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)
Church Scriptures and Quotes From Leaders on the Ban on Blacks for the Priesthood/Temple Ordinances
The following is a small collection of quotes that highlight both the scriptures in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints along with the teachings of leaders regarding the curse of black skin. This collection does not dive into the curse of dark skin for Native Americans, which was taught as well through the Book of Mormon, and that is covered in much more depth in a blog post about the church's Come Follow Me manual regarding dark skin. That blog post is available here.
This collection focuses more on the church's teachings towards African Americans and the priesthood ban that was alive for almost 150 years before being removed in 1978. We cover the process of both the priesthood ban along with the declaration that led to its removal in our annotated Gospel Topics Essay on Race and the Priesthood.
One point I want to make ahead of the quotes below is to note that while the church often remarks that comments made by church prophets are 'of men' when they contradict current doctrine, their own teachings tell us to "Follow the Prophet." Prophet Benson released a statement in 1981 to make it clear that "the prophet does not have to say “Thus saith the Lord” to give us scripture." This is very important moving forward, as every prophet from Brigham Young until the ban was lifted made comments on "Negroes" that surely seem to be against the idea that we are all children of God, and as Brigham Young himself said: “I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call Scripture." ((Journal of Discourses , vol. 13, 95)
This collection is far from complete, and we will add to it as we have time, but I believe it gives a pretty good idea of what the church believed in regards to their scriptures on race. As this topic continues to bubble up in the news, it is important to know that what the church teaches today simply can not be reconciled with how the church was founded or run for almost 150 years before the ban was lifted, nor do the teachings today match with the scriptures we reference below in the Book of Mormon, Moses, or Abraham.
The Book of Mormon:
1 Nephi 12:23 - And it came to pass that I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations.
2 Nephi 5:21 - And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.
2 Nephi 30:6 (Original 1830 edition) - And then shall they rejoice: for they shall know that it is a blessing unto them from the hand of God; and their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and a delightsome people.
Jacob 3:5 - Behold, the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins, are more righteous than you; for they have not forgotten the commandment of the Lord, which was given unto our father—that they should have save it were one wife, and concubines they should have none, and there should not be whoredoms committed among them.
Jacob 3:8 - O my brethren, I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God.
Alma 3:6 - And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren, who consisted of Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men.
Alma 3:14 Thus the word of God is fulfilled, for these are the words which he said to Nephi: Behold, the Lamanites have I cursed, and I will set a mark on them that they and their seed may be separated from thee and thy seed, from this time henceforth and forever, except they repent of their wickedness and turn to me that I may have mercy upon them.
The Book of Moses:
Moses 7:8 - There was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people
Moses 7:22 - They were a mixture of all the seed of Adam save it was the seed of Cain, for the seed of Cain were black, and had not place among them.
The Book of Abraham:
Abraham 1:24 - When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land.
Abraham 1:27 - Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham, therefore my father was led away by their idolatry.
Prophet Jospeh Smith:
"The fact is uncontrovertable, that the first mention we have of slavery is found in the holy bible, pronounced by a man who was perfect in his generation and walked with God. And so far from that prediction’s being averse from the mind of God it remains as a lasting monument of the decree of Jehovah, to the shame and confusion of all who have cried out against the South, in consequence of their holding the sons of Ham in servitude!
And he said cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.— God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.”—Gen, 8:25, 26, 27.
Trace the history of the world from this notable event down to this day, and you will find the fulfilment of this singular prophecy. What could have been the design of the Almighty in this wonderful occurrence is not for me to say; but I can say, that the curse is not yet taken off the sons of Canaan, neither will be until it is affected by as great power as caused it to come; and the people who interfere the least with the decrees and purposes of God in this matter, will come under the least condemnation before him; and those who are determined to pursue a course which shows an opposition and a feverish restlessness against the designs of the Lord, will learn, when perhaps it is too late for their own good, that God can do his own work without the aid of those who are not dictated by his counsel." (Joseph Smith in letter to Oliver Cowdery, 1836)
Prophet Brigham Young:
“Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so. The nations of the earth have transgressed every law that God has given, they have changed the ordinances and broken every covenant made with the fathers, and they are like a hungry man that dreameth that he eateth, and he awaketh and behold he is empty.” (Prophet Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses)
"I will remark with regard to slavery, inasmuch as we believe in the Bible, inasmuch as we believe in the ordinances of God, in the Priesthood and order and decrees of God, we must believe in slavery. This colored race have been subjected to severe curses, which they have in their families and their classes and in their various capacities brought upon themselves. And until the curse is removed by Him who placed it upon them, they must suffer under its consequences; I am not authorized to remove it. I am a firm believer in slavery." (Prophet Brigham Young in the Joint Session of the Legislature, January 1852)
"Now I tell you what I know; when the mark was put upon Cain, Abel's children was in all probability young; the Lord told Cain that he should not receive the blessings of the priesthood nor his see, until the last of the posterity of Able had received the priesthood, until the redemption of the earth." (Prophet Brigham Young in the Joint Session of the Legislature, February 1852)
"And if any man mingle his seed with the seed of Cain, the only way he could get rid of it or have salvation would be to come forward and have his head cut off and spill his blood upon the ground. It would also take the life of his children. It is said if a man kills another, that he takes that that he cannot give. If a man’s head is cut off, his life is not destroyed or his spirit that lives. His tabernacle is destroyed. But I can make as good tabernacles as I can–if you do not believe it, look at my children. Such blood was shed in ancient days both of man and beast. The firstlings and best of the flock were sacrificed on the altar, and in some instances many men and almost whole nations were sacrificed or put to death because of their sins and wickedness. This was the only way they could be saved at all. If Jesus Christ had not had his blood shed, the blood that He received from His mother Mary, the world would not have been saved. There is not one of the seed of old Cain that is permitted to rule and reign over the seed of Abel and you nor I cannot help it." (Wilford Woodruff, Personal Diary, January 1852)
Apostle George Q. Cannon:
"The question also came up whether a white man who was married to a woman having negro blood in her veins could receive the Priesthood. I explained what President Taylor had taught me when I was a boy in Nauvoo concerning this matter; he had received it from the Prophet Joseph, who said that a man bearing the Priesthood who should marry or associate with a negress, or one of that seed, if the penalty of the law were executed upon him, he and her and the offspring would be killed; that it was contrary to the law of God for men bearing the Priesthood to have association with that seed. In this case submitted to us a white man had married a woman with negro blood in her ignorantly; yet if he were to receive the Priesthood and still continue his association with his wife the offspring of the marriage might make a claim or claims that would interfere with the purposes of the Lord and His curse upon the seed of Cain." (Journal of George Q. Cannon, December 16 1897)
Apostle Rudger Clawson:
"Apostle Clawson desired an expression of the brethren in regard to a case that had come to his attention. A young man — a member of the church — had sought the hand of one of the daughters of Zion in marriage. She desired to be sealed in the temple. It was ascertained, however, that his mother was tainted with negro blood — she being one-fourth negro — while his father was the son of a prominent family in Israel. Would that be a bar to his entrance to the house of the Lord? It was decided that he could not have the blessings of the house of God." (A Ministry of Meetings: The Apostolic Diaries of Rudger Clawson, p375)
Apostle George F. Richards:
"The negro is an unfortunate man. He has been given a black skin. But that is as nothing compared with that greater handicap that he is not permitted to receive the Priesthood and the ordinances of the temple, necessary to prepare men and women to enter into and enjoy a fulness of glory in the celestial kingdom.
What is the reason for this condition, we ask, and I find it to my satisfaction to think that as spirit children of our Eternal Father they were not valiant in the fight. We are told that Michael and his angels fought, and we understand that we stood with Christ our Lord, on the platform, “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.” I cannot conceive our Father consigning his children to a condition such as that of the negro race, if they had been valiant in the spirit world in that war in heaven. Neither could they have been a part of those who rebelled and were cast down, for the latter had not the privilege of tabernacling in the flesh. Somewhere along the line were these spirits, indifferent perhaps, and possibly neutral in the war. We have no definite knowledge concerning this. But I learn this lesson from it, brethren and sisters, and I believe we all should, that it does not pay in religious matters, matters that pertain to our eternal salvation, to be indifferent, neutral, or lukewarm." (Apostle George F. Richards, October 1939, General Conference)
Apostle J. Reuben Clark:
"We should hate nobody, and having said that, I wish to urge a word of caution, particularly to you young girls. It is sought today in certain quarters to break down all race prejudice, and at the end of the road, which they who urge this see, is intermarriage. That is what it finally comes to. Now, you should hate nobody; you should give to every man and every woman, no matter what the color of his and her skin may be, full civil rights. You should treat them as brothers and sisters, but do not ever let that wicked virus get into your systems that brotherhood either permits or entitles you to mix races which are inconsistent. Biologically, it is wrong; spiritually, it is wrong." (Improvement Era, ‘Plain Talk to Girls’, 1946)
Prophet George A. Smith:
“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.” (LDS First Presidency (George Albert Smith), letter to Virgil H. Sponberg (critic of the anti-black ban), May 5, 1947)
Apostle Joseph F. Smith:
“I would not want you to believe that we bear any animosity toward the Negro. ‘Darkies’ are a wonderful people, and they have their place in our church.” (Joseph Fielding Smith interview in Look Magazine, 1963)
"Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race. A curse placed upon him and that curse has been continued through his lineage and must do so while time endures. Millions of souls have come into this world cursed with a black skin and have been denied the privilege of Priesthood and the fullness of the blessings of the gospel. These are the descendants of Cain. Moreover, they have been made to feel their inferiority and have been separated from the rest of mankind from the beginning.. We will also hope that blessings may eventually be given to our negro brethren, for they are our brethren – children of God – notwithstanding their black covering emblematical of eternal darkness." (Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection)
Elder Ezra Taft Benson:
"There is no doubt that the so-called civil rights movement as it exists today is used as a Communist program for revolution in America just as agrarian reform was used by the Communists to take over China and Cuba. This shocking statement can be confirmed by an objective study of Communist literature and activities and by knowledgeable Negroes and others who have worked within the Communist movement." (Elder Ezra Taft Benson Of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, 1967)
“The privilege of obtaining a mortal body on this earth is seemingly so priceless that those in the spirit world, even though unfaithful or not valiant, were undoubtedly permitted to take mortal bodies although under penalty of racial or physical or nationalistic limitations.” (Prophet Harold. B. Lee in his book, Decisions for Successful Living)
Apostle Bruce R. McConkie:
"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 therefrom, but this inequality is not of man’s origin. It is the Lord’s doing, is based an his eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of Spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate." (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine)
Elder BH Roberts:
“That the negro is markedly inferior to the Caucasian is proved both craniologically and by six thousand years of planet-wide experimentation; and that the commingling of inferior with superior must lower the higher is just as certain as that the half-sum of two and six is only four.” (BH Roberts, the Seventy’s Course in Theology)
Apostle Mark E. Petersen:
“If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in the celestial glory. He will not go then with even the honorable men of the earth to the terrestrial glory, nor with the ones spoken of as being without law” (Apostle Mark E. Petersen, “Race Problems – as they affect the church")
Apostle Alvin R. Dyer:
“I suppose, and you may often have heard missionaries say it, or have asked the question: “Why is a Negro a Negro?” And you have heard this answer: “They were neither hot nor cold, so the Lord made them Negroes.” This of course, is not true. The reason that spirits are born into Negro bodies is that those spirits rejected the Priesthood of God in the pre-existence. This is the reason why you have Negroes upon the earth.” (Apostle Alvin R. Dyer, "For What Purpose," 1962 at Oslo Mission Conference)
Historian D. Michael Quinn:
‘In 1953, a First Presidency secretary also informed a white Mormon about the less-obvious extent of Utah’s racial segregation: “The L.D.S. Hospital here in Salt Lake City has a blood bank which does not contain any colored blood.” According to presidency counselor J. Reuben Clark, this policy of segregating African-American blood from the blood donated by so-called “white people” was intended “to protect the purity of the blood streams of the people of this Church.”’ (Church historian Michael Quinn’s article on ‘Utah Mormon discrimination against the Blacks’)
As we usually close out these posts, I want to mention how difficult it is to take in this new information and changes in policies, and we understand how painful it is to process. Please email us anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more resources to learn about these issues or if you are looking for people that you can safely talk to as you continue your faith journey. And please email us if you disagree with our post - we welcome all comments!