June 8, 1978: Selected Reading

As a warm-up for BCC’s week-long celebration of Spencer W. Kimball’s 1978 revelation on the extension of Priesthood ordination of people of African descent, I’ve put together this basic, short bibliography for those interested in doing a little reading. I’m no expert, so please add anything I’ve missed in the comments section.

Bringhurst, Newel G. (1981). Saints, Slaves, and Blacks: The Changing Place of Black People Within Mormonism (Contributions to the Study of Religion, No. 4). Greenwood Press.
Bush, Lester E. Jr; Armand L. Mauss, eds. (1984). Neither White Nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church. Signature Books.
Embry, Jessie (1994). Black Saints in a White Church. Signature Books.
Smith, Darron T.; Bringhurst, Newel G. (2004). Black and Mormon. University of Illinois Press.

Bush, Jr., Lester E. Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview. Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Volume 08, Number 1 (Spring, 1973), pp. 11-68.
Mauss, Armand. Comments: White on Black among the Mormons: A Critique of White & White. Sociological Analysis, Vol. 42, No. 3 (Autumn, 1981), pp. 277-282
Mauss, Armand. The Fading of the Pharoah’s Curse: The Decline and Fall of the Priesthood Ban Against Blacks in the Mormon Church. Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Volume 14, Number 3 (Autumn, 1981), pp. 10-45.
White, Jr. O. Kendall; White, Daryl. Abandoning an Unpopular Policy: An Analysis of the Decision Granting the Mormon Priesthood to Blacks. Sociological Analysis, Vol. 41, No. 3 (Autumn, 1980), pp. 231-245.


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    The Neither White Nor Black Volume is available for free on the Signature website. The classic Bush article from Dialogue is included as a chapter, so that is a convenient way to read it.

    A fascinating read is Lester Bush, “Writing “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview” (1973): Context and Reflections, 1998,” Journal of Mormon History
    Vol. 25, No. 1, Spring 1999

    This is a 25-year retrospective on the Bush article.

  2. Also important is Mauss’s _All Abraham’s Children_, which places the story of blacks and the priesthood within a wider context by examining Mormon conceptions of lineage, British Israel, Native Americans/Lamanites, etc. The McKay and Kimball bios are also significant.

  3. Yep — All Abraham’s Children is the main omission, I’d say. There are some older works that are of historical interest (like _Mormonism and the Negro_ ) but those are highly outdated, to say the least.

    Also possibly of interest is the Margaret Young / Darius Gray series.

    Also noteworthy is the fact that Neither White Nor Black is available free online, at http://www.signaturebookslibrary.org/neither/neithertitle.htm .

  4. Dang — I clearly need to read prior comments before commenting . . .

  5. Also, there is a lot of good information, in pretty easy-to-digest form, in the chronology at Black-LDS. ( http://www.blacklds.org/mormon/history.html ).

  6. Aaron Brown says:

    The JMHA article that Kevin cites is really, really good. More fun to read than Bush’s original ’73 piece, in my opinion. Everyone should check it out.

    For those who don’t want to read all of (or can’t get their hands on) Mauss’ _All Abraham’s Children_, I recommend the original article Mauss did on the topic:

    “In Search of Ephraim: Traditional Mormon Conceptions of Lineage and Race”, Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 25, No. 1, Spring 1999.

    There’s a bunch of other good stuff in this particular volume of JMHA, which happens to be the same issue that Bush’s retrospective appears in. That issue is really a keeper.

    Aaron B

  7. I second the recommendation for the McKay bio by Prince. I think the chapter on civil rights and priesthood issues is essential reading on this topic. Amazing stuff.

  8. Ronald K. Esplin’s article “Brigham Young and Priesthood Denial to the Blacks: An Alternate View” (html version here and pdf version here).  Esplin has been director of the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History at Brigham Young University and is currently executive director of the Church’s Joseph Smith Papers project.

  9. The problem with that apologetic, R. Gary, is that it would apply just as well to Adam-God. I also wonder if Esplin, who is a fine scholar, would write the same thing if published today.

  10. J. Stapley,

    Your fixation with Adam-God stuff is beside the point. Esplin was researching Brigham Young and priesthood denial to the Blacks.  As to whether or not he would back away from his research, it is listed by him on his Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History “Publications” page.

  11. I don’t doubt that he claims it, R. Gary; I’m just saying that there has been a decent amount of research in the last 30 years. There is no question that Esplin is a great researcher (e.g., his dissy is great). His presidential address at MHA this year was fascinating. As to Adam-God, I have no personal fixation, but I do think that it does illustrate some problems with how we deal with what some view as problematic historical developments.

  12. I think people should also read all the Lowell Bennion retrospectives. He had such a way with walking people through the logic of the policy.

  13. The material on the CD accompanying Ed Kimball’s Lengthen Your Stride is remarkable and should probably be a starting point on any treatment of the revelation.

  14. StillConfused says:

    I must have missed the whole Adam-God thing. Perhaps a topic for a blog in the future??

  15. A text of interest that would document the typical Mormon position on the Priesthood Ban pre-1978 would be Mormonism and the Negro by John J. Stewart. It was originally published in 1960. The copy I have is the ninth printing from 1967 and contains an additional historical supplement by William E. Berrett that has the standard set of historical excerpts. It is a polemical text that argues for the same position forwarded by BRM in the 1st Ed MoDoc. It is available through abebooks.com.

  16. The Spring 1999 issue of the Journal of Mormon History can be read here.

    Several articles on the subject appeared in the March 2003 issue of Sunstone here.

    Also I note a few articles by Eugene England (I haven’t seen the third one online):

    “The Mormon Cross” (originally appeared in Dialogue 8/1 [Spring 1973]: 78-85)

    “Are All Alike Unto God? Prejudice Against Blacks and Women in Popular Mormon Theology”

    “Becoming a World Religion: Blacks, the Poor–All of Us,” Sunstone, June-July 1998, 49-60.

  17. Thanks for the link, Kevin–and the rest of you.

    This is a subject near and dear to my heart. and despite all the big words and research, as far as I’m concerned, the exclusion of black men from holding the priesthood was racism, pure and simple. Nothing more, nothing less.

    And over and done with, thank God.

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