“I would confine them to their own species”
LDS Historical Rhetoric & Praxis
Regarding Marriage Between Whites and Blacks

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Connell O’Donovan
March 28, 2009
Sunstone West, Cupertino CA



Lester Bush noted in his pivotal 1973 article, “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview”:

An aversion to miscegenation [race-mixing] has been the single most consistent facet of Mormon attitudes towards the Negro.  Though the attitudes towards the priesthood, slavery, or equal rights have fluctuated significantly, denunciations of interracial marriage can be identified in discourses in virtually every decade from the Restoration to the present day.[1]

Indeed fear of this juxtaposition of race and sexuality is the very seed that germinated into the post-1847 ban, which prevented anyone of known black African descent from holding LDS priesthood and from participating in LDS temple endowment and sealing rituals.  The latest research on this issue (including my biographies of black Elders Q. Walker Lewis and Joseph T. Ball, Stephen Fleming’s work on William I. Appleby’s journal, and Patrick Polk’s research on Warner "William" McCary) points conclusively to Brigham Young’s personal fear of black sexuality (and especially black male sexuality) as the reason he emphatically prohibited black-white marriage and instigated the priesthood-temple ban.  Young’s resistance to black-white marriage[2] must also be seen within the context of his own marital experimentation, which was, at that very moment in 1847, receiving national public scrutiny and condemnation, as well as legal censure by the Massachusetts State Supreme Court.

In this paper I first examine a significant LDS marriage that occurred in Massachusetts in 1846 and I place it in its historical context.  Next I briefly examine inter-racial marriage in Nauvoo, beginning with Joseph Smith and then carry that topic on to Winter Quarters of 1846 and 1847, where the seeds of LDS anti-miscegenation fully germinated under Brigham Young.  Next I recall Brigham Young’s emerging theology regarding black-white marriage and its significance to American society and LDS eschatology.  Then I look at the chaotic consequences of “letter of the law” dogma conflicting with the lives of real people, who openly came to LDS leaders to ask difficult personal questions or demanded clarification and concise definitions rather than broad generalizations.  Despite seemingly rigid doctrines and policies, in reality, the responses from church leadership were widely varied and often contradictory, with many more people of some African descent receiving priesthood and temple ordinances than has been acknowledged in the past.

Next I reveal previously unknown statements and ideas about black-white marriage and white racial superiority as found in the Deseret News from 1864 to 1910. And lastly, I examine how LDS doctrine influenced Utah territorial and state laws on black-white marriage, resulting in a small but influential and ultimately successful civil rights movement in Utah and within Mormonism that called on LDS leaders to abolish antiquated and unnecessary restrictions on the boundaries of love and marriage.

Ultimately this paper shows that LDS doctrine and practice maintained that civil marriages specifically between blacks and whites were categorically prohibited, were unnatural and contrary to God’s law, would never be acceptable within the LDS Church (or if so, only in some future eschatological period); they were deeply offensive to social norms and if allowed to be performed, would lead to the destruction of not just society but indeed humanity. 

I shall repeat the paragraph above but slightly modify it to fit the context of Proposition 8 [3] and leave you to your own conclusions:

LDS doctrine and practice maintains that civil marriages of same-sex couples are categorically prohibited, are unnatural and contrary to God’s law, will never be acceptable within the LDS Church; they are deeply offensive to social norms and if allowed to be performed, will lead to the destruction of not just society but indeed humanity.

Now in 1963 Utah finally accepted legalized black-white inter-marriage and then in 1978 the LDS Church accepted it doctrinally (although begrudgingly) and black-white sealings are now performed in temples across the world.  And the prophesied divine retribution and utter destruction of society and humanity have not happened.


A Queer Marriage in Massachusetts

One of the most significant, and simultaneously most obscure marriages in LDS history took place on September 18, 1846.  On that day, 21 year-old Enoch Lovejoy Lewis married 19 year-old Mary Matilda Webster in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[4]  At first glance, this couple and their marriage seem rather unremarkable.  Both were members of the LDS Church in the Lowell MA branch.  The young bride, Mary Matilda, was from Chester, MA – a tiny rural village in the southwestern area of that state.  Her parents did not marry until almost two years after her birth, so Mary was either illegitimate or one of her parents had a previous, unknown marriage that produced her.[5] The importance and uniqueness of this marriage lies in the fact that Mary Matilda’s groom, Enoch Lovejoy Lewis, was the son of a black father and a mixed-race mother.  And Matilda, the name she went by, was white.  Three years after Massachusetts repealed its ban of allowing white people to marry either those of African or Native American descent, this inter-racial marriage of a white Mormon woman and a black Mormon man ignited a firestorm in the LDS Church, and its effects are still being felt to this day.


Massachusetts and Black-White Marriage

William Lloyd Garrison is credited with launching the campaign to repeal the 1705 law barring marriages between white people and those of African descent, although black abolitionists had certainly desired this long before Garrison began his “campaign.” The second issue in January 1831 of William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist paper, The Liberator, included an urgent appeal for the “obliteration” of the 1786 law, which made performing an interracial marriage a crime punishable by a fine of 50 pounds, or roughly $7,000 today.[6] 

Liberator of 1831
Garrison's 1831 Liberator Article
(Click on Image to Enlarge)

Garrison wrote that this “disgraceful” and “inconsistent” law prohibiting such marriages was “an invasion of one of the inalienable rights of every man, namely, ‘the pursuit of happiness’”.  Many later issues of The Liberator continued the call for repeal of such legislation.[7] Opposition from the south, from other New England states, and within the state legislature was fierce.  Some Massachusetts legislators claimed that the ban against black and white marriages was not discriminatory because it applied equally to both races and the punishment for both white and blacks was the same.  People believed that this law recognized “natural distinctions” between the races, “which nothing but the insanity of fanaticism dares to arraign.”  Others felt that it prevented a further deterioration of the white race; mixed-race descendants were an example of human de-evolutionary retrogression.[8] Later LDS rhetoric would echo similar sentiments.

On February 24, 1843, the Massachusetts state legislature voted to repeal the old law.  Just three and a half years later, Enoch and Matilda faced each other and under God pledged their marital vows in an extraordinary act of newly gained social and political freedom.  Matilda, by the way, was two months pregnant at the time of her marriage to Enoch and some six months later, she gave birth to Enoch Lovejoy Lewis Jr.  Unfortunately for them, the president of the eastern states mission, a man named William I. Appleby, was proselytizing in the Boston-Lowell area at the time of little Enoch’s birth.

A month after Enoch Jr. was born, Appleby visited the Lowell Branch on May 19, 1847.  He was shocked to discover that not only had a black man been ordained to priesthood (Enoch’s father, Walker Lewis) but also that Enoch had married a white LDS woman.  Two weeks later, Appleby wrote a letter to Brigham Young, informing him of this situation and wanting to know if the church indeed approved of blacks holding priesthood and marrying white women:

At Lowell…I found a coloured brother by name of ‘Lewis’ a barber, an Elder in the Church, ordained some years ago by William Smith.  This Lewis I was informed has also a son who is married to a white girl and both members of the Church there.  Now dear Br. I wish to know if this is the order of God or tolerated in this Church  ie to ordain Negroes to the Priesthood and allow amalgamation [inter-racial marriage].  If it is I desire to Know, as I have Yet got to learn it.[9]

Almost a month later, Appleby decided to investigate further and went to the Enoch Lewis home to witness their relationship:

In looking for a Br. in the Church, I called at a House, a coloured man resided there, I set myself down for a few moments presently in came quite a good looking White Woman, about 22 years old I should think, with blushing cheeks, and was introduced to me as the negro’s wife, an infant in a cradle near bore evidence of the fact. Oh! Woman, thought I, where is thy shame, (for indeed I felt ashamed and not only ashamed, but disgusted, when I was informed they were both members of a Church!) [Where is] Respect for thy family, thyself, for thy offspring and above all the law of God?[10]

Appleby's Journal
William I. Appleby's Journal Entry, June 16, 1847
(Click on Image to Enlarge)

Note that in his earlier letter to Brigham Young, Appleby seemed perplexed and inquisitive.  But after meeting the couple, his emotions had grown much stronger, indeed into shame and disgust.  I would postulate that the significant difference between the letter and the journal entry a month later is because upon actually meeting the couple Appleby was struck by two things:  1) Matilda’s fair beauty and more importantly (2) the blatant and public evidence of their private sexual intercourse, which was their baby.  Also note here that Appleby refers to Matilda’s lack of respect for her mixed-race offspring but “above all” to “the law of God.”


Inter-racial Marriage at Nauvoo

In Nauvoo, Joseph Smith reflected general lower-class white attitudes toward black-white marriage and said on January 2, 1843, “Had I anything to do with the negro, I would confine them [sic] to their own species.”[11]  As proof of that belief, year later, Joseph Smith, as Nauvoo’s Justice of the Peace, fined two African American men $25 and $5 respectively for “trying to marry white women.”[12] Otherwise, Joseph Smith’s view’s specific to black-white marriage have not been recorded, as far as I know.

Now Warner (aka William) McCary, a runaway slave from Natchez, Mississippi, arrived in Nauvoo at the end of 1845, claiming to be part African and part American Indian, including being the “lost” son of the Choctaw tribal chief, Amosholi-T-ubi (or Moshulatubbe), but his Indian ancestry was merely a scam. 

Mosholatubbee Drawing
Drawing of Choctaw Chief, Mosholatubbee
(Click on Image to Enlarge)

McCary was baptized and then ordained an Elder allegedly by Orson Hyde about February 1846 (as the rest of the Mormons abandoned Nauvoo and headed to points westward).  About this time, Hyde is reported to have also married McCary to “a white sister” at Nauvoo. Robert Lang Campbell, who was at Winter Quarters, recorded in his journal on March 1, 1847, "Mr. McCarey a Choctaw Indian married to a white woman named Lucy Stanton - a sister - he being baptized in Nauvoo by O Hyde ^last year^."[13] 

Robert Cambell Journal Entry
Robert Campbell Journal Entry, March 1, 1847
(Click on Image to Enlarge)

The Strangites also heard a similar rumor, and they too heard McCary was only Native American, and not part African as well. In October 1846, the Strangite newspaper, the Voree Herald, reported, “We are informed that Orson Hyde, before leaving the camp near Council Bluffs…has made a tool of an Indian whom he has baptized and ordained to go out among the churches, and call himself a Lamanite prophet.”

Voree Herald Newspaper
Voree Herald, October 1846, vol. 1, no. 10, p. 43
(Click on Image to Enlarge)

This “white sister” who married the runaway slave posing as an Afro-Indian was none other than Lucile Ann Celesta Stanton Bassett, daughter of Daniel Stanton, who had been on the High Council of Adam-Ondi-Ahman Stake in 1838 and then president of the Quincy Stake from October 25, 1840 until the spring of 1841, when all stakes outside of Nauvoo, Illinois and Lee County, Iowa were discontinued.  (Ezra T. Benson, whom Stanton had baptized, was his second counselor in the Quincy stake presidency.) The Stantons had been some of the first converts of the church living in the Kirtland area, being baptized on November 30, 1830.  When Lucy Stanton was about 15, she had become enthralled by the very first black Mormon, Black Pete. Along with her sisters, she became caught up in Black Pete’s charismatic and revelatory experiences at Kirtland, such as catching letters from heaven, and being "taken by spirit" in pentecostalesque convulsions.  Here in Nauvoo fifteen years later, the now divorced woman and mother of three, married another controversial black Mormon as her second husband, Warner aka William McCary - he also was known by the aliases William Chubbee, William Chubbee King, Julius McCary, William McChubby, Okah Tubee, James Warner, and War'ne'wis Ke'ho'ke Chubbee.

As I was revising this paper last week, it suddenly dawned on me that just at this very critical moment when Brigham Young was confronted with black male sexuality and seriously questioning black participation in temple and priesthood, he himself was at the very center of a very public trial over his own marital improprieties back in Massachusetts, and this can only have had an affect upon his mind as he confronted black-white marriages among the Mormons.  A married Quaker woman named Augusta Adams Cobb had converted to Mormonism and fallen in love with Brigham Young while he was on one of his several missions to the Boston area.  Augusta abandoned her husband and large family and moved to Nauvoo where she was married against her husband's wishes to Brigham Young on November 2, 1843 as his second plural wife.  Even by Mormon standards this was adultery and was contrary to LDS practice, in that church leaders forbade any LDS man from marrying a woman who was not single, widowed, or divorced.  Augusta’s husband, Henry Cobb, was humiliated and deeply hurt by the actions of his wife and Brigham Young, so he began the long and expensive process of obtaining a legal divorce from Augusta, by claiming that indeed his wife and Brigham Young were living in adultery, not just polygamy.  Eventually the case of Cobb v. Cobb reached the Massachusetts Supreme Court where the greatest legal minds of the United States sat.  The five men of this court were great liberal progressives, abolitionists, and supporters of women’s and worker’s rights - certainly "activist judges" of their day.  Their judicial rulings were iconic and profoundly influenced American life for decades.

Below is a brief timeline of the trial and its public aftermath:

Brigham Young’s Massachusetts Supreme Court Trial for Adultery, 1846-47

November 7, 1846 – Cobb v. Cobb was brought before the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in Boston, with Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw presiding.  Francis A. Fabens, Esq. was the counsel for Henry Cobb.

January 13, 1847 – Deputy Sheriff Erastus Rugg attested before the Supreme Court that on this date he had personally served to Augusta Adams Cobb (at Winter Quarters?) a copy of the libel suit and a notice to appear before the court on March 2, 1847.

March 2, 1847 – Augusta A. Cobb and Brigham Young did not appear before the court to defend themselves.  However, their counsel, Abraham Annis Dame, Esq., appeared on their behalf.

May 3, 1847 – George J. Adams, ex-Mormon Elder and “apostle” (although not in the Quorum of the Twelve), swore out his deposition against Augusta Adams Cobb and Brigham Young before the court. Catherine Ramsdale Lewis, who had been repeatedly commanded by Brigham Young to marry Heber C. Kimball polygamously - and later wrote an exposé of the Nauvoo endowment ceremony, also testified before the court about Augusta Cobb’s adulterous relationship with Brigham Young.

November 24, 1847 – Judge Samuel Sumner Wilde decreed “a full divorce from the bonds of matrimony” to Henry Cobb on the basis of the "crim. con." of Brigham Young with Henry's wife, Augusta A. Cobb.

Newspaper accounts

  • November 26, 1847, “Divorced from a Woman Who Had Become the ‘Spiritual Wife’ of a Mormon Leader,” Boston Post
  • This same lengthy announcement of the divorce proceedings also appeared in the New England Ploughman of December 4, 1847, and was reprinted in the Quincy Whig of December 22, 1847 (p. 2).
  • December 6, 1847, “Henry Cobb, of Boston,” Morning News (New London CT)
  • December 9, 1847, “Fruits of Mormonism,” New York Evangelist, p. 195
  • “Fruits of Mormonism” was reprinted in the December 22, 1847 issue of the Vermont Chronicle, (Bellows Falls, VT)

Interestingly, this case was never about polgyamy per se, but strictly about adultery. Brigham Young's "dirty laundry" became a matter of public record as the Supreme Court was given dates and places that Young had sexual relations with the married Augusta Cobb. The Supreme Court severely humiliated Young publicly for his marital deviance by finding the couple guilty of "crim. con." (criminal conduct) in the form of adultery.  Did Young then turn and take out his frustrations on a group of “inferiors”? When we turn to what he was consequently doing at Winter Quarters, it would certainly seem so.


Brigham Young Confronts Black-White Marriage at Winter Quarters

African American Priesthood Holders
& Wives Before 1847

  • Teacher/Priest (?) Black Pete – no known wife; but had a following of white Mormon women in Kirtland, including the Stanton sisters

  • Seventy Elijah Abel – married Mary Ann Adams, identified as a “quadroon” (LDS convert along with husband)

  • High Priest Joseph T. Ball – never married but tried to seduce many white LDS women in Lowell and Boston

  • Elder Q. Walker Lewis – married Elizabeth Lovejoy, the Episcopalian daughter of a black man and a white woman

  • Elder Warner “William” McCary - married Lucile Ann Celesta Stanton (Bassett), a white Mormon woman (daughter of Nauvoo Stake President, Daniel Stanton and ex-wife of Oliver Harmon Bassett); McCary was also “sealed” to many other white LDS women in his schismatic movement

  • Elder (?) Enoch Lovejoy Lewis – married (1) M. Matilda Webster, a white Mormon woman; married (2) a black woman in 1852

While Brigham Young’s adulterous relationship was going public in Massachusetts and throughout the nation, we turn to Young at Winter Quarters and what happened there.  Brigham Young was already long aware of black Mormons Walker Lewis and Joseph T. Ball holding priesthood, having known Lewis and Ball for many years when Young was serving missions in the Boston and Lowell area.  Here in Nauvoo, Brigham Young told recently ordained Warner McCary that holding the priesthood had nothing to do with race.[14]  On March 26, 1847, Young told McCary that holding LDS priesthood had “nothing to do with the blood for [from] one blood has God made all flesh, we have to repent [to] regain what we av lost" (a paraphrase of Acts 17:26).  I emphasize that in March 1847, Young said that there was no priesthood ban because of race using Acts as a proof text– we are all ONE BLOOD; the only stipulation is repentance.  But by December 1847, this is all changed.

As I noted earlier Pres. Appleby wrote a report to Brigham Young about his discovery of Enoch Lewis’s marriage to Matilda Webster.  He mailed this report to Brigham Young with an address at Council Bluff, Iowa, where it was then forwarded to Winter Quarters, Nebraska, and there remained.  Young, of course, was just settling in Utah at the time, so the acting Mormon president did not receive the letter for some six months.  Ironically, Appleby’s letter, Brigham Young, and William I. Appleby himself, all converged at Winter Quarters at the beginning of December 1847.  Brigham Young returned to Winter Quarters from the Salt Lake Valley, when Elder William I. Appleby arrived there on December 2 from his mission presiding over the eastern states.  Young read Appleby’s letter regarding the marriage of Enoch and Matilda Lewis and then immediately met with Appleby in person to ensure the accuracy of the details of the inter-racial marriage of Enoch and Mary Matilda Lewis.

As shown, by December 1847, things had significantly changed for Brigham Young.  Warner McCary had come out in open rebellion against the church and had started his own version of Mormonism, including a highly sexualized sealing ceremony, in which McCary was “sealed” to the white women of his disciples by sleeping with them.  In response to all this, Young called a meeting of the members of the Twelve who were present in Winter Quarters, and had Appleby appear to personally give an account. Here are Thomas Bullock’s minutes of that meeting:

1847 Minutes of the Twelve
December 3, 1847 Minutes of the Quorum of the Twelve, pp. 6-7
(Click on Image to Enlarge)

bro Appleby relates...
Wm. Smith ordained a black man Elder at Lowell[15] & he has married a white girl & they have a child
Prest. Young    If they were far away from the Gentiles they wod. [would] all on [sic - ot? ought?] to be killed - when they mingle seed it is death to all.
If a black man & white woman come to you & demand baptism can you deny them?  the law is their seed shall not be amalgamated
Mulattoes r like mules they cant have children, but if they will be Eunuchs for the Kingdom of God Heaven's sake they may have a place in the Temple[16]
B. Y.    The Lamanites r purely of the house of Israel & it is a curse that is to be removed when the fulness of the Gospel comes –
O. H.  Has taught that if girls marry the half breeds they r throwing themselves away & becoming as one of them
B. Y.  It is wrong for them to do so.
B. Y.  The Pottawatamies will not own a man who has the negro blood in him – that is the reason why the Indians disown the negro prophet [Warner McCary]. [17]

It is here in this meeting that the Mormon theology prohibiting marriages between blacks and whites was born. Although the minutes are extremely sparse, they are densely compacted with theological themes that will be carried on into the following decades.

Black-White Marriage in Mormon Theology

With this meeting of Young and the other apostles, we have the first LDS attempts at formulating a theology that prohibited black-white marriage.  Below are the seven main theological points I have found in authoritative LDS statements throughout the decades (although some slightly overlap with each other). Most of these points originated at the December 1847 meeting of Young and the Apostles with Pres. Appleby. Again I point out how similar most of these points are to current LDS theological arguments against homogamy, or same-sex marriage.

  1. It is prohibited and contrary to church doctrine from ancient times – “The law is their seed shall not be amalgamated”
  2. It would lead to the annihilation of the human species, since mixed-race children cannot reproduce - “Mulattoes are like mules”
  3. It and the reproduction of mixed-race children requires blood atonement for those who are Latter-day Saints –  “this will always be so”
  4. It is a “great sin”
  5. The interracial marriage of Ham & Egyptus brought “tainted” black blood – and its priesthood/temple curse – through the universal flood
  6. Racial segregation is a necessary evil to prevent black-white marriage en masse and total genetic chaos of white and black races, leading to the complete loss of the priesthood on earth, the destruction of the LDS Church, and the loss of exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom for all humanity - “When they mingle seed, it is death to all”
  7. It is a “virus” and will spread contagiously

Mixed-Race Children Cannot Reproduce
This idea that black and white mixed children cannot reproduce, just as mules cannot, was also brought up later in Utah.  The belief that interbreeding between the races leads to degenerate and/or infertile offspring was common in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century. For example Josiah S. Nott, an American surgeon, wrote in his 1843 essay, "The Mulatto a Hybrid - Probable Extermination of the Two Races if the Whites and Blacks are Allowed to Intermarry," that the inbreeding of mulattoes was not very prolific and produced feeble offspring doomed to extinction within a few generations. The Juvenile Instructor echoed this when its LDS editors said in 1868, “In fact we believe it to be a great sin in the eyes of our Heavenly Father for a white person to marry a black one.  And further, that it is a proof of the mercy of God that no such race appear able to continue for many generations.”[18]  A similar idea was iterated by Mormon bishop John M. Whitaker (a relative of mine) in his journal as late as 1913, after Booker T. Washington spoke at the University of Utah.[19] Much of this comes from the shared etymology of the word "mulatto" (the offspring of one white parent and one black parent) with the word "mule" (the hybrid offspring of a female horse and a male donkey). All male mules and most female mules are infertile because donkeys have 62 chromosomes, whereas horses have 64; mules therefore have 63 - which cannot then divide into chromosome pairs. (Since 1527, there have only been some 60 documented cases of a female mule producing offspring with a purebred male horse - see this BBC news article.)


Blood Atonement Is Necessary
In 1847, with the Enoch and Matilda Lewis case, Young first introduced the idea that black-white marriage merited capital punishment, promising that if the Lewis’s lived “far away from the Gentiles” they would be killed.

When Enoch’s father, Walker Lewis, was wintering in Salt Lake City in 1851 and 1852, Brigham Young pointedly had the legislature pass a law forbidding not marriage between blacks and whites but all sexual relations between the two races.  In getting the all-LDS territorial legislature to pass this statute in February 1852, Young told them that it was such a serious crime against God that the only way to atone for it was through capital punishment:

And if any man mingles his seed with the seed of Cane the ownly way he Could get rid of it or have salvation would be to Come forward & have his head Cut off & spill his Blood upon the ground.  It would also take the life of his Children.[20]

Eleven years later, in the midst of the Civil War, Brigham Young again affirmed blood atonement for black-white marriage on March 8, 1863:

Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race?  If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.[21]

In 1897 George Q. Cannon of the First Presidency, said in a meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve:

he had understood President Taylor to say that a man who had the priesthood who would marry a woman of the accursed seed that if the law of the Lord were administered upon him, he would be killed, and his offspring, for the reason that the Lord had determined that the seed of Cain should not receive the priesthood in the flesh; and this was the penalty put upon Cain, because if he had received the priesthood the seed of the murderer would get ahead of the seed of Abel who was murdered.[22]

Thomas Coleman, a slave brought to Utah who then converted to Mormonism, was ritually murdered on December 10, 1866, allegedly for courting a white woman.

Salt Lake Daily Telegraph Article
(Click to Enlarge Image)

After putting together all the known pieces and closely examining all the forensic evidence in this case (and there is a lot), I theorized in my biography of Thomas Coleman that I gave at the Mormon History Association in 2008, that Coleman was murdered not because of any sexual advances he made toward white women, but because he was an eyewitness to the political assassination of Dr. John “King” Robinson in October 1866.  Non-Mormon Dr. Robinson was murdered by Mormon vigilantes led by Salt Lake police chief Andrew H. Burt and at least two of his underlings in the all-Mormon police department.  When Coleman was on the verge of telling federal investigators that he had seen Burt and his men murder Robinson in the streets of Salt Lake, Burt and his men murdered the eyewitness.  I believe the police used similar tactics in both murders, but were sloppy the first time by having eyewitnesses.  They were more careful the second go around and then to cover up their tracks, they made Coleman’s murder look as if an irate white father or brother and other concerned parties had taken Brigham Young’s blood atoning justice into their own hands to keep white womanhood safe from black male sexuality.


Ham & Egyptus
The LDS archetype for black-white marriage was of course Ham and Egyptus.  In Mormon mythos, a woman named Egyptus was a descendant of Cain, and bore his curse by being black.  Before the flood, Noah’s son Ham married Egyptus, and thus black-skinned and cursed people were preserved on Noah’s ark.  Their inter-racial daughter, also named Egyptus, became the wife of a man named Pharaoh and he was the first ruler of Egypt – with the land named after his wife and mother-in-law.  This is based on Joseph Smith’s, The Book of Abraham 1:23-25, which was not canonized as LDS scripture until 1880.

As John Taylor said on August 28, 1881:

And after the flood we are told that the curse that had been pronounced upon Cain was continued through Ham's wife, as he had married a wife of that seed. And why did it pass through the flood? Because it was necessary that the devil should have a representation upon the earth as well as God….[23]

Loss of Priesthood & Destruction of the Church
Just three months after Brown v. Board of Education desegregated public schools across the nation in May 1954, Apostle Mark E. Petersen gave arguably the most racist speech in LDS history at BYU to college-level religion instructors, called Race Problems—As They Affect the Church.  In this talk he linked the priesthood ban with prohibiting intermarriage with black people in 1954:

What is our policy in regard to inter-marriage?  As to the Negro, of course, there is only one possible answer.  We must not inter-marry with the Negro. Why? If I were to marry a Negro woman and have children by her, my children would all be cursed as to the priesthood. Do I want my children cursed as to the priesthood?  If there is one drop of Negro blood in my children, as I have read to you, they receive the curse.  There isn’t any argument, therefore, as to the inter-marriage with the Negro, is there?[24]

Taking his argument to the utmost extreme, Petersen reasoned:

There are 50 million Negroes in the United States.  If they were to achieve complete absorption into the white race, think what that would do.  With 50 million Negroes inter-married with us, where would the priesthood be?  Who could hold it, in all America?  Think what that would do to the work of the Church!

Petersen apparently assumed that all 50 million black US citizens in 1954 wanted to marry white people and that 50 million white US citizens wanted to marry those blacks.   Earlier in his speech (p. 5) Petersen said,

[The Negro] is not just seeking the opportunity of sitting down in a café where white people sit.  He isn’t just trying to ride on the same streetcar….[I]t appears that the Negro seeks absorption with the white race.  He will not be satisfied until he achieves it by intermarriage.  That is the objective and we must face it….Remember the little statement that they used to say about sin, “First we pity, then endure, then embrace.”


Desegregation & Social Interaction Are “Slippery Slopes" to Intermarriage...and Evil
Petersen deeply feared desegregation as the top of a slippery slope that would lead to this utter absorption of black into white and white into black, a genetically chaotic mess, and leaving the world thus unworthy of priesthood and temple ordinances.  Allowing blacks and white to mix socially in public, whether on the bus or in schools or at a soda pop counter could only lead America into a downward spiral.  Public acts of sociality would lead to private acts of friendship, becoming then conducive to private acts of love, desire, and commitment, and culminating in public acts of marriage and private acts of black-white mingling through reproductive sexuality.  It seems to me that Petersen here used the priesthood and temple ban as a justification for his own racism.

J. Reuben Clark of the First Presidency in addressing a YWMIA conference in June 1946 about inter-racial marriage, said:

We should hate nobody, and having said that, I wish to urge a word of caution, particularly to you young girls.  It is sought today in certain quarters to break down all race prejudice, and at the end of the road, which they who urge this see, is intermarriage. That is what it finally comes to. Now, you should hate nobody; you should give to every man and every woman, no matter what the color of his or her skin may be, full civil rights. You should treat them as brothers and sisters, but do not ever let that wicked virus get into your systems that brotherhood either permits or entitles you to mix races which are inconsistent.[25]

In 1947, a Mormon in California named Virgil Sponberg wrote to the First Presidency, questioning whether “we as Latter-day Saints [are] required to associate with the Negroes or talk the Gospel to them.”  The First Presidency (then consisting of George Albert Smith, J. Reuben Clark, and David O. McKay) responded by warning against the “slippery slope” of desegregation:

No special effort has ever been made to proselyte among the Negro race, and social intercourse between the Whites and the Negroes should certainly not be encouraged because of leading to intermarriage, which the Lord has forbidden.

This move which has now received some popular approval of trying to break down social barriers between the Whites and the Blacks is one that should not be encouraged because inevitably it means the mixing of the races if carried to its logical conclusion.[26]

Two months later they reaffirmed this in a letter to Dr. Lowry Nelson and LDS professor of sociology: “the intermarriage of the Negro and White races, [is] a concept which has heretofore been most repugnant to most normal-minded people from the ancient patriarchs till now.”[27]

In 1954, Mark E. Petersen told CES employees, “I think the Lord segregated the Negro and who is man to change that segregation?”[28]

Although the church said out one side of its mouth that African Americans deserved “full civil rights”, this however did not include the right to marry the person of their choice.[29]  They denied the civil right for blacks to marry whites “on biological and other grounds” – and discouraged all social intercourse between the two races in order to prevent such marriages:

Again in 1954, the First Presidency directed their secretary, Joseph Anderson, to respond to a correspondent: “[T]he Church is opposed on biological and other grounds, to intermarriage between whites and negroes, and…it discourages all social relationships and associations between the races, as among its members, that might lead to such marriages.” The Presidency also believed that  “all men, without regard to race or color” were entitled to “full civil rights and liberties, social, economic, and political, as provided in the Constitution and laws. . . .” yet remained firmly against the right to marry the person of one’s choice if of another race.[30]

John L. Lund, an LDS author and teacher, clarified Brigham Young’s denunciations of black-white marriage in 1967.  After quoting Young’s statement that the “penalty under the law of God” for such a marriage “is death on the spot. This will always be so,” Lund wrote:

The reason that one would lose his blessings by marrying a Negro is due to the restriction placed upon them. "No person having the least particle of Negro blood can hold the Priesthood." It does not matter if they are one-sixth Negro or one-one hundred and sixth, the curse of no Priesthood is still the same. If an individual who is entitled to the Priesthood marries a Negro, the Lord has decreed that only spirits who are not eligible for the Priesthood will come to that marriage as children. To intermarry with a Negro is to forfeit a "Nation of Priesthood holders".[31]

Bruce R. McConkie, in Mormon Doctrine (still currently being sold), related inter-marriage to divinely decreed caste systems, keeping the races apart:

…In a broad general sense, caste systems have their root and origin in the gospel itself, and when they operate according to the divine decree, the resultant restrictions and segregation are right and proper and have the approval of the Lord. To illustrate; Cain, Ham, and the whole negro race have been cursed with a black skin, the mark of Cain, so they can be identified as a caste apart, a people with whom the other descendants of Adam should not intermarry.[32]


LDS Anti-Miscegenation Dogma Meets Reality

We now turn from what LDS leaders taught about black-white marriage to what happened in the lives of real people.[33]During the Victorian period, several prominent LDS people married light-skinned spouses of African descent and the results were very mixed and contradictory. Most often, nothing happened and these people held priesthood or were endowed and sealed in temples.  Some were not.  Some were allowed to but their children were not or even vice versa. 

In Salt Lake City in 1863, English convert Nathan Meads married his first wife, Rebecca Henrietta Foscue, who was one-fourth African American.  At this time in Utah history, black-white marriages were not illegal, but as shown, their sexual relations were, and were punishable by severe fine and a lengthy prison sentence.  However somehow this couple avoided any legal prosecution.  I have not yet been able to discover if their marriage was simply a civil marriage or if it was a temple sealing.  Their marriage resulted in some eight children, all of whom were reportedly very dark complexioned. Those who made it to adulthood did marry into other LDS families and as far as I can tell, none were denied priesthood ordination or temple participation, although their African ancestry was widely known.  In 1885, the Nathan Meads family came to the attention of President John Taylor, when Taylor’s son first counselor in the Salt Lake Stake, Joseph E. Taylor, wrote to him about another case of black-white marriage.

In this second case, an LDS convert named Mary Bowdidge from the Isle of Guernsey, married an African American man named James Preston Berry in Utah around 1864. By this black man, she had two daughters, Laura Jane and Mary J. Berry.  The interracial marriage ended and Mary Bowdidge then married a white husband named Smith and had one son by him.

Mary Bowdidge’s mixed-race daughter, Laura Jane Berry, came to President John Taylor’s attention when in July 1885, she was courting Hyrum B. Barton, the youngest son of a prominent LDS family in the Salt Lake 14th Ward.  Barton, already married once, wished to have Laura Berry be his polygamous wife.  But, as Joseph E. Taylor wrote to his father in 1885, “the question of his jeopardizing his future by such an alliance has caused a halt.”   Joseph Taylor added that Laura Berry “now desires to press her claim to privileges that others who are tainted with that blood have received.”  During an interview with Joseph Taylor, Laura Berry cited the example of the aforementioned Nathan Meads, with his mixed-race wife, and their children having all married into Mormon families and being endowed and receiving priesthood.  Laura Berry also cited another example of the elder sister of a Mrs. Jones of Logan, but I have been unable to discover who this was due to the scant clues and common name of Jones.  Apparently Mrs. Jones’ elder sister had married a black man but she still received her endowments.  Joseph Taylor, in describing the Nathan Meads case to his father wrote, “Brother Meads is a white man he married his wife many years ago; she was a quadroon and died some three years ago[;] their children (the oldest a girl, is married to a white man) are all very dark.”[34]

After citing these examples to his church president father, Joseph Taylor asked, “Can you give [Laura Berry] any privileges of a like character?  The girl is very pretty and quite white and would not be suspected as having tainted blood in her veins unless her parentage was known.”  I do not have a reply from President John Taylor, but that same month Laura Berry polygamously married Hyrum B. Barton and they had a large family together, who all apparently remained faithful Mormons, so John Taylor must have approved of the interracial marriage.

The First Presidency was confronted with another case in 1895 when “a white Sister who married a negro man entreat[ed] for permission to receive her ordinances.”  Franklin D. Richards, who was present, wrote only in his journal, “but [she was] refused.”  A month later, in September 1895, Richards again recorded in his journal a case so similar that it must refer to the first case.  This case involved none other than Mary Bowdidge Berry herself, the white mother of Laura Berry.  Now that her mixed-race daughter had married a good Mormon man and she herself had married a white man, Mary Bowdidge wished to be endowed and sealed to her new husband and their son.  However, as a penalty for having previously married a black man, she was denied entrance into the temple.[35]

Two years later, one of the most fascinating cases regarding black-white marriage and its varied, even wildly contradictory consequences, came before the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve.  A young Mormon named John Taylor Church, having just turned 21 on January 28, received his Patriarchal Blessing in Oasis, Millard, Utah on February 12, 1900, under the hands of Patriarch John Ashman.[36]  John Taylor Church was told in his blessing that he was of the lineage of Ephraim, would receive the priesthood and fulfill a mission for the LDS Church.  There was only one small problem with all of this.  John Taylor Church’s mother was mulatto.  And not just mulatto, but a former Tennessee slave.  Having been promised the priesthood and a mission call, neighbors of the Church family began to question “the right of this party to hold the Priesthood, some holding that he might do so provided the white blood predominates.”  The case was then brought before Pres. Lorenzo Snow, and the Quorum of the Twelve on March 1, 1900, just two weeks after the controversial blessing was given.  A letter was read to the church leaders from Ira N. Hinckley explaining the controversy brewing in Millard County.  Again George Q. Cannon was the lead in the discussions of race, this time quoting things that Joseph Smith never actually said.  Most were Brigham Young’s words that Cannon attributed to Smith.[37]

John Taylor Church, despite the promise in his blessing, was denied permission to receive the priesthood, to perform temple ordinances, and to go on a mission.  He apostatized from the LDS church and later became the mayor of Eureka, Utah, although years later he returned. But this story is not over. In fact, it’s barely begun.  His mother, Harriet Elnora Birchet Church was born a slave in 1843 in Shady Grove, Tennessee.  Sometime before 1850, little Harriet was purchased by Thomas H. Church, a young man who had just married and started his own family.  Around 1858, when Harriet was only 15, Thomas H. Church had sexual relations with his slave, Harriet, and she became pregnant with a daughter to be named Laura.  Thomas’s white wife, Nancy Maria Bryan Church, died three years later in 1861.  During the Civil War, Thomas Church served the Confederate Army as a 2nd Lieutenant in a cavalry battalion.[38]

Immediately upon his return to Maury County, Tennessee after the war, Thomas Church “married” his slave girl, Harriet Elnora Birchet, and acknowledged her daughter Laura as his own.  I say “married” because in fact, miscegenation was illegal in Tennessee.  The former slave master and slave then formally began a large mixed-race family of what would eventually be 11 children.  Thomas H. Church, his slave-turned-wife, and his children converted to Mormonism in Tennessee about 1877, due to the fact that Thomas’ older brother had converted decades earlier, moved to Nauvoo in the 1840s and on to Utah.[39]

I have corresponded with two LDS descendants of Thomas Church and his former slave, Harriet Birchet, and neither of them knew anything about Harriet’s biography prior to arriving in Utah, and had no idea she and they were of African descent and had been Thomas’s slave.  To my utter surprise they informed me that in 1903, three years after her son’s case came before the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve (and lost), Harriet Elnora Birchet herself was endowed and sealed in the temple to her husband – and former slave master – Thomas H. Church.  I think it is significant that, as a white man and a black woman, instead of vice versa, this sealing maintains strict patriarchal notions of male masterhood and female servitude.[40]

It is also my belief that Harriet Church is the only former slave, male or female, ever to be endowed and sealed in an LDS temple.  Oddly, five of her children were allowed to participate in temple ritual as well but the other six were not.  While John Taylor Church was denied the priesthood (at least initially), some of his siblings participated in the following ordinances while they were living, and eventually even John was allowed to be endowed before he died:

Temple Ordinances for Harriet Elnora Birchet Church's children:

  • Mary Ann - Endowed in 1879 (Died 1925)
  • Robert Robins - Endowed & Sealed to Spouse in 1901 (Died 1934)
  • Harriet Gertrude - Endowed & Sealed to Spouse in 1904 (Died 1963)
  • Arizona - Endowed & Sealed to Spouse in 1909 (Died 1962)
  • John Taylor - Endowed in 1952 (Died 1965)[41

Again, curiously, in January 1902, a year before Thomas and Harriet Church were sealed in the temple, another case came before the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve.  Rudger Clawson, in visiting the Sevier, Utah Stake had met with a woman who was about to marry into a local Richfield family.  Her fiancé was one-eighth black through his mother, and this bride-to-be asked Clawson “if the fact of his having inherited negro blood would be a bar to his receiving the priesthood and endowments.”  Although the unnamed woman did not ask, apparently she intended to be sealed interracially to him as well.  Clawson did not have a response for her and took her question to his colleagues.[42]

In response, Pres. Joseph F. Smith said “presidents Young and Taylor were emphatic in denying to any person receiving the priesthood or endowments who had negro blood in their veins.”  John Henry Smith rebutted “it seemed to him that persons in whose veins white blood predominated should not be barred from the temple.”  Joseph F. Smith’s final opinion was “in all cases where the blood of Cain showed itself, however slight, the line should be drawn there; but where children of tainted parents were found to be pure Ephraimites, they might be admitted to the temple.” Rudger Clawson informed the LDS councils that this was an answer to his question and was satisfied with it.[43]

An extreme of a sort was achieved in August 28, 1947, when the Quorum upheld a decision by John Widtsoe denying a temple recommend to a “sister having one thirty-second of negro blood in her veins” (one black great-great-great grandparent). Widstoe did question “whether in such cases the individual . . . might be recommended to the temple for marriage,” but policy prevailed, and she received no temple recommend.[44]


Miscegenation Denounced in the Deseret News (1864-1910)

37 articles denouncing miscegenation appeared in the pages of the Deseret News from 1864-1910.  That’s an article every year and three months, on the average.  Here is a partial list of these articles (with some downloadable as PDFs):

Deseret Weekly News

“The Presidential Campaign,” May 25, 1864, p. 3
“Varieties,” November 23, 1864, p. 5
“Senator Wilson Has Made a Speech!” May 8, 1867, p. 4
“A Methodist Preacher on Miscegenation,” February 24, 1869, p. 3
 “Editorials,” March 5, 1871, p. 2
“Correspondence,” December 9, 1874, p. 10
“Black vs. White,” March 3, 1875, p. 15
“Editorials,” July 28, 1875, p. 2
“Bad Law and Good-George ‘Christianity’”, November 5, 1879, p. 13
“By Telegraph,” August 16, 1882, p. 13
“By Telegraph,” February 7, 1883, p. 10
“By Telegraph,” September 3, 1884, p. 10
“An Unsavory Affair,” December 3, 1884, p. 6
“Society in the South,” November 18, 1885, p. 14
“Mr. Jefferson,” December 3, 1892, p. 20
“General Items,” March 4, 1893, p. 32

Deseret Evening News

“Who May Vote in Alabama,” June 26, 1901, p. 1
“Favors Miscegenation,” February 28, 1903, p. 3
“The American Negroe [sic],” March 28, 1904, p. 8.
“Contract Marriages Now,” January 5, 1907, p. 18
“Eighteen Years for Miscegenation,” January 21, 1909, p. 2
“Local News,” June 8, 1910, p. 4

These articles included cries of indignation against the whole idea, relieved reports of various states enacting laws banning miscegenation, and court case reports about inter-racial marriages happening in New England, Detroit, San Francisco, Texas, Washington DC. I also found one egregiously offensive advertisement in the Mormon-run Salt Lake Herald from 1910.  Due to time constraints of this symposium, I an touch on only one of these Deseret News articles and then the ad from the Salt Lake Herald.

George Q. Cannon, counselor in the First Presidency who had already made his anti-miscegenation views quite clear in several public statements, as well as helping to establish race-based policies for the church, wrote a special editorial for the Deseret News on March 25, 1893 (p. 14), decrying miscegenation and supporting racial eugenics, white (especially Celto-Germanic) supremacy, and parental involvement in choosing spouses for LDS youth to maintain racial purity.

The following is a brief excerpt (or click here to download the whole editorial as a PDF):

A friend who is a very prominent man in public life, remarked to me the other day that one of the great questions which was forcing itself upon the attention of thinking men concerning the future of the Republic, is the conflict of races.  In the South the white and colored elements are brought in close proximity to each other, and with bad results.  In the Northern States, he said, there was a great influx of low foreign element which was having a bad effect upon character of the population, and was likely to contribute to the degradation of the Caucasian type.  He deplored the tendency there was in many quarters to look with toleration, and in some instances with encouragement, upon miscegenation….In the South the colored people were increasing very rapidly, and the admixture of the white blood with them was hybridizing the race and gradually destroying the higher type….The people of Utah are to be congratulated upon their position.  The purity of the Caucasian race is more likely to be preserved in our Territory than in many other portions of the United States.  In the first place there is a well-founded dislike to inter-marriage or intimate association with inferior races.

Herald Ad from 1910
Salt Lake Herald, February 1, 1910, p. 6
(Click on Image to Enlarge the Ad from the Herald)

The Direct Effect of Miscegenation on Innocent Women – and Babies
This is a subject about which people have thought it “improper” to talk, or even think.  The result is shown in figures – to it is due 65 per cent. of the surgical operations on good women and one-third of all blindness in babies; it is ten times as contagious as leprosy, and causes more deaths than tuberculosis – and it thrives only because it is tabooed in speech.  Plain and public words are necessary.  The story is told in Pearson’s Magazine for February.  It is a revelation of the effect of the depravity of man and the thoughtlessness of youth.  It will offend prudes, but right is always right.  It is the most important story to young men and women that has been printed.  Buy this magazine now.


Mormon Anti-Miscegenation in Utah Law

Brigham Young addressed the Utah territorial legislature on January 6, 1852 to push through a law that not only legalized slavery in the territory but also made black-white sexual relations illegal.  As recorded by Wilford Woodruff in his journal, Young first explained to the legislature about Cain’s murder of Abel and his subsequent curse.  God then marked Cain with black skin so all would see his curse, and his descendants would all be likewise cursed and marked.  Young then explained, “Any man having one drop of the seed of Cane in him Cannot hold the priesthood & if no other Prophet ever spake it Before I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ. I know it is true & they know it.”  Young then addressed intermarriage with “the seed of Cain”:

Let me consent to day to mingle my seed with the seed of Cane[,] It would Bring the same [Priesthood] curse upon me And it would upon any man.  And if any man mingles his seed with the seed of Cane the ownly way he Could get rid of it or have salvation would be to Come forward & have his head Cut off & spill his Blood upon the ground.  It would also take the life of his Children….Whenever the seed of Judah mingled with the seed of Cane they lost their priesthood & all Blessings.

As an Ensample let the Presidency, Twelve Seventies High Priest[s] Bishops & all the Authorities say now we will all go & mingles with the seed of Cane and they may have all the privilege they want.  We lift our hands to heaven in support of this.  That moment we loose the priesthood & all Blessings & we weould not be redeemed untill Cane was.  I will never admit of it for a moment.[45]

Thus marriage, sexual intercourse, and reproduction between the chosen seed and the cursed seed bore eternal consequences of such a heinous nature that the only way to expiate for this deed, would be for the white person to voluntarily “come forward” and be ritually killed by his priesthood superiors in an act of blood atonement, along with his or her mixed-race children.  Young ended his speech by declaring that blacks were by their very nature suited to serve, while whites were given the role of ruler.  Preventing marriage between whites and blacks preserved this divine social order and prevented the Devil from ruling over the righteous by gaining power through mixed-race children.  Young said, “The Devil would like to rule part of the time But I am determin[ed] He shall not rule at all and Negros shall not rule us….We must guard against all Evil.”

A month later, again addressing the legislature on the topic of divine slavery, Cain, the natural right of whites to rule and blacks to serve, and blood atonement for black-white marriages:

Were the children of God to mingle there seed with the seed of Cain it would not only bring the curse of being deprived of the power of the preisthood upon them[selves] but they entail it upon their children after them, and they cannot get rid of it. If a man in an ungaurded moment should commit such a transgression, if he would walk up and say cut off my head, and [we then] kill man woman and child it would do a great deal towards atoneing for the sin. Would this be to curse them? no it would be a blessing to them.— it would do them good that they might be saved with their Bren [brethren]. A man would shuder should they here us take [talk] about killing folk, but it is one of the greatest blessings to some to kill them, allthough the true principles of it are not understood.[46]

Young’s law of course unanimously passed the all GA legislature.  It is one of the few state or territorial laws in the history of the US to prohibit sex, instead of marriage.  Section 4 not only prohibits slave owners (male or female) from having sex with their “servants” but all black-white sex was made illegal:

1852 Territorial Law
1852 Territorial Law
(Click on Image to Enlarge)

Sec. 4.  That if any master or mistress shall have sexual or carnal intercourse with his or her servant or servants of the African race, he or she shall forfeit all claim to said servant or servants to the commonwealth; and if any white person shall be guilty of sexual intercourse with any of the African race, they shall be subject, on conviction thereof to a fine of not exceeding one thousand dollars, nor less than five hundred, to the use of the Territory, and imprisonment, not exceeding three years.[47]

During John Taylor's presidency, Utah’s all non-Mormon territorial legislature passed an anti-miscegenation law on March 8, 1888 prohibiting marriages between a "negro" or "mongolian" and a "white person". It was part of an anti-polygamy law that the mostly non-Mormon legislature passed right at the height of anti-polygamy sentiment in America, and followed closely on the heels of other western states to include the Chinese and Japanese in miscegenation laws.

In 1939 Utah extended its anti-miscegenation statute to prohibit a "white" from marrying a "Mongolian, a member of the malay race [Filipino] or a mulatto, quadroon, or octoroon….”  This came as a result of the United States taking over the Philippines.  From 1945 to 1951, the Utah legislature voted down four bills that would enact integration of public accommodations and equal employment opportunities for African Americans.  As Lester Bush noted, “the ultimate argument advanced against a change in [legislative] policy was that it would lead to miscegenation.”[48]

In 1961, the Utah chapter of the ACLU, spurred on by support from an activist SL County Clerk and the County Attorney’s office (who felt the laws were unjust and wanted to see them challenged in court), tried to find mixed-race couples to sue to repeal the law, but none wanted the ensuing publicity.[49] Utah’s legislature finally rescinded the state’s anti-miscegenation law in April 1963.[50]

The Salt Lake NAACP chapter had intensely lobbied the state legislature for major civil rights reforms and in April Conference, Hugh B. Brown read a statement from the pulpit calling “upon all men [sic] everywhere, both within and outside the Church, to commit themselves to the establishment of full civil equality for all of God’s children.  Anything less than this defeats our high ideal of the brotherhood of man.”  Despite the NAACP lobbying and Brown’s unequivocal statement in support of civil rights for everyone, regardless, rescinding the anti-miscegenation law was the only bit of civil rights legislation that was passed, disappointing people of color and their allies throughout the state.

It was in this context that about a month later, Apostle Ezra Taft Benson in Logan, Utah denounced the entire civil rights movement as a Communist conspiracy.  The Deseret News reported Benson as saying,

The whole slogan of ‘civil rights’ as used to make trouble in the South today, is an exact parallel to the slogan of ‘agrarian reform’ which they [Communists] used in China….The pending ‘civil rights legislation is, I am convinced, about 10 per cent civil rights and 90 per cent a further extension of socialistic federal controls….It is part of the pattern for the communist take-over of America.[51]

Benson again reiterated this in April 1965, after returning from Europe.  Benson’s controversial statement was subsequently deleted from the official Conference Report:  “What are we doing to fight it?  Before I left Europe I warned how the Communists were using the civil rights movement to promote revolution and eventual takeover of this country.  When are we going to wake up?”[52]

The U. S. Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia in 1967 nationally ended bans against interracial marriage.  (However, Alabama kept its racist law on the books until the year 2000, the last state to do so.)

In 1978, with the removal of the priesthood ban by Spencer Kimball, any justification for banning black-white marriages within LDS temples ended, although some LDS General Authorities, such as Apostle Boyd K. Packer, reportedly continued to discourage or even prohibit them for a few years afterward.

In researching this paper, when coming across the statements and theological arguments that LDS leaders made against black-white marriage, most of the time I was reminded of just how similar, even identical, these sounded to my ears in relation to the arguments now presented by LDS leaders against homosexuality and same-sex marriage. 

Currently the LDS Church fully accepts black-white civil marriages and has performed black-white sealings in temples for more than thirty years – and the feared and promised destruction of humanity has not taken place.  What was once a dire sin and shameful practice, utterly prohibited because of the enormous social, political, spiritual, and soteriological consequences for all of humanity, is no longer a heinous sin and has now been embraced, accepted, and celebrated by the faithful.  With this clear and near-perfect precedent set, I can only demand to know how soon before LDS leaders will allow same-sex couples the free agency to marry, even civilly, those whom we love?


I wish to express my deepest gratitude to the many friends who helped me with research and finding original sources, especially Michael Marquardt, Erin Jennings, Stephen Fleming, Stirling Adams, Vickie Speek, Patrick Polk (of the UCLA World Arts & Cultures program), Martha Mayo (Director of the Center for Lowell History at U-Mass Lowell), and the staff at UCSC's McHenry Library Interlibrary Loan Department. Also to Newell G. Bringhurst, Margaret Young, and Darius Gray for their support of and belief in me and my research and writing skills on Black LDS history. And to all the members of the Elkader Clan and all "my Mormons" of the Santa Cruz Stake. And especially to Dr. Peggy Pascoe, my undergraduate advisor at the University of Utah (now at the University of Oregon), who started me on this incredible journey by introducing me to African American history.



1. Lester E. Bush, “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 8:1 (Spring 1973), p. 42.

2.Throughout this paper I tried to refrain from using terms like amalgamation, miscegenation, and interracial marriage – unless quoting others.  Instead I opted for more convoluted, but accurate, phrases like “black-white marriage” or "intermarriage between blacks and whites".  The term “melaleukation” was invented in the 1860s to refer to black-white intermixing (sexual and marital) but never caught on like its coeval neologism, miscegenation; both were invented by the same author.  This paper is only about LDS beliefs and practices regarding marriage between white Euro-Americans and those of black African descent; no other racial groups are included in my study because white Mormon leaders generally have not been opposed to interracial marriage with any other racial groups.  However, for example, see the Deseret News editorial criticizing the marriage of a white California woman to a man of Japanese birth (“Local News,” Deseret Evening News, June 8, 1910, p. 4).

3. Proposition 8 refers to the California state proposition which passed in November 2008, defining “marriage” as being only between a man and a woman.  The LDS Church and its members heavily financed the extremely expensive proposition and its marketing under direct orders from their First Presidency.  It is also reported that every “Zip Code Captain” in the state of California for the “Yes on 8” campaign was a member of the LDS Church.

4. Cambridge [Massachusetts] Marriage Register, September 18, 1846, vol. 25, p. 12.

5. Mary Matilda was born April 5, 1827 in Chester and her parents were married there on March 22, 1829.

6. See “Pounds to Dollars Historical Conversion of Currency” calculator online at http://uwacadweb.uwyo.edu/rummage/Currency.htm (accessed March 9, 2009).

7. See “Legislative”, The Liberator, January 8, 1831, p. 7.   Other calls for the repeal were made May 7, 1831, January 28, February 11, and March 31, 1832, February 4, 1841, and February 24, 1843.

8. Leon F. Lilac, North of Slavery: The Negro in Free States, (University of Chicago Press, 1965), pp. 105-106.

9. William I. Appleby to Brigham Young, May 19, 1847, LDS Archives, copy in my possession.

10. Autobiography and Journal of William Appleby, June 16, 1847, LDS Archives, photocopy in my possession.

11. D. Michael Quinn, Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994), p. 636.

12. February 8, 1844, Nauvoo Municipal Court minutes, per D. Michael Quinn email to Connell O'Donovan, May 15, 2006.

13. Robert Campbell journal, March 1, 1847, p. 56, located at L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library, Brigham Young University; "A Protest of Orson Hyde," True LDS Herald, March 1861, vol. II, no 1, p. 5.

14. Warner McCary is one of the strangest, most fascinating and mysterious characters in US and LDS history, yet his story remains largely unknown and untold.  Warner was born about 1811 in Natchez, Mississippi to a white carpenter from Pennsylvania named James McCary and his slave, Francis or “Franky.”  Warner had two older siblings, Kitty and Robert, also from the same father and same mother.  When Warner was about four, his father died.  James McCary’s will emancipated Franky and the two eldest children, Kitty and Robert.  However, Warner remain enslaved to serve his mother and two siblings “during all and each of their lives.”  Warner unhappily grew up in this extremely bizarre situation but eventually as a young man, he escaped. It is likely that he took on more than a dozen aliases, many of them as a "Native American," in order to both reinvent and reimagine his unhappy childhood, and to make his way and a living as an escaped slave in a white-dominant world.

15. William Smith is known to have ordained Walker Lewis to LDS priesthood and he may have also ordained Walker’s son, Enoch Lovejoy Lewis.

16. This is taken from Matthew 19:12, in a discussion about marriage and divorce, which is apparently about Gay people, the castrated, and celibates as eunuchs: “For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.”

17. Thomas Bullock, Quorum of the 12 Minutes, December 3, 1847, pp. 6-7.

18. Juvenile Instructor, (1868) Vol. 3, p. 165.

19. “And I have been told that pure white blood through intermarriage with any other blood runs out in four generations. I am told that negro blood will persist up to eight generations. There seems to be something in that accursed blood that will not yield to white blood….” in Daily Journal of John M. Whitaker, March 27, 1913, in the University of Utah Library.

20. Wilford Woodruff Journal, undated entry between January 4, 1852 and February 8, 1852, pp. 97-99.

21. Journal of Discourses, (Liverpool: F. D. and S.W. Richards, 1854), Vol. 1, p. 110.

22. "Excerpts From The Weekly Council Meetings Of The Quorum Of the Twelve Apostles, Dealing With The Rights of Negroes In the Church, 1849–1940," George Albert Smith Papers, University of Utah Library.

23. Journal of Discourses, vol. 22, p. 304.

24. Race Problems—As They Affect the Church, speech by Mark E. Petersen to church religion instructors, BYU, August 27, 1954.

25. Improvement Era, August 1946, (49:492).

26. First Presidency to Virgil H. Sponberg, May 5, 1947, in Bennion papers, as quoted in Bush, “Negro Doctrine,” p. 44.

27. First Presidency to Dr. Lowry Nelson, July 17, 1947, quoted in John J. Stewart, Mormonism and the Negro: An Explanation and Defense of the Doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints In Regard to Negroes and Others of Negroid Blood (Orem, Utah: Bookmark/Community Press Publishing, 1964), p. 47, with citation information on p. 55 note 20.

28. Mark E. Petersen, “Race Problems – As they Affect the Church,” August 27, 1954, as quoted in Lester E. Bush, Compilation on the Negro in Mormonism, pp. 260-261.

29. The reverse of this also is that anyone white who was in love with a black person could not marry either.

30. Joseph Anderson to Chauncey D. Harris, May 4, 1954, copy in my possession.

31. John L. Lund, The Church and the Negro, (Salt Lake City: Paramount Publishers, 1967), pp. 54-55

32. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991), p. 114.

33. Most of the biographical information contained in this section is from my own original research.  Some information on these people can be found at familysearch.org.

34. Joseph E. Taylor to President John Taylor September 5, 1885, LDS Archives, John Taylor Letter file, b1346, Box 20, file #3, typed copy in my possession.

35. Franklin D. Richards diary, September 25, 1895.  Richards at the time was both an Apostle and Church Historian.

36. “John Taylor Church,” February 12, 1900, Patriarchal Blessings, vol. 484, p. 187, LDS Archives; cited in Patriarchal Blessing Index, LDS Archives.

37. First Presidency Minutes, March 1, 1900; Quorum of the Twelve Minutes, March 1, 1900; George F. Gibbs to John M. Whitaker, January 18, 1909; Abraham Owen Woodruff diary, March 1, 1900; typescripts in my possession.

38. Marriage records of Maury County, Tennessee; 1850 Census of Maury County, Tennessee; 1850 and 1860 Slave Schedules of Maury County, Tennessee; familysearch.com; Confederate Soldier records, ancestry.com.

39. “Haden Wells Church,” earlylds.com (accessed January 10, 2009).  “Haden Wells Church,” Pioneer Company Database, lds.org.

40. Confidential emails to Connell O’Donovan, July 16 and July 20, 2008.

41. Ditto.

42. Quorum of the Twelve Minutes, January 2, 1902, typescript in my possession.

43. Minutes of the Quorum of the Twelve, January 2, 1902, transcription in my possession.

44. Minutes of the Quorum of the Twelve, August 28, 1947, in Lowell Bennion papers.

45. Wilford Woodruff Journal, undated entry between January 4, 1852 and February 8, 1852, pp. 97-99.

46. George D. Watts, “Speech by Governor Young (expressing his views on slavery) given in Joint Session of the Legislature etc.”, February 5, 1852, Brigham Young papers, LDS Archives.

47. “An Act in Relation to Service”, Acts, Resolutions, and Memorials Passed by the First Annual, and Special Sessions, of the Legislative Assembly, of the Territory of Utah, 1852, printed by Brigham Young Jr.

48. Lester Bush, “Negro Doctrine,” p. 67, footnote 196.

49. Peggy Pascoe, What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 240-241.

50. Alice Kasai, “Repeal of Utah Mixed Marriage Ban Held Likely,” Pacific Citizen, February 1, 1963, p. 1, and “Utah Repeals Anti-Miscegenation Law for Only Civil Rights Action This Session,” Pacific Citizen, April 19, 1963, p. 1.

51. Gregory A. Prince and William R. Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005), p. 70.

52. “Benson Ties Rights Issue to Reds in Mormon Rift,” Washington Post, April 13, 1965, as quoted in Prince, McKay, p. 71 and footnote 48, and p. 420.



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