David Briscoe and George Buck refer to June 9, 1978
as "Black Friday" because this was the day that Mormon leaders announced
the death of the anti-black doctrine (see Utah Holiday, July
1978, page 33). Prior to that time blacks of African lineage were
not allowed to hold the Priesthood nor go through the temple even
though they lived exemplary lives. The Mormon position concerning
blacks was clearly stated in a letter written by the First Presidency
on July 17, 1947:
"From the days of the Prophet Joseph even until
now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned
by any of the Church leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled
to the full blessings of the Gospel."
Letter from the First Presidency, quoted in Mormonism and the
Negro, by John J. Stewart and William E. Berrett, pp.46-47
Bruce R. McConkie, who now serves as an Apostle
in the Mormon Church, wrote the following in a book published in
"Negroes in this life are denied the priesthood;
under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority
from the Almighty. The gospel message of salvation is not carried
affirmatively to them...
"Negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain
spiritual blessings are concerned..."
Mormon Doctrine, 1958, page 477
In the July 1978 issue of the Salt Lake City
Messenger we pointed out that in the past Mormon leaders have
taught that the doctrine could not be changed. President Brigham
Young, for instance, emphatically affirmed that blacks could not
hold the Priesthood until after the resurrection:
"Cain slew his brother... and the Lord put a mark
upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin.. ..How long is
that race to endure the dreadful curse that is upon them? That
curse will remain upon them, and they never can hold the Priesthood
or share in it until all the other descendants of Adam have received
the promises and enjoyed the blessings of the Priesthood and the
keys thereof. Until the last ones of the residue of Adam's children
are brought up to that favourable position, the children of Cain
cannot receive the first ordinances of the Priesthood."
Journal of Discourses, Vol.7, pp. 290-291
"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 is the last to share the joys of the kingdom
Ibid., Vol. 2, page 143
The First Presidency of the Church reaffirmed Brigham
Young's teaching in 1949 (see Mormonism and the Negro, Part
2, p. 16), and in 1967, N. Eldon Tanner, was quoted as saying:
"'The church has no intention of changing its
doctrine on the Negro,' N. Eldon Tanner, counselor to the First
President told SEATTLE during his recent visit here. 'Throughout
the history of the original Christian church, the Negro never
held the priesthood. There's really nothing we can do to change
this. It's a law of God.'"
Seattle Magazine, December 1967, p. 60
The Mormon apologist John L. Lund wrote the following:
"Brigham Young revealed that the Negroes will
not receive the Priesthood until a great while after the second
advent of Jesus Christ,.. our present prophets are in complete
agreement with Brigham Young and other past leaders on the question
of the Negro and the Priesthood....
"Social pressure and even government sanctions cannot be expected
to bring forth a new revelation... all the social pressure in
the world will not change what the Lord has decreed to be....
"The prophets have declared that there are at least two major
stipulations that have to be met before the Negroes will be allowed
to possess the Priesthood. The first requirement relates to time.
The Negroes will not be allowed to hold the Priesthood during
mortality, in fact, not until after the resurrection of all of
Adam's children. The other stipulation requires that Abel's seed
receive the first opportunity of having the Priesthood... Negroes
must first pass through mortality before they may possess the
Priesthood ('they will go down to death'). Reference is also made
to the condition that the Negroes will have to wait until after
the resurrection of all of Adam's children before receiving the
Priesthood... the last of Adam's children will not be resurrected
until the end of the millennium. Therefore, the Negroes will not
receive the Priesthood until after that time... this will not
happen until after the thousand years of Christ's reign on earth....
"The second major stipulation that needs to be met.. is the requirement
that Abel's seed receive the opportunity of holding the Priesthood
The Church and the Negro, 1967, pp. 45-48
Because Church leaders stressed for over a hundred
years that blacks would never be able to hold the Priesthood during
mortality, the Mormon people were surprised when they learned
of the death of the anti-black doctrine. They were aware of the
fact that the change tended to undermine the concept that they were
led by a "living prophet" who could not yield to the pressures of
the world. Even though most Mormons claim they are happy with the
doctrinal change regarding blacks, there is evidence that the "revelation"
came as a real shock. A class at Brigham Young University which
conducted a "random telephone survey" of Utah County residents found
that 79 percent of those interviewed did not expect a change at
this time. Furthermore, many people compared the news to an announcement
of some kind of disaster or death:
"Some 45 percent of those who heard of the doctrine
from personal sources expressed doubt that the news was true.
This compares with only 25 percent of those who learned from media
sources. Sixty-two percent of the former group expressed shock,
compared with 52 percent of the latter....
"Those surveyed appeared surprised by the announcement, Haroldsen
said. Thirty-nine percent said they did not think 'it would ever
happen'--that the priesthood would ever be given to blacks.
"Another 40 percent expected it years in the future, after Christ's
return, during the Millennium, or 'not in my lifetime.'...
"In trying to explain how they reacted to the news, 14 persons
compared its impact with that of the assassination of President
John F. Kennedy. Another 13 compared it to the news of the death
of an LDS Church president. Eight compared it to a natural disaster,
especially the Teton dam break.
"Others compared the news with the death of a family member or
friend, with a declaration of war, or other major political event."
The Daily Universe, June 22, 1978
The Mormon people apparently realized the deep doctrinal
implications this change involved, and therefore they associated
it with death or disaster. If they were really pleased with the
change, why did they not relate it with a happy event like marriage,
the birth of a child or the end of a war? We feel that this
survey unwittingly reveals what Church members really thought of
Old Teachings Become Inoperative
The reader will remember that when the public began
to find out the real truth about Watergate, President Nixon's press
secretary Ron Ziegler said that statements which had previously
been made were now "inoperative." What he really meant, of course,
was that the past denials were untrue. Like the early statements
concerning Watergate, the pronouncements and revelations that Mormon
leaders used to support the anti-black doctrine have now become
"inoperative." Although he did not use this word, the Apostle Bruce
R. McConkie recently conceded that the old teachings concerning
blacks were given "without the light and knowledge that now has
come into the world":
"I would like to say something about the new revelation
relative to our taking the priesthood to those of all nations
and races.... There are statements in our literature by the early
brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would
not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same
things, and people write me letters and say, 'You said such and
such, and how is it now that we do such and such? And all I can
say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and
got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything
that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President
George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary
to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding
and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the
"We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon
precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and
light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness
and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don't
matter any more.
"It doesn't make a particle of difference what anybody ever said
about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year
(1978). It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has
now given the revelation that sheds light into the world on this
subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness
of the past, we forget about them."
"All Are Alike Unto God," by Apostle Bruce R. McConkie
of the Council of the Twelve, pp. 1-2
Because of the new revelation concerning blacks,
Bruce R. McConkie has had to make a number of changes in his "best
seller", Mormon Doctrine. This is not the first time that
Apostle McConkie has been forced to revise his book. The original
1958 edition was suppressed because it contained anti-Catholic material
(see The Case Against Mormonism, Vol. 1, pages 8-9). When
a new edition appeared in 1966, Apostle McConkie wrote that "experience
has shown the wisdom of making some changes, clarifications, and
additions." At any rate, when the "25th Printing" of Apostle McConkie's
book appeared in 1979, the majority of the anti-black material was
deleted or changed. For instance, the section on "NEGROES" (pp.
526-28 of the new printing) was completely rewritten and no longer
contains McConkie's statement that "Negroes are not equal with
other races where the receipt of certain spiritual blessings are
concerned..." Nor does it contain McConkie's long explanation
of how blacks were "less valiant" in the pre-existence and
therefore had "spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during
mortality..." In another section, Races of Men, McConkie
"We know the circumstances under which the posterity
of Cain (and later of Ham) were cursed with what we call negroid
Mormon Doctrine, 1958, page 554
This has been softened to read:
"We know the circumstances under which the posterity
of Cain (and later of Ham) were born with the characteristics
of the black race."
Mormon Doctrine, 1979, page 616
In the 1958 edition, page 314, Apostle McConkie
had written that "Negroes are thus descendants of Ham, who himself
also was cursed, apparently for marrying into the forbidden lineage."
This was shortened to: "Ham was cursed, apparently for marrying
into the forbidden lineage,..." (1979 printing, page 343)
On page 102 of the 1958 printing, Apostle MeConkie
wrote the following:
"As a result of his rebellion, Cain was cursed
with a dark skin; he became the father of the Negroes, and those
spirits who are not worthy to receive the priesthood are born
through his lineage. He became the first mortal to be cursed as
a son of perdition."
In the 1979 printing of McConkie's book, page 109,
this has been changed to read:
"As a result of his rebellion, Cain was cursed
and told that 'the earth' would not thereafter yield him its abundance
as previously. In addition he became the first mortal to be cursed
as a son of perdition."
The reader will notice that Apostle McConkie has
changed the statement so that it no longer reads that "Negroes'
are cursed with a black skin. In the 1979 printing McConkie does
go on to talk of the "dark skin", but he calls it a "mark" rather
than a "curse": "The Lord placed on Cain a mark of a dark skin,
and he became the ancestor of the black race."
Although we believe that Apostle McConkie has the
right to change his own writings, we feel that these changes tend
to undermine his claim to have "all of the keys of the kingdom of
God on earth." (Mormon Doctrine, 1979 printing, page 45).
In any case, we feel that McConkie's book may have to undergo even
more revision. Although he apparently tried to remove all material
unfavorable to blacks, he seems to have missed the following in
his section entitled, Caste System:
"However, 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."
Mormon Doctrine, 1979, page 114
Existence of New Revelation Questioned
In The July 1978 issue of the Salt Lake City
Messenger we observed: "One thing that should be noted about
the new revelation is that the Church has failed to produce a copy
of it. All we have is a statement by the First Presidency which
says a revelation was received." We went on to say that we
"seriously doubt that President Kimball will put
forth a written revelation on the bestowal of priesthood on blacks.
We doubt in fact, that any such document exists. What probably
happened was that the leaders of the Church finally realized that
they could no longer retain the anti-black doctrine without doing
irreparable damage to the Church. Under these circumstances they
were impressed with the fact that the doctrine had to be changed
and this impression was referred to as a revelation from God.
In a letter to the Editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, June
24, 1978, Eugene Wagner observed '...was this change of doctrine
really a revelation from the Lord, or did the church leaders act
on their own? Why don't they publish that revelation and let the
Lord speak in his own words? All we saw was a statement of the
First Presidency, and that is not how a revelation looks.
'When God speaks the revelation starts with the
words: "Thus sayeth the Lord...' It seems when the Lord decides
to change a doctrine of such great importance he will talk himself
to the people of his church. If such a revelation cannot be presented
to the members it is obvious that the first presidency acted on
its own, most likely under fear of public pressure to avoid problems
of serious consequences and to maintain peace and popularity with
At the 148th Semiannual Conference of the Mormon
Church, members of the church were asked to "accept this revelation
as the word and will of the Lord," but the only document presented
to the people was the letter of the First Presidency, dated June
8, 1978 (see The Ensign, Nov. 1978, p. 16).
On June 2, 1979 the Church Section of the Deseret
News announced that "The statement of the First Presidency telling
of the revelation extending the priesthood to 'all worthy male members
of the Church' released June 9, 1978, will also he added to the
Doctrine and Covenants." The reader will notice that it is only
the "statement.. telling of the revelation" that will be added to
the Doctrine and Covenants.
Some Mormons have put forth the rumor that the power
of God was manifested as on the day of Pentecost when President
Kimball gave the "revelation." Kimball himself seems to be trying
to dispel this idea. The following statement about the "revelation"
appeared in Time on August 7, 1978, p. 55:
"In other renditions it came complete with a
visitation from Joseph Smith... In an interview, his first since
the announcement, Kimball described it much more matter of factly
to Time staff writer Richard Ostling: 'I spent a good deal of
time in the temple alone, praying for guidance, and there was
a gradual and general development of the whole program, in connection
with the Apostles.'"
For some time after the anti-black doctrine was
changed, Mormon leaders were reluctant to inform their own people
of the details surrounding the giving of the "revelation." Finally,
six months after the event, the Church News staff asked President
Kimball if he would "care to share with the readers of the church
news any more of the circumstances under which that was given?"
President Kimball's answer is very revealing. He makes no reference
to a voice or any written revelation. In fact, his statement gives
the impression that it was only a feeling or an assurance that he
"President:...It went on for some time as I was
searching for this, because I wanted to be sure. We held a meeting
of the Council of the Twelve in the temple on the regular day.
We considered this very seriously and thoughtfully and prayerfully.
"'I asked the Twelve not to go home when the time
came. I said, 'now would you be willing to remain in the temple
with us?' And they were. I offered the final prayer and I told
the Lord if it wasn't right, if He didn't want this change to
come in the Church that I would he true to it all the rest of
my life, and I'd fight the world against it if that's what He
"We had this special prayer circle, then I knew
that the time had come. I had a great deal to fight, of course,
myself largely, because I had grown up with this thought that
Negroes should not have the priesthood and I was prepared to go
all the rest of my life till my death and fight for it and defend
it as it was. But this revelation and assurance came to me so
clearly that there was no question about it."
Deseret News, Church Section, January 6, 1979, page 19
In his speech, "All Are Alike Unto God," pages 2-3,
Apostle Bruce R. McConkie told how the "revelation" was received.
His description indicates that there was no spoken or written revelation--only
a very good "feeling":
"The result was that President Kimball knew, and
each one of us knew, independent of any other person, by direct
and personal revelation to us, that the time had now come to extend
the gospel and all its blessings...to those of every nation,...including
the black race....it was a revelation of such tremendous significance
and import; one which would reverse the whole direction of the
Church,...The Lord could have sent messengers from the other side
to deliver it, but he did not. He gave the revelation by the power
of the Holy Ghost. Latter-day Saints have a complex: many of them
desire to magnify and build upon what has occurred, and they delight
to think of miraculous things. And maybe some of them would like
to believe that the Lord himself was there, or that the Prophet
Joseph Smith came to deliver the revelation...which was one of
the possibilities. Well, these things did not happen. The stories
that go around to the contrary are not factual or realistic or
true,...I cannot describe in words what happened; I can only say
that it happened and that it can be known and understood only
by the feeling that can come into the heart of man. You cannot
describe a testimony to someone."
Because of the circumstances under which the revelation
on blacks came, many people have referred to it as "a revelation
of convenience." We may never know all the details which led President
Kimball to seek this revelation, but it is obvious that it was the
result of pressure from many sources.
In the July 1978 issue of the Messenger we
pointed out that the Church was faced with an almost impossible
situation in Brazil where so many of its members had black ancestry.
Since that time we have learned from a source within the Church
that Church leaders were very concerned that they were going to
lose their tax exempt status on property they own in the United
In the months just prior to the revelation, Church
leaders were carefully watching developments in a case in Wisconsin
in which an organization was about to lose its tax exempt status
because of racial discrimination. The Church leaders finally became
convinced that the tide was turning against them and that they would
lose their tax exempt status in Wisconsin and eventually throughout
the United States because of their doctrine of discrimination against
blacks. This was probably only one of many factors which entered
into the decision to admit blacks into the priesthood, but it may
very well have been the "straw that broke the camel's back."