Wed. May 20: It’s been a bad week for Darius. Two phlebotomies (the only way to control his particular type of cancer, Polycythemia Vera). He is weak. I know he won’t show it during MHA–although I’ll notice his energy levels and he’ll be honest with me. When anyone asks how he’s doing, he’ll say either, “TERRIFIC!” or “Blessed and highly favored!” Bruce and I pick him up at 5:30 a.m. Darius gives his wife a hug and a kiss, and I understand that she is now entrusting him to me. We head to the airport. My youngest son is with us. We will part ways at Chicago, and he’ll go to Indiana to be with his sister. I’ll join them all (including my grandkids) after the conference.
After a lunch at O’Hare, Darius and I walk my son (Michael) to his gate. Michael grins as Darius slips him five dollars. “Thanks, Darius,” he says. I am grateful that my children know him as a member of our extended family, and that they address him comfortably. Years ago, I took my youngest daughter with me to a writing session with Darius. She had a gall stone attack while we were at his house, and he gave her a blessing. The attack ended immediately. Later, when she needed another blessing, she asked that Bruce and Darius give it to her. Darius drove to Provo from Midvale (where he lives) to answer her request. He respects the priesthood in a way few men do. Until June 8th, 1978, he didn’t think he’d be a priesthood holder in this life. He puts on his Sunday clothes whenever he gives a blessing.
We arrive in Springfield, meeting a sunny, breezy, spectacular day. After some rest and a quick meal, we walk around the city. Lincoln country. There are statues of the 16th president everywhere. Benches on the street include quotes from Lincoln. I am aware that the next day, President Obama will talk about torture, and Dick Cheney will talk about “enhanced interrogation.” The quote on one bench speaks so loudly to me that I write it down: “Let every man remember that to violate the law is to trample on the blood of his father and to tear the character of his own and his children’s liberty. Reverence for the law must be the political religion of the nation.” Quotes about slavery abound: “Just as I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. That to me is the definition of democracy.”
Darius’s grandfather was born a slave. I will become more aware of that reality over the next few days as I sense the spirit of Abraham Lincoln presiding over Springfield and even visiting MHA.
Thursday May 21: We go to Nauvoo, mostly wanting to attend the temple. The recognition begins–not so much for me, but for Darius, who is on a BYU television program called _Questions and Ancestors_. The man who will be his veil worker recognizes him, the temple president recognizes him, the person renting us our clothes recognizes him. Darius doesn’t like it. There was a time in his life when he became a bit of a hermit, feeling the pressure of being “Brother Gray–the Mormon Negro” as a huge burden. It was particularly hard when he personally was given all sorts of attention (he was a reporter for KSL), but nothing changed in the ways other blacks were treated. The priesthood restriction was in place, and all sorts of justifications were being taught. The Church was sending him all over to tell his conversion story, but at the same time, debate over segregation and Civil Rights was igniting a lot of racist talk. White people spoke about the policy which kept blacks from the priesthood or the temple, and usually satisfied themselves quite well with their answers. Blacks, for the most part, simply kept their distance. Darius held on to his testimony, which never wavered. But the conflict deepened, and came to a head in the early 1970s (that’s detailed in special features of our documentary). He became inactive in the church. He holed up with his wife and a dog, and simply disappeared for a time.
In the temple, Darius and I exchange pleased smiles as we realize that we will be walking from room to room during the session, not just sitting in one place. I know he’s in pain, but he’s not letting it show at all–except when he needs to stand. His joints hurt terribly, and he can’t control the grimace as he rises. I instinctively reach out to steady him, but I’m too far away. When the time comes for the presentation of the Law of Consecration, he and I are seated directly opposite each other.
He considers his covenants to be not just for the person he’s representing, but as a recommitment for himself. This is the hardest one. CONSECRATE yourself. He has received many priesthood blessings, and his energy is better than it was five years ago. But the pain has not ended (in fact, it’s worse than ever), and he still has cancer. Promising to live the Law of Consecration means accepting more invitations to speak, doing more travel, fielding more anguished questions from black Latter-day Saints who are just now learning what was believed and said of them by previous church leaders and members, or who are just finding out about the full implications of the priesthood restriction. He has over a thousand messages on his e-mail.
I meet his eyes. I watch him make his promise to God. We give each other a subtle but solemn nod.
After the session, we go outside the temple and walk up to a particular stone Darius has designated. He touches it and says, “This is for you, Brother Elijah Abel. And for you, Green Flake.” I touch it and speak the names of Jane Manning James, her brothers and sisters, and her children. They too are family.