On settler Mormonism and race: Amanda Hendrix-Komoto, ‘”Do They See Me?” Race and Mormon History’, Reviews in American History, 44, 3, 2016, pp. 450-456

27Sep16

Excerpt: In a 1973 article, Mormon scholar Eugene England described the decision of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to deny the priesthood to black men as a “cross” that white Mormons had to bear. England saw it as an Abrahamic sacrifice. God, he wrote, “asks us to sacrifice not only our political and social ideals and the understanding and good will of our colleagues and friends, but seems to ask us to sacrifice the very essence of His own teachings—the divine potential of all His children.England believed that the racism of white Mormons had ultimately forced God’s hand, causing Him “to institute a lower law” in which black men would not have full membership in God’s Church or be able to participate in all of its ordinances. On June 8, 1978, Spencer W. Kimball announced that he had received a divine revelation rescinding the ban. In spite of the announcement, Mormons have continued to struggle with the racial exclusivity. For instance, at a 2015 conference on being black and Mormon, an African American woman described feeling ostracized because the paintings of heaven in a Mormon temple she visited only included white angels. “Do they see me?” she asked herself. The implicit answer was no.

Black Mormons could ask a similar question about official church histories. There has been an attempt among some Mormon historians, however, to excavate the lives of early black church members and to locate the origins of the black priesthood and temple bans. In 1973, for example, Lester Bush, Jr., argued that restrictions on the priesthood had originated not with Joseph Smith, Mormonism’s founding prophet, but with his successors.4 Scholars like Russell Stevenson (Black Mormon, 2013) have contributed to the debates surrounding the nature of blackness within early Mormonism. This work has [End Page 450] tended to be biographical, adding individuals like Jane Manning James and Elijah Abel to the pantheon of Mormon pioneers. The most recent works in this subfield are under review here—Angela Pulley Hudson’s Real Native Genius and W. Paul Reeve’s Religion of a Different Color. These two books differ from previous explorations of race within Mormonism in that their racial analysis brings American Indians and African Americans into the same frame. They also seek to reach a broader academic audience by using Mormonism to understand the intersections of race, sexuality, and religion in the nineteenth century.



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