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Blacks in Church History

Research Guide

Tarienne Mitchell, Archivist, Church History Library

Introduction

Black Latter-day Saints have numbered among the Church’s membership since 1830, the year of the Church’s organization. In the first half of the 19th century, black members whose ancestry traced to Africa and the African diaspora received the priesthood, served missions, led congregations, crossed the plains (including in the first pioneer company of 1847), and helped establish the Church in Utah Territory. From 1852 through 1978, black men were banned from receiving the priesthood, and black men and women were prohibited from receiving temple ordinances. Today, black men and women participate fully in the blessings and opportunities provided to all church members.

This research guide provides a brief introduction to individual black members, groups, and events throughout the Church’s history and identifies significant historical materials held by the Church History Library. The guide begins with an introduction to general research resources, followed by four chronological sections: 1830–1851, 1852–1909, 1910–1977, and 1978–present. Within each chronological section, entries are sorted geographically and listed alphabetically. Each individual, group, or event is introduced with a biographical sketch or description and followed by a list of relevant primary sources in our collection as well as significant additional sources in the library’s holdings.

Contents:

General Resources

Section 1: 1830–1851
United States

Section 2: 1852–1909
United States

Section 3: 1910–1977
Africa
Europe
Caribbean
United States

Section 4: 1978–Present
Africa
Latin America
United States

Access to the materials identified in this guide is subject to the library’s access policy, under which certain sources created in recent years may be currently closed to research in order to respect the privacy of living persons. For more information about the library’s holdings or policies, we invite you to explore the online Church History Catalog, visit the library in Salt Lake City, or contact our staff by clicking the Ask Us button anywhere in our catalog or on our website.

General Resources

As is the case with most research on individuals, researching the lives and experiences of black Latter-day Saints requires historical detective work. Frequently, primary sources for one individual are included in the papers or records for another. In addition to these primary sources, there are a few general resources that provide good starting points for understanding the history of black Latter-day Saints.

The Gospel Topics essay “Race and the Priesthood” was published with the authorization of the First Presidency in 2013 and provides an overview of the history and policy related to blacks and the priesthood. The essay’s footnotes identify many useful sources for historical context, individual experiences, statements of policy, and historical analysis. 

Century of Black Mormons is an online database that presents documented biographical information for individual black Mormons baptized between 1830 and 1930. The database is overseen by historian W. Paul Reeve and hosted by the University of Utah, J. Willard Marriot Library. This is not a church sponsored website and the Church does not endorse the content.

BlackPast.org is an online reference guide to African American history that is “dedicated to providing information to the general public on African American history and on the history of the more than one billion people of African ancestry around the world.”1 The site contains primary sources, time lines, research guides, and encyclopedia entries about historical landmarks, historically black colleges and universities, and black individuals, including black Latter-day Saints. Entries are written by historians and include citations to primary sources. This is not a church sponsored website and the Church does not endorse the content. 

 


 

Section 1: 1830–1851

During the first half of the 19th century, the United States remained a hostile and even life-threatening place for people of black African descent. Slavery remained legal, and racist attitudes and laws perpetuated deep divisions between white and black populations. Amid this cultural climate, during the first decades of Church history, some newly baptized black members were called to positions of leadership, ordained to the priesthood, and called on missions.

United States

Elijah Able (1810–1886)

Biographical Sketch

Elijah Able was born in 1810 in Maryland. He may have escaped slavery using the Underground Railroad. He lived in Canada for a time before being baptized in Kirtland, Ohio, in September 1832. In March 1836 he was ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood and served missions in Ohio (1836) and New York and Canada (1838). He was ordained to the Third Quorum of the Seventy in Kirtland in December 1836, where he was a member of the Kirtland Safety Society. After moving to Nauvoo, he worked as an undertaker and carpenter. By 1842, Able had moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he worked as a carpenter and served as a leader among local Saints. At a conference in 1843, he was assigned by Heber C. Kimball, Orson Pratt, and John Page to do missionary work among “the colored population.”

Able married Mary Ann Adams in 1850 and immigrated to Utah in 1853, where he and his family settled in Mill Creek and attended the Mill Creek Ward. Subsequent moves took him to Ogden by 1870 and Salt Lake City by the 1880s; he continued to work as a carpenter and owned real estate. He remained an active member of his Seventies quorum, was rebaptized during the reformation activities of the 1850s, requested temple ordinances (which were denied to him), and served one more mission to Ohio in 1883–84 while in his 70s. His son, Moroni, died in 1871 at age 23, and his wife died of pneumonia. Able fell ill while on his mission in Ohio and died on Christmas Day in 1884, two weeks after returning home. He is buried next to his wife in the Salt Lake Cemetery.

Sources: Nineteenth-century records report his last name variously as Able, Abel, Ables, or Abelta. See W. Kesler Jackson, Elijah Abel: The Life and Times of a Black Priesthood Holder (Springville, Utah: Cedar Fort, 2013); Margaret Blair Young, “Abel, Elijah (1810-1884),” blackpast.org; Margaret Blair Young and Darius Aidan Gray, One More River to Cross, rev. ed., vol. 1 of the Standing on the Promises series (Provo, Utah: Zarahemla Books, 2013), 1-109, 335-44; Russell Stevenson, Black Mormon: The Story of Elijah Ables (Afton, Wyoming: PrintStar, 2013).

In Our Collections
Primary Sources

Record of Priesthood Ordination, 1836
Recorded by Frederick G. Williams on Mar. 31, 1836, in Kirtland, Ohio, in a volume of Kirtland Elders’ Certificates, 1836–38 (CR 100 401).

Deed to Property in Kirtland, 1837
Transfers property to Isaac Galland on June 15, 1837, in the Hiram Kimball Collection (MS 27035).

Receipt for Work for Joseph Smith
Undated in the collection Joseph Smith Receipts and Accounts, 1838–40 (MS 12801).

Property Purchase Record in Nauvoo, 1839
Signed by Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Hyrum Smith on Dec. 8, 1839 (original  in the Newell K. Whitney Papers, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah).

Memorandum of Work Agreement, 1840
Ebenezer Robinson contracted with Able and others to print a pamphlet for carpenters in Nauvoo, Feb. 20, 1840 (MS 2983).

Remarks Noted in Conference Minutes
Clerk Henry Elliott recorded minutes of a conference in Cincinnati, June 25, 1843, that are preserved in the Historian’s Office Minutes and Reports for Local Units, 1840–86 (CR 100 589).

Record of Work
In Brigham Young, Account Book, 1836–46 (MS 17984).

Letter to Brigham Young, 1854
Dated March 14, 1854; preserved in the Brigham Young Office Files, 1832–78 (CR 1234 1).

Receipt for Payment from Daniel H. Wells, 1858
Dated June 28, 1858; preserved in the Brigham Young Office Files, 1832–78 (CR 1234 1).

Deed to Property in Ogden, 1870
Transfers property to Hosea Stout, November 30, 1870, in the Hosea Stout Papers, 1832–75 (MS 16379, box 7, folder 1).

Photograph
In the George A. Smith Photograph Collection, circa 1862–73 (PH 5962).

Drawing
Undated in (PH 5868).

Accounts by a Mission Convert
Eunice Kinney learned the gospel from Able and described the experience in a testimony recorded in 1885 (MS 4226) and a letter written in 1891 (MS 16323).

Selected Additional Sources

Able, Elijah,” josephsmithpapers.org.

Elijah Able,” Early Mormon Missionaries database.

Elijah Able,” Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database.

George Cantor, “Brigham Young Monument, Pioneer Trail State Park,” 334–35, in Historic Landmarks of Black America (Detroit: Gale Research, 1991) (979.2251 C232u 1991).

Deni Krueger, “Elijah Abel: A Selective Bibliography,” circa 1978, Church History Library, Salt Lake City (M201 K94e 1978).

Joseph T. Ball Jr. (1804–1861)

Biographical Sketch

Joseph Ball Jr. was a biracial child born to Mary Montgomery Drew of Massachusetts and Joseph T. Ball Sr., an immigrant from Jamaica. Ball’s family was a family of activists. His father founded a society to help African American widows, and his sisters fought for women’s rights. Ball was baptized in 1832 by Brigham or Joseph Young. By September 1833, he had moved to Kirtland, Ohio, where he was ordained an elder. In 1837 he was called to serve a mission to New England and New Jersey alongside Wilford Woodruff. In 1844 William Smith ordained Ball a high priest, making him the first black man to be ordained to that office. He then served as president of the Boston Branch from October 1844 to March 1845, becoming the first black man to preside over a Latter-day Saint congregation. In 1845, at the invitation of Parley P. Pratt, Ball moved to Nauvoo, where he received a patriarchal blessing from William Smith. By August 1845, both Ball and William Smith had left the Church.

Source: Rick Bennett, “Ball, Jr. Joseph T. (1804–1861),” blackpast.org.

In Our Collections
Primary Sources

Letter Reporting Missionary Service, 1838
A summary of his service in New England with companions Wilford Woodruff and James Townsend; sent to Joseph Smith, Edward Partridge, Sidney Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, and Church members in Missouri on Mar. 9, 1838; published in the Elders’ Journal, July 1838, 35–36.

Mentioned by Joseph Smith
In a letter to Vienna Jaques, Sept. 4, 1833.

Selected Additional Sources

Ball, Joseph T.,” josephsmithpapers.org.

Joseph T Ball,” Early Mormon Missionaries database.

Green Flake (1828–1903)

Biographical Sketch

Green Flake was born into slavery on the Jordan Flake plantation in Anson County, North Carolina, on January 6, 1828. Ten years later, Jordan Flake gave Green to his son James Madison Flake and his bride, Agnes Love, as a wedding gift. Several years later, James moved his family and their slaves to Mississippi, where the Flake family met Benjamin Clapp, a Mormon missionary who taught them the gospel. The Flake family was converted and baptized. On April 7, 1844, Green Flake and another slave of the Flakes were baptized by Elder John Brown.

Shortly after being baptized, the Flake family left Mississippi to join other Church members in Nauvoo, Illinois, and then moved across the plains to Utah. Green Flake and two other slaves, Oscar Crosby and Hark Lay, were part of the first company to make the journey. This group set up Winter Quarters, Nebraska, which served as Church headquarters for a year while the pioneers were on the move. In April 1847, Brigham Young and a small vanguard set out for the Salt Lake Valley. He assigned Green Flake to be his driver for the trip. On July 22, 1847, Green Flake and Orson Pratt entered the Salt Lake Valley in the first wagon (Young was not with them because he had become ill).

Once in Utah, Green built a log cabin and planted crops in the area known now as Cottonwood in preparation for the arrival of his owners, the Flake family, who arrived in October 1848. Around 1850, Green married another slave, Martha Crosby, and together they had two children. Agnes Flake moved to California after her husband, James, passed away. Some accounts state that before she moved, she gave Green Flake to the Church as a form of tithing, while others claim that she merely allowed him to remain behind. All accounts say that Green Flake was later freed by Church leaders, which is reflected in the 1860 U.S. census.

Several years after Martha’s passing in 1885, Green moved to Gray’s Lake, Idaho, to be closer to his children and their families. In his later years, members of the Church celebrated Green for his contributions to the Church. At the Utah Semicentennial Pioneer Jubilee in 1897, Green was given a commemorative pin in recognition for his pioneering efforts. He passed away in Idaho on October 20, 1903, and his body was sent to Salt Lake City, where he was laid next to his wife in the Union Cemetery.

Sources: Jonathan A. Stapley, and Amy Thiriot, “‘In My Father’s House Are Many Mansions’: Green Flake’s Legacy of Faith,” Pioneers in Every Land series, Feb. 19, 2014, history.lds.org; William E. Parrish, “The Mississippi Saints,” The Historian: A Journal of History, vol. 50, no. 4 (Aug. 1988), 489-506; Margaret Blair Young, “Flake, Green (1828–1903),” blackpast.org.

In Our Collections
Primary Sources

Photograph of Homestead
In Union, Utah, circa 1910 (PH 1509).

Sketch
Undated (PH 1278).

Mentioned in a Letter to Brigham Young
William Crosby letter to Brigham Young, Mar. 12, 1851 (CR 1234 1).

Selected Additional Sources

Historical Notes and Files
A detailed family history of his owner, James Madison Flake (M270.1 F5764ja 2011); student papers on the founding of Union Township (MS 5189) and black pioneers of 1847 (M270 J668u); photocopies of newspaper clippings and articles (MS 6968).

George Cantor, “Brigham Young Monument, Pioneer Trail State Park,” 334–35, in Historic Landmarks of Black America (Detroit: Gale Research, 1991) (979.2251 C232u 1991).

Green Flake,” Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database.

Jane Elizabeth Manning James (circa 1822–1908)

Biographical Sketch

Jane Manning, the daughter of a freed slave from Connecticut, grew up in the Joseph Fitch household, where she joined the Presbyterian Church at the age of 14. Jane recalled, “I did not feel satisfied; it seemed to me that there was something more that I was looking for.” About a year and a half later, she learned that a Latter-day Saint missionary was preaching in her community, and she wanted to hear his message. Her preacher told her to not go and listen to the missionary, but Jane went anyway. After hearing the elder preach, she was convinced that she had found the true gospel, and she was soon baptized. 

A year after her baptism, Jane left Connecticut to gather with the Saints in Nauvoo, Illinois, along with members of her family. Jane and her family were forced to walk over 800 miles after not being able to secure enough money to pay an “early fare,” which was not required of white passengers. “We walked until our shoes were worn out, and our feet became sore and cracked open and bled until you could see the whole print of feet with blood on the ground.” Jane and her group arrived in Nauvoo in 1843. She stayed in Joseph and Emma Smith’s home and helped them with household chores. After Joseph’s death, Jane lived for a time with Brigham Young’s family.

In 1844, Emma Smith offered to have Jane sealed to her family as a child. Jane turned the offer down. She stated in her autobiography that at the time, she did not understand the significance of the proposal. Jane later married Isaac James, a freedman from New Jersey. She and her family walked across the plains with the other pioneers. During the trip, Jane gave birth to her son Silas in Keg Creek, Iowa. On September 22, 1847, the James family arrived in the Salt Lake Valley with an advance group of pioneers, making Jane the first documented African American woman in Utah Territory. In Utah, Isaac worked for Brigham Young taking care of his livestock.

After Isaac left his family and Jane’s second marriage had ended, Jane became concerned with the spiritual standing of her family. In the 1870s, she asked the First Presidency if she could be endowed and sealed with her children to Walker Lewis, a black priesthood holder. Her petitions were repeatedly turned down by Church leaders, who cited Church policy. She later asked to be sealed to the Smith family as a child, as Emma had offered in Nauvoo. The First Presidency denied this request but allowed that she could be sealed to the Smith family as a servant, which Jane accepted. On May 18, 1884, Joseph F. Smith and Bathsheba W. Smith acted as proxies for Joseph Smith and Jane, sealing her as a servant to the Smith family. In the end, this ceremony dissatisfied Jane, and she repeatedly petitioned to be sealed to the Smith family as a child until her death in 1908.

Around 1900, Jane dictated her history to Elizabeth J. D. Roundy as a short autobiography. Jane told Roundy that she wanted her autobiography read at her funeral. Jane remained dutiful and active in the Church, and she continues to be celebrated for her faithful legacy. Jane said of herself, “I want to say right here that my faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is as strong today, nay, it is, if possible, stronger than it was the day I was first baptized. . . . I try in my feeble way to set a good example to all.”

Sources: James Goldberg, “The Autobiography of Jane Manning James: Seven Decades of Faith and Devotion,” Dec. 11, 2013, history.lds.org; see also Henry J. Wolfinger, “Jane Manning James (ca. 1820–1908): A Test of Faith,” in Colleen Whitley, ed., Worth Their Salt: Notable but Often Unnoted Women of Utah (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1996), 14–30; Ronald G. Coleman, “‘Is There No Blessing for Me?’: Jane Elizabeth Manning James, a Mormon African American Woman,” in Quintard Taylor and Shirley Ann Wilson Moore, eds., African American Women Confront the West, 1600–2000 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2003), 144–64; Margaret Blair Young, “‘The Lord’s Blessing Was with Us’: Jane Elizabeth Manning James, 1822–1908,” in Richard E. Turley Jr. and Brittany A. Chapman, eds., Women of Faith in the Latter Days, Volume Two, 1821–1845 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2012), 120–35; Quincy D. Newell, “Narrating Jane: Telling the Story of an Early African American Mormon Woman,” Leonard J. Arrington Mormon History Lecture Series, no. 21 (Logan, 2015); Ronald G. Coleman, “James, Jane Elizabeth Manning (1813–1908),” blackpast.org.

In Our Collections
Primary Sources

Autobiography
The original, handwritten manuscript as dictated by Jane circa 1902 to Elizabeth J. D. Roundy (MS 4425) and a typescript transcribed from the original (MS 13308).

Photograph of Jane
Included in the George A. Smith Photograph Collection, circa 1862–73 (PH 5962).

Letter to John Taylor, 1885
Included in John Taylor’s First Presidency Correspondence, 1877–87 (CR 1 180).

Photograph of Pioneers
Includes Jane and her son Sylvester; taken in front of the Bureau of Information at Temple Square on July 24, 1905 (PH 2604).

Sketch
Clipped from the Salt Lake Herald, July 6, 1897, page 8, and included in the Third Ward (Liberty Stake) book of remembrance, 1847–1950 (LR 9113 24).

Selected Additional Sources

Jane Elizabeth Manning James,” Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database.

Kwaku (Quacko) Walker Lewis (1798–1856)

Biographical Sketch

Kwaku Walker Lewis was born in Massachusetts in 1798. He was a freedman, abolitionist, barber, and Freemason. Lewis won his freedom in two court cases, Quacko v. Jennison (1781) and Jennison v. Caldwell et al. (1783). In 1843 Lewis was baptized by Parley P. Pratt, and in 1844, Lewis was ordained to the priesthood by Joseph Smith’s younger brother, William Smith. Lewis was highly respected among the membership of the Church and was considered a spiritual leader. William Appleby wrote of Lewis in his journal, stating, “He appears to be a meek and humble man, and an example for his more whiter brethren to follow.”2

Lewis’s son married a white member of the Church in 1847, which caused some controversy. Lewis and his family moved to Utah Territory in September 1851. While in Utah, Lewis received a patriarchal blessing from John Smith (an uncle of Joseph Smith), declaring him to be from the tribe of Canaan. Soon after, Lewis left the Church and returned to Lowell, Massachusetts, in October 1852.

Sources: Historical records spell Kwaku as Quacko or Quack; most Church records refer to him as Walker Lewis. Connell O’Donovan, “The Mormon Priesthood Ban and Elder Q. Walker Lewis: ‘An Example for His More Whiter Brethren to Follow,’” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal, vol. 26 (2006), 48–100; Michael Aguirre, “Lewis, Q. Walker (1798–1856),” blackpast.org.

In Our Collections
Selected Additional Sources

Walker Lewis,” Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database.

“Black Pete” (circa 1810–1840)

Biographical Sketch

Peter Kerr was a former slave living in Ohio when missionaries began preaching in the area. He had been freed through the will of his master, John Kerr, but stopped using his master’s name upon obtaining freedom and became known as “Black Pete.” Pete joined Sidney Rigdon’s congregation and often stayed in the home of Newel K. Whitney. Like most members of Rigdon’s congregation, Pete was baptized a member of the Church after listening to missionaries in the fall of 1830, making him the first known black member of the Church.

Among some early Saints, Pete was considered a leader and a revelator. He integrated his newfound faith into his existing religious worldview, which combined traditions of Christianity, African religions, and Islam (the religion practiced by his mother). Some evidence suggests that he manifested the gift of tongues. Pete claimed to receive a revelation that he should marry Lovina Williams, the daughter of Frederick G. Williams. Henry Carrol reported that Pete asked Joseph Smith if he had any revelations concerning Pete’s marriage to a white woman and claims that Joseph told Pete he could get no revelations for him. Lovina later married Burr Riggs instead. Shortly after this, Pete disappears from the records of the Church.

Sources: Some sources also refer to Peter as “John” or “Jack.” Mark Lyman Staker, Hearken, O Ye People: The Historical Setting of Joseph Smith’s Ohio Revelations (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2009), 3–9, 29, 64, 77–79; Matt McBride, “Black Pete,” Century of Black Mormons; Rick Bennett, Kerr, Peter ‘Black Pete’ (1810?–1840?),” blackpast.org.

Section 2: 1852–1909

In 1852 President Brigham Young announced that black men could no longer be ordained to the priesthood. As the Latter-day Saints built temples in the West, the restriction also meant that black members could not receive personal temple ordinances. During the second half of the 19th century, blacks continued to join the Church through baptism, though men were not ordained to the priesthood. Some of the earliest generation of black pioneers, including Elijah Able and Jane Manning James, petitioned unsuccessfully to be endowed and sealed in the temple during this time.

United States

Samuel D. Chambers (1831–1929)

Biographical Sketch

Samuel Chambers, the son of James Davidson and his slave Hester Gillespie, was born in Pickens County, Alabama, on May 21, 1831. He was then sold to Maxfield Chambers in Mississippi. In 1844, when Samuel was 13, he heard the preaching of recent convert Preston Thomas and was baptized into the Church.

After the death of his first wife, Samuel married Amanda Leggroan. Although Amanda did not immediately join the Church and Samuel had minimal contact with the Church while in Mississippi, he stayed faithful. After the Civil War, Samuel became a freedman and recalled, “I then commenced to save means to gather [to Utah]. . . . This took me four years.” After saving enough money, Samuel, Amanda, their son Peter, and the five-member family of Amanda’s brother, Edward Leggroan, left Mississippi for Utah. The group arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on April 27, 1870.

By 1872, the Chambers family attended the Eighth Ward. In 1875, Amanda was baptized, and Samuel was rebaptized. Even though Samuel was not able to hold the priesthood, he was faithful in his calling as an assistant deacon and dutiful in his responsibilities, which included taking care of the meetinghouse and other custodial duties. He said, “I have joy in cleaning up and whatever I am called to do.” Samuel also remarked, “We are called to act in the Kingdom of God; we should respond to every duty.” Amanda fulfilled her calling as a “deaconess” in the Relief Society, where she was known for her cooking. Samuel and Amanda stayed faithful until their deaths. Amanda died in 1925, at age 85, and Samuel in 1929, at age 98. The pair were buried in the Elysian Gardens Cemetery near Millcreek, Utah. 

Sources: William G. Hartley, “Samuel D. Chambers,” New Era, June 1974; William Hartley, comp., “Saint without Priesthood: The Collected Testimonies of Ex-Slave Samuel D. Chambers,” Dialogue, vol. 12, no. 2 (1979), 13–21; William G. Hartley, “Samuel D. and Amanda Chambers,” in Celebrating the LDS Past: Essays Commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the 1972 Founding of the LDS Church Historical Department’s “History Division” (Provo, Utah: Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History, Brigham Young University, 1992), 79–84 (M258 C392 1992); Ronald G. Coleman, “Chambers, Samuel D. (1831–1929) and Amanda Chambers (1840–1925),” blackpast.org.

 

In Our Collections
Primary Sources

Minutes of Samuel’s Testimony
Recorded multiple times in Salt Lake Stake Aaronic Priesthood Minutes and Records, 1857–77 (
LR 604 12).

Photograph, circa 1908
Samuel and Amanda Chambers (PH 242).

Portrait
Undated (PH 1700 2949).

Oral History Interviews
Memories of Samuel Chambers as recorded by Annie Clayton, an African American woman who lived in the Salt Lake Valley from 1917 to 1958 (OH 1); Minnie L. Prince Haynes, who married a grandson of Chambers and associated with him from 1927 to 1929 (OH 5); and Ida H. White (AV 1033).

Gobo Fango (circa 1855–1886)

Biographical Sketch

Gobo Fango was born sometime around 1855 in the Eastern Cape Colony in modern-day South Africa. When he was three years old, his dying mother left him in the fork of a tree on the property of a local European family, the Talbots. Ruth Talbot took Fango in and raised him as an indentured servant of the family. Missionaries taught the Talbots in 1857, and they joined the Church, sold their property, and immigrated to Utah. During different parts of their journey, the Talbots hid Fango because of his skin color, including in Chicago when he hid under Ruth’s skirt to elude slave catchers.

On September 13, 1861, the Talbots arrived in Salt Lake City. They then settled in Kaysville, Utah, where Fango worked on the family farm. Fango was then sent to Grantsville, Utah, to help Mary Ann Whiteside Hunter with her sheep for 30 dollars a month, paid first to the Talbots and then directly to Fango after the abolition of slavery. In 1880, Fango moved to Goose Creek Valley, Idaho, to herd sheep with brothers Lewis and Billy Hunter. He also started to build his own flock and establish his own enterprise, but tensions were high between sheepherders and cattlemen in the Oakley area in the 1880s. On February 7, 1886, a Prussian immigrant, cattleman, and neighbor of Fango named Frank Bedke saw sheep grazing near his property. Bedke, along with two other men, confronted Fango and told him to move his sheep. When he resisted by asking Bedke for documentation of property lines, Bedke shot Fango three times and left him for dead. When Fango regained consciousness, he crawled approximately four miles to the house of Walter Matthews.

While on his deathbed in the house of Matthews, Fango dictated his account of what transpired to Matthews, who wrote it down. In his will, Fango left money to members of the Hunter family and to the Grantsville Relief Society (where Mary Ann Hunter had been president for 22 years). Fango died on February 10, 1886, three days after being shot. His body was laid to rest in the Oakley Cemetery in Idaho.

Sources: Margaret Blair Young, “Fango, Gobo (1855–1886),” blackpast.org; John Paul Millward, “An Account of the Life of Gobo Fango,” undated, Church History Library, Salt Lake City [MS 13543]; H. Dean Garrett, “The Controversial Death of Gobo Fango,” in Stanford J. Layton, ed., Utah’s Lawless Fringe Stories of True Crime (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001), 52–62.

In Our Collections
Primary Sources

Talbot Family Papers
Mentioned on the ship manifest for the Race Horse and in a history of the Talbot family titled “The Gathering to Zion,” in the Talbot Family Papers (ZA-01-00013).

Selected Additional Sources

Gobo Fango,” Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database.

Bridget “Biddy” Mason (1818–1891)

Biographical Sketch

Bridget Mason, also known as Biddy, was born a slave on a plantation in Hancock, Georgia, on August 15, 1818. She was sold several times before being given as a wedding gift to Robert Mays Smith and his bride, Rebecca Ruth Dorn, around 1834. The Smiths soon joined the Church and immigrated to Utah in 1848 with the Willard Richards company. During the crossing, Biddy herded the cattle, prepared meals, and served as a nurse and midwife to her fellow travelers. Upon arriving in Utah in October 1848, the Smith family and their slaves settled in the Holladay and Cottonwood area.

In 1851 Brigham Young sent a group of Saints to settle in California and Smith went, taking his slaves with him despite being warned to release them, as California had entered the union as a free state, where slavery was illegal. While in California, Biddy’s daughter Ellen began courting Charles Owens, a well-respected business owner and a freed black man, who encouraged Biddy and her family to fight for their freedom using the California constitution. In December 1855, to avoid losing his slaves, Smith decided to move his household to Texas; however, on January 19, 1856, Biddy petitioned the court for her own and her family’s freedom, and the judge ruled in her favor.

After winning her freedom, Biddy took the last name of Mason, after Amasa Mason Lyman, an Apostle of the Church and mayor of San Bernardino. Biddy worked as a nurse and midwife, helping women of all races and classes. She purchased a home on Spring Street, becoming one of the first African Americans to own land in Los Angeles. In 1872 she helped organize the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles. Skilled in business, Biddy pursued real estate transactions and became known as an entrepreneur and a role model for women, especially black women. On March 27, 1988, the mayor of Los Angeles and members of the First AME Church honored Mason with a special ceremony. The California Social Work Hall of Distinction celebrated her by naming November 16, 1989, as “Biddy Mason Day.”

Sources: Tricia Martineau Wagner, “Mason, Bridget ‘Biddy’ (1818–1891),” blackpast.org; DeEtta Demaratus, The Force of a Feather: The Search for a Lost Story of Slavery and Freedom (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2002); Ruth Pelz, “Biddy Mason,” in Black Heroes of the Wild West (Greensboro, North Carolina: Open Hand Publishing, 1990), 31–35.

In Our Collections
Selected Additional Sources

Biddy Mason,” Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database.

Section 3: 1910–1977

During the 20th century, the restriction on priesthood ordination and temple ordinances became more defined in practice to apply to black persons of African descent. Movements for civil rights in the United States and for political independence in African nations occurred simultaneously with the growth of the Church throughout the world. Black converts in Africa, Latin America, Europe, and the United States accepted the faith, corresponded with Church leaders, strengthened one another, and sacrificed to contribute to the construction of temples.

Africa

The “Branch of Love” (1932–1936)

Sketch

In 1916 William P. Daniels, a black member of the Church in South Africa, created a study group in his home on Upper Kloof Street in Cape Town. In the study group, members and missionaries from the South African Mission were invited to study the scriptures and other Church literature “line upon line.” After meeting for years, the group impressed J. Wyley Sessions, the president of the South African Mission, and he pushed for it to become a regular Church meeting. Church leaders in South Africa passed the motion unanimously and assigned an elder to preside over the meeting while Daniels conducted.

On December 14, 1931, the meeting became a new “branch,” which functioned as an auxiliary like the Relief Society and Sunday School. This branch came to be known as the “Branch of Love” or “Love Branch.” Though he did not hold a priesthood office, Daniels was called to act as branch president, and the Branch of Love continued to operate until Daniels’s death in 1936.

Sources: Love Branch, Miscellaneous Minutes, 1925–34, page 213, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.

In Our Collections
Primary Sources

Meeting Minutes, 1925–1934
Handwritten meeting minutes (LR 11787 19).

Joseph William “Billy” Johnson (1934–2012)

Biographical Sketch

Joseph William “Billy” Johnson was one of the first converts to the Church in Ghana. Born in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1934, he grew up in the Roman Catholic faith. Johnson was a member of the Aladura church known as the Church of the Lord, and he led members in prayers for those who were struggling in their lives. In 1964, Johnson was introduced to the Book of Mormon by R. A. F. Mensah. Johnson said, “As I read the Book of Mormon I became convinced that it was really the word of God, and sometimes while reading I would burst into tears. I felt the Spirit as I read. I have a strong testimony [of] the Book of Mormon. It is a very powerful book!” Soon after being converted, Billy had a vision: “One early morning, while about to prepare for my daily work, I saw the heavens open and angels with trumpets singing songs of praise unto God. I heard my name mentioned thrice: ‘Johnson, Johnson, Johnson. If you will take up my work as I will command you, I will bless you and bless your land.’ Trembling and in tears, I replied, ‘Lord, with thy help, I will do whatever you will command me.’ From that day onward, I was constrained by the Spirit to go from street to street to deliver the message that we had read from the Book of Mormon.”

Johnson and Mensah began to organize Latter-day Saint congregations in Ghana. The Church had not been officially established in Ghana, and Johnson and Mensah encouraged believers to wait for the day that missionaries would come to establish the Church there. By the mid-1970s, Johnson had helped to establish 10 congregations with nearly 1,000 members. The first missionaries arrived in Ghana in December 1978, and Johnson was one of 125 converts baptized a member of the Church in Cape Coast on December 9, 1978. Another 124 were baptized the following day farther down the coast in Takoradi. On December 10, Johnson was called as branch president, becoming the first black man to serve as branch president in Ghana. In 1991, Johnson became the first patriarch in Ghana.

Sources: E. Dale LeBaron, “Steadfast African Pioneer,” Ensign, Dec. 1999; E. Dale LeBaron, “The Inspiring Story of the Gospel Going to Black Africa,” Ricks College devotional,  Apr. 3, 2001; Elizabeth Maki, “A People Prepared: West African Pioneer Preached the Gospel before Missionaries,” Pioneers in Every Land series, Apr. 21, 2013, history.lds.org.

In Our Collections
Primary Sources

Oral History
A 1998 interview in which Johnson discusses his early life, his conversion to the Church, and his later service as a priesthood leader and patriarch in Ghana (OH 1900).

Photographs
Johnson with LDS scriptures prior to 1978 (PH 5526); Johnson and his early congregation and when he was called as patriarch (PH 5375). 

History of the Church in Ghana, circa 1985
This document, authored by Johnson, provides a history of his conversion and early missionary efforts, the 1978 revelation, and the arrival of missionaries in Ghana (MS 13909).

Funeral Materials
Memorial tribute booklets with thoughts from family and friends and a newspaper article from the Accra Mail, August 2012 (MS 26916); a recording of the July 2012 funeral services (AV 3671).

Interviews with Acquaintances
Oral histories with early Ghanaian converts Roderick K. and Josephine A. Anatsui (OH 5363) and Thomas K. and Margaret Appiah (OH 5485); with E. Dale LeBaron (OH 1812).

Video Footage
Johnson is featured in a documentary created by E. Dale LeBaron (332631) and the mission movies collection of Rendell N. Mabey (AV 2183).

Moses Mahlangu (1925–2001)

Biographical Sketch

Moses Mahlangu was born in Bosehoek, South Africa, on January 4, 1925. Interested in religion from an early age, Mahlangu became a preacher in Soweto, South Africa, and established a few congregations. Mahlangu was fluent in nine languages and found an English copy of the Book of Mormon in the 1960s. “I had desires to find God and to receive revelation,” he recalled, “but I was never satisfied until I got the Book of Mormon.” Mahlangu read it, embraced its teachings, and began preaching from the Book of Mormon. In 1968 his friend Petit Mafora came across a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse while driving in Johannesburg, South Africa. Petit informed Mahlangu of what he found, and Mahlangu traveled to the building in pursuit of more information. While there, he was given the address of the mission president.

Howard C. Badger, president of the South African Mission, sent letters to Church leaders in Utah regarding Mahlangu and other black South Africans who were interested in the Church. When Marion G. Romney visited the mission in the fall of 1968, he met with Mahlangu at the Johannesburg meetinghouse. Because of the political environment in South Africa at the time, Mahlangu was told he would have to wait to be baptized. Mahlangu remained faithful to the Church and was baptized and ordained in 1980. A year later a branch was created in Soweto, and Mahlangu served as its branch president.

Sources: E. Dale LeBaron, "Gospel Pioneers in Africa," Ensign, Aug. 1990; E. Dale LeBaron, “The Inspiring Story of the Gospel Going to Black Africa,” Ricks College devotional,  Apr. 3, 2001; Richard E. Turley Jr. and Jeffrey G. Cannon, “A Faithful Band: Moses Mahlangu and the First Soweto Saints,” BYU Studies, vol. 55, no. 1 (2016), 9–38; Ulisses Soares, “Be Meek and Lowly of Heart,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2013, 9–11.

In Our Collection
Primary Sources

Oral History
Interviewed by E. Dale LeBaron in 1988 (AV 1077 and AV 4238).

Interviews with Acquaintances
Oral histories with Lawrence J. Mackey,the missionary who taught Mahlangu (OH 8447); with mission president Howard A. Badger’s daughters Julie Badger Jensen (ZA-01-00094) and Carla A. Larson OH 7239); with fellow converts Sylvia M. Hefer (OH 10175) and Gerald Derek de Wet (OH 6729); and with convert Maria Dikeledi Moumakoa, conducted in 2012 (OH 5792).

Anthony Uzodimma Obinna (1928–1995)

Biographical Sketch

Born in Nigeria, Anthony Obinna converted to a Christian church as a youth and then became a school teacher. Obinna stated that he had a vision in which a tall man showed him around a beautiful building and walked him through its rooms. “Then in 1970, I found [a] Reader’s Digest article titled, ‘The March of the Mormons,’ with a picture of the Salt Lake Temple. It was exactly the same building that I had seen in my dreams.”

After finding the Reader’s Digest article, Obinna reached out to the LDS Church for more information. Church leaders responded by sending Church literature but told Obinna that the Church had no plans to send missionaries to Nigeria anytime soon. “I was totally disappointed, but the Holy Spirit moved me to continue writing,” Obinna stated years later. He told Church leaders in a letter in 1976, “We are not discouraged but shall continue to pursue the practice of our faith which we have found to be true.” Obinna and others in Nigeria would have to wait 13 years before missionaries finally arrived in Nigeria.

After the June 1978 announcement of the revelation extending priesthood ordination to all worthy males regardless of race, missionaries were sent to Nigeria and arrived in November of that year. On November 21, 1978, Obinna was the first of 19 Nigerians to be baptized in the Ekeonumiri River, making him the first black male to be baptized and ordained in Nigeria. He was then called to serve as branch president, making him the first black man in Africa with the priesthood to hold a leadership position. His wife, Fidelia, became the first black Relief Society president in Africa. In 1989 the Obinnas traveled to the United States, where they were sealed in the Logan Utah Temple.

Sources: Elizabeth Maki, “‘You Have Come at Last’: Nigerian Builds LDS Congregation, Waits for Missionaries,” Pioneers in Every Land series, Oct. 15, 2013, history.lds.org; Anthony Uzodimma Obinna, “Story of a Nigerian Member,” Liahona, June 1981; E. Dale LeBaron, “The Inspiring Story of the Gospel Going to Black Africa,” Ricks College devotional,  Apr. 3, 2001.

In Our Collections
Primary Sources

Correspondence
Letter written in 1979 to missionary Rendell N. Mabey provides an update on the Church in Nigeria and expresses gratitude for the 1978 revelation (MS 18162); letters to Edwin Q. Cannon (MS 6854).

Photographs
Of Latter-day Saints in Nigeria in 1971 and of Anthony and Fidelia at the Logan Temple in 1989 (PH 5374).

Video, 1989
Of Anthony (AV 2313).

Personal and Family
Personal papers include Anthony’s annotated copy of the Book of Mormon (1961 edition), photocopies of journal pages listing early baptisms, and newspaper clippings (MS 19820); family papers from 1984–2006 contain photographs donated by Anthony (MS 26912).

Funeral Program
For Elder Anthony Uzodimma Obinna (MS 16035).

Oral Histories with Family Members
Interviews with daughter Anthonia C. Nwachukwu, conducted in 1999 (OH 2249); with son Albert M. Obinna, conducted in 2005 (OH 4009); with wife Fidelia Obinna and daughter Anthonia C. Nwachukwu, conducted in 2010 (OH 11447); with descendants Raymond I. Obinna, Elizabeth O. Obinna, Charles Obinna, and Francis I. Obinna, conducted in 2005 (OH 4036).

Selected Additional Sources

History of the First Chapel in Nigeria, circa 2000.
A typewritten history (MS 20173) and additional information (MS 20547).

African Oral History Project (AV 1077)

Europe

George H. Rickford (1941– )

Biographical Sketch

George Rickford was born and raised in British Guiana (now Guyana). After moving to England in 1963, he rekindled his childhood faith in the Anglican Church and pursued a vocation in the ministry. In the summer of 1969, he met with Latter-day Saint missionaries for three months before learning that he would not be ordained to the priesthood if he were to join the Church. Devastated, he sent the elders away. After praying to know what to do, he decided to meet with a close friend who was a priest in the Anglican Church. The priest spoke critically of the Church and asked Rickford what the missionaries had taught him. As Rickford told Joseph Smith’s story, he could not deny the testimony he felt of the Prophet. This experience solidified his faith, and one month later he was baptized. After the priesthood ban was lifted, he was hired by the Church Educational System to work in England and later served as a bishop.

Sources: Elizabeth Maki, “‘I Will Take It in Faith’: George Rickford and the Priesthood Restriction,” Pioneers in Every Land series, Apr. 20, 2018, history.lds.org.

In Our Collections
Primary Sources

Oral history Interview

Conducted in 1999 (OH 2131).

Family Correspondence
Between George and his wife, June, and their son Jesse, who served in the Canada Montreal Mission from 2000 to 2002 (MS 17623).

Caribbean

Victor E. Nugent (1938– )

Biographical Sketch

Victor Nugent grew up in a religious home and found himself looking for more as an adult. As he began seriously studying the Bible, his Latter-day Saint coworker Paul Schmeil noticed and invited Victor to learn more about his faith. Schmeil began teaching Nugent and his family in their home. When Schmeil informed Nugent about the priesthood ban, Nugent recalled, “My ego was hurt, but I had a strong feeling that the message was the truth, and more was involved than pride and vanity. I sought the Lord in prayer and the answer came back loud and clear. It was the truth!” The Nugents continued to investigate the Church, read the Book of Mormon, attend the Mandeville Jamaica Branch, and participated in other local Church activities.

On January 20, 1974, Nugent; his wife, Verna; and his eldest child, Peter, were baptized members of the Church, becoming the first Jamaican converts. After revelation lifted the priesthood and temple restriction in 1978, Nugent became the first black Jamaican to hold the priesthood. The family was sealed in the Salt Lake Temple in September of that year. Nugent and his family were in attendance when Jamaica was dedicated for the preaching of the gospel in December 1978. They did what they could to help build the Church in Jamaica, including driving a 15-passenger van to pick up people for church and diligently doing home teaching.

In 2000 the Nugent family immigrated to Utah, where the children all attended and graduated from Brigham Young University. In 2014 the Church celebrated the efforts of Nugent and his family when membership in Jamaica reached more than 5,700 members.

Sources: Elizabeth Maki, “‘It Was the Truth!’: First Convert Became Foundation of Church in Jamaica,” Pioneers in Every Land series, July 23, 2015, history.lds.org; Trent Toone, “Pioneers, Former Mormon Missionaries Celebrate First Stake, Growth of the LDS Church in Jamaica,” Deseret News, July 17, 2014.

In Our Collections
Primary Sources

Victor E. Nugent Papers, 1978–89 (MS 17725)

Oral History Interview, 2003 (OH 3193)

United States

Mary Lucille Perkins Bankhead (1902–1994)

Biographical Sketch

Lucille Perkins, a descendant of Green Flake and Jane Manning James, was a faithful member of the Church who spent all her life in the Salt Lake Valley. Lucille’s father was a cowboy and farmer who grew peaches and black currants on land that he received through the Homestead Act. Lucille helped her parents work on the farm, do housework, and take care of her younger siblings.

In 1922 Lucille married Thomas LeRoy “Roy” Bankhead, a descendent of Nathaniel Bankhead, a slave who traveled across the plains with Church members. During his lifetime, Roy was not active in the Church, but he supported his wife by driving her to Church meetings and activities. The Bankheads had eight children. Along with being a wife and a mother, Bankhead served as a secretary for the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, fulfilled her Church duties, and fought for civil rights in Utah. In 1939 a Utah state senator proposed a bill that would force blacks in Salt Lake City to give up their land and move into one district. Bankhead and members of her craft club held a sit-in at the Utah state capitol building. Bankhead recalled, “We had no intention of moving.” Their protest was successful, and the bill did not pass.

When the Genesis Group formed in October 1971, Bankhead was called to be its first Relief Society president. Bankhead often remarked that she found her calling challenging and recalled crying a lot. When asked what she thought of the priesthood ban, Bankhead said during in an interview, “There is one verse in the Bible that the Lord is no respecter of persons and I’ve always believed that.” After the revelation on the priesthood in 1978, Bankhead served as proxy for the temple endowment of her ancestor Jane Manning James. In 1987 Bankhead was honored for her strength and leadership at the first annual Ebony Rose Black History Conference held in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she was a featured speaker. Bankhead passed away in 1994 and was buried in the Elysian Gardens Cemetery next to her husband.

Sources: Eileen Hallet Stone, Historic Tales of Utah (Charleston, South Carolina: History Press, 2016); “Interviews with African Americans in Utah, Lucille Bankhead, Interview 1, 1983,” 17, J. Willard Marriott Library Special Collections, University of Utah, Salt Lake City; Michael Aguirre, “Bankhead, Mary Lucille Perkins (1902–1994),” blackpast.org.

In Our Collections
Primary Sources

Oral History Interview
Discusses her life in Salt Lake City, her community and Church service, and her feelings about the civil rights movement and the priesthood ban (MS 10176).

Selected Additional Sources

Nathan Bankhead,” Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database.

Wynetta Willis Martin Clark (1938–2000)

Biographical Sketch

Wynetta Clark was born to religious parents in the Los Angeles area. She grew up singing in local churches and on the radio with her siblings and cousin in the Willis and Johnson Quartet. During her twenties, Clark found herself searching for something more, joining one church group after another in her search. Clark began to struggle after her quartet stopped performing and she divorced her husband, making her a single mother to her two daughters. During this time, her friend Barbara Weston introduced her to the Church, and she was baptized in 1966. Clark recalled, “My life from the moment of my baptism, to state a gross understatement, was changed. I attended Church faithfully, I restored a lost ego, I became a better mother, a better daughter, and I learned to truly love my neighbor.”

After joining the Church, Clark moved to Salt Lake City and auditioned for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. She became one of the first black members of the choir and toured with the group for two years. In 1970 Brigham Young University hired Clark to train nurses, making her the first black faculty member at the university. While there she also served as a research consultant on black culture.

Sources: Wynetta Willis Martin, Black Mormon Tells Her Story (Salt Lake City: Hawkes Publications, 1972), 56.

In Our Collections
Primary Sources

Wynetta Willis Martin, Black Mormon Tells Her Story (Salt Lake City: Hawkes Publications, 1972).

The Genesis Group

Sketch

In 1971 African American Church members, including Ruffin Bridgeforth, Eugene Orr, and Darius Gray, met with Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, and Boyd K. Packer to discuss the challenges facing black Latter-day Saints. On October 19, 1971, the First Presidency created the Genesis Group, a support group for blacks in the Church. Bridgeforth, Orr, and Gray were called to serve in the group’s presidency. Darius Gray described the importance of the group as follows:

“We are like no other Church organization but our existence was brought into being by the direct actions of the First Presidency and The Quorum of the Twelve. We are not an auxiliary like the Relief Society but we are more than a 'fireside' while less than a ward. What fireside has a presidency set apart to a specific purpose? What fireside has its own auxiliaries? . . . Genesis is by design not like any other unit of the Church but there is beauty in that special calling. There is also responsibility. We exist and serve at the pleasure of the leadership of the Lord’s Church. Our purpose is the Lord’s purpose—we help to bring souls to the Restored Gospel.”3

After the revelation on the priesthood was given in 1978, attendance at Genesis group meetings declined. In 1987, the original Genesis Group unofficially disbanded. However, during this same time, Marva Collins established another Genesis Group in Oakland, California. There was also a short-lived Genesis Group created in Washington D.C. in 1986, but it ended in 1987. In 1996 the original Genesis Group was reorganized.

The group continues to operate today under the direction of a member of the Seventy and welcomes participation from individuals of all backgrounds. The group celebrates black Church culture through uplifting gospel music sung by Debra Bonner’s Unity Gospel Choir (formerly the Genesis Choir).

Sources: Margaret Blair Young, “The Genesis Group of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1971– ),” blackpast.org; Jessie L. Embry, “Separate but Equal? Black Branches, Genesis Groups, or Integrated Wards?Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 23, no. 1 (Spring 1990), 13–19.

In Our Collections
Primary Sources

Manuscript History
Compiled by Berniece Elaine Goebel and Helen Zelpha Garrett, “In the Beginning 1987” (MS 9691) contains a transcription of the Genesis conference on June 25, 1978, memorabilia, photographs, and testimonies of group members. Closed to research by request of the donors until persons named are deceased.

Manuscript History and Historical Report, 1975 (LR 14957 2)

Oral Histories with Participants
Interviews with Ruffin Bridgeforth (AV 3696); with Eugene Orr, conducted in 2013 (OH 6052); with Donald L. and Jerri H. Harwell, conducted in 2013 (OH 6460); with Thomas Reed III, conducted in 2016 (OH 9084); with LaMar S. Williams, conducted 1981 (OH 692); for a 1996 KSL documentary with Ruffin Bridgeforth, Florence Lawrence, Betty Stewart Moore, Nelson Styles, Billy Mason, and Ronald C. Coleman (AV 2046).

 

Section 4: 1978–Present

On June 1, 1978, President Spencer W. Kimball received a revelation reversing the policy barring black men from being ordained to the priesthood and black members from receiving temple ordinances. In a letter dated June 8, Church leaders explained that “all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color.” In October, the letter was presented at general conference, and it has been published in the Doctrine and Covenants as Official Declaration 2.

Immediate reactions to the announcement were positive (AV 1462), and the Church continues to witness significant growth among people of African descent. In 2013 the First Presidency authorized the publication of an essay titled “Race and the Priesthood,” which declared: “Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.” Today black male members of the Church receive the priesthood and hold positions of leadership, and black men and women and their families participate in the ordinances of the temple.

Africa

The Freeze in Ghana, 1989–1990

Sketch

In June 1989 the Ghanaian government banned all formal activities of the Church in a time that came to be known among members as the “freeze.” Foreign LDS missionaries were given one week to leave the country. Meetinghouses were closed, and large gatherings of members were discouraged. During the freeze, members conducted Sunday services in their homes with their families or in small groups. The freeze ended in November 1990, and Church activities and missionary service resumed.

Sources: “‘You Can’t Close My Heart’: Ghanaian Saints and the Freeze,” Pioneers in Every Land series, Jan. 6, 2016, history.lds.org.

In Our Collections
Primary Sources

Correspondence
With government officials in the John E. Bennett-Ampiah correspondence, 1974; 1989 (MS 15734) and the John E. Bennett-Ampiah papers, 1974–96 (MS 16044).

Oral Histories with Ghanaian Members
(This group of oral histories does not link directly to records in the catalog but can be found by entering the call number, beginning with “OH,” in the Church History Catalog.)
Interviews with members Sarah Adjei (OH 6319), Isaac N. Addy (OH 1837), Lawrence R. Aggrey (OH 2524), Doris M. Aggrey-Barlow (OH 1844), Charlotte Acquah (OH 6322), William E. D. and Charlotte A. Acquah (OH 2238), John E. Amonoo (OH 1860), Kenneth K. Andam (OH 2232), Thomas K. and Margaret Appiah (OH 5485), Banyan A. Dadson (OH 2247), Bossman Dowuona-Hammond (OH 1843), Ebow Ghartney (OH 1840), William Fifi Imbrah (OH 4993), Emmanuel A. Kissi (OH 2214), Kofi E. Kwegyir-Aggrey (OH 1403), Joseph O. Larbie (OH 1886), Isaac K. Mensah (OH 7578), Juliet E. Mensah (OH 7579), Isaac Obeng (OH 5541), Arnold O. Odonkor (OH 6370), Christabel P. Okutu (OH 9928), Monica Naa Bersah Ohene Opare (OH 2304), Benjamin Sarpong (OH 10654), Charles Sono-Koree (OH 1859) ; with recent converts Monica Anderson (OH 1832); and with subsequent converts Juliana Amoah-Kpentey (OH 1847), Ebenezer Owusu-Ansah (OH 1851) .

Oral Histories with Ghanaian Members Who Were Arrested
Accounts by William E. Daniel Acquah, Jim and Paulina Nyankah, Kwamina Ato and Elizabeth Ampiah, Robert Kobina Gorman, and Robert and Emma Myers (MS 29987).

Oral Histories with Church Leaders and Representatives
Interviews with branch president Richard K. and Amelia Ahadjie (OH 4024); Gilbert Petramalo, mission president at the time the freeze began (OH 1216); Catherine M. Stokes, who represented the Church at a press conference in Ghana in 1990 (OH 4364); with Grant Gunnell, mission president who reopened the mission after the freeze (OH 1180 and MS 30531).

Written Reminiscences
Of the first meeting after the freeze (MS 19180 ); a history by Emmanuel Kissi (MS 16646) and his research files (MS 17548 ); by Sarah Adjei (MS 24014); in the papers of CES missionaries Gary R. and Ruth T. Lowes (MS 25306); by American expatriates living in Ghana (MS 19170).

Julia Mavimbela (1917–2000)

Biographical Sketch

Julia Nqubeni was born in 1917 in South Africa. The youngest of five children, she was raised in a single-parent home after her father passed away. Her mother provided for Julia and her siblings by working as a washerwoman and housekeeper. Her mother was deeply religious and wanted her children to receive a good education. She taught them from the Bible and pushed them to do well in school. Encouraged by her mother, Julia earned her education in child psychology. She was offered a position at Kilnerton Training Institute as assistant to the matron and took over when the matron was ill. In 1940, Julia was the first black woman to become a school principal in South Africa.

In 1946, Julia married John Mavimbela, the owner of a grocery store and butcher shop. Like all blacks in South Africa at that time, Julia and John had to endure apartheid, which limited their rights. In 1955, John was killed in a car accident when a white driver on the other side of the road veered into John’s lane. Police officers at the scene ruled that the white driver wasn’t at fault; they assumed that all blacks were bad drivers. Julia was left alone to raise four children and was very bitter during this time. It wasn’t until she dreamed that her husband handed her a pair of overalls and told her to “go to work” that she found relief from her anger and pain in serving others.

Julia served her community as president of the Transvaal region of the National Council of African Women (later known as National Women of South Africa) and vice president of the National Council of Women for South Africa. During her speech at the 1975 regional conference of the National Council of African Women, Julia stated: “I give thanks to God that He has made me a woman. I give thanks to my Creator that He has made me Black, that He has fashioned me as I am, with hands, heart, head to serve my people. It can, it should be a glorious thing to be a woman. It is important for women to be aware of their common lot. It is important for women to stand together and rise together to meet our common enemies—illiteracy, poverty, crime, disease, and stupid, unjust laws that have made women feel so helpless as to be hopeless.”

Later, during the Soweto uprising—a series of black student–led protests against apartheid—Julia noticed how hate and anger were affecting the youth in her hometown. So she created a community garden as a way to help the youth deal with their feelings, the same feelings she had felt after the death of her husband. “Let us dig the soil of bitterness, throw in a seed of love, and see what fruits it can give us. … Love will not come without forgiving others.”

In 1981, Julia met missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while they were working together to clean up a boys’ club in Soweto. Soon after, she began taking the missionary discussions. At first, she was not really interested, but then the missionaries began to teach the plan of salvation. “Then I started listening, really listening, with my heart. … As the missionaries taught me the principle of eternal relationships, I had the feeling that here is the way to be with my parents and my husband.” Within months, Julia was baptized.

Soon after joining the Church, Julia was asked to speak in stake conference. Julia recalled: “When I walked to the podium, I think most everybody was shocked. It was their first time seeing a black person speaking at conference.” She served the Church in many capacities, including as a Relief Society president, a public affairs missionary, and a public affairs director for the Church in South Africa. After the dedication of the Johannesburg South Africa Temple, Julia was sealed to her parents and husband and became one of the first temple workers there. She continued to serve until her passing in 2000.

Watch a video of Julia recounting her own story here.

Sources: Giles H. Florence Jr., “Julia Mavimbela: Sowing Seeds in Soweto,” Ensign, Apr. 1990, 68–69; Matthew K. Heiss, “Healing the Beloved Country: The Faith of Julia Mavimbela,Ensign, July 2017, 42–43; “South African Women’s Council Elects LDS as Its Vice President,Church News, Nov. 23, 1991, 4; “‘Break the Soil of Bitterness’: One Woman’s Quest for Healing,” Pioneers in Every Land series, Jan. 26, 2017, history.lds.org.

In Our Collections

Primary Sources

Julia Mavimbela collection, 1958–2001

Contains biographical information, interviews, personal writings, newspaper clippings, published documents from the National Council of Women of South Africa and the National Council of African Women, her funeral program, and other personal papers and documents (MS 29551).

Julia N. Mavimbela interview: Provo, Utah, 1955 August 23

Discussion about Julia’s experiences in South Africa and her conversion to the Church. She talks about her education, her career, her family, apartheid, her community work, and her service in the Johannesburg South Africa Temple (OH 1393).

Selected Additional Sources

Women of Wisdom and Knowledge: Talks Selected from the BYU Women’s Conferences/edited by Marie Cornwall and Susan Howe

Selected talks from the 1988 and 1989 BYU Women’s Conferences, including a talk by Mavimbela titled “I Speak from My Heart: The Story of a Black South African Woman” (M243.8 W8727 v. 4 1988–1989).

Latin America

Helvécio Martins (1930–2005)

Biographical Sketch

Helvécio Martins, an Afro-Brazilian and the eldest son of Honorio and Benedita Martins, was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1930. The Martins struggled with their finances, and young Helvécio worked to support his family while completing his education. Martins met his future wife, Rudá Tourinhos Assis, at work, and they were married on December 7, 1956.

During the 1970s, Martins and Rudá attended Macumba meetings, a religion steeped in the African traditions that had been passed down through slaves. Both felt something lacking, and they began trying other churches. One evening, while Martins was driving in slow traffic, he prayed and asked God to help him and his family find the truth. A few nights later, LDS missionaries knocked on his door, and they spent a late night talking with the Martins about the Church and the restored gospel. On June 2, 1972, the family joined the Church even though they understood that Martins could not hold the priesthood. However, when asked about this, Martins stated, “We had found the truth, and nothing would stop us from living it.”

After his baptism, Martins began teaching his ward’s Gospel Doctrine class, and in 1974 he was called to be the public communications coordinator for the Church in the North Brazil Region. Martins’s son Marcus received a patriarchal blessing in 1973, in which he was told that he would preach the gospel, which seemed impossible at the time because of the priesthood restriction.

Martins and his family worked alongside the other Brazilian Saints in the building of the São Paulo Brazil Temple, despite knowing that he and his family could not participate in its blessings. During the 1977 cornerstone laying ceremony, Martins recalled Spencer W. Kimball taking his arm and telling him quietly, “Brother Martins, what is necessary for you is fidelity. Remain faithful and you will enjoy all the blessings of the gospel.”

After the announcement of the revelation on the priesthood in 1978, Martins received the priesthood, and when the São Paulo Brazil Temple opened in October 1978, the Martins family was sealed together. After his ordination, Martins served in various leadership positions, including bishop, counselor in two stake presidencies, and president of the Brazil Fortaleza Mission. Ezra Taft Benson called Martins to the Second Quorum of the Seventy in March 1990, making him the first black man of African descent to serve as a General Authority. Martins spoke during the April 1995 general conference and was honorably released from his calling on September 30, 1995. He passed away in 2005 at the age of 75 in São Paulo, Brazil.

Sources: Helvécio Martins with Mark L. Grover, The Autobiography of Elder Helvécio Martins (Salt Lake City: Aspen Books, 1994), 66; “Elder Helvécio Martins,Ensign, May 1990; James Goldberg, “Witnessing the Faithfulness: Official Declaration 2,” Revelation in Context series, May 25, 2016, history.lds.org.

In Our Collections
Primary Sources

General Conference Address, April 1995
Titled “Watchmen on the Tower,” discussed the revelation of 1978.

Interview
Included in Lives of Service: The Membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (205607).

Autobiography
Helvécio Martins with Mark L. Grover, The Autobiography of Elder Helvécio Martins (Salt Lake City: Aspen Books, 1994).

Oral Histories with Acquaintances
Interviews with daughter-in-law Mirian A. Martins, conducted in 2013 (OH 10433); with Brazil North Mission president George A. Oakes and wife, Jeanette N. Oakes, conducted in 2010 (OH 4546) and 2011 (OH 5121); with Horst D. and Marli C. Schäfer, conducted in 2015 (OH 10430); with fellow converts Antonio and Regina Rondena, conducted in 2016 (OH 10275); with mission presidency counselors Francisco R. Maia and wife, Elba P. Maia, conducted in 2012 (OH 8053), and Val H. Carter, conducted in 2010 (OH 4487); with Brazilian Church leader Aledir P. Barbour and wife, Christine I. Barbour, conducted in 2016 (OH 10274).

Marcus H. Martins (1959– )

Biographical Sketch

Marcus Martins, son of Helvécio and Rudá Martins, became a member of the Church with his family in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 2, 1972. After the revelation on the priesthood was announced, Marcus delayed his marriage to Mirian Abelin Barbosa in order to serve a full-time mission, becoming one of the first black full-time missionaries since Elijah Able served his final mission in 1884. Marcus served in the Brazil São Paulo North Mission from 1978 to 1980. Soon after returning from his mission, Martins and Barbosa were married.

Martins has served in several other callings, including bishop and stake high councilor, and assisted in translating the Book of Mormon into Portuguese. In 1990 the Martins moved to the United States. Marcus studied business management at Brigham Young University and earned his PhD in sociology of religion, race, and ethnic relations. He then took a job at Ricks College as a professor of religion. In 2000 he and his family moved to Hawaii, where he became the associate dean of religion at BYU–Hawaii. From 2011 to 2014, Marcus and his wife, Marian, presided over the Brazil São Paulo North Mission. In addition to creating materials for his classes and other academic institutions, Marcus has written books about the priesthood ban and his experiences as a black Mormon.

Sources: Aaron Shill, “Modern Pioneer Will Always Be Linked to 1978 Revelation,” Deseret News, May 1, 2008; “Marcus Martins,” BYU–Hawaii, religion.byuh.edu.

In Our Collections
Primary Sources

Missionary Journal
A record of his experiences as a missionary in São Paulo, 1978–80 (MS 19922).

Selected Writings

“All Are (Really) Alike unto God: Personal Reflections on the 1978 Revelation,” recording of a lecture given at Brigham Young University (transcript M243.622 M386a 2002).

Marcus H. Martins, Blacks and the Mormon Priesthood: Setting the Record Straight (Orem, Utah: Millennial Press, 2007).

United States

Joseph Freeman Jr. (1952– )

Biographical Sketch

Joseph Freeman was born in Vanceboro, North Carolina, in 1952. At the age of 10, Freeman joined the Holiness Church, which his family attended. As a young man, Freeman was interested in religion, and he earned an evangelist’s license and planned to become a minister. At 19, Freeman enlisted in the United States Army. While stationed in Hawaii, he lost interest in the Holiness Church and began attending other Christian churches. Some of the men in his unit were LDS, including his sergeant. Freeman began to investigate the Church and was baptized on September 30, 1973.

On June 10, 1978, during a stake priesthood meeting, an announcement was made that Freeman would be ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood without first receiving the Aaronic Priesthood, because of his example of faithfulness in the Church. Freeman was ordained by Jay Harold Swain and became a Melchizedek Priesthood holder on June 11, 1978, which made him the first black man to hold the priesthood after the ban was lifted. Thomas S. Monson sealed the Freeman family in the Salt Lake Temple on July 23, 1978.

In 1986 the Freemans moved to Denver, Colorado, where Joseph was the maintenance overseer of the Denver Colorado Temple for 15 years. In 2001 Freeman moved back to Salt Lake City and served as a bishop. Freeman remains a faithful member of the Church.

Sources: Joseph Freeman, In the Lord’s Due Time (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1979); James Goldberg, “Witnessing the Faithfulness: Official Declaration 2,” Revelation in Context series, May 25, 2016, history.lds.org.

In Our Collections
Primary Sources

Joseph Freeman, In the Lord’s Due Time (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1979).

Recorded Testimony
Verbal testimony of Freeman upon receiving the priesthood (1614).

Media Interview
ABC News coverage of the 1978 revelation, including an interview with Freeman (AV 1462).

Commemoration

The anniversary of the revelation on the priesthood has been regularly observed. In 1988 the 10th anniversary was marked by a Churchwide fireside in May with Gordon B. Hinckley. The following month, the Genesis Group put on a fireside with Alexander B. Morrison and a performance by a gospel choir led by Debra Bonner. In 2003 the 25th anniversary was marked by a fireside in the Tabernacle that featured Gladys Knight and the Unified Voices Choir. In 2008 the 30th anniversary was marked by a fireside in the Tabernacle that featured remarks by Fred A. Parker, Catherine Stokes, Ahmad Corbitt, and Sheldon F. Child, with music by Alex Boyé and a multicultural choir led by Mack Wilberg. In 2018, the 40th anniversary was marked by a Churchwide broadcast hosted by the First Presidency.

Sources: Carrie A. Moore, “LDS Black Leaders Call for Spirit of Unity,” Deseret News, June 9, 2008.

In Our Collections
Primary Sources

10th Anniversary (1988)
Gordon B. Hinckley’s remarks were recorded (AV 1001) and published in the October 1988 Ensign.

Genesis Group fireside was recorded (AV 3176) and documented in the Journal History of the Church (CR 100 137).

20th Anniversary (1998)
Media coverage by KSL, KUTV, and KTVX of events, including portions of a Genesis Group fireside (AV 2074).

25th Anniversary (2003)
The June 8 program in the Tabernacle was documented in the Journal History of the Church (CR 100 137).

30th Anniversary (2008)
The fireside was recorded (AV 2917).

40th Anniversary (2018)
Several articles were published in the June Ensign. An exhibit in the Church History Library and an accompanying blog post feature significant documents from black Latter-day Saint history (Keith A. Erekson,  “Significant Documents from Black Latter-day Saint History on Display,” May 21, 2018, history.lds.org).

 

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Footnotes

[1] “The Online Reference Guide to African American History,” blackpast.org.

[2] William Appleby autobiography and journal, May 19, 1847, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.

[3] “Organization,” The Genesis Group of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, accessed June 5, 2018, ldsgenesisgroup.org.