#BlackHistoryMonth is ending and we close the month with Paul Reeve discussing two events which may have led Brigham Young to change his thinking with regards to blacks receiving the priesthood. A former slave named Warner McCary married Lucy Stanton, daughter of Nauvoo stake president William Stanton. The marriage was said to have been performed by apostle Orson Hyde. Following a meeting in which Brigham Young stated that race is not a problem, and Brigham knew of a fine African in Lowell, Massachusetts named Walker Lewis, it seems there was no ban in 1846. However, McCary started sleeping with other white women, claiming to be sealed to them through a sexual ritual in 1847. That’s when Parley P. Pratt claimed that blacks were cursed with regards to the priesthood. Another scandal involved William Appleby discovering a mixed race child born to Walker Lewis’s son Enoch and a white woman. He confronted Brigham Young about the child, and Brigham replied that the couple ought to be killed (though Young was often known for hyperbole.) More information can be found here. What do you think of Brigham Young’s reaction? Were you aware of these scandals?
Despite all this, Parley Pratt’s apostle brother, Orson, urged Utah not to legalize slavery. Apparently he debated very heavily with Brigham Young over the issue, and claimed “angels would blush” and church missionary efforts would be hurt if Utah legalized slavery. Brigham Young won the debate as Utah legalized slavery, but Orson Pratt in an effort of defiance, voted against the incorporation of Fillmore and Cedar City because the charters did not allow black voting rights in 1852, a decade before the Civil War! Paul Reeve recently discovered speeches by Orson Pratt, and I am amazed Pratt would advocate for such a thing. What do you think of Pratt’s position? Do you wish his advocacy of black rights was more well-known?
There seems to be a bit of a dispute: when did the ban actually begin? Warner McCary seems to be the last person who might have been ordained as late as 1846. Apostle Parley P. Pratt privately said blacks were cursed with regards to priesthood, and Brigham Young spoke forcefully that blacks were cursed in an 1852 address to the Utah Legislature. However, in 1879, church leaders didn’t know how to respond to Elijah Abel’s request to be sealed to his wife in the temple, and as late as 1921, Apostle David O. McKay didn’t even know that a ban existed. Dr. Paul Reeve believes the ban happened in 1908 when the prophet Joseph F. Smith declared that Elijah Abel’s ordination was declared invalid, though that information does not square with the historical record. Joseph F. Smith also instructed missionaries to quit proselyting among blacks. Many states had adopted a one-drop rule and the church followed suit as segregation became legally codified. What are your thought concerning these 1908 actions? Are you embarrassed by the ban? Are you heartened by Orson Pratt’s positions?
“Another scandal involved William Appleby discovering a mixed race child born to Walker Lewis’s son Enoch and a white woman.”
Others report that Enoch Lewis had married the white woman in 1846, that Walker Lewis’ wife, Enoch’s mother, was herself the offspring of a mixed race marriage. Your wording (is it Reeve’s?) may imply greater 19th century “scandal” than miscegnation. Is it meant to?
I wouldn’t be surprised if Walker Lewis’ wife was mixed race. I think it was more common than we like to admit, and in fact southern slave owners often impregnated black women for the purpose of getting more slaves. Of course Thomas Jefferson fathered a child with his slave Sally Hemmings.
Massachusetts had just legalized black-white marriage a year or two prior to Enoch’s marriage to Mary Webster. Of course racial attitudes towards mixed race marriages were frowned upon. So Enoch’s marriage likely raised eyebrows among more than just William Appleby. But I’m not quite sure how to answer your question: “Your wording (is it Reeve’s?) may imply greater 19th century “scandal” than miscegnation. ”
Paul didn’t use the word scandal, I did. I used it to generate interest in the story, and to be honest, few Mormons of the day were aware of Enoch or Warner McCary. It was probably a scandal among the leadership, but wasn’t well known among general members. Did I answer your question?
The record is fairly clear that the ban started around the time of Brigham Young’s statements in the 1850’s, based on Dr. Reeve’s work and the source documents I have reviewed.
The ban certainly was in place well before 1908, given the historical record and discussions among the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12, as documented in their own minutes.
Elijah Abel’s mere existence was a paradox to the Church’s narrative (primarily driven by George Q. Cannon) that the ban was instituted by Joseph Smith. Rationalizing Elijah’s existence and ordination took decades for the Brethren to resolve institutionally.
I’ve always been of the opinion that the ban started in 1847 not necessarily from Pratt’s statement, but 1847 is a pivotal year: (1) as mentioned Warner McCary’s sexual interracial polygamy was a BIG issue. (2) Enoch Lewis’s mixed race child. (3) I was surprised that Paul downplayed Joseph Ball’s race in Massachusetts. Ball was the first black Branch President in 1846. It has been my understanding that Ball and William Smith (Joseph’s brother) started doing some sexual polygamy in Massachusetts and Parley P. Pratt “released” Ball and sent Ball & Smith to Nauvoo where Smith became church Patriarch. Ball worked on the temple in Nauvoo and was told he would receive his endowment, but that didn’t happen. Connell O’ Donovan has documented that Ball received his Patriarchal blessing from William Smith in Nauvoo and was of proclaimed from the Tribe of Canaan. Perhaps Paul Reeve hasn’t seen this but it seems like a pretty good reference that Ball was black. (I believe O’Donovan has said Ball’s parents were from Jamaica.)
So I would add a 3rd black scandal to 1846-7. Certainly William Smith was excommunicated by Brigham Young for publicly espousing polygamy, and Smith told a newspaper that blacks were not being accepted into the church, but it is m y understanding that McCary was baptized just after Smith made the statement.
So by my take, you’ve got 3 scandals in 1846-47, and Brigham Young and Parley P. Pratt said “Enough!” The only way to “prevent” blacks from marrying whites (and perhaps sealing them as McCary was claiming to do) was to stop ordaining them, and prevent them from attending the temple. Elijah Abel had received his Washing and Anointings in 1836 in Kirtland, but he was refused entry to Nauvoo. Ball left Nauvoo following William Smith’s excommunication and the temple wasn’t completed. Unfortunately for Abel, he was in Cincinnati and was not able to get his Nauvoo Endowment, which he was denied under Brigham, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff, despite his 4 missions of absolutely faithful service.
So I vote 1847 as the real year. As said before McCary was the last man ordained (though Reeve is not certain of that). Regardless of whether McCary was ordained or not, he is primarily responsible for changing Brigham’s thinking, along with Enoch Lewis and Joseph Ball. There weren’t any public statements (there was no bishop’s handbook back then), and there probably was not a standardized policy, but unless there is another black person ordained after McCary in 1846, that seems like a de facto ban happened in 1847. It was semi-publically announced in Young’s 1852 address to the legislature, and may have essentially been a gray area until 1908. I didn’t know about the direction of no more proselyting among blacks in 1908, so certainly that year is significant in terms of the ban, but I think an informal/de facto ban was in place in 1847 onward.
The OP says, “These are recently discovered speeches by Paul Reeve, and I am amazed Pratt would advocate for such a thing. What do you think of Pratt’s position?”
The problem with the first part of the sentence: As constructed it refers to “speeches by Paul Reeve,” Not “These are speeches recently discovered by Paul Reeve.” While I can figure out that error, the next sentence seems to refer to Orson Pratt, who, according to the OP, advocated against slavery in Utah. So it would be entirely consistent for him to advocate for voting rights for blacks.
Or am I missing something?
fbisti, thanks for the comment. I fixed the OP to make that sentence more clear.
While there were plenty of people in the Abolitionist movement, almost NOBODY advocated for black voting rights prior to the Civil War, making Pratt’s position some 20 years ahead of his time. Let me quote from the transcript.
Given Brigham Young spoke on the topic quite frequently after 1852, I assume the ban was fairly well known. He spoke of it in 1859, 1863, and 1865, for example, per my review of the record.
In 1885 John Taylor was involved in a discussion on the topic about a young woman (Laura Barry) who was to marry into a prominent family but who had some black ancestry.
I would guess it wasn’t something that was discussed frequently among the members of the Church, probably because there were relatively few, if any, African-American people living among them (at least that ‘looked black’) to give rise to the question.
Paul Reeve said in the interview
So it seems that the issue was far from settled. Greg Prince tells us that that in 1921 David O. McKay asked about ordaining a black man in Hawaii and was surprised to learn of the ban. It’s not just the general membership that didn’t know about this, it’s the GA’s as well. McKay had been ordained an apostle in 1906, so had been an apostle for 15 years and didn’t know about the ban. Apparently McKay wasn’t involved in the 1908 meeting I guess.
This is a single account of a twisted story from rusty memory which I hope is useful. My dad was born in the 1920’s and had attitudes of that time which he never really changed. He was also friends and neighbors with Lowell Bennion and greatly respected him. But he used to tell this story about how even Lowell could get it wrong. My guess is that my father made some inflammatory remark that triggered this response.
A university student and daughter of an apostle came to Lowell for advice..She had fallen in love with an excellent guy raised in a good family that had been in the church for only a couple of generations. She liked doing genealogy and she was getting excited to do some of the research for her future husband’s family since they were not that excited. The young couple was scheduled to be married in the temple by her father, when she discovered her future husband had a grandmother from New Orleans who was of mixed race.
Lowell spent a few days thinking and praying about it and finally told the young lady to do nothing further about it. Don’t tell her husband or her father or anyone else. Go to the temple and marry the man. She could quietly pray for a day when this would not be a problem and otherwise be prepared to carry this secret to her grave. So an apostle who had been quite vocal against civil rights for blacks unwittingly married his daughter in the temple to a fine young man of mixed heritage. The temple was not struck by lightening or burned with fire or anything else. And no, Lowell was not foolish enough to tell my father which apostle did that.
I gather a different lesson from this story than my father did. There was always an undercurrent of tolerance and even quiet acceptance that ran counter-current to the official direction the mainstream LDS church was taking even during the times of the most severe racism.
Mike, great comment. I attended MHA last year, and one of the presenters noted that there were lots of people who slipped by the ban due to looked white but had some black heritage. In one case in central America, the guy looked completely black, his mom said he wasn’t, he told the bishop he wasn’t black, and was ordained anyway!!!