As many of you know, one of my favorite topics has been the priesthood and temple ban on black church members. There’s a new podcast called Gospel Tangents I want to HIGHLY recommend. Here are some of my favorite quotes so far in interviews with Dr. Paul Reeve, a history professor at the University of Utah.
Episode 7-Becoming a Fanboy of Orson Pratt
Pratt votes against both of those bills and the minutes tell us that he does so because they don’t allow black men to vote and I believe that’s his effort at again, pushing back against Brigham Young, so Brigham Young got to have his say in the morning and this is Pratt’s way of responding. I’m going to vote against these two municipal bills to make my point that I believe black men should be allowed to vote in Utah Territory.
GT: To me that is absolutely astonishing because this is the year 1852. This is pre-Civil War.
Paul: That’s right.
GT: I mean how did Pratt fit in with the rest of America as far as a black man should be allowed to vote because I can’t imagine that’s a popular position?
Paul: It’s really not. I mean there are a few people who are arguing for this, you know radical abolitionists but like I said this is just a radical minority. To stake out that kind of position, you would be branded as a radical minority, marginalized from the mainstream. It really is kind of a distinct position and for him to be making it in Utah Territory really is quite unique for 1852. Not many are advocating for black suffrage in 1852.
Episode 6-The Black Mormon Scandals – describes why Brigham Young changed his mind regarding ordaining blacks.
Brigham Young will leave Winter Quarters. They seem to resolve. McCary leaves the meeting feeling fine about things, but Brigham Young then leads a group into the Great Basin. McCary stays behind in Winter Quarters and actually starts a schismatic group of his own. He’s attracting followers and performing sealings to white women in a sexualized ritual that comes to the attention of Parley Pratt who is at Winter Quarters. Pratt will speak out against McCary. Eventually McCary and his followers will be excommunicated.
Episode 5-How Did Joseph Deal with Muslims? (and Chinese, and Indians?)
…they write their vision of religious equality, they simply say everyone’s welcome to worship in Nauvoo. We don’t discriminate. There’s no religious discrimination and there’s a whole long list of Christian denominations that are welcome in Nauvoo. The only non-Christian group mentioned were Muslims, and they simply say yeah we welcome Muslims here as well. So Joseph Smith was branded as an American Mohammad very early on in his religious career yet he is open and accepting of into his religious community in Nauvoo and simply says religious freedom should be for everyone. An attack against religious liberty against one group is an attack against all groups, so we should be at the forefront defending religious freedom and religious liberty.
Mormons are also conflated with Asians, Muslims, Turks, Chinese. The fear was that Mormons represented a second Oriental problem on American soil. Some actually argue that Mormons will combine with the Chinese immigrants and you have them mixing together and have them creating this, once again, Oriental problem that shines in the face of democracy. Democracy is for the white race, the yellow horde is incapable of democracy. Mormons are a version of Orientalism because they’re practicing polygamy, they’re giving their free will over to despots. In all of those ways the argument was that they are more like the Chinese than they are like white Americans, like Anglo-Saxons. Therefore they are suspect.
The same Congress that passes the Chinese Exclusion Act also passes the Edmunds Act and newspapers across the nation argue that America has now solved both Oriental problems. Some of them say, well Chinese should be allowed to stay but the Mormons are the ones that should go, so they are conflated in editorials across the nation with the Chinese problem. There’s the Mormon problem, and there’s a Chinese problem, and we’re trying to solve both Oriental problems at once.
Episode 4-How did Others Deal with Slavery?
The interesting thing is that almost every protestant denomination in the 19th century also speaks out against the radical abolitionists and against amalgamation. So they’re all speaking out: Presbyterians, Methodists, even the Quakers denounce radical abolitionists. Quakers are in favor of gradual emancipation. They’re against slavery, but what’s the process for doing it? They are also fearful of the immediate abolitionists and the anti-abolitionist backlash and they also come out against the immediate abolitionism. It situates Joseph Smith I think within a bigger context where religious leaders are fearful of the immediate abolitionist movement, and Joseph Smith is right on with the rest of those religious groups.
Episode 3-How Mormons Became a Racial Category
It’s really by the 1840s that outsiders are referring to a Mormon race and you have medical doctors who visit Utah Territory who suggest that there is a new race emerging out of the Great Basin. There’s actually a conference held at the New Orleans Academy of Sciences in 1860 where medical doctors gather and they have a conference about the supposed new race that’s emerging in the Great Basin. All the doctors present at the conference buy the argument and actually push it forward except for one. One doctor argues against that. He simply says that, Look, it’s only been thirty years since this religion has been around. We should really engage in an empirical study for thirty more years before we can conclusively say that Mormonism is giving rise to a new race. Everyone else just simply said that polygamy because it’s degraded, is producing degraded offspring. Therefore a new race is emerging in the Great Basin.
…if you can racialize Mormons then you can racialize anyone.
There are also a couple of episodes from Margaret Young who talked about the life of Jane Manning James. You can check out Jane’s biography in which she walked from Connecticut to Nauvoo.
we walked a distance of over 800 miles. We walked until the soles of our shoes wore out and you could see the whole print of blood on the ground. We knelt and prayed. We asked God the Eternal Father to heal our feet and our prayers were answered and our feet were healed forthwith. We went on our way, singing, praising God for all He had done in preserving us and in healing our feet.
I really enjoyed hearing Margaret talk about the lessons we can learn from Jane.
If there are people who regard blacks as less than, their hearts must change. Jane is an example of one who persevered through trials that we could hardly imagine, and did it through her relationship with God and praised God throughout.
What do you think about race relations within the LDS Church? Do these stories make you proud of black Mormon faith, or uncomfortable for the racism prevalent in these stories?