For a long period of time Black African members of the LDS church were
unable to hold the Priesthood. In honor of Black History Month let's take
a look at why this was so, when it changed, and what's happening now.
Priesthood, Gospel Principles Chapter 13
Organization, Gospel Principles Chapter 14
Doctrine of the Priesthood
From the first days of the Church (1830) until 1978 members who were of
Hamitic or Black African descent were denied the blessings of the Priesthood.
Why were they denied the Priesthood for so long? Joseph Fielding Smith
once stated, "a meaningful response to this question rests on an understanding
of what the Priesthood is."
Was It Prejudice?
However, even with a firm understanding of the Priesthood, a person is
still left to wonder why Black African members would be denied the blessings
of the Priesthood. Some people believe it to be an issue of racism or
prejudice. This is not true. In fact, in the early days of the Church
members were persecuted for not being prejudiced enough.
The saints were accused of being abolitionists and a threat
to the status of the state of Missouri, then a slave state. Even from
the 1900s to the 1940s, when there was a general segregation of Blacks
from so-called white churches, there was no Church policy of racial segregation
of blacks and whites in THE CHURCH of JESUS CHRIST of Latter Day Saints.
D. Charles Pyle, Encyclopedia of Mormonism
In those days the general public was not concerned about the blacks receiving
the Priesthood. Most of the white folk owned slaves and believed that
Black Africans should not be allowed even the least of privileges. The
truth be known, many believed that black people did not even possess souls.
The prophet Joseph
Smith spoke out on this matter.
...they came into the world slaves, mentally and physically.
Change their situation with the whites, and they would be like them. They
have souls, and are subjects of salvation.
And in 1863 Brigham Young taught,
History of the Church, Vol. 5, page 217
For their abuse of [the Black African] race, the whites will
be cursed, unless they repent.
racists?, Jeff Lindsay
Mormons Prejudiced?, W. John Walsh
Journal of Discourses, Vol.10, p.110
So, if prejudice wasn't the cause, what was? In 1855, George A. Smith,
gave the following explanation:
The Lord conferred portions of the Priesthood upon certain races
of men, and through promises made to their fathers they were entitled
to the rights, and blessings, and privileges of that Priesthood. Other
races, in consequence of their corruptions, their murders, their wickedness,
or the wickedness of their fathers, had the Priesthood taken from them,
and the curse that was upon them was decreed should descend upon their
posterity after them, it was decreed that they should not bear rule.
Journal of Discourses 3:29
More detailed reading about why God would deny the blessings of the Priesthood
to worthy members of his church based on their lineage can be found below.
Saints and the Issue of Race
Then, in June of 1978, after spending much time in prayer, President Spencer
W. Kimball received a revelation from the Lord which announced that all
worthy male members of the Church could receive the Priesthood.
I was present when the Lord revealed to President Spencer W.
Kimball that the time had come, in His eternal providences, to offer the
fulness of the gospel and the blessings of the holy priesthood to all
Official Declaration -- 2,
Doctrine & Covenants
on the Priesthood, Bruce R. McConkie
Restoration, Gordon B. Hinckley
of the Church: Priesthood Restored
Respecter of Persons"
the "Revelation" Received in Response to Pressure?
Bruce R. McConkie
The Priesthood Today
Pioneers in Africa
Since that time, the rise of Black Africans joining the Church has increased
tremendously. Evidence of this was displayed in 1998 when Gordon B. Hinckley
traveled to five different African countries and announced a temple to
be built in Ghana. There he was welcomed by thousands of members who not
only held the Priesthood but rejoiced at the news of having their own
temple. President Hinckley was also the keynote speaker for the 1998 National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People conference.
For further study of this topic, I recommend the following FAQ published
by The Elijah Abel Society:
Mormons & the Priesthood~Ban