Thursday, December 31, 1970

the position of the Church with regard to the Negro (1969)

The following is a letter from the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the membership clarifying the confusion regarding the Church's position regarding the Civil Rights Movement. I am reprinting it here because it's hard to find elsewhere, and I find it a very interesting document in chronicling the Church's changing attitude toward African Americans.

December 15, 1969

To General Authorities, Regional Representatives of the Twelve, Stake Presidents, Mission Presidents, and Bishops

Dear Brethren:

In view of the confusion that has arisen, it was decided at a meeting of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve to restate the position of the Church with regard to the Negro both in society and in the Church.

First, may we say that we know something of the sufferings of those who are discriminated against in a denial of their civil rights and Constitutional privileges. Our early history as a Church is a tragic story of persecution and oppression. Our people repeatedly were denied the protection of the law. They were driven and plundered, robbed and murdered by mobs, who were in many instances aided and abetted by those sworn to uphold the law. We as a people have experienced the bitter fruits of civil discrimination and mob violence.

We believe that the Constitution of the United States was divinely inspired, that it produced by "wise men" whom God raised up for this "very purpose," and that the principles embodied in the Constitution are so fundamental and important that, if possible, they should be extended "for the rights and protection" of all mankind.

In revelations received by the first prophet of the Church in this dispensation, Joseph Smith made it clear that it is "not right that any man should be in bondage one to another." These words were spoken prior to the civil war. From these and other revelations have sprung the Church's deep and historic concern with man's free agency and our commitment to the sacred principles of the Constitution.

It follows, therefore, that we believe the Negro, as well as those of other races should have his constitutional privileges as a member of society, and we hope members of the Church everywhere will do their part as citizens to see that these rights are held inviolate. Each citizen must have equal opportunities and protection under the law with reference to civil rights.

However, matters of faith, conscience, and theology are not within the purview of the civil law. The first amendment to the Constitution specifically provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

The position of THE CHURCH of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints affecting those of the Negro race who choose to join the Church falls wholly within the category of religion. It has no bearing upon matters of civil rights. In no case or degree does it deny to the Negro his full privileges as a citizen of the nation.

This position has no relevancy whatever to those who do not wish to join the Church. Those individuals, we suppose, do not believe in the divine origin and nature of the Church, nor that we have the priesthood of God. Therefore, if they feel we have no priesthood, they should have no concern with any aspect of our theology on priesthood so long as that theology does not deny any man his constitutional privileges.
A word of explanation concerning the position of the Church:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owes its origin, its existence, and its hope for the future to the principle of continuous revelation. "We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God."

From the beginning of this dispensation, Joseph Smith and all succeeding Presidents of the Church have taught that Negroes, while spirit children of a common Father, and the progeny of our earthly parents Adam and Eve, were not yet to receive the priesthood, for reasons which we believe are known to God, but which he has not made fully known to man. Our living prophet, President David O. McKay, has said, "The seeming discrimination by the Church toward the Negro is not something which originated with man; but goes back into the beginning with God .... "Revelation assures us that this plan antedates man's mortal existence, extending back to man's preexistent state. President McKay has also said,

"Sometime in God's eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the priesthood." Until God reveals his will in this matter, to him whom we sustain as a prophet, we are bound by that same will. Priesthood, when conferred on any man comes as a blessing from God, not of men. We feel nothing but love, compassion, and the deepest appreciation for the rich talents, endowments, and the earnest strivings of our Negro brothers and sisters. We are eager to share with men of all races the blessings of the gospel. We have no racially segregated congregations.

Were we the leaders of an enterprise created by ourselves and operated only according to our own earthly wisdom, it would be a simple thing to act according to popular will. But we believe that this work is directed by God and that the conferring of the priesthood must await his revelation. To do otherwise would be to deny the very premise on which the Church is established.

We recognize that those who do not accept the principle of modern revelation may oppose our point of view. We repeat that such would not wish for membership in the Church, and therefore the question of priesthood should hold no interest for them. Without prejudice they should grant us the privilege afforded under the Constitution to exercise our chosen form of religion, just as we must grant all others a similar privilege. They must recognize that the question of bestowing or withholding priesthood in the Church is a matter of religion and not a matter of constitutional right.

We extend the hand of friendship to men everywhere and the hand of fellowship to all who wish to join the Church and partake of the many rewarding opportunities to be found therein. We join with those throughout the world who pray that all of the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ may in the due time of the Lord become available to men of faith everywhere. Until that time comes we must trust in God, in his wisdom, and in his tender mercy.

Meanwhile we must strive harder to emulate his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, whose new commandment it was that we should love one another. In developing that love and concern for one another, while awaiting revelations yet to come, let us hope that with respect to these religious differences, we may gain reinforcement for understanding and appreciation for such differences. They challenge our common similarities, as children of one Father, to enlarge the outreaching of our divine souls.

Faithfully your brethren,

/SS/David O. McKay
/SS/ Hugh B. Brown
/SS/ N. Eldon Tanner

Friday, December 25, 1970

Excerpt from Doctrinal Commentary on the Pearl of Great Price

Excerpt from
Doctrinal Commentary on the Pearl of Great Price
Hyrum L. Andrus
Chapter 12

First published in 1967

Hyrum L. Andrus taught Pearl of Great Price classes at Brigham Young University.

The former decree of God concerning the Negro [i.e. the one found in the Pearl of Great Price] has been reaffirmed in modern times. According to George Q. Cannon, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught the following doctrine: "That the seed of Cain could not receive the Priesthood nor act in any of the offices of the Priesthood until the seed of Abel should come forward and take precedence over Cain's off-spring." Other reports confirm the fact that Joseph Smith taught that the Negro cannot yet receive the priesthood. In May, 1879, President John Taylor and other prominent men in the Church who had known the Prophet personally discussed the status of the Negro. Among these men was Zebedee Coltrin, who was intimately associated with Joseph Smith and had been appointed by him a member of the First Council of Seventy, when that Council was organized in this dispensation. President Taylor opened the discussion with the comment:

Some parties have said to me that Zebedee Coltrin had talked to the Prophet Joseph Smith on this subject, and they said that he (Coltrin) thought it was not right for them [i.e., Negroes] to have the Priesthood. Whereupon, Joseph Smith said to him that Peter, on a certain occasion had a vision wherein he saw heaven open, and a certain vessel descended unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth, wherein were all manner of four footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise Peter! Kill and eat, but Peter said, Not so Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common (speaking of the Gentiles).

President Taylor then asked Brother Coltrin, "Did the Prophet Joseph Smith ever make such a statement to you?"

Brother Coltrin, "No sir, he never said anything of the kind in his life to me."

President Taylor, "What did he say?"

Brother Coltrin, "The spring that we went up in Zion's Camp, in 1834, Brother Joseph sent Brother J. P. Greene and me out south to gather up means to assist in gathering out the Saints from Jackson County, Mo. On our return home, we got into a conversation about the Negro having the right to the Priesthood, and I took the side that he had no right. Brother Greene argued that he had. The subject got so warm between us that he said he would report me to Brother Joseph when we got home, for preaching false doctrine, which doctrine that I advocated was that the Negro could not hold the Priesthood. 'All right,' I said, 'I hope you will.' And when we got home to Kirtland, we both went in to Brother Joseph's office together, to make our returns; and Brother Greene was as good as his word, and reported to Brother Joseph that I had said that the Negro could not hold the Priesthood. Brother Joseph kind of dropped his head and rested it on his hand for a minute, and then said, 'Brother Zebedee is right, for the Spirit of God saith the Negro has no right nor cannot hold the Priesthood.' He made no reference to scripture at all. But such was his decision. I don't recollect ever having any conversation with him [on the subject] afterwards, but I have heard him say in public, that no person having the least particle of Negro blood can hold the Priesthood." . . .

President Abraham O. Smoot said, "D. W. Patten, Warren Parrish, and Thomas B. Marsh were laboring in the Southern States in 1835 and 1836. There were Negroes, who made application for baptism, and the question arose with them whether Negroes were entitled to hold the Priesthood; and by those brethren it was decided they would not confer the Priesthood until they had consulted the Prophet Joseph. Subsequently they communicated with him and his decision, as I understood, was they were not entitled to the Priesthood, nor yet to be baptized without the consent of their masters. In after years, when I became acquainted with Joseph myself in Far West, about the year 1838, I received from Joseph substantially the same instructions. It was on my application to him what should be done with the Negro in the South, as I was preaching to them. He said I could baptize them by consent of their masters, but not to confer the Priesthood upon them."

Those men who knew Joseph Smith and received their understanding of the priesthood and its rights from him taught the same doctrine that he expressed. Brigham Young stated: Cain conversed with his God every day, and knew all about the plan of creating this earth, for his father told him. But, for the want of humility, and through jealousy, and an anxiety to possess the kingdom, and to have the whole of it under his own control, and not allow any body else the right to say one word, what did he do? He killed his brother. The Lord put a mark on him. . . . When all the other children of Adam have had the privilege of receiving the Priesthood, and of coming into the kingdom of God, and of being redeemed from the four quarters of the earth, and have received their resurrection from the dead, then it will be time enough to remove the curse from Cain and his posterity. He deprived his brother of the privilege of pursuing his journey through life, and of extending his kingdom by multiplying upon the earth; and because he did this, he is the last to share the joys of the kingdom of God.

The fact that descendants of Cain are presently denied the right to hold the priesthood is not based wholly upon the actions of their fathers. Deeper reasons go back into the pre-earth life, to the appointments that were made in sending spirits into the world to obtain bodies among the several families of the earth. Here one must understand the great doctrinal points taught in the Pearl of Great Price concerning the placement of man on earth. The problem must be viewed in light of the demands of eternal truth and justice, not merely in light of an immediate issue, for man is an eternal entity and God deals with him accordingly. In a letter to a student at Brigham Young University, President David O. McKay expressed his views on the subject as follows:

In your letter to me of October 28, 1947, you say that you and some of your fellow students have been "perturbed about the question of why the Negro race cannot hold the Priesthood."

In reply I send you the following thoughts that I expressed to a friend on the same subject:

Stated briefly your problem is simply this . . . Since, as Paul states, "the Lord hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on the face of the earth," why is there shown in the Church of Christ discrimination against the colored race? . . .

I believe, as you suggest, that the real reason dates back to our pre-existent life. This means that the true answer to your question (and it is the only one that has given me any satisfaction) has its foundations in faith . . . (1) Faith in a God of justice, (2) Faith in the existence of an eternal plan of salvation for all God's children. . . .

It was the Lord who said that Pharaoh, the first governor of Egypt, though a righteous man, blessed with the blessings of the earth, with the blessings of wisdom . . . "could not have the right of the Priesthood."

Now if we have faith in the justice of God, we are forced to the conclusion that this denial was not a deprivation of merited right. It may have been entirely in keeping with the eternal plan of salvation for all the children of God.

Revelation assures us that this plan antedates man's mortal existence, extending back to man's pre-existent state. . . .

Manifestly, from this revelation ("Abr. 3:22"Abr. 3:23Abraham 3:22-23) we may infer two things: first that there were among those spirits different degrees of intelligence, varying grades of achievement, retarded and advanced spiritual attainments; second that there were no national distinctions among these spirits such as Americans, Europeans, Asiatics, Australians, etc. Such "bounds of habitation" would have to be "determined" when the spirits entered upon their earthly existence or second estate. . . .

If in their eagerness to take upon themselves bodies, the spirits were willing to come through any lineage for which they were worthy, or to which they were attracted, then they were given the full reward of merit, and were satisfied, yes, even blessed.

Accepting this theory of life, we have a reasonable explanation of existing conditions in the habitations of man. How the law of spiritual attraction works between the spirit and the expectant parents has not been revealed, neither can finite minds fully understand. . . .

By the operation of some eternal law which men do not yet understand, spirits come through the parentage for which they are worthy—some as Bushmen of Australia, some as Solomon Islanders, some as Americans, as Europeans, as Asiatics, etc., with all the varying degrees of mentality and spirituality manifest in the parents of the different races that inhabit the earth.

Of this we may be sure, each was satisfied and happy to come through the lineage for which he or she was prepared.

The Priesthood was given to those chosen as leaders. There were many who could not receive it, yet who knew that it was possible for them at some time in the eternal plan to achieve that honor. Even those who knew that they would not be prepared to receive it during their mortal existence were content in the realization that they could attain every earthly blessing, progress intellectually and spiritually and possess to a limited degree the blessings of wisdom.

George Washington Carver was one of the noblest souls that ever came to earth. He held a close kinship with his Heavenly Father, and rendered a service to his fellow men such as few have ever excelled. For every righteous endeavor, for every good deed performed in his useful life, George Washington Carver will be rewarded, and so will every other man—red, white, black, or yellow; for God is no respecter of persons.

Sometime in God's eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the Priesthood. . . .

From a statement of the First Presidency to President Ernest L. Wilkinson of the Brigham Young University, the position of the Church may also be ascertained. On that occasion, they wrote:

The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the Priesthood at the present time. . . .

The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind; namely, that the conduct of spirits in the pre-mortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality, and that while the details of the principle have not been made known, the principle itself indicates that the coming to this earth and taking on mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the principle is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood, is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the Priesthood by Negroes.

Thursday, December 17, 1970

Gladys Knight 1954-1963

In 1955 at the age of eleven, while visiting Aunt Gladys near Detroit The Pips hooked up with Maurice King who taught them how to perform and got them their first professional gig singing the Parker House Sausage. They also recorded "Whistle My Love" for Brunswick (Decca) Records, but it went nowhere fast. Brenda Knight and Elenor Guest left the group. Edward Patten and Langston George joined The Pips.

Gladys was twleve years old in 1956 when The Pips joined the Supersonic Attractions tour with Jakie Wison and Sam Cooke so that they could get more performing experience during the summer when they didn't have school.

Gladys was thirteen years old when her daddy, suffering from extreme depression, moved out of the house and got an apartment to himself. Gladys mother worked two jobs. Brenda, Bubba and Gladys got part time jobs, but bills still went unpaid sometimes and utilitys were occassionlly shut off. In spite of all that, Gladys joined the track team, the choir, the yearbook staff and the cheerleading squad. She even joined her music teacher's jazz band and met Aretha Franklin for the first time, but all she really wanted to do was hang out with her friends.
,br> Gladys was fifteen years old when a serial rapist attacked her in her own bed one night. Thankfully, her brother Bubba was able to run him off before Gladys sutained any injuries other than a swollen lip, but the police never did catch that guy.

Gladys was sixteen years old when she began her senior year in high school. She was still singing with The Pips and the jazz band, and she was in love with Jimmy, a sax player in the jazz band.

After one particular gig a fellow named Fats Hunter asked them to stick around and sing something so that he could try out his new recordeing equipment. They recorded "Every Beat of My Heart," and were surprized when they heard it on the radion a couple of weeks later. Without a contract, Fats Hunter had released the record under his HumTom label and then sold the master to Vee Jay Records who sold lots of copies. The song made the top ten, but nobody paid The Pips; however, Fury Records heard the song and offered them a contract.

Gladys didn't want to go to New York to record the song for Fury Records. She had a track meet to throw javelin for, but she went. Since she was lead singer, Fury Records recommened they use the name Gladys Knight and The Pips. The record did very well, even competing against the illegal release. At one point the songs were on the charts at number 2 and number 3, but Fury didn't pay Gladys Knight and The Pips either. They claimed to have spent so much in recording and promoting there was nothing left to pay the artists. But, they got a gig at The Apollo.

In 1960, Gladys Knight found herself pregnant and married her boyfriend Jimmy in an informal ceremoy. Her brother Bubba gave her away. Jimmy joined Gladys Knight and The Pips on the road. Gladys met Tina Turner for the first time at the Howard Theater where Tina gave Gladys a real rock and roll make over. Tragically, Gladys miscarried in her first trimester.

In 1962, Gladys Knight and The Pips recored their first album for Fury Records. "Guess Who" and "Letter Full of Tears" made the Top Five on the charts, but they were still not getting paid. George Langston left the group to pursue a solo career, and they became a quartet. Gladys became pregnant again and left the group, too. The Pips went to New York and had some sucess on their own working as back up singers. On August 13, 1962, Little Jimmy was born.