Timeline: Ban on Blacks for Priesthood and Temple Ordinances

The timeline of course is not going to be perfect due to limited records and accounts, but we have tried to combine the timelines of both the official church accounts along with sourced materials that give more insight into the ban, the times that church leaders made important comments on the ban, and when it ended.

1836 (March): Elijah Able, a black convert to the church, is ordained an elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood. Elijah was later ordained to the seventy in December, and remained a member in good standing with Joseph Smith's full awareness.

 

1852: Prophet Brigham Young declares “The seed of Cane [sic] . . . cannot hold the priesthood and if no other prophet ever spake it before I will say it now.” (as quoted in Wilford Woodruff’s journal)

1947 (July): The First Presidency (Prophet George Albert Smith) sends a letter letter to Dr. Lowry Nelson, a member that was critical of the ban on blacks to the priesthood/temples): “From the days of the Prophet Joseph even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by any of the Church leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel. Furthermore, your ideas, as we understand them, appear to contemplate the intermarriage of the Negro and White races, a concept which has heretofore been most repugnant to most normal-minded people from the ancient patriarchs till now. God’s rule for Israel, His Chosen People, has been endogamous. Modern Israel has been similarly directed. We are not unmindful of the fact that there is growing tendency, particularly among some educators, as it manifests itself in this area, toward the breaking down of race barriers in the matter of intermarriage between whites and blacks, but it does not have the sanction of the Church and is contrary to Church doctrine.” (See the letters here)

1948: The First Presidency authorizes the priesthood for "Negrito Men," which they classify as men with dark skin with no known African ancestry. This statement amplifies the ban on Africans along scriptural lines, while allowing the priesthood for others.

 

1949: The First Presidency releases a statement to affirm that "The attitude of the Church with reference to 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. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: “Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to.” (Full statement here)

1954: Prophet McKay continues the priesthood ban on blacks with African lineage after requesting revelation from God. He reportedly said that he asked for a revelation to overturn the ban, “but had not had the answer he sought.”

 

1964 (January): Apostle Delbert Stapley writes letter to then Michigan Governor George Romney regarding Romney’s position about civil rights and attitudes toward black people, January 23, 1964: "I am not against a Civil Rights Bill if it conforms to the views of the Prophet Joseph Smith according to the references above given. I fully agree the Negro is entitled to considerations also stated above, but not full social benefits nor inter-marriage privileges with the Whites, nor should the Whites be forced to accept them into restricted White areas. In my judgment, the present proposed Bill of Rights is vicious legislation."

1965: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are both passed in the United States.

1966: Apostle Bruce R. McKonkie writes in Mormon Doctrine that "Negroes in this life are denied the Priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty. (Abraham 1:20-27.) The gospel message of salvation is not carried affirmatively to them... Negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain spiritual blessings are concerned, particularly the priesthood and the temple blessings that flow there from, but this inequality is not of man's origin. It is the Lord's doing, is based on his eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of Spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate." (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, pp. 527-528)

1969: Under intense pressure from the public due to the church continuing the ban on blacks with African decent while the civil rights movement was in full swing, the First President releases another statement to affirm that while they believe blacks should be given protection by the Constitution, the church has a freedom of religion that can not be broken. "From the beginning of this dispensation, Joseph Smith and all succeeding presidents of the Church have taught that Negroes, while spirit children of a common Father, and the progeny of our earthly parents Adam and Eve, were not yet to receive the priesthood, for reasons which we believe are known to God, but which He has not made fully known to man." (Full statement here)

1970s: Schools begin protesting and boycotting BYU athletics due to the racial ban. This added to an already heightened pressure on the church that now has possible financial implications. (see BYU NewsNet article about athletic boycotts here)

1978: The church is preparing to dedicate a new temple in Brazil, where it is difficult to determine which Brazil members have "negro blood" in them. This is an issue since the temple can not be used by most tithing paying members, and prompts the Q12 to discuss how to solve this problem. (Read interview of Apostle Legrand Richards about the priesthood process here)

1978: The ban on black members receiving the priesthood is lifted after Prophet Kimball meets with the Q12 to receive feedback about removing the ban. The ensuing statement removes the ban, thus nullifying almost 130 years when black members could not receive the priesthood due to their lineage. (The Legrand Richards interview details the 'revelation' process here)