Events Related to Black Saints and the Temple and Priesthood Restriction Between 1895 and 1978.
Turn of the Century and Joseph F. Smith Era (1885-1915)
January 27, 1895
August 22, 1895
January 2, 1902
March 16, 1904
April 9, 1905
President Joseph F. Smith states in General Conference that people "unfortunate enough not to be white" are sometimes "superior to many of their boasting white brothers."
April 19, 1908
"The Negro and the Priesthood" published by an unknown author in Liahona: The Elders’ Journal claims that Brigham Young taught that Blacks "did not possess sufficient innate spiritual strength" to hold the priesthood.
August 26, 1908
President Joseph F. Smith states in a First Presidency meeting with the Twelve that any ordination of Black people to the priesthood must be "regarded as invalid."
February 6, 1912
April 17, 1913
Heber J. Grant and George Albert Smith Era (1918-1951)
The national Ku Klux Klan organization reports a strong increase in Utah membership despite "powerful opposition" from the Church.
December 14, 1931
January 25, 1940
Elder Harold B. Lee gives a series of radio lectures and offers a "pre-existence" rationale for the priesthood ban—possibly representing the first proposal of the rationale.
July 17, 1947
October 9, 1947
A meeting of the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve considers a request by O. J. Umondak of Nigeria for missionaries to be sent to his country.
October 9, 1947
November 3, 1947
In a letter to a BYU student, David O. McKay says he "know[s] of no other basis" for the restriction besides the Book of Abraham and that he believes the restriction "dates back to our pre-existent life."
April 12, 1948
The First Presidency produces a standard response to queries about the priesthood restriction to be used in personal correspondence which states that the restriction is not "policy," but "direct commandment from the Lord."
March 3, 1949
BYU student leaders write a letter to the BYU Universe student newspaper to protest racial discrimination.
April 10, 1951
Three apostles separately encourage Black Latter-days Saint Abner and Martha Howell to undertake a "mission" to Black members in various cities of the United States.
David O. McKay Era (1951–1958), Desegregation and Discussion
June 17, 1952
January 31, 1953
Ernest L. Wilkinson states that David O. McKay told him that "the relationship of the Church to the colored person was one of the most pressing problems that had to be faced and resolved."
Church President David O. McKay lifts the requirement in South Africa for white Latter-day Saints to prove non-African genealogy prior to priesthood ordination.
Sterling M. McMurrin[BIO] reports that in March 1954, President David O. McKay told him that the priesthood restriction "is a practice, not a doctrine," that "the practice will some day be changed," and that "there is no such doctrine" of the "divine curse" upon Blacks. However, McMurrin also stated that McKay referenced the Pearl of Great Price as a "scriptural precedent" for the restriction.
May 13, 1954
August 27, 1954
President McKay reportedly approves previously-denied temple blessings for two siblings who were believed to have Black ancestry.
May 13, 1958
President McKay authorizes Fijians, the only group of Polynesians under restriction, for ordination to the priesthood.
October 11, 1958
October 24, 1958
David O. McKay Era (1959–1968), Civil Rights Controversies, Beginnings in West Africa
March 9, 1960
March 23, 1960
November 10, 1960
February 24, 1961
President David O. McKay writes in his diary that the "only reason" for the priesthood restriction is found in the Book of Abraham.
In a letter to First Presidency members Henry D. Moyle[BIO] and Hugh B. Brown,[BIO] disaffected Latter-day Saint and US Secretary of the Interior, Stewart L. Udall[BIO] calls for the Church to clarify its position toward Black people. In their response, Moyle and Brown refer to ideas about premortal origins for the priesthood restriction and interracial marraige.
July 14, 1962
Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith disputes the statement of Clare Boothe Luce about the Church's views on Black people and said her comments about George Romney's purported differences were based on a "false premise."
January 11, 1963
March 5, 1963
June 7, 1963
October 6, 1963
In General Conference, Hugh B. Brown reads a public statement calling for the "establishment of full civil equality for all of God's children."
December 13, 1963
February 14, 1964
After BYU grants scholarships to about a half dozen Nigerian students, Apostle Harold B. Lee voices opposition to the scholarship program because it "created a social situation at BYU."
June 15, 1965
President David O. McKay decides that the Church should establish itself in Nigeria, "despite not being able to confer the priesthood."
November 4, 1965
After prayerful discussions by the First Presidency and the Twelve about LaMar Williams' mission to establish the Church in Nigeria, it is decided to call him home because "the time was not right." Months later, a coup against the Nigerian government ignites a series of conflicts resulting in the Nigerian Civil War.
October 25, 1966
In a talk to BYU students, Ezra Taft Benson states that "there is nothing wrong with civil rights – it's what is being done in the name of civil rights that is shocking," referring to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s alleged involvement with Communism.
In an open letter, Latter-day Saint and U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Stewart L. Udall, calls publicly for the removal of the "restriction now imposed on Negro fellowship." Spencer W. Kimball and Delbert L. Stapley[BIO] send letters to Udall expressing their disappointment in his attitude.
September 29, 1967
In General Conference, Ezra Taft Benson denounces the civil rights movement as a "tool of Communist deception" but that "we must not place the blame upon Negroes."
April 5, 1968
David O. McKay Era (1968–1969), Protests Target BYU, Church Statement on Civil Rights
April 13, 1968
President McKay reportedly prays about the possibility of changing the priesthood restriction on several occasions during this period, but each time the answer was "not yet."
March 27, 1969
After a year-long investigation, the Health, Education, and Welfare Office for Civil Rights concludes that BYU is "in compliance with" the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
According to the Daily Universe, BYU students plan events for a "Brotherhood Week" to increase understanding of racial issues and perform service for needy communities, but later university and Church directives "pretty much cut the heart out of the week."
October 17, 1969
October 23, 1969
In response to the incident involving fourteen University Of Wyoming players, The Salt Lake Tribune reports that BYU student officers write and submit a statement on civil rights to the BYU administration.
November 3, 1969
November 5, 1969
November 13, 1969
Stanford University announces that it will not schedule future athletic events with BYU because of the Church's priesthood restriction.
November 30, 1969
BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson records in his diary that he had a "very strong feeling" against the priesthood ban in a meeting with the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) university presidents.
December 15, 1969
December 25, 1969
The Salt Lake Tribune reports First Presidency counselor Hugh B. Brown as saying that the priesthood restriction "will change in the not-too-distant future."
Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee Eras (1970-1973), BYU Protests End, Genesis Group Begins
Stephen G. Taggart's book, Mormonism's Negro Policy, is published. It argues that the priesthood and temple restrictions originated with Joseph Smith and were triggered by local circumstances in the South.
The Black Student Union of the University of Washington launches a series of protests seeking to sever relations with BYU, but the protests subside after the attorney general of Washington issues an opinion favorable to BYU. Similar opinions were given in Wyoming and Utah, and a lawsuit against BYU was dismissed.
ca. April 1970
BYU publishes full-page ads in various newspapers in Washington and Oregon stating that "any race, creed, color, or national origin" were accepted at BYU. BYU prepares and distributes a four-page information booklet which explained that the Church "is not racist" and that the priesthood restriction will someday be lifted.
October 8, 1970
An editorial in the Tucson Daily Citizen reports that a University of Arizona committee that investigated BYU concluded that "BYU is no more racist than any other university" and recommended to the WAC that further demonstrations be suspended.
November 25, 1970
In Brazil, missionaries use lineage lessons to teach potential converts about the priesthood restriction and to determine the possibility of whether they are of African descent.
May 23, 1971
In his diary, President Wilkinson records a meeting with the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) university presidents where it was decided that Arizona State cannot exclude BYU from the playing schedule due to the priesthood restriction.
May 28, 1971
According to Edward Kimball, a general policy for Black Saints to receive patriarchal blessings is approved in 1971.
October 19, 1971
President Joseph Fielding Smith approves the organization of the Genesis Group, an official Church body that provides support to Black Saints.
Harold B. Lee becomes president of the Church, and journalists from Newsweek, Los Angeles Times, and other publications speculate about the lifting of the priesthood restriction.
Spencer W. Kimball Era (1973 - June 9, 1978), Boy Scout Controversy, São Paulo Brazil Temple, Lifting of the Restriction
December 30, 1973
July 24, 1974
The Miami News and the New York Times report that the NAACP intends to sue the Boy Scouts because of a Church policy that discriminated against Black scouts by designating deacon's quorum presidents to be senior patrol leaders.
Church changes its policy of deacon quorum presidents serving as senior patrol leaders in the Boy Scouts and the NAACP lawsuit is dismissed.
Volume 6 of James R. Clark's Messages of the First Presidency is published. None of three First Presidency statements relating to the priesthood restriction up to this point were included in the compilation.
March 1, 1975
April 3, 1976
Bruce R. McConkie reports that President Kimball asked apostles to give him memos on the subject of the priesthood and temple restriction
According to Edward Kimball, Church President Spencer W. Kimball goes to the temple to pray about the restriction and on March 23 he tells his counselors that his impression was "to lift the restriction on the blacks."
April 20, 1978
President Kimball reportedly asks "the Twelve to join the presidency in praying that God would give them an answer. Thereafter he talked with the Twelve individually."
May 4, 1978
LeGrand Richards reportedly sees President Wilford Woodruff in the Salt Lake Temple during a discussion of the priesthood restriction.
June 1, 1978
June 9, 1978
During a meeting with all available General Authorities, an announcement of the lifting of the temple and priesthood restrictions is given to the press for public release.
September 16, 1978
General Sunday School president Russell M. Nelson receives a dream wherein Harold B. Lee states that he would have received the same priesthood revelation as Spencer W. Kimball, had he remained living as prophet.
What was the priesthood and temple ban?
From the early days of the Church until June 1978, Latter-day Saints of African heritage were specifically barred from holding the priesthood and participating in temple ordinances.
Was the modern, twentieth-century Church racist?
Yes. For most of the twentieth century, many in Church leadership voiced racist ideas and followed racist practices, specifically towards people of African descent.
Was the Church more racist than American society at the time?
Possibly, however in 1996, sociologist Armand L. Mauss conducted a survey of Latter-day Saints' "anti-Negro" attitudes and concluded that while there were some differences, there were "no systematic differences in secular race attitudes were found between Mormons and others or between orthodox and unorthodox Mormons."
Did the Church ever segregate congregations?
No, there was never a policy of segregation, but there was at least one instance where a Black family in Ohio was asked to not attend Church by their local leadership.
Also, Black church member Abner Howell remembered Elder Stephen L Richards as saying if Black Saints "don't want to mingle with us, we'll build them a church of their own, like we have done the Spanish people here," in reference to Spanish-speaking congregations in some locations.
Did the Church officially advocate for segregation in non-Church settings?
No. In 1969, the only official Church statement on the topic stated: "Each citizen must have equal opportunities and protection under the law with reference to civil rights . . . We have no racially-segregated congregations."
However, individual Church leaders and members sometimes spoke in favor of segregation. And, as in many other states, segregation in housing and public places in Utah continued to prevail until the mid-1960s.
Is it true that the Church segregated blood from Black donors at LDS Hospital until 1953?
Yes. Up until the early 1950s, it was the standard practice of the American Red Cross and other hospitals to segregate blood from Black persons, even though conventional medical thought rejected that there was any distinction.
The LDS Hospital also followed this practice, but possibly because there was a concern that a blood transfusion from a Black donor would make the recipient ineligible for priesthood office.
Was there a policy to not teach Black people the gospel?
There was no official Churchwide policy to not teach Black people the gospel, but leaders often discouraged and sometimes prohibited missionary work specifically targeting Black populations.
Did the Church teach that less-valiant spirits in the "pre-existence" were assigned to Black bodies on earth?
Yes. While the idea was never official church doctrine published in manuals or taught in General Conference, Church leaders offered it as an explanation personally and privately.
For example, in 1947 statements from the First Presidency made in private correspondence referred to premortal differences between individuals pre-mortal existence as an explanation for the priesthood ban. And in 1958, Bruce R. McConkie's book titled Mormon Doctrine read "Those who were less valiant in preexistence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the negroes."
However, in 1961, President McKay recorded in his diary that the "only reason" for the priesthood ban was found in the Book of Abraham. However, the pre-existence explanation persisted among some apostles and also appeared in general terms within a 1969 First Presidency statement.
Did other colleges refuse to play BYU sports teams because of the priesthood ban?
Yes. In April of 1968, Black athletes at the University of Texas El-Paso were the first of several schools that called for boycotts of games with BYU. BYU responded by publishing a statement at the Western Athletic Conference meeting in November of 1969 that said that there was no policy of racial discrimination at BYU.
Did anything change as a result of protests against BYU in 1968–69?
Yes. BYU leadership reviewed and published its position on minorities and civil rights, the University of Arizona published the results of its investigation of racism at BYU, and the Office of Civil Rights issued a statement of review for BYU's compliance with the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Did the Church ever make any statements related to civil rights legislation?
Yes. On December 15, 1969, First and Second Counselors in the First Presidency Hugh B. Brown and N. Eldon Tanner signed a statement supporting full civil rights for all citizens.
Why didn't President McKay sign the statement about civil rights?
At that time, President McKay was in poor health and Church leaders had decided he would be excused from signing for the First Presidency on "all correspondence," so the statement was signed by his two counselors.
Did the Church say in 1969 that the priesthood ban would soon be lifted?
The December 25, 1969 edition of The Salt Lake Tribune reported First Counselor in the First Presidency Hugh B. Brown saying that the priesthood ban "will change in the not-too-distant future." Brown said no more on the matter prior to the death of President McKay in January.
What is the Genesis Group and how did it start?
Was the priesthood and temple ban a policy or based on doctrine?
Church leaders consistently taught that the restriction was based on "doctrine" but in March of 1954 David O. McKay reportedly said that the restriction was "not a matter of doctrine. It is simply a practice . . ." However, he was also reported to have said that there was "scriptural precedent" for the policy and that a change would require a revelation.
Additionally, in 1973 Spencer W. Kimball said "we are under the dictates of our Heavenly Father, and this is not my policy or the Church’s policy."
Twentieth-Century Documents from the First Presidency Relating to the Priesthood and Temple Ban
July 17, 1947
Private letter to Lowry Nelson[BIO]
The First Presidency defends and explains the restriction in terms of events and doctrines relating to premortal life.
The First Presidency invokes similar language about the premortal life as it did in 1947 while adding statements by Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff.
August 17, 1951
This expanded version of the 1949 letter appends a "few known facts" about premortality.
October 6, 1963
Official, public statement
The statement does not refer to the priesthood ban, but calls for "the establishment of full civil equality for all of God's children."
December 15, 1969
Official, public statement
The statement argues on behalf of "civil rights and Constitutional privileges" for all people, references the pre-existence, but says that the reasons for the priesthood restriction are not "fully known to man."
June 8, 1978
Official Declaration 2
The statement lifts the restriction without explanation except to say the decision to do so was confirmed "by revelation."
Are any presidents of the Church reported as having prayed about lifting the priesthood ban and being told by God not to do it?
Yes, although there are no firsthand reports available except from President Kimball. (See table below.)
Reports of Presidents of the Church Seeking Revelation About the Priesthood Ban
David O. McKay
Church historian Leonard J. Arrington[BIO] heard Elder Adam S. Bennion[BIO] report that as President McKay had studied and discussed the ban with the Twelve over the previous months, he "pled with the Lord" but was told the time was "not yet ripe."
David O. McKay
David O. McKay
Historian Gregory Prince related that a secretary in President McKay's office heard him say that he had "inquired of the Lord several times," but was told "Not yet."
David O. McKay
President McKay reportedly told Elder Marion D. Hanks, "I have prayed and prayed and prayed, but there has been no answer."
David O. McKay
Harold B. Lee
Church historian Leonard J. Arrington was told that President Lee spent "three days and nights [of] fasting in the upper room of the temple . . . but the only answer he received was 'not yet.'"
Spencer W. Kimball
President Spencer W. Kimball stated that he had "been praying about it for fifteen years without an answer."
Did President Kimball give any indication that the restriction would be lifted when he became president of the Church?
Shortly after he became President of the Church he said that he had given it "a great deal of thought and prayer"—that "the day might come when [Black men] would be given the priesthood, but that day has not come yet. Should the day come it will be a matter of revelation."
Why was the revelation not received earlier?
It's unclear. President Kimball acknowledged that the question had repeatedly been brought before previous presidents of the Church, but gave no reason for the delay except that it had to come when the Lord wanted it "and not until."
Did the ban change because of social pressure?
Yes, it was probably a factor. For example, in 1969 and 1970 several schools boycotted BYU sports over the priesthood restriction and in 1970 the IRS announced that the tax-exempt status of private schools would be revoked based on racial policies.
Did the ban change because the Church built a temple in Brazil, which was home to many members of African descent?
Yes, it was probably a factor. Brazil was known as the "land of racial democracy" and was home to millions of descendants of enslaved Africans who had children with European colonists, which, according to J. Reuben Clark, made it "very difficult if not impossible" to determine genealogical lineage in Brazil.
Church leaders observed that Afro-Brazilians had been contributing to the São Paulo temple, however the policy was to bar from entry Brazilians with African ancestry.
Has the Church given an official explanation for why the ban happened?
Sort of. While there has never been an official Church-wide statement offering an explanation, Church leaders have written responses to inquiries using official Church stationary where they have given explanations for the ban.
The only official public statement on the ban before it was lifted was in 1969, but it did not offer an explanation except to say that it "extend[ed] back to man’s pre-existent state."
In 2013, the Church published an essay disavowing "theories advanced in the past" about the restriction but did not provide an official explanation either.
Isn’t this something the Church should know?
What do most Latter-day Saints think about the priesthood restriction?
There is very little data available on this topic, but a survey from 2016 indicated that 4 out of 5 Church members believed that the ban was inspired by God.
Simplified table of positions related to the priesthood restriction
Theories related to the Priesthood restriction
Theories related to God's involvement
Church leaders implemented the restriction because of racist traditions and there was no authentic revelation or doctrine to justify it.
God corrected this in 1978.
God sustained this as a punishment until 1978.
God was not involved in the implementation or removal of the restriction.
What do we know about how the 1978 revelation was received?
It appears that individual spiritual confirmations were received during the prayer by each person present. Elder McConkie said that these confirmations were significant because "The Lord wanted independent witnesses who could bear record that the thing had happened." (See table below.)
Comments from the First Presidency and Apostles about the 1978 revelation
Spencer W. Kimball
"I felt an overwhelming spirit there, a rushing flood of unity such as we had never had before."
President Kimball is also reported as having authored the following account in 1980: "The voice of God, given by the power of His Spirit, ‘the still small voice, which whispereth through and pierceth all things’ (D&C 85:6) made manifest that the Holy Priesthood, all of the blessings of the temple, including celestial marriage, together with all the obligations that appertain thereto, should now be offered, on the sole basis of personal worthiness, to all men of every race and color. On that sacred occasion, akin to certain Pentecostal days of old, each of the apostolic witnesses then present came to know the mind and will of the Lord relative to the salvation and exaltation of myriads of His mortal children."
Marion G. Romney[BIO]
"I am not just a supporter of this decision. I am an advocate."
N. Eldon Tanner[BIO]
The events surrounding the revelation are not described in Tanner's biography, but at the following conference he was designated by President Kimball to present Official Declaration 2 for a sustaining vote.
Ezra Taft Benson[BIO]
“Following the prayer, we experienced the sweetest spirit of unity and conviction that I have ever experienced.”
Mark E. Petersen[BIO]
Petersen, who was on assignment in South America at the time of the prayer confirming the priesthood revelation, said: "I was delighted to know that a new revelation had come from the Lord."
Delbert L. Stapley[BIO]
Stapley, who was hospitalized at the time of the prayer confirming the priesthood revelation, sustained the action by saying, "I'll stay with the Brethren on this."
Richards, who had earlier reported having seen Wilford Woodruff in the room during a discussion of the priesthood restriction, said that within a prayer circle they prayed "that the Lord would give us the inspiration that we needed to do the thing that would be pleasing to Him and for the blessing of His children."
Howard W. Hunter[BIO]
"Powerful witness of the Spirit . . .this confirmed the divine origin of the revelation.”
Gordon B. Hinckley[BIO]
“It was marvelous, very personal, bringing with it great unity and strong conviction that this change was a revelation from God.”
Thomas S. Monson[BIO]
Boyd K. Packer[BIO]
"During the prayer all present became aware what the decision must be."
Marvin J. Ashton[BIO]
“The most intense spiritual impression I’ve ever felt.”
Bruce R. McConkie[BIO]
"It was during this prayer that the revelation came. The Spirit of the Lord rested mightily upon us all."
L. Tom Perry[BIO]
“While he was praying we had a marvelous experience. We had just a unity of feeling. The nearest I can describe it is that it was much like what has been recounted as happening at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. I felt something like the rushing of wind." "We were not alone."
David B. Haight[BIO]
“The Spirit touched each of our hearts with the same message in the same way. Each was witness to a transcendent heavenly event.”
Did anyone oppose the lifting of the restriction in 1978?
President Kimball reportedly received about 30 letters of complaint, "nearly all from non-Mormons," calling him a "fraud" or "a traitor to his race." The Salt Lake Tribune published a statement from Joseph LaMoine Jenson,[BIO] representing the Apostolic United Brethren, that condemned the Church for lifting the priesthood restriction.
How did Church members generally react to lifting the restriction?
After the announcement, when did Black saints begin to receive the priesthood?
Ordinations began almost immediately after the June 8, 1978 announcement of the revelation. Joseph Freeman, Jr.[BIO] reportedly became the first Black man to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood in modern times and Genesis Group president Ruffin Bridgeforth[BIO] may have been the first to be ordained a high priest.
- Jeffrey S.
“While a missionary in California(1970). taught a family that had adopted a black girl. We wrote the Prophet, Joseph F. Smith and asked if the little girl could be sealed to her parents. M. President received a letter from the First Pres. approving. They were baptized&sealed.”
“Incredible work bringing this extensive amount of information together. Thank you for doing it.”