Last week, Lester Bush spoke at the Black, White, and Mormon Conference at the University of Utah.  I posted a longer version at my blog, but wanted to highlight some of the cool notes from his address. (I typed as fast as I could–some of my notes are a little cryptic.)  Paul Reeve introduced him.

Reeve – Bush was groundbreaking because he tied the ban to Brigham Young, not Joseph Smith.  Bush discredited the previous Missouri Thesis {which blamed the ban on slavery issues associated in Missouri}.  Ed Kimball acknowledged Spencer W. Kimball read Bush’s article, and it impacted Kimball’s thinking.  In 1963, Kimball acknowledged an open attitude about the ban, and than the ban was a possible error that the Lord might forgive.


Looking back, and forward, Mormonism 42 years later.

Lester Bush

Bush – what has changed, stayed same, steps still need to occur?

What has changed – easiest.  All good.  1978 revelation.  Ordination of blacks to priesthood and HP and temple ordinances.  12 yrs later, 1st black GA, recently 2 more.  In 1980, the LDS Church entered black Africa in Nigeria.  There are now stakes in 5 African countries outside south Africa.  Far exceeded my expectations of what was possible in 1973.  After 37 years, no African American General Authorities.

What has changed?  There is much more primary source material now.  I’m amazed at new material available via internet.  Joseph Smith Papers, Wilford Woodruff journal, David O. McKay diaries.  Many periodicals searchable.  Download to computer.  Now studies online.  Transformative developments.  Internet.

New understandings available, avalanche of published material.  Once there were 97 articles published on the subject between 1900-73, 2/3 of which was published since 1965.  Since 1973, attention has intensified.  18 publications.  30 in 1980s, 36 since 2000.  118 books/articles since 1973.  Most important now.

1973, had enough to get basic outline, but publications since offer new light.  Some info pub after 1973, but continues.  More information available about early blacks like Samuel Chambers, Jane James.  Warner McCary, Elijah Able, Walker Lewis.


Spencer W. Kimball gave it some some attn., still conjectural.  Ed concluded in 1963 letter that prophets 133 years had maintained ban instituted by Joseph Smith.  If this wasn’t true, then perhaps Lord could change and release and forgive possible error.  Suggested flexibility on part of Kimball.  If I had known this back then, I would have believed reflected language of Ed rather than his father.

In public statements Pres. Kimball seemed confident, quoted Abraham, always responded with traditional explanations.  After ordained 12th president of church, he responded to reporter that there would probably be no change.  Stated it was a policy of Lord, he know of no change, but subject to revelations.  Very similar 2 months later on Today Show.  Did not anticipate change.  Lord will reveal.  Despite conservative responses.


National attn. 2012 Washington Post Randy Bott who gave reasonable summary of 1970s beliefs.  Cain killed Abel, Egyptus black, married Ham, cursed and barred from priesthood by Noah.  Book of Abraham says all descendants were black and barred.  1949, church leaders said ban resulted from premortal existence.  Many believed less valiant, fence sitters.  This theory has fallen out of favor.  Bott continued that Lord gives all he sees fit, compared blacks to a young child given keys to car.  Blacks not ready and that the ban was the greatest blessing to blacks.

As appalling as it was to read, I felt bad for Bott.  He presented authoritative views of past leaders, and it hadn’t been disavowed.  Not different than Mormon Doctrine which was still published until 2010, and was still sold in 2012 until an African American member purchased remaining copies to get it off the market.

Church issued rebuttal, prompted by media, and said positions of Bott not representative of Church views.  There was a restriction, but not known why, how it began.  It ended decades ago.  Some explained reasons, but this was just speculation, not doctrine.  Church not bound by speculation. Condemn racism by all in and out of church.

Rebuttal was disingenuous when stated it was not known why, how, dismissal to speculation.  In 2013 carried new intro to OD 2.  More candid, acknowledged some history, some blacks ordained, but early it stopped.  No clear insights into origins.  Leaders felt revelation needed.  Came to Pres Kimball and confirmed in June 1 , 1978 which removed all restrictions.  By far most forthright later years.


Some speculations after the fact to explain basis for doctrine, not the ban but to why descendants of Cain denied.  Pre-existence.

No one had been free of understandings of age.  Wisdom discredited and abandoned.  Good thing.  Not global knowledge but global accomplishments.  Age all more remarkable.  Examples of ideas doctrines did not survive.  Favorite was Orson Pratt, brightest early leader.  He favored giving blacks the right to vote, opposed Brigham Youn’s advocacy of servitude, and curses across generations.


Not until 1960s did anyone argue to end ban.  Hugh B Brown, proposed twice, 1963.  He tried unsuccessful to allow blacks to have Aaronic Priesthood in order to open mission to Africa.  Curious idea, Brown’s thinly disguised first step.  In 1969 tried to end ban altogether.  Brown thought McKay thought ban was not of divine origin.


Final analysis, 3 questions.  What was basis for ban?  Ask Brigham Young, he was the man who implemented the ban.  He said descendants of Cain were ineligible.  Why Young? Joseph Smith seemed to hold same beliefs regarding black ancestry.  Many not get closer.  Differing personal beliefs in 1847 with interracial marriage, masonic restrictions, led BY to new conclusion.


Consequences of revealing historical records? A collates over last 40 years.

Complications. Some affirming.  Important to them, wonderful.  Didn’t get commendation from church.  10 years later, 5 years after revelation, Mark E Peterson was still upset because I had written that article.  Wanted stake president to take action against me.  Stake President talked to me, and said there was no problem.

Black women couldn’t go to the temple, and we are still leaving this out of the conversation.  When we talk about ban, we do not acknowledge implications on black Mormon womens.  Can you speak to that?

Been a while, blacks, including women or men ultimately allowed temple for proxy baptism, not anything else.  Not clearly written out.  Women denied because priesthood ordinances, hooked up to black men no priesthood.  There was a time in 60s and 70s when black women and men or women allowed to head auxiliaries at ward level, think it was tactical to distinguish not priesthood holder.  In wake of (may be wrong) that ended with priesthood revelation came.  Harmful for women.  Sorry for floundering on answer.

At some point someone will write about history of women and priesthood.  I believe it is inevitable women will get priesthood, based on previous familiarity.  I’m not sure why they want it, not sure why men want either.

Medicine, evolution on church guidance way society progresses.  Path here is so clear that seems impossible that not going to be similar progression in church.


Brigham Young justified ban saying black men were sons of Cain.  Yet the 2nd Articcle of Faith says men are punished for own sins.  How did the leaders reconcile this contradiction?

Havent’ seen it. Paul Reeve’s book touches on that.  Orson Pratt didn’t think curse passed down the line.  There is a section in the D&C that says a heinous thing, curse through generations.  There is a little mixed message, doesn’t make sense.  Reason speculated because recognized individual issue, other fact than son of someone else.  Closest attempt to make argument, Joseph F Smith, had a notion of patriarchal lines, felt strong  lineage.  People lined up under big patriarchs preexistence.  Whole group of spirits under Cain in pre-existence.  When killed, they remained faithful to lineage, First Presidency discussion.  Failure to perform, more neutral one.  It’s kind of like the saying “Be true to your school.”

Not sure we had same God, my God would not do that to me.  You mentioned the Brazil effect on Priesthood restriction. Can you elaborate on that?

There was a key period in 1970s, building temple in Brazil.  Faithful black members were contributing.  Complex genetics. Harder they looked, more complex.  Had really faithful  members that clearly would not have access to temple, but were building the temple.  There was the story of a man and wife who sold jewelry, made other sacrifices knowing that they couldn’t enter.  Kimball had angst.  Compassionate man, internationally oriented man.  That’s what I’m referring to.  Set aside history, really concrete issue, maybe South Africa, not hypothetical.  1970s very real.

What are your comments or questions?