of black rights focused their attacks on Mormon black priesthood denial itself.  This direct assault on black priesthood denial reflected a general shift in the American civil rights movement of the 1960s.  Civil rights activists looked beyond discriminatory practices per se.  They attacked what they felt to be the roots of such discriminatory practices, namely, fundamental racist concepts or doctrines.  In the case of Mormons, the target was the doctrine of black priesthood denial.  In lashing out at black priesthood denial these advocates initially concentrated their fire on the church-owned Brigham Young University.  Militant black and white protesters demonstrated during athletic contests between Brigham Young and other colleges and universities.  In the spring of 1958, eight members of the University of Texas-El Paso track team refused to compete against Brigham Young University because of their belief that the Mormons considered “blacks…inferior and…disciples of the devil.”20  In October 1968, militant demonstrators from San Jose State College assailed Brigham Young University during a football contest between the two schools.  This contest was marked by student violence and the refusal of black athletes to participate.  Finally a bomb threat was made against the hotel in which the BYU team was housed.  Later the same year black San Jose State basketball players refused to play against BYU.21

photo from halftime of BYU-CSU game at Moby Arena in 1970.  More photos are at http://www.coloradoan.com/media/cinematic/gallery/23309601/1970-csu-students-protest-lds-church/

photo from halftime of BYU-CSU game at Moby Arena in 1970. More photos are at http://www.coloradoan.com/media/cinematic/gallery/23309601/1970-csu-students-protest-lds-church/

Anti-BYU protests similar to those at the University of Texas-El Paso and San Jose State continued throughout 1969 and into early 1970. Pickets and off-field strife greeted BYU athletes during their contests with virtually all colleges and universities in the trans-Mississippi West, including Arizona, New Mexico, Washington, Colorado State, and Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo.22  A particularly noteworthy incident involved fourteen black players of the University of Wyoming football team.  When these athletes wore black arm bands “to protest Mormon racial beliefs” prior to a football game with BYU, the Wyoming coach summarily dismissed them from the team.  This dismissal of the “Wyoming 14” stimulated further black protests against BYU.23  More serious for the Mormon school, however, was the refusal of Stanford University, the University of Washington, and San Jose State to participate in any further athletic contests with BYU.24  By January 1970, Sports Illustrated observed that “the protests [against BYU] have grown in intensity to the point where they have almost transcended all else.”25

Bringhurst goes on to describe opposition to a Mormon building in New York due to black protests, problems with LDS Governor George Romney’s white house bid (George is Mitt’s father), protests against the LDS Church for requiring Boy Scout senior patrol leaders to be the deacons quorum president (thereby eliminating blacks from the position, because they couldn’t be ordained to the priesthood), as well as some protests I have already documented of Byron Marchant and Douglass Wallace.  They both stopped by my blog, so I encourage you to check out that post.

So, it seems that many have poor memories of the protests that precipitated the lifting of the priesthood/temple ban on black church members.  Comments?


9 comments on “Remembering Black Protests of the 1960s-70s

  1. As a Michigan resident, I was expecting to see a photo of Governor Romney marching in the Civil Rights march in Detroit.

  2. Does one exist, or are you making a joke?

  3. Never mind. I did a quick search and found a photo of George Romney marching in a civil rights march. http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/08/how-george-romney-championed-civil-rights-and-challenged-his-church/261073/

  4. I’m not sure what you were intending to show in this blog post, but there are a couple of things that are, as the English jury would say, “not proven.”

    First, it appears that all of the agitation you mention was from persons who were not members of the LDS church. As faithful as those persons might have been to their own consciences or creeds, their demonstrations and protests were certainly not “faithful agitation” if that term means agitation by members of the church.

    Second, for those of us who lived through those days, there seemed a huge gulf between the agitation, which seemed to peak about 1970, and the revelation on priesthood in 1978. What part did those demonstrations and protests play in the decision, as compared, say, to concerns about providing temple blessings in the new Sao Paolo Temple, which had been dedicated in 1975?

  5. My point in bringing this up, as I said in the first paragraph, “the only revelations we have received in the past 125 years came about as a result of agitation.” The Federal government agitated against polygamy, and we got OD 1. Many groups agitated against the ban, and we got OD 2.

    Now, you may not view this as “faithful” agitation because the agitation was done by non-LDS. Because of the strong central authority in the LDS Church, leaders don’t revelate unless pushed (a far cry from Joseph Smith who revelated at the seeming drop of a hat.)

    I for one am glad the church no longer practices polygamy or bans blacks from the temple. I view the agitation of the 1850s-1890 as effective (even faithful), even though “the Brethren” found it aggravating (and faithless.)

  6. Even if you define “revelation” merely as “action resulting in a document formally canonized in latter-day scripture,” you’re overlooking Section 138 … or was that perhaps a result of “faithful agitation” by a combination of the forces of World War I plus the Spanish influenza virus?

    Like Mark, I believe you have fallen into the “post hoc ergo propter hoc” trap of assuming that because OD1 and OD2 came after certain events, they came because of those events.

  7. Ardis, welcome! It was a pleasure to meet you at MHA in San Antonio. I apologize for my slow reply, but I was rather busy today.

    I always wonder if I should bring up section 138, but the fact of the matter is that revelation wasn’t canonized until 1978, and seems to be a bit of a throw in while the Brethren added Official Declaration 2. Would it have been added in 1978 without OD 2? I doubt it, but yes, I guess we can add an increase of 50% from my previous 2 revelations to 3. Are there other revelations sitting around for 60 years before we get Official Declaration 3? Why wasn’t 138 canonized sooner (like 1918)? Can we blame the spanish flu and world war 1 for preventing quicker canonization?

    Regarding the “post hoc ergo propter hoc trap”, well I think it really can’t be argued that the Manifesto was the result of government agitation. Woodruff admits in the footnote:

    The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice. If we had not stopped it, you would have had no use for … any of the men in this temple at Logan; for all ordinances would be stopped throughout the land of Zion. Confusion would reign throughout Israel, and many men would be made prisoners. This trouble would have come upon the whole Church, and we should have been compelled to stop the practice. Now, the question is, whether it should be stopped in this manner, or in the way the Lord has manifested to us, and leave our Prophets and Apostles and fathers free men, and the temples in the hands of the people, so that the dead may be redeemed. A large number has already been delivered from the prison house in the spirit world by this people, and shall the work go on or stop? This is the question I lay before the Latter-day Saints. You have to judge for yourselves. I want you to answer it for yourselves. I shall not answer it; but I say to you that that is exactly the condition we as a people would have been in had we not taken the course we have.

    So I don’t think this is a “post hoc ergo propter hoc” trap. Woodruff admits that the agitation forced the revelation. I sometimes think the footnote is more worthy of “revelatory” status that the actual declaration, which sounds like a press release, not a revelation. The footnote sounds more like a revelation.

    Now a stronger case can be made for OD 2, but certainly the issues mentioned in the OP played *some* role, and I suspect Stanford, San Jose State, Wyoming and Washington got the attention of the Brethren, to say nothing of Marchant and Wallace that happened in the 1970s shortly before the revelation. Was it a large role or a small role? It’s hard to say, but my money says that absent these protests, nothing would have happened for several more decades, because for what reason would Kimball have asked?

  8. […] church’s racial policies, especially a policy that disallowed Black clergy. That spring, the San Jose State basketball team boycotted BYU as well. These protests made […]

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