I received the following note from Allen Wyatt on January 20, 2005. I had received an e-mail from another source with one very short unknown quote, and I couldn’t find the source. Allen was helping me look for it. He then sent me the following
Message from Allen
I got to thinking about the quote you sent me. It sounded vaguely familiar to me. So I searched through GospeLink, but couldn’t find anything on it. Then I remembered where I had seen it.
Thirty-five years ago my wife’s grandfather cut an article from the SL Tribune about blacks and the priesthood. Why he cut it out, I don’t know, because he never cut out any other similar articles. I came into possession of that article a few years later, but before I got heavily into apologetics. I thought it was interesting, so I folded it and stuck it inside the index to my copy of Journal of Discourses.
Which is exactly where I found it this morning.
I think you may find it helpful, and its provenance interesting.
Educator Cites McKay Statement of No Negro Bias in LDS Tenents
SL Tribune, Thursday, January 15, 1970
Roger O. Porter, Tribune Staff Writer
President David O. Mckay of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was quoted Wednesday as saying as early as 1954 that “There is no doctrine in this church and there never was a doctrine in this church to the effect that the Negroes are under any kind of a divine curse.”
Dr. Sterling M. McMurrin, former U.S. Commissioner of Education and now E. E. Ericksen Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and dean of the Graduate School at the University of Utah, recalled a conversation in which President McKay also said, “As a matter of fact, there is no doctrine in this church whatsoever that pertains to the Negroes.”
The philosophy professor, himself a Mormon, emphasized that he made detailed notes immediately following the 1954 conversation. And on Aug. 26, 1968, he wrote a three-page letter to President McKay’s son, Dr. Llewelyn R. McKay, recalling the church leader’s belief that Negroes were not cursed by God.
Copies of the letter were sent to President McKay’s three other sons, David Lawrence McKay, Dr. Edward R. McKay and Robert R. McKay.
Dr. Llewelyn McKay “told me later that he read the letter to his father, and that his father told him that it was an entirely reliable report of what happened and what he said,” Dr. McMurrin stated.
This was confirmed Wednesday by Dr. McKay, who said there is “nothing contrary to what President McKay said,” in the letter.
Dr. McMurrin said he often has told persons who have questioned him about Mormonism that there is no official doctrine on the Negro. But he has never referred to his “conversation with President McKay for the reason that I felt that it would be a lack of propriety to do so.”
“I’m willing to discuss it now very frankly because I think President McKay’s statement has very great importance to the Mormon people. This has now become a major issue for the Mormon people and is attracting not simply national but to some extent even world-wide attention.”
“I think the Mormon people deserve to know what he said on the subject,” Dr. McMurrin said. “It was a position which, in my opinion, did justice to his very real greatness as a leader and shows his wisdom in insisting this would be interpreted as a practical issue and not as a doctrinal issue.”
As to the practice of barring Negroes from the priesthood in the church, Dr. McMurrin quotes President McKay as saying:
“We believe that we have scriptural precedent for withholding the priesthood from the Negro. It is a practice, not a doctrine and the practice will some day be changed. And that’s all there is to it.”
The church leader, Dr. McMurrin said Wednesday, would not say when the practice would change and he made “no comment to me with respect to revelation.”
Pres. Hugh B. Brown of the church’s First Presidency was quoted in December making a similar claim about the changing of the practice of barring Negroes from the priesthood.
In his letter to Dr. McKay, Dr. McMurrin says President McKay “made it clear what scripture he had in mind by mentioning the well known passage in the ‘Pearl of Great Price,’ Abraham 1:26-27. He made no reference to the Cain and Abel story.”
The letter continues:
“I told President McKay that I thought his statement on the Negro issue was of major importance and that it should be made public both in print and in a conference statement in order to clear up the confusion of thousands of people in the church believing in the ‘divine curse’ teaching.
Gave No Reply
“To this he gave no reply except to reiterate his position, saying, ‘There is no such doctrine and as far as I am concerned there never was.'”
Further on in the letter, Dr. McMurrin says, “This matter, of course, is of very great importance to the church and its future, considering not only the moral quality of our religion, which is relieved of a great burden if there is no official doctrine, but also the problem of eventual changes in the practice of withholding full fellowship from Negroes. Such a change could be somewhat difficult if there were an official doctrine.
Dr. McMurrin wrote Dr. McKay:
“Your father showed great wisdom in taking this position and it has been a disappointment to me that the church has not clarified the issue on the terms which he stated. His position conforms to the historical facts and as far as I am concerned his word in this matter is authoritative…”
In the letter Dr. McMurrin notes President McKay had requested the meeting in 1954. “We talked for an hour and a half or two hours. There were no others present.”
He said Wednesday the meeting was not specifically for the purpose of discussing the Negro question.
But, as he notes in the letter, “Our discussion centered on the question of orthodoxy and heresy and the general problem of dissent in the church…
“At one point in the conversation I introduced the subject of the common belief among the church membership that Negroes are under a divine curse. I told him that I regarded this doctrine as both false and morally abhorrent and that some weeks earlier, in a class in my own ward, I had made it clear that I did not accept the doctrine and that I wanted to be known as a dissenter to the class instructor’s statements about our beliefs in this matter.
“President McKay replied that he was ‘glad’ that I had taken this stand, as he also did not believe this teaching. He stated his position in the matter very forcefully and clearly…”
In remarks Wednesday, Dr. McMurrin said he was “not optimistic” that Negroes would be admitted to the priesthood in the near future.
But, he said, “It is much less difficult to make a change on a ground that is not regarded as doctrinal, but is regarded as essentially a matter of practice that has arisen out of a variety of practical circumstances.”
In Missouri during the 1830s, Dr. McMurrin said, the Mormons extended full fellowship in the church to Negroes–including the priesthood.
But in an attempt to placate anti-Negro forces, he continued, they later compromised their pro-Negro position and extended only partial fellowship to Negroes, barring them from the priesthood.
It is Dr. McMurrin’s position that the Mormons then turned to scriptural precedent to justify barring Negroes from the priesthood.