A Missionary’s View of the 1978 Revelation

I was trying to think of something I might like to blog about. I thought of when Rosalynde at T&S used to post entries from this day in her own missionary history from her journal. So I checked my missionary journal for June 14, 1978 and 1979, and the entries were short and boring. So I was putting my journal away, when I became curious what I had written about the 1978 revelation, given that we just had a week-long series on it. So I looked up the appropriate entry.

Well, you know, I’ve thought of myself as being an “intellectual” for so long that I just sort of assumed I had always been an intellectual. After reading the entry, obviously I was just a goofy teenager at the time, like many young missionaries. Here is my epic entry, which I have annotated with footnotes, and which I offer as an artifact of living Church history:

6/9[1], Evening-

A day to go down in history–the day the Blacks get the priesthood!

Haynes[2], Ika, Ohm, and I were at “Coast to Coast” getting their bikes fixed. Two kids from the 5th Ward told us, and at first we believed them, but then we started to doubt.[3] Then, when we took a live chicken Jensens gave us over to Fruita (for E. Gary to eat at the Luau)[4], we heard it ourselves on Ika’s[5] radio. I think it’s great, although it means some complications for us in the work.[6] To celebrate, I’m going to listen to Magazine by Heart, which I bought today.[7] The end is near[8]…whoa!

6/10, Evening-

I’m still recovering from the awe of “the revelation.” I got some books from the LDS Bookstore for half-price.[9] We baptized John Hobach today–he’s pretty cool. With proper fellowship he’ll make a good member. Nancy[10] is over here now threatening to move to Canada.[11] Later.

[1] Interesting that I didn’t learn of the revelation until the ninth. I was not aware of that.
[2] My then companion.
[3] I had quite forgotten this part of the story; I first heard it from some kids, and apparently we weren’t sure at first whether they were yanking our chains.
[4] Fruita was on the western edge of our area (and the Colorado Denver Mission). There was an elder there who was Samoan and was putting together a luau. Apparently one of the elders couldn’t eat pork, so we were bringing a live chicken for him to eat when we had the luau. I had had no recollection of this part of the story at all.
[5] Ika was not a missionary (or even a member), and it was his car, which is why it had a radio.
[6] What “complications” was I thinking of? I have no clue.
[7] I had totally forgotten that I celebrated the revelation by buying a tape of a recent Heart album and listening to it! That part was very much in character for me.
[8] Did I mean this in a millenarian sense? Was I being ironic? I don’t know.
[9] Funny how quickly I turned to other, more mundane matters. (So much for being a brilliant intellectual.) One of the books I bought was Nibley’s Message of the JS Papyri; I had no clue at the time what this book was. I just thought it looked cool.
[10] Investigator with a major crush on my companion. She eventually was baptized.
[11] Oh, the humanity!

Comments

  1. Costanza says:

    Your journal entry and your annotations make for a nice historiographical lesson. Original intent is sometimes very difficult to recover, even by the person that produced the document!

  2. Simply awesome, Kev.

  3. …also a testament to the idea that people should annotate their own diaries instead of someone 100 years later. Imagine if your grandkids were to read it without the footnotes.

  4. I always celebrate by listening to Heart: birthdays, good grades, communications from God, everything.

  5. Aaron Brown says:

    Cool.

  6. Kevin,

    In one 24 hour period, you a)transported a live chicken to a luau, b)bought a Hugh Nibley book at 50% off, c)bought (and listened to!) a Heart tape, and d)baptized a convert.

    You, my friend, had more fun in one day of your mission than I did in two years on mine.

  7. Kevin, with regard to your first footnote, perhaps I misunderstand your point, but I believe the June 8 letter was not made public until the following morning, June 9.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks, Justin, I was wondering why my entry was dated the 9th and not the 8th. I had a hard time believing I could have gone an entire day without hearing about it. That clears that mystery up.

  9. I checked Arrington’s memoirs, and he mentions hearing about from his secretary just before noon on the ninth.

  10. My friends were married on June 9, 1978, and while they were thrilled with the revelation, they were a bit less happy that their entire reception turned into a big discussion of the revelation and what people’s reactions would be.

    And, there’s an article about Fruita in the NYTimes today, about the mountain biking possibilities there.

  11. On a technical note, I really like the way you kept your diary. This form of short observations and asides rather than long paragraphs and prose is very good for providing more of a snapshot of a day in your life than a movie. And a picture is worth a thousand words.

  12. cantinflas says:

    Comment #6 by Mark IV should be his entry in the “best commenter in the ‘naccle” competition next time it comes around.

  13. Re your footnote [8], the way I understood it was that you were nearing the end of your mission — could that be what you meant? I know in other people’s diaries who write in this same abbreviated style as you, rather than pages for each day, one sentence like this following a discussion of a different idea might not relate at all to the topic of the previous sentence.

  14. Thanks for sharing this, Kevin.
    As I’ve mentioned previously, I was in Mexico and so had a bit of delay before hearing of the revelation. I think it was probably June 9th as well.
    In _The Last Mile of the Way_ (historical fiction), Darius Gray and I record the following:

    On June 8, 1978, a proclamation declaring what the prophet had received was given to all members of the Seventy. Elder Marion Hanks was invited to bear his testimony, but could barely speak. He said, “I thank God I’ve lived long enough for this day.” He also declared he was quite sure of who would be the first black high priest, if there were colors in Heaven. That would be Brother Len Hope.
    The next morning, President Kimball’s counselor, Nathan Eldon Tanner, called the Church Public Affairs spokesman and asked to meet him at once. That spokesman was Heber Wolsey, Aidan Gray’s friend and companion during the days of the Wyoming Fourteen.
    Elder Tanner handed Heber the proclamation and requested that he read it aloud.
    Heber began.
    Dear Brethren: As we have witnessed the expansion of the work of the Lord over the earth, we have been grateful that people of many nations have responded to the message of the restored gospel, and have joined the Church in ever-increasing numbers. This, in turn, has inspired us with a desire to extend to every worthy member of the Church all of the privileges and blessings which the gospel affords. Aware of the promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us that at some time, in God’s eternal plan, all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood and witnessing the faithfulness of those from whom the priesthood has been withheld, we have pleaded long and earnestly in behalf of these, our faithful brethren, spending many hours in the Upper Room of the temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance. He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood, with power to exercise its divine authority, and enjoy with his loved ones every blessing that flows therefrom, including the blessings of the temple. Accordingly, all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard to race or color.
    Heber could read no further. He was weeping.

  15. Margaret, you just filled me with the spirit. Thanks.

  16. You’re giving me far too much credit, Matt W. I don’t have the power to fill anyone with the Spirit. But there is something about that revelation and the joy it brought and what it implies for us today which does indeed invite the Spirit.

    Darius Gray and I made our list of what we need to get from Archives for our documentary and realized that we really did need to interview Heber Wolsey. Hoping to set that up very soon.

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    A wonderful contribution, Margaret! Thank you.

    John f., that’s an interesting thought that hadn’t occurred to me. But I doubt that’s it, as I had only been out 8 months at that point. I think I meant that the second coming was soon at hand. I remember my bishop telling me I would definitely be alive when the Savior returned, and recall that this was back in the days when a lot of Saints assumed it was going to happen in the year 2000 (Y2K indeed). So I think I saw millennial significance to the revelation.

  18. I wasn’t a member of the church at the time, so I have no recollections about the ending of the ban, but Margaret’s story prompts me to tell a story about race in my family history.

    My family lived in Montgomery before the bus boycott (though that was before I was born). My mother was a civil rights sympathizer, though none of her family were. She loved William Faulkner, who had a genius to show people as they really are, incluing many black and female characters such as those in “Intruder in the Dust” or “The Unvanquished”. I guess from reading him, and Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky, and other writers my mom thought seriously about how things were then in the South and in our country, and realized something was badly wrong.

    Back then everyone rode the bus, white and black, and most families had only one car. She told me how the white bus drivers would make a game of insulting and belittling blacks. She said she had seen more than once an African American woman running to catch the bus only to get right to the door and have it slammed in her face. The woman would likely have been working all day in some white family’s house, often hard manual labor like scrubbing floors, and missing this bus would mean a long weary wait for the next one.

    Another thing they did was leave the movable signs separating the white from black section far toward the back, even if the blacks behind the sign were standing on top of each other and there were many empty seats in the white section in the front. All these things used to make my mother angry. She was a young mother then and didn’t realize she should speak up and take responsibility for things like that, so she fumed in silence. When the boycott finally came she was delighted to see it happen.

    Much later I watched a PBS series “Eyes on the Prize”, and became fascinated with the history of the Civil Rights movement. So much of it happened right here in my hometown. I drove downtown after one episode and looked at the A.G.Gaston Motel still there where MLK miraculously survived a bomb blast, Kelly Ingram Park where black children protesters were set upon by guard dogs and fire hoses, and the 16th St. Baptist Church where the four little girls were killed by a bomb. Everyone should come to Birmingham and see this stuff! We have the Civil Rights Institute now and a statue to MLK. Like Diane Nash said, it was just regular people, who decided they’d had enough, so with God’s help and amazing courage and fortitude, they just did it. It didn’t take a charismatic leader to get it started. Just plain old ordinary people.

    I remember in my youth, how bad things were then. I remember our unfair, unjust, violent, sad two-tiered society. By God’s grace and the grace and courage of all the civil rights protesters, our society was spared an endless Palestine-type or Northern Ireland-type violent struggle. We’ve come so far. And it was done simply by ordinary people standing up for what’s right. I feel so inspired whenever I think about it or study it. We can do the same thing now! Why do we think the work is over? There’s so much left to be done.

  19. #18: Let’s start with loving Gay Families. My young Granddaugther was on a T-ball team. Clearly (to me) one of the set of parents was two Gay ladies, who felt a need to sit far from the other parents: not right.

  20. For those interested in the subject, might I recommend “In the Lord’s Due Time” by Joseph Freeman. Joseph Freeman was the first black person to receive the priesthood after the ban was lifted. The book is his autobiography. It details how he agonized over giving up a ministry in another church to join one in which he was banned from the ministry, even though he was certain that God had called him to be a minister. It is definitely an interesting read if you can find a copy (sadly, it is out of print).

    As a side note, Joseph Freeman is currently a Bishop in our stake (in SLC, UT).

  21. Was it national news? When he says people heard it on the radio, were you serving in a large LDS population Kevin? OR was it national news that in 2007 would have a ‘special report’ banner on CNN. I was only four at the time, so I can’t remember. I keep meaning to ask my parents though.

  22. Gavin Guillaume says:

    I meant to post the following here originally, but I had multiple browsers up and accidentally posted it into another thread:

    #

    I was baptized in September 1978 (I had been 8 a few months). Another 8-year-old, an African-American boy, was baptized the same day.

    I wish I could remember exactly if he was baptized by his father or by another ward member. My memory wants to tell me that he was baptized by his father, which probably would have been a hugely historic moment for that part of the US.

    The 1978 revelation was never directly discussed in our home until we were all in college (in the 1990s). There was also no discussion of racism, etc. My parents wouldn’t have been the types to have dwelt on it much — my mother was probably sheltered from exposure to black people. My father, on the other hand, often recalls the fact that he was one of the few white people in his neighborhood in Michigan when he was in grad school in the 1960s.

    I really wish I had been knowledgeable of the events of the time, but I was a bit young.

  23. Re #17, Ruffin Bridgeforth was quoted in the press in June 1978 as expressing his belief that the revelation “may be a sign that we are approaching the end of time, a state of time of which the Bible speaks.”

  24. Was it national news?? I don’t think I can express my answer strongly enough. I don’t think I’m allowed to say hell on this blog, but if I WERE allowed, I’d say HELL YES.
    President Carter worked with Mormons on how he should respond. I have some of the newspapers from that remarkable day (including Carter’s response). My co-author met with someone who had flown in from another location on June 9th 1978, and the revelation was announced ON THE PLANE before landing.
    And remember, I heard it in Mexico. INTERNATIONAL news.

  25. Kevin Barney says:

    Margaret is of course right. It was HUGE news, the kind that resulted in programs on TV being interrupted.

  26. The day of the announcement of the Revelation was one of those “I remember where I was when” moments. I was at my first baptism of my mission in Seoul, Korea, so I still didn’t understand much of what was going on at the ceremony at the mission home. I do remember my mission president, a heavyset man, running–almost dancing–down to the chapel where he first heard the news.

    Since there are few blacks in Korea, this news didn’t really have any effect on me until I came back home, but by then it was old news. Hard to imagine, after it had been such a big issue for several years before that.

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