Blacks and the Priesthood
Summary of Important Dates
1836: In March, Elijah Abel, a black man, is ordained to the office of Elder.
1836: In December, Elijah Abel, is ordained to the office of Seventy.
1844: Walker Lewis, a black man, is ordained to the office of Elder.
1846: William McCary, a black man, is ordained to the office of Elder.
1900: Enoch Abel, the son of Elijah Abel, is ordained to the office of Elder.
1935: Elijah Abel, grandson of Elijah Abel, is ordained to the office of Elder.
1958: All black Melanesians (Fijians) are given the priesthood (blacks in the Philippines even earlier)
1978: Revelation on Priesthood gives the priesthood to all worthy men regardless of color.
1990: Helvecio Martins becomes first black General Authority Seventy.
Additional blacks were ordained in the early years of the church.
For more information see the History Timeline.
I find the following articles from the FAIR website to be the best in covering this topic. I believe it is essential to read these articles if you want to have an understanding of this issue.
- Dispelling the Black Myth, by Renee Olson
As a black Latter-day Saint and former anti-Mormon, Renee Olson has a unique perspective on the issues relating to black members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In her humor-laced, 2002 FAIR Conference presentation, Olson educated attendees on the history of the priesthood ban, race issues that still exist in the Church, and ideas of how and where we should go from here.
- The LDS Church and the Race Issue: A Study in Misplaced Apologetics, by Armand Mauss
This talk was given by Armand Mauss at the 2003 FAIR Conference. Its strength is the simple question and answer format that Dr. Mauss uses which makes his position very clear and easy to understand. His book is also listed below as one of the essential books to read on this topic.
- Blacks and the Priesthood, by Marvin Perkins
A 2002 talk given by Marvin Perkins in Los Angeles. This talk discusses the official Church position. See also his 2008 paper How to Reach African-Americans and his Feb 2011 article regarding scripture headings and footnotes.
- Mormonism 201: Chapter 16, by Juliann Reynolds
This is a review of Mormonism 101, Chapter 16: Lamanites, the Seed of Cain and Polygamy. This is a book review of one chapter from an anti-Mormon book. This article has a completely different take on the subject and puts the issue into context. It compares the Mormon position on blacks with those of other denominations.
- The Charge of “Racism” in the Book of Mormon, by John A. Tvedtnes
Some critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints charge that the Book of Mormon itself contains racist statements and doctrine. Tvedtnes responds to these charges by looking at how the Book of Mormon comments can be taken in context to refer not to skin color, but to the attitudes, traditions, and level of righteousness of the Book of Mormon people. The white and black imagery is used in the Book of Mormon to contrast purity and virtue with idleness, unrighteousness, and sin. He shows the Book of Mormon makes it clear that God considers neither race nor skin color when dispensing blessings or offering salvation to His
- Elder Holland – PBS Interview – March4, 2006
The following excerpt is part of his response to questions on this topic: “… One clear-cut position is that the folklore must never be perpetuated. … I have to concede to my earlier colleagues. … They, I’m sure, in their own way, were doing the best they knew to give shape to [the policy], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong. …”
- President Gordon B. Hinckley – April 2006 General Conference Talk
- BYU Studies 2008 article on Spencer W. Kimball and 1978 Revelation
These books are recommended:
- Standing on the Promises trilogy, by Margaret Blair Young and Darius A. Gray
- All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage, by Armand Mauss
- Neither White Nor Black, by Lester E. Bush and Armand L. Mauss. (This classic book is available online and is highly recommended.)
- Abraham in Egypt, by Hugh Nibley
- The Dawning of a Brighter Day, by Alexander B. Morrison
- David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, by Gregory A. Prince and William Robert Wright
These books (and many more) are available at the FAIR bookstore.