Black History Timeline

Year Black LDS History Black U.S. History
1619

First African Slaves Arrive in What Would Become the United States

1815

A.M.E. Church Founded
The African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.) is organized in Philadelphia with Richard Allen as the founding bishop. It is formed because blacks who were praying in the Methodist Episcopal church were pulled up off their knees. (Source: Official AME Church history)

1816

American Colonization Society Formed
At the urging of Charles Fenton Mercer, a Federalist member of the Virginia state assembly, Presbyterian minister Robert Finley helps found the organization that is devoted to bring free blacks from the United States to what would later be Liberia. Despite being overtly anti-slavery, ACS members were openly racist and frequently argued that free blacks would be unable to assimilate into white society. Source: Wikipedia

1820

First Vision
In the spring, God and Jesus appear to the 14-year-old Joseph Smith as he prayed near his home in Palmyra, New York.

1821

Black Emigration to Liberia
Over the objections of the A.M.E. Church, The American Colonization Society, which is founded by a white Presbyterian clergyman named Robert Finley establishes the black Republic of Liberia in West Africa and begins encouraging emigration of blacks to this new African country.

First Black Patent Granted
Thomas Jennings invents a dry cleaning process. He is the first recorded black patent holder.

1829

First Black Catholic Nun Community Established
Four free black women establish the community of black Catholic nuns in Baltimore. It receives Papal recognition in 1831.

1830

LDS Church Organized
On April 6, the Church is organized in Fayette, New York.

1831

Nat Turner’s Rebellion
Claiming he is called upon to deliver his people, Nat Turner leads 60 men in a two-day rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia. Turner claims the spirit of the Old Testament called on him to deliver his people. Joined by over 60 men, Turner kills around 60 whites and destroys 15 homesteads. Over 3000 armed whites set out to end the rebellion, killing many innocent blacks along the way. Turner remains at large for two months, until he is captured, tried, and hanged. As a result of the insurgency, many southern states forbid blacks to preach.

1832

Elijah Abel Baptized by Ezekiel Roberts
Elijah Abel goes on to become the first black man to be given the priesthood in the LDS Church.

1833

Free People of Color Editorial Published
W.W. Phelps publishes a controversial editorial in the Evening and Morning Star titled “Free People of Color.” It outlines procedures for the migration of free blacks to Missouri. Missouri is a slave state that beat any free black crossing into or out of Missouri with 10 lashes on his or her bare back. The Missourians react very negatively to the editorial and reprint part of it in the St. Louis newspapers. This spark leads to violence against the Mormons and is one of the factors leading to the Mormons eventual expulsion from the state.

Missourians Write Mob Manifesto
The local Missourians do not like the Phelps editorial and respond with The Manifesto of the Mob. This manifesto calls for the “removal” of the Mormons. Among other things it says: “In a late number of the Star, published in Independence by the leaders of the sect, there is an article inviting free Negroes and mulattoes from other states to become “Mormons,” and remove and settle among us. This exhibits them in still more odious colors. It manifests a desire on the part of their society, to inflict on our society an injury that they know would be to us entirely insupportable, and one of the surest means of driving us from the country; for it would require none of the supernatural gifts that they pretend to, to see that the introduction of such a caste among us would corrupt our blacks, and instigate them to bloodshed.””…we believe it a duty we owe to ourselves, our wives, and children, to the cause of public morals, to remove them from among us, as we are not prepared to give up our pleasant places and goodly possessions to them or to receive into the bosom of our families, as fit companions for wives and daughters, the degraded and corrupted free Negroes and mulattos that are now invited to settle among us.””…we agree to use such means as may be sufficient to remove them, and to that and we each pledge to each other are bodily powers, our lives, fortunes and sacred honors.”

D&C 101:79 Revealed
79: Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.

1835

D&C 134 is Adopted
Most interesting is verse 12 which says not to interfere with masters and “bond servants.”

1836

Elijah Abel Ordained an Elder
In March, Elijah Abel is given the priesthood and ordained to the office of Elder. This is reportedly done by Joseph Smith himself.

Joseph Smith Slavery Editorial
In the April issue of the Messenger and Advocate, Joseph Smith writes that the methods of the abolitionists are not helping the cause of the slaves.

Elijah Abel Listed in the Messenger and Advocate
In the June issue of the Messenger and Advocate, the elders in Kirtland Ohio are listed. Elijah Abel is listed as an Elder.

Elijah Abel Ordained a Seventy
In December Elijah is ordained a Seventy by Zebedee Coltrin. He also becomes a “duly licensed minister of the Gospel” for missionary work in Ohio. (Minutes of the Seventies Journal, December 20, 1836)

Nondiscriminatory Rules Published for Governing the Temple in Kirtland
The rules provided for “old or young, rich or poor, male or female, bond or free, black or white, believer or unbeliever…” (History of the Church 2: 368-69)

Theodore S. Wright Receives Diploma from Princeton
He becomes the first African-American to receive a degree from the theological seminary in the United States.

1837

Elijah Parish Lovejoy Killed
On November 7, Elijah Parish Lovejoy is killed by a proslavery mob while defending the site of his anti-slavery newspaper The Saint Louis Observer. His press had been destroyed many times before.

1838

Eunice Kinney Taught and Baptized by Elijah Abel
A letter, dated 1891, describes her conversion experience in 1838.

Frederick Douglass Escapes from Slavery
Frederick Douglass He becomes an abolitionist, publishes a newspaper, raises troops for the civil war, becomes an advisor to President Lincoln, and does many other great things.

1839

Mutiny on the Slave Ship Amistad
Cinque and his men are captured and brought back to the United States. John Quincy Adams, at the age of 73, argues their case successfully before the U.S. Supreme Court: they are freed and returned to Africa.

Catholic Church Opposes Slavery
Pope Gregory XVI issues a statement condemning slavery. He says, “in the Lord all believers in Christ, of whatsoever condition, that no one hereafter may dare unjustly to molest Indians, Negroes, or other men of this sort; …or to reduce them to slavery…” The key word here is “unjustly” as opposed to those who have been captured “justly.” Some American clergy argued that the pope had not intended it to apply to the United States where the slavery is of the “domestic type” and quite different from what the pope is condemning. Read more about the Catholic history here.

1840

People of Every Color Anticipated to Worship in the Nauvoo Temple
“If the work roll forth with the same rapidity it has heretofore done, we may soon expect to see flocking to this place, people from every land and from every nation, the polished European, the degraded Hottentot, and the shivering Laplander. Persons of all languages, and of every tongue, and of every color; who shall with us worship the Lord of Hosts in his holy temple, and offer up their orisons in his sanctuary.” (Times and Seasons, Vol. 1 No. 12 October, 1840. See also Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, Vol. 1, No. 9, January 1841 and in History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Vol. 4)

1841

Joseph Smith says Elijah Abel is Part of a Group Sent to Rescue Him
Joseph Smith is arrested and “Hosea Stout, Tarleton Lewis, William A. Hickman, John S. Higbee, Elijah Able [sic], Uriel C. Nickerson, and George W. Clyde started from the Nauvoo landing, in a skiff in order to overtake me and rescue me, if necessary.” When the group arrives at Quincy, they find that Joseph has been taken back to Nauvoo. (History of the Church, 4:365) Note that Elijah’s last name is sometimes spelled Able and sometimes spelled Abel.

Baptists Argue that Slavery is Biblical
Southern delegates to the Triennial Convention of the American Baptist Foreign Mission Board “protested the abolitionist agitation and argued that, while slavery was a calamity and a great evil, it was not a sin according to the Bible.” [J.G. Melton, The Encyclopedia of American Religions, Volume I, Triumph Books, (1991), Volume II, Page 5.]

1842

Joseph Smith Writes in His Personal Journal that Slaves Should be Set Free
He writes that the slaves owned by Mormons should be brought “into a free country and set …free– Educate them and give them equal rights.” [30 Dec. 1842 Joseph Smith Journal as quoted in Neither White Nor Black, Bush and Mauss (Signature Books, 1984), p. 62]

Joseph Smith Writes His Famous Letter about Slavery
It makes my blood boil.” In speaking of slavery, Smith writes this emotional letter expressing how he feels about slavery.

1843

Joseph Smith Makes Statements about Blacks
Blacks have souls (an item that others didn’t necessarily believe) and that they are a product of their environment. Given an equal environment they would be on the same level as whites.

Methodist Ministers are Slaveholders
“In 1843, 1,200 Methodist ministers owned 1,500 slaves, and 25,000 members owned 208,000 slaves…the Methodist Church as a whole remained silent and neutral on the issue of slavery.” (Slavery and Religion in America: A time line 1440 – 1866, at: http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_slav2.htm)

New Methodist Splinter Group Forms Over Slavery
Members of the Methodist Episcopal Church leave to form the Wesleyan Methodist Church in America. The split is caused primarily by the slavery issue. The church had reneged on an earlier decision to forbid members to own slaves.

1844

Joseph T. Ball serves as Boston Branch President
Joseph T. Ball, a black man, held the priesthood and served as president of the Boston Branch from 1844 to 1845. He is mentioned in this Wikipedia article.

Green Flake Baptized
Green Flake is the slave of James Madison Flake, a convert to the LDS Church. At the age of 15 Green is baptized, but remains a slave. Green remains a faithful member of the Church throughout his life.

Samuel Chambers Baptized by Preston Thomas
Samuel Chambers is baptized at the age of 13. The baptism is done in secret because Samuel is a slave.

Walker Lewis Ordained an Elder
There are two conflicting accounts of the ordination of Lewis, a black man in Lowell, MA. According to a letter from William Appleby to Brigham Young dated June 2, 1847, William Smith, brother to Joseph Smith, ordains him, but according to Jane Elizabeth James written Feb. 7, 1890, Parley P. Pratt ordains him.

Joseph Smith Runs for President
Campaigns on an anti-slavery platform. “[We] hold[s] these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal;…but at the same time some two or three millions of people are held as slaves for life, because the spirit in them is covered with a darker skin than ours.” Joseph proposes the sale of public lands to pay for the release of every slave and to abolish slavery by 1850.

Methodist Church Splits Over Slavery Issue
In 1844 the issue of slavery divides the General conference of the Methodist Church into a northern and a southern branch. You can read about it in this off site article: Methodists and Slavery.

1846

William McCary Baptized and Ordained by Apostle Orson Hyde
This baptism and ordination of William, a black man, is reported in the Voree Herald, October 1846.

Frederick Douglass’ Narrative is Published
Frederick Douglass, a leading black abolitionist, publishes the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave. Douglass had been born into slavery in 1818 in Maryland.

1847

Several Blacks Arrive in Utah
It is reported that Green Flake comes in with Brigham Young in the first company of Saints to arrive.

1848

Baptists Split over Slavery
The American Baptist Missionary Union, (now the American Baptist Convention) split over slavery and the Southern Baptist Convention is formed. It remains a separate convention to this day.

1850

Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 Enacted
The provisions of this act helped to precipitate the political and social conditions that led to the Civil War. Source: Wikipedia

1851

Orson Hyde Makes Statement about Slavery
Millennial Star, February 15, 1851, “The laws of the land recognize slavery, we do not wish to oppose the laws of the country.”…”Our counsel to all our ministers in the North and South is; to avoid contention upon the subject, and to oppose no institution which the laws of the country authorize; but to labor to bring men into the Church and Kingdom of God, and teach them to do right, and honor their God in His creatures.”

J.F. Brennan Publishes Book by Josiah Priest titled Bible Defence of Slavery
Brennan claims that Cain’s parents were Eve and the serpent. Unfortunately, this book becomes very influential in “explaining” the black race.

1851- 1852

Elijah Abel Arrives in Utah, a Free Man
A carpenter by trade, Abel works on building the Salt Lake Temple. He and his wife Mary Ann manage the Farnham Hotel.

1852

Slavery Made Legal in Utah
Several unique provisions are included which terminate the owners contract in the event that the master had sexual intercourse with a servant “of the African race,” neglected to feed, clothe, shelter, or otherwise abuse a servant, or attempt to take him from the territory against his will. Some schooling is also required for slaves between the ages of six and twenty. (Neither White nor Black, Bush and Mauss, Signature Books, 1984, pg. 68-69)

1853

Elijah Abel Requests Permission to Receive Endowments
Brigham Young denies the request. Abel had already been through the Kirtland Temple for washings and anointings and he was already baptized for the dead in Nauvoo.

1854

Brigham Young has Green Flake Freed from Slavery
Green Flake is a slave of a Southerner who converted to the Church. Flake eventually dies a faithful Mormon in Idaho Falls, Idaho. In Idaho, Green is known as “the best damn missionary we have” (words of Oz Call).

1856

Biddie Mason and 12 Other Slaves Freed by California Court
Their Mormon owner, Robert Smith, had taken them from Mississippi to Utah, then Brigham Young asked them to go to Bakersfield, California. Robert Smith later tried to take these 13 people to Texas, but other Mormons got community help to bring them before Judge Hayes. Robert Smith was excommunicated. Biddie Mason became a wealthy philanthropist and a founder of AME Church and Civil Rights in southern California.

1857

Dred Scott Decision of the U.S. Supreme Court
Dred Scott is considered property, not a citizen, and therefore can not sue in Court. The Dred Scott Decision also indicates that Congress can not keep slavery out of the territories.

1860

Utah Census
The census lists 59 blacks, 29 of them are listed as slaves.

1861

Civil War Begins
Black enlistment is initially rebuffed by the Union Army, because of concerns that their participation will weaken Northern support for the war.

Presbyterian Church Splits Over Slavery Issue
The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America splits and the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States is formed in the south. They later rename themselves the Presbyterian Church in the United States.

1863 Emancipation Proclamation Frees Slaves in Some States On January 1, with the Emancipation Proclamation, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln declares free all slaves residing in territories that are in rebellion against the federal government. This really frees very few slaves. It does not apply to slaves in border states fighting on the Union side, nor does it affect slaves in Southern areas under Union control. Those states that are affected are in rebellion, so they do not act on Lincoln’s order. Four months later, black soldiers are allowed to join the Union Army. More than 180,000 African-Americans serve.
1865

Abraham Lincoln Delivers His Second Inaugural Address
In the address, Lincoln blames the Civil War on the keeping of slaves. “He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came…” “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bonds men’s 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn up with a lash shall be paid by another drawn with a sword, as was said 3000 years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”

The Civil War Ends

Thirteenth Amendment Passes
December 18, this amendment passes which ends slavery in the U.S.

1866

First Ku Klux Klan Formed
Organization forms in the South in wake of the Confederation’s defeat in the Civil War in an attempt to promote white supremacy.

Catholic Church Responds to Thirteenth Amendment
Response says slavery is not contrary to the natural and divine law. “Slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law, and there can be several just titles of slavery and these are referred to by approved theologians and commentators of the sacred canons. It is not contrary to the natural and divine law for a slave to be sold, bought, exchanged or given. The purchaser should carefully examine whether the slave who is put up for sale has been justly or unjustly deprived of his liberty, and that the vendor should do nothing which might endanger the life, virtue or Catholic faith of the slave.” (Instruction 20, June 1866)

1867

Deseret Constitution Amended to Extend Rights To All
“In accordance with the provisions of the act passed at the last session of the General Assembly, and ‘approved January 22, 1867,’ which so amended the Constitution of the State of Deseret… gave suffrage to persons of color, the proposed amendment [was] submitted to the people at the general election held on the first Monday in February last [1867], and were ratified by an almost unanimous vote.” (Deseret News 17, March 4, 1868: 27.)

1868

Scott Joplin Born
On November 24, Scott Joplin was born in Liden, Texas. He was later known as the King of Ragtime.

1869

The “Neutral in the Preexistence” Explanation Denied by Brigham Young
When asked “if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven,” Brigham Young answers, “No, they were not, there were no neutral [spirits] in heaven at the time of the rebellion, all took sides…. All spirits are pure that came from the presence of God. (Journal History, 25 December 1869, citing Wilford Woodruff’s journal.)

1870

C.M.E. Church Founded
The Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (C.M.E.) is founded by free blacks.

1871

Automatic Lubrication Device Invented
Prior to Elijah McCoy’s invention, equipment and engines would have to be stopped for periodic lubrication. He is known as the “real McCoy.”

1873

Pope Pius IX Prays that God Remove the Curse of Ham
Pope Pius IX is concerned about the “wretched Ethiopians in Central Africa.” He prays that “Almighty God may at length remove the curse of Cham [Ham] from their hearts.” God’s curse on Ham is that the Canaanite people would be forever enslaved. Some theologians had long used this Biblical passage to justify enslavement of Africans. (The Raccolta: Or, Collection of Prayers and Good Works, to which sovereign pontiffs have attached holy indulgences. Published by order of His Holiness, Pope Pius IX. Maryland: Woodstock College, 1878, pp. 413-415.)

1875

First Black Catholic Bishop
James Augustine Healey becomes the first African-American bishop in the Roman Catholic Church. (First Black Catholic Bishop)

1879

Abraham Smoot and Zebedee Coltrin Claim Joseph Smith Instituted the Priesthood Ban
Smoot, who owned two slaves, and Coltrin claim that Joseph Smith instituted the ban in the 1830s and dropped Abel from the priesthood. (L. John Nuttal diary, May 31, 1879, p. 170, Special Collections, BYU). Coltrin is working from an old memory and makes several factual errors. Joseph F. Smith provides the two certificates indicating Abel’s status as a Seventy, which contradict Coltrin’s claims, as does Abel’s patriarchal blessing, which is read aloud at the meeting. Joseph F. Smith says he thinks Brother Coltrin’s memory is incorrect. One interesting note that may be relevant if accurate: Both Coltrin and Smoot claim to have asked Joseph Smith what to do with the “Negroes in the Southern States.” “[The Prophet] said I could baptize them by the consent of their masters, but not to confer the priesthood upon them.” (Above sources as quoted in Neither White nor Black, Bush and Mauss, Signature Books, pg. 60.)

1880

Elijah Abel Again Denied Temple Endowment
This time he is turned down by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Earlier in his life he participated in washing and anointing ceremonies in the Kirtland Temple and baptisms for the dead in Nauvoo.

1880 Census
For the second time, blacks are listed as people and not as property.

1881

Booker T. Washington Begins Work at the Tuskegee Institute
Born a slave in 1856, Booker T. Washington becomes a very influential educator. His idea is that blacks could secure their constitutional rights through their own economic and moral advancement rather than through legal and political changes. He visits Utah in 1913.

1883

Elijah Abel Still Has the Priesthood
He is still on record as a Seventy in the Seventies Minutes dated December 10.

Elijah Abel Sent On a Mission
In his seventies, Abel returns home in early December 1884 and dies two weeks later.

1885

B.H. Roberts Speculates on the Origin of the Priesthood Ban
Roberts draws heavily on the newly canonized Pearl of Great Price and asks if Ham’s wife Egyptus is a daughter of Cain and because of her line perpetuates the curse of a priesthood ban through Ham’s children. (The Contributor 6:296-297)

1886

First Black Catholic Priest in America
Augustus Tolton is the priest in Quincy Illinois for two years. (First Black Priest)

R.F. Fleming Patents the Guitar
He becomes another in a growing list of black inventers.

1887

Alexander Miles Patents Important Elevator Improvements
Alexander Miles patents the electric elevator and doors that automatically close.

Ohio Repeals Antimiscegenation Laws
These laws made it unlawful for people of different color or races to marry each other. While Ohio repealed its law, no other state did until 1951.

1891

Ku Klux Klan Causes Problems for Mormons
J. Golden Kimball receives a telegram saying the Ku Klux Klan is going to tar and feather all of the Mormon elders in the county if they don’t immediately leave.

1892

Lynching in the United States Reaches Its Peak
161 African-Americans are killed in a single year. See also Wikipedia.

1895

Joseph F. Smith Claims Abel was Ordained Under Direction of Joseph Smith
The Quorum of the Twelve discuss the black issue again. Joseph F. Smith is a strong advocate that Joseph meant for blacks to received the priesthood. In contrast, George Q. Cannon asserts that Joseph Smith instituted the ban, but says it is second-hand information he heard from John Taylor.

1896

Supreme Court Upholds Segregation
The Supreme Court holds that “separate but equal” is legal. It involves a dispute over sleeping cars on the railroad. At this time 90% of blacks live in the South.

1900

President Lorenzo Snow Expresses Doubts On the Issue
On August 18, President Lorenzo Snow states that he isn’t sure whether the existing explanations for the ban had been personal opinions or actual revelations. This is recorded in the minutes of the Council of the Twelve.

Elijah Abel’s Son Ordained an Elder
On November 27, Enoch Abel, son of Elijah Abel, is ordained an Elder.

1902

Jane Manning James Receives a Special Temple Sealing
Jane Manning James has been a faithful black member of the Church since the days of Joseph Smith, Jr. She lived with the Smiths and was promised by Joseph and Emma that she could be adopted into their family. After several letter exchanges with Church leadership, she is given a special temple sealing as a “servant” to Joseph Smith Jr. She continues to pursue her endowment.

1908

Joseph F. Smith Changes His Position Relative to Blacks
Joseph F. Smith abandons his former position on Elijah Abel’s status and now claims that Joseph Smith declared Abel’s ordination “null and void.” (Council Minutes, 26 August, as quoted in Neither White nor Black, Signature Books, pg. 140) Historians today don’t understand this reversal, as Smith had Abel’s ordination certificates which supported his earlier (strongly held) position and don’t support his new views.

Jack Johnson wins the World Heavyweight Title
Black heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson defeats white Canadian Tommy Burns.

Race Riot of 1908
Springfield, Illinois, had an August race riot sparked by the transfer of two black prisoners out of the city jail by the county sheriff. The act enraged white citizens, who burned black-owned homes and businesses. The riot resulted in at least seven deaths.

1909

NAACP Formed
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was formed on February 12. It’s purpose is to “ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.”

1910

Jack Johnson Defends His Title
Black heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson defends his title against white James J. Jeffries. Jeffries was a champion who had earlier refused to fight Johnson. After winning by knocking out Jeffries in the fifteenth round, race riots erupted throughout the United States. Some states banned the filming of Johnson’s victories over white fighters.

1912

LDS First Presidency Again Denies the “Neutral in Heaven” Idea
Just as Brigham Young denied it, Joseph F. Smith and Charles Penrose deny this theory in a First Presidency letter written to M. Knudson on January 13. “There is no revelation, ancient or modern, neither is there any authoritative statement by any of the authorities of the Church… [in support of the idea] that the Negroes are those who were neutral in heaven at the time of the great conflict or war, which resulted in the casting out of Lucifer and those who were led by him.” (As quoted in Neither White Nor Black, Bush and Mauss, Signature Books, pg. 86)

1915

Second Ku Klux Klan Formed
Reorganization of the Klan in the South and throughout the nation. Members were largely Christians: “Klansmen were Protestants, of course, but they cannot be described exclusively or even predominantly as fundamentalists. In reality, their religious affiliations mirrored the whole of white Protestant society, including those who did not belong to any church.” [Source: Leonard J. Moore, Citizen Klansmen: The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1921-1928. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991).]

1917

Black Soldiers Fight in World War I
But they fight in completely segregated units.

1919

Lynchings Continue
There were 83 recorded lynchings and the Ku Klux Klan held more than 200 public meetings.

Chicago Race Riot of 1919
38 people die and more than 500 are injured. The riots began on July 27, after a white man caused a black beachgoer to drown.

1924

Membership in Ku Klux Klan reaches high of 6,000,000

1934

Elijah Abel’s Grandson Ordained a Priest
On July 5, Elijah Abel, grandson of the first Elijah Abel, is ordained a priest in the Aaronic priesthood.

1935

Elijah Abel Ordained an Elder
On September 29, Elijah Abel, grandson of the first Elijah Abel, is ordained an Elder.

1936

Jesse Owens wins Four Gold medals at the Berlin Olympics

1938

Joe Lewis Defeats Max Schmelling
In just over two minutes, Louis triumphed over German boxer Schmeling, knocking him down three times during the contest at Yankee Stadium.

1940

Committee Studies Black Issue
J. Reuben Clark, Jr., recommends a committee be appointed to “make some ruling or re-affirm whatever ruling that has been made on this question in the past as to whether or not one drop of negro blood deprives a man of the right to receive the priesthood” (Council Meeting January 25, 1940, George Albert Smith Papers, LDS Church Archives).

Thirty-One of the Forty-Eight States Still Ban Interracial Marriage
Breaking this law means jail time.

1941

Black Soldiers Fight in World War II
But they fight in segregated units.

1945

100 Servicemen Arrested for Not Signing Segregation Agreement
Coleman Young and 99 other black servicemen are arrested after they refuse to sign an agreement to abide by base segregation rules. They are imprisoned.

1947

Brazil is Studied for Priesthood Issue
The committee finds that the races are very mixed in Brazil. Patriarchal blessing are used to determine linage.

1949

First Presidency Statement on Blacks and Priesthood
“The attitude of the Church with reference to the Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time.”

1952

The Tuskegee Institute Reports there are No Lynchings
It is the first year in 71 years that no lynchings are reported.

1954

Temple Work for Black Members
Blacks were not allowed to enter LDS temples (due to requirement to hold the priesthood), but white members were able to do temple work for ancestors of black members. (Elder Mark E. Petersen in an address to teachers at BYU, August 27, 1954.)

Brown v. Board of Education
The Supreme Court declares that “separate but equal” public education is unconstitutional.

1955

Melanesian “Blacks” are Given Priesthood
Under the direction of David O. McKay, Melanesian blacks are defined as from a different linage and not under the priesthood ban. The first Figians receive the priesthood in 1958 while the Negritos of the Philippines were given it earlier. (Armand Mauss, Neither White nor Black, Signature Books, pg. 152)

Murder of Emmett Till
In August, Chicago teen Emmett Till traveled to Mississippi and was killed less than a week later. His crime? He reported whistled at a white shop owner’s wife.

Montgomery Bus Boycott
On December 1, Rosa Parks, a 43-year-old black woman, refuses to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus to a white man. Her arrest sparks a black boycott of the city buses. Martin Luther King, Jr., a relatively unknown 26-year-old Baptist minister, becomes the spokesperson and organizer of the boycott and is catapulted into national prominence. In 1956, the Supreme Court declares that segregation on buses is unconstitutional, and buses throughout the U.S. are forced to desegregate. (from the PBS website timeline)

1957

Little Rock Nine
Nine black children were allowed to attend the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. At first the Governor used the National Guard to keep the children out, but the Federal Government sent the 101st Airborne division from the US army. On September 27, 1957, under army escort, the nine children were able to attend school. One student was stabbed and had acid sprayed in her eyes. More information here and More information here

1958

Joseph Fielding Smith clarifies the Church’s Position on Equality for Blacks
“No church or other organization is more insistent than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that the Negroes should receive all the rights and privileges that can possibly be given to any other in the true sense of equality as declared in the Declaration of Independence. They should be equal to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ They should be equal in the matter of education. They should not be barred from obtaining knowledge and becoming proficient in any field of science, art or mechanical occupation. They should be free to choose any kind of employment, to go into business in any field they may choose and to make their lives as happy as it is possible without interference from white men, labor unions or from any other source. In their defense of these privileges the members of the Church will stand.” (Answers to Gospel Questions 2:185)

Smith goes on to say “if a Negro is baptized and remains true and loyal, he will enter the celestial kingdom.” But he also says, “but we cannot promise him that he will receive the priesthood.”

Little Rock Arkansas High Schools Close
In August, rather than allowing the public high schools to become integrated, the Little Rock school board canceled the 1958-59 school year for its four high schools.

1962

President McKay Calls Missionaries to Nigeria
Four missionaries are called to serve but the Nigerian government denies them visas.

Dr. A.F. Mensah of Ghana becomes a Believer
Sometime in 1962 a missionary tract, the Joseph Smith Story, found its way into the hands of a black religious leader in Ghana, Dr. A.F. Mensah. He converts several others, sets up a church congregation and corresponds with the Church missionary department.

James Meredith Accepted as First Black Student at the University of Mississippi
Twenty Nine-year-old military veteran James Meredith was accepted, on paper, as a student at the University of Mississippi. When the state realized Mr. Meredith was black, his entrance to the all-white university was denied. The governor and lieutenant governor each physically blocked his entrance to the school. Mr. Meredith sued the state, and the 5th Judicial Circuit Court upheld his right to attend the school. Rioting on September 30, 1962, led to the death of two bystanders and injuries to 160 federal marshals. The following day, October 1, 1962, escorted by Justice Department attorney John Doar and federal marshals, James Meredith registered as the first black student at the University. Main Source

1963

Hugh B. Brown Mentions Study
Brown says “we are in the midst of a survey looking toward the possibility of admitting Negroes.” to the Priesthood. He says this in a New York Times article dated June 7, 1963.

Look Magazine Publishes “Memo from a Mormon”
This October article, while not especially favorable to the LDS church, is widely misquoted by anti-Mormons to make it appear that the Church is racist.

Apostle Hugh B. Brown Makes Statement on Civil Rights at October General Conference
“During recent months, both in Salt Lake City and across the nation, considerable interest has been expressed in the position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the matter of civil rights. We would like it to 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.

“We say again, as we have said many times before, that we believe that all men are the children of the same God and that it is a moral evil for any person or group of persons to deny any human being the rights to gainful employment, to full educational opportunity, and to every privilege of citizenship, just as it is a moral evil to deny him the right to worship according to the dictates of his own conscience.

“We have consistently and persistently upheld the Constitution of the United States, and as far as we are concerned this means upholding the constitutional rights of every citizen of the United States.

“We call upon all men everywhere, both within and outside the Church, to commit themselves to the establishment of full civil equality for all of God’s children. Anything less than this defeats our high ideal of the brotherhood of man.”

Medgar Evers Assassinated
NAACP organizer Medgar Evers killed in Mississippi by Ku Klux Klansman Byron De La Beckwith.

Birmingham Church Bombing
The black Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama is bombed while Sunday school is in session, and four young girls are killed. Four suspects are identified but FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover blocks their prosecution. Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley reopens the case in 1971, and Robert Edward Chambliss is convicted of one count of murder. The case is opened again in 1997, and two aging former Klansmen, Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry, are sentenced to life in prison.

Martin Luther King Delivers Landmark Speech
The “I Have a Dream” speech is delivered to over 250,000 assembled at the Lincoln Memorial, making it the largest protest in U.S. history.

1964

Dr. A.F. Mensah of Ghana Gives a Book of Mormon to J.W.B. Johnson
J.W.B. Johnson, after reading it and receiving a series of dramatic personal revelations, becomes converted and spends time spreading the gospel among fellow Ghanaians. He forms several “Latter-day Saint” congregations.

Civil Rights Act Passed
The Act effectively desegregates public facilities, stating: “All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation…without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.”

California Voters Pass Proposition Fourteen
Passed by a two-to-one margin, this has the effect of wiping off the books all of the “fair housing” legislation ever passed in California. It stays in effect for two years until the Supreme Court strikes it down.

1965

Congress Passes Voting Rights Act
The Voting Rights Act bans the literary tests and poll taxes used since Reconstruction to prevent blacks from voting.

1966

Vernon Dahmer Killed
NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer, Sr., firebombed in Mississippi by Ku Klux Klan members including Sam Bowers.

1967

Sociologist Armand Mauss Surveys LDS Attitudes about Race
Survey shows that “the Mormons, in spite of their peculiar doctrine on the Negroes, were no more likely to give anti-Negro responses than were the Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans (whether American or Missouri Synod) or Baptists (whether American or Southern), and furthermore the Mormon respondents were very nearly the same as the Protestant averages.”

The survey also shows, “among those of urban origin, the ‘Orthodox’ or ‘believers’ were consistently less likely to express anti-Negro attitudes than were the ‘doubters’ of key Church doctrines.” (Neither White nor Black, Bush and Mauss, Signature Books, 1984, pg. 20-23)

Pressure on LDS Church Increases
In a story in the Los Angeles Times on August 27, the Church is referred to as “one of the few uncracked fortresses of discrimination.”

Supreme Court Strikes Down Ban on Interracial Marriage
The case, known as Loving v. Virginia, is based on the marriage of Mildred Jeter, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man. On January 6, 1959, the Lovings plead guilty to violating the law against interracial marriage and are sentenced to one year in jail; however, the trial judge suspends their sentence on the condition that the Lovings leave the State and not return for 25 years. After the Supreme Court decision, the last sixteen states with similar laws finally give it up.

1968

Martin Luther King, Jr., Assassinated
April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is shot while standing on a hotel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. He later dies at a hospital. His death provokes riots in fourteen cities and national mourning.

1969

Black Athletes Removed from Team
On October 17, fourteen black football players from the Univeristy of Wyoming (including six starters) were removed from their team by coach Lloyd Eaton for wearing black armbands on game day with BYU. The UW Black Student Alliance called a boycott of the game. (Salt Lake Tribune, November 30, 1969.)

Stanford Refuses to Schedule Sporting Events with BYU
On November 13, Stanford University (California) announced it would no longer compete with BYU. According to United Press International, the school would “schedule no new athletic or other competitions with Brigham Young University because of alleged racial discrimination by the Mormon Church.”

First Presidency Statement
(Read full statement here) … we believe the Negro, as well as those of other races, should have his full Constitutional privileges as a member of society, and we hope that members of the Church everywhere will do their part as citizens to see that these rights are held inviolate. Each citizen must have equal opportunities and protection under the law with reference to civil rights.

1970

Basketball Game Disrupted by Protest
A January 8 BYU basketball game at Tucson (Arizona) was disrupted just before halftime by nine black students walking on the court in protest of the Church’s racial policies. Lighter fluid was poured on the court and set on fire during the event. A week later, 3,000 students at Tucson attended a rally demanding the school sever relations with BYU.

Protests at Sporting Events Continue
During February and March, BYU sports teams and students faced protests at scheduled events in Seattle (University of Washington), Laramie (University of Wyoming), Fort Collins (Colorado State University), San Luis Obispo (California Poly), and New Mexico. The protest at Colorado State University turned violent, involving hundreds of students and security personnel.

University of Washington Drops Athletic Relations with BYU
In March, the University of Washington (Seattle) announced it would drop athletic relations with BYU when contracts ran out in 1972 (Deseret News, March 9, 1970).

BYU Faces Wider Athletic Problems
Student organizations of at least six universities (University of Arizona, Arizona State University, University of New Mexico, Colorado State University, University of Wyoming, and University of Hawaii) and at least one faculty senate (University of Washington) recommend severing athletic ties with BYU over Church racial policies.

Salt Lake Tribune Reports that David O. Mckay Says there is No Doctrine on Blacks
“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.’ (Read the full article here.)

IRS Denies Tax-Exempt Status to Some Private Schools
In July the IRS concluded, based upon a January ruling by the District Court for the District of Columbia, that it could “no longer legally justify allowing tax-exempt status to private schools which practice racial discrimination.” (IRS News Release, July 7, 1970) In a letter dated November 30, the IRS formally notified private schools, including those involved in the earlier litigation, of this change in policy, “applicable to all private schools in the United States at all levels of education.” (The decision was relative to discrimination in admissions, so would not have been applicable to private LDS schools, which had no discriminatory policies in place relative to admissions.)

1971

Genesis Group Formed
On October 19, the Genesis Group is formed under the direction of Joseph Fielding Smith. Apostles Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson and Boyd K. Packer are assigned to meet with Ruffin Bridgeforth Jr., Darius Gray, and Eugene Orr to form the beginnings of the Genesis Group. The organization is to provide a fellowship group for black members in Salt Lake City as well as to try to activate other black Mormons who have gone inactive.

Bob Jones University Accepts Limited Blacks
Bob Jones University changes its admission policy to allow married black students (as long as they are married “within their race”).

1972

First Black BYU Football Player
BYU’s first black football player, Bennie Smith, enrolled in the university. Smith complained of racial prejudice on the BYU campus and was suspended from the team before completing his first semester.

1973

Spencer W. Kimball becomes Church President
He says the following about the issue: “I am not sure that there will be a change, although there could be. We are under the dictates of our Heavenly Father, and this is not my policy or the Church’s policy. It is the policy of the Lord who has established it, and I know of no change, although we are subject to revelations of the Lord in case he should ever wish to make a change.”

1974

First Black BYU Basketball Player
BYU’s first black basketball player, Gary Batiste, enrolled in the university.

Church Changes BSA Policy
In July the Church announces a policy change relative to how Boy Scouts is implemented with LDS units. Prior to this time, blacks could not serve in troop leadership positions because the policy had been for Deacon’s Quorum Presidents (a priesthood position) to also function as troop Senior Patrol Leaders. The policy change severed the dual position requirement, allowing others besides Deacon’s Quorum Presidents to serve as Senior Patrol Leaders. The policy change resulted from a threatened lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America by the NAACP.

Bob Jones University Permits All Blacks to Register
In May, Bob Jones University starts admitting all blacks, regardless of marital status, provided they agree to only date within their race. Interracial married couples are still denied admission.

1976

Douglas Wallace Excommunicated
In late March or early April, Douglace Wallace, a white member from Portland, Oregon, organized a press conference and baptized Larry Lester, a black man, in a motel swimming pool. Immediately after the baptism, Wallace ordained Lester to the Aaronic Priesthood. Wallace was excommunicated from the Church before the middle of April.

Jimmy Carter’s Church Changes Policy on Black Members
After Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States, his church in Plains, Georgia, changed its policy concerning the admittance of black members after protests were made.

1977

Missionary Thayne Tagge Teaches Ghanaians in Switzerland
They are no-shows for their baptism because they are deported by immigration. They later start corresponding, asking for missionaries to come to Ghana and baptize the group of fifty or more believers they organized using the Book of Mormon and brochures Elder Tagge had given to them. (The author of this timeline served in Switzerland with Elder Tagge)

Alex Haley’s Roots Airs
Alex Haley’s Roots, an epic that follows seven generations of a family from Africa to Arkansas, breaks the TV ratings record established by Gone With the Wind. It sparks interest in family history research.

1978

Priesthood Ban Lifted
On June 8, the revelation which gives the priesthood to everyone regardless of race or linage is announced. The events leading up to it and the revelation itself are judged to be a true miracle.

First Blacks Ordained and Receive Temple Ordinances
Joseph Freeman is the first black to be ordained an elder. In approximately the third week of June, he was sealed in the Salt Lake Temple to his non-black wife and children. The sealing was performed by Thomas S. Monson.

Bruce R. McConkie Comments on Black Issue
Elder McConkie states that “we should forget everything that has been said in the past on this topic.”

Congress of National Black Churches Formed
The seven largest black Christian denominations organize the Congress of National Black Churches.

1979

Stanford Reinstates Athletic Relations with BYU
Relations had been severed for a full decade, since 1969.

1983

Eldridge Cleaver Baptized
A former Black Panther leader, Eldridge Cleaver, was baptized on December 11 in Oakland, California.

Presbyterian Church Factions Reunite
The two bodies which split over the issue of slavery in 1861 reunite with each other and form the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

1990

Helvecio Martins Set Apart as a General Authority
Helvecio Martins is a member of the church before 1978. He is the first black General authority in the LDS church. He is a member of the Quorum of the Seventy–the first black Seventy since Elijah Abel. (In Brother Abel’s time the Seventy were ordained to do missionary work and were not considered general authorities of the Church.)

1992

South Central Los Angeles Riots
Four Los Angeles police officers were caught on tape beating motorist Rodney King in 1991, yet were acquitted by an all-white jury on April 29, 1992. The city erupted after the announcement of the verdict. In the ensuing riots approximately 55 people died, over 2,000 were injured, and approximately 3,600 fires were set destroying 1,100 buildings.

1995

Thurl Bailey Baptized
Professional basketball player Thurl Bailey, formerly a Baptist, is baptized.

Southern Baptists Apologize for their Racist Past
On June 20, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution apologizing for their racist roots and their past defenses of slavery. The SBC was founded in 1845 because the main body of Baptists wouldn’t appoint missionaries who were slaveholders. More information can be found here.

1996

Southern Baptists Denounce a Church for Current Racism
www.nytimes.com/1996/03/29/us/anger-over-effort-to-disinter-an-infant-of-mixed-race.html

1997

Gladys Knight Baptized
Popular singer and entertainer Gladys Knight baptized on August 11.

1998

James Landrith denied admission to Bob Jones University
Landrith was denied admission because he was married to an African American woman. A letter from the university explained that “God has separated people for His own purpose” and that the university “is opposed to intermarriage of the races because it breaks down the barriers God has established.” [Stephen R. Haynes, Noah's Curse (Oxford University Press, 2002), 3-4.]

Bob Jones University Drops Interracial Dating Rule
Bob Jones University dropped a rule prohibiting interracial dating that had been in place since the university’s founding.

2002

Robert Foster Elected BYU Student Body President
Robert Foster becomes the first black student body president of Brigham Young University.

2005

First Black Called as Stake President of the Soweto South African Stake
Jackson T. Mkhabela called as stake president. All previous stake presidents in South Africa had been white though there have been black counselors. While there have been black stake presidents in other countries, this is a first for South Africa.

Bob Jones University Apologies for Racism
In November the university stated it was “profoundly sorry” for having allowed “institutional policies to remain in place that were racially hurtful.”

2009

Joseph W. Sitati Called as a General Authority
Joseph W. Sitati is the first Black African General Authority of the church and the second General Authority of Black African descent. The other was Elder Helvecio Martins from Brazil who served from April 1990 – September 1995 in the Second Quorum of the Seventy. Elder Elijah Abel, an African American, was ordained in 1839 to the Third Quorum of the Seventy. At this time, the title of General Authority was not used as far as we know.

2012

Church Issues Anti-Racism Statement
In response to a Washington Post article quoting a BYU religion professor, the Church issues a strongly worded statement about the origins of the priesthood ban and the Church’s position on racism.

“For a time in the Church there was a restriction on the priesthood for male members of African descent. It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago. Some have attempted to explain the reason for this restriction but these attempts should be viewed as speculation and opinion, not doctrine. The Church is not bound by speculation or opinions given with limited understanding.

“We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church.”

2012
2013

Church Issues Official Statements about Race
In a relatively short statement on the topic in Feb 2012, the Church stated that it “unequivocally condemns racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church.”

In Dec 2013 the Church releases a lengthy doctrinal and historical Race and the Priesthood that disavows theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, …

A Web Site Dedicated to Black Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints