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Significant Documents from Black Latter-day Saint History on Display

Keith A. Erekson, Library Director
21 May 2018

In conjunction with the First Presidency’s “Be One” commemorative event, the Church History Library is displaying documents that depict the rich history of black Latter-day Saints. Learn more about these important documents in this post.

June 2018 marks 40 years since President Spencer W. Kimball announced that the priesthood could be conferred on “all worthy male members of the Church” (Official Declaration 2). The announcement provided new opportunities to members of African descent throughout the world. Men could now be ordained to the priesthood, and men and women could participate in individual and family temple ordinances.

In conjunction with the First Presidency’s “Be One” event (scheduled for June 1, 2018), which will commemorate the events of June 1978, the Church History Library is pleased to present several original historic documents from black Latter-day Saint history from May 21 through August 4, 2018. The exhibit is free and open to the public during the library’s normal hours—Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with extended hours to 8:00 p.m. on Thursday evenings, and 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturdays.

We invite all to visit the exhibit, learn more about the rich history of blacks in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and leave a personal message in the commemorative guest books. These guest books will be preserved in the library’s permanent collections as a record of this 40th anniversary celebration.

This post identifies each of the 16 items on display, providing links to digital images where available and call numbers for the Church History Catalog. It also provides links to additional information about the creators of these significant documents.

Display Case 1: Documents from the 19th and 20th Centuries

1. Elijah Able ordination record (1836)

Elijah Able was ordained to the priesthood in the early days of the Restoration. Learn more about Elijah Able’s early experiences in the Early Mormon Missionaries database and the Joseph Smith Papers biographical sketches. View the ordination record (CR 100 401) online. The library also holds the deed to his property in Kirtland (MS 27035) and minutes of his remarks at a conference in Ohio (CR 100 589).

Elijah Able photograph (circa 1862–73), Elijah Able ordination record (1836)

2. Elijah Able photograph (circa 1862–73)

Elijah Able went west with the Saints. Learn more about his pioneer experience in the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database. View the photograph (PH 5962) online.

Green Flake homestead in Union, Utah (circa 1910)

3. Green Flake homestead in Union, Utah (circa 1910)

Green Flake was born into slavery in North Carolina and became a member of Brigham Young’s vanguard pioneer company in 1847. Learn more about Green Flake on history.lds.org and in the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database. View the photograph (PH 1509) online.

4. Jane Manning James photograph (circa 1862–73)

Jane Manning James was an early convert. She lived with Joseph Smith and his family in Nauvoo and became one of the first African American women to enter Utah. Learn more about Jane Manning James on history.lds.org and in the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database. View the photograph (PH 5962) online.

Jane Manning James photograph (circa 1862–73), Jane Manning James autobiography (circa 1902)

5. Jane Manning James autobiography (circa 1902)

Jane Manning James’s autobiography tells her life story from her childhood and conversion in Connecticut through her trek to Nauvoo and Utah. Read the complete autobiography (MS 13308) online.

6. Samuel Chambers’s testimony (1873)

Samuel Chambers was baptized as a 13-year-old slave in Mississippi in 1844. Samuel’s testimony is recorded multiple times in the Salt Lake Aaronic Priesthood Minutes and Records, 1857–77 (LR 604 12).

7. Samuel and Amanda Chambers photograph (circa 1908)

Samuel and Amanda Chambers migrated to Utah after the Civil War. Learn more about Samuel and Amanda Chambers in the New Era. View the photograph (PH 242) online.

Display Case 2: Documents from the 20th and 21st Centuries

8. James Henry Dawson, Ruffin and Helena Bridgeforth, Joseph and Toe Freeman photograph (1978)

9. Genesis Group history by Berniece Goebel and Helen Garrett (1987)

The Genesis Group, established by the First Presidency in October 1971, was created to meet the needs of African American Latter-day Saints. Ruffin Bridgeforth served as its first president. Joseph Freeman was the first black man ordained to the priesthood after the announcement in 1978. Learn more about the Genesis Group on mormonnewsroom.org. The photograph is included in the compiled history of the Genesis Group (MS 9691).

10. Obinna family conversion story (undated)

11. Anthony Obinna with Church members photograph (Nigeria, 1971)

12. Fidelia and Anthony Obinna photograph (1989)

Anthony Obinna had a dream about the temple before missionaries arrived in Nigeria. Learn more about Anthony and Fidelia Obinna on history.lds.org. View the photographs online (PH 5374). The conversion story was authored by Raymond Obinna as part of the Obinna Family Papers (MS 26912).

13. Nugent family with Church members photograph (Jamaica, 1980)

14. Victor Nugent oral history (2003)

Victor Nugent strengthened the Church in Jamaica. Learn more about Victor Nugent on history.lds.org. The photograph is part of the Caribbean Photographs collection (PH 6340), and the story was recorded in an oral history interview (OH 3193).

15. Elder Helvécio Martins general conference address (1995)

Brazilian Helvécio Martins became the first General Authority of African descent. Learn more about Elder Martins in the Ensign. Watch and read the address on LDS.org.

16. Isaac Addy conversion story (Ghana, 2011)

Isaac Addy trusted the Lord’s timing in Ghana. Learn more about Isaac Addy on LDS.org. The story is found in the Ghana Accra Mission Files, 1969–92 (LR 2011950 25); see also an oral history interview (OH 1837).

On the Featured Bookshelf

W. Kesler Jackson, Elijah Abel: The Life and Times of a Black Priesthood Holder (2013).

William Hartley, comp., “Saint without Priesthood: The Collected Testimonies of Ex-Slave Samuel D. Chambers,” Dialogue, vol. 12, no. 2 (1979), 13–21.

Wynetta Willis Martin, Black Mormon Tells Her Story (1972).

Joseph Freeman, In the Lord’s Due Time (1979).

E. Dale LeBaron, ed., “All Are Alike unto God”: Fascinating Conversion Stories of African Saints (1990).

Helvécio Martins with Mark Grover, The Autobiography of Elder Helvécio Martins (1994).

Zandra Vranes and Tamu Smith, Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons: Finding the Lord’s Lessons in Everyday Life (2014).

Wain Myers with Kelly L. Martinez, From Baptist Preacher to Mormon Teacher (2015).

Tito Momen with Jeff Benedict, My Name Used to Be Muhammad: The True Story of a Muslim Who Became a Christian (2013).

Margaret Blair Young and Darius Aidan Gray, Standing on the Promises (2000–2003).

  • Book One, One More River to Cross
  • Book Two, Bound for Canaan
  • Book Three, The Last Mile of the Way

Race and the Priesthood,” Gospel Topics, topics.lds.org (2013).

Edward L. Kimball, “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood,” BYU Studies, vol. 47, no. 2 (2008), 5–78.

Newell G. Bringhurst, Saints, Slaves, and Blacks: The Changing Place of Black People within Mormonism (1981).

W. Paul Reeve, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (2015).

Matthew L. Harris and Newell G. Bringhurst, eds., The Mormon Church and Blacks: A Documentary History (2015).

Acknowledgments: In selecting these documents, we consulted with archivists Tarienne Mitchell, Matthew Heiss, and Jeremy Talmage. Conservators Emiline Twitchell and Brian Simmons prepared the documents for display. Tyler Thorsted, Missy Bethke, and Bart Atkin oversaw relevant digitization efforts. Elise Reynolds, Joan Nay, Scott Simkins, Anya Bybee, and Lis Allen attended to numerous details.