I’m happy to have Dr Paul Reeve back on the show! Paul has a new book published by Deseret Book titled “Let’s Talk About Race & Priesthood.” He will introduce the book and discuss his amazing website called “Century of Black Mormons.” We’ll talk about early black Mormons who did and did not hold the priesthood. It will include not only famous ones like Elijah Able, but others you haven’t heard of like his son Moroni Abel. Check out our conversation…

Isaac Manning

GT: Tell us who is on the painting behind you here.

Paul  04:42  So this is Isaac Manning, Isaac Lewis Manning, Jane’s brother, who converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Connecticut, within a few months of Jane’s conversion, part of her family that embraced the gospel and he went to Nauvoo with Jane and the rest of the family became a cook for Joseph Smith and Nauvoo Mansion House. And then, at the murder of Joseph and Hiram Isaac, for graves, he dug two graves that were de quake graves were caskets filled with sand were buried because they were afraid that the mobs that killed Joseph and Hiram would come back and desecrate the bodies. And then he dug the actual graves where the bodies were buried at the Joseph Smith homestead. And so, Marlena while and while Dean is the artist who, who did this portrait of Isaac, so she included the shovel as the symbol of Isaac service. And it’s such an important act of service to Him, that in 1903, after he had arrived in Salt Lake, he swore out an affidavit that gave the details of his service in digging those graves. And so that affidavit is what is he’s holding in his other hand, so the two seminal of the two symbols of his service. He considered it his badge of honor that he provided this service for the slain bodies of Joseph and Hyrum.

GT  06:24  Everybody knows about Jane, but I don’t think anybody knows that story about Isaiah, her brother, so that’s pretty cool.

Paul  06:29  Yeah, he’s got his own remarkable story. I wrote an article on him in the Journal of Mormon History. So you can read more about that. And then there’s a shorter version at The Century of Black Mormons database.

Century of Black Mormons

GT  06:43  Okay. And I was glad you mentioned Century of Black Mormons. That was my next question. Tell us a little bit about that.

Paul  06:49  So I am manager and general editor for an online database. It’s a website, it’s just centuryofblackmormons.org. We are just attempting to identify all known people of black African descent, baptized into the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in its first 100 years, between 1830 and 1930. We have 130 biographies completed and publicly available in the database, and 200 more under research. So, by the time we’re done, we’ll be somewhere between 300 and 400 in the database. We write biographies. We also load all primary source documents that we find and have permission to make publicly available, so that the general public can see the documents, but also read the biographies of these black Latter-day Saints.

Moroni Able

GT  20:23  Okay. Okay. Who’s this Moroni? That was somebody I hadn’t heard about.

Paul  20:28  Sorry. So I thought you were referring to Elijah Able’s son Moroni and he is ordained to the priesthood in 1871, in Ogden.

GT  20:37  Okay, way after the supposed ban, right?

Paul  20:40 Yes.  And it’s a deathbed ordination. But, nonetheless, there’s no indication that his race is seen as a barrier. He falls ill, and I think it’s his sister, Annie Able, who writes this, and it’s published in the Ogden newspaper, that he falls ill. He’s sick for several weeks. And he calls for the elders to give him a blessing. And at the same time that they bless him for health, they ordain him an elder in the priesthood.

GT  21:14  Oh, wow.

Paul  21:14  And that was not atypical in the 19th century, to give deathbed ordinations for young kids. The notion was you want them to have the priesthood as they pass into the next life. The Church stops that practice by the end of the 19th century. But it was pretty common in the 19th century. The notion, it’s sort of a last rite of sorts, that you want this person, a male person to have the priesthood as they go into the next life. And so, deathbed ordination was a thing. And Moroni Abel, Elijah Abel’s son receives a deathbed ordination and it’s published in the newspaper, and no one seems to have an issue with it.

The “One-Drop” Rule was used to justify slavery and segregation in America. Unfortunately, it seeped into the LDS Church in the form of a ban on blacks from priesthood and temple ordinances. But did Brigham Young use the word in his famous 1852 speech to the Utah Legislature? Paul Reeve says no. Find out more in our next conversation…..

One Drop Rule

Paul:  [Deseret Book] started this series with other books and they really approached me and said, “We’re still interested.” One of my conditions was, “Have you have to read Brigham Young’s 15 February 1852 speech? I will be quoting from it. You can’t come to me after the manuscript is completed and say, ‘Hey, you can’t say that.’” So I said, “You have to be aware of what I will be quoting. And, they agreed to that.

Wilford Woodruff “One Drop” Problem

GT  25:51  And one thing I want to talk about with that speech, because I think it’s amazing. Because it deals well, I don’t want to say deals with one drop, but there’s a one drop problem, I guess I will say. I believe and correct me if I’m wrong. Wilford Woodruff had to quoted Brigham Young as saying something about one drop in the speech. But you said Brigham Young never actually said that.

Paul  26:23  Right.

GT  26:23  So tell us about that little issue.

Paul  26:25  Sure. So Wilford Woodruff is a legislator in the 1852 territorial legislature. He attempts to capture Brigham Young’s 15 February speech in longhand. He captures roughly 800 words of a 3000 words speech. And I think he gets the general sense of the speech pretty good but makes (I think) some critical mistakes. And one of those critical mistakes is he introduces the language of one drop into his version of the speech. And we then found the Pitman shorthand version, which LaJean Carruth, who’s employed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Church history department, transcribed it, based on the Pitman shorthand version, which was recorded by George Watt. And so that’s how we know we have a much longer speech than what Woodruff captured, and that Woodruff introduced some critical errors into his version.

GT  27:32  The problem is, people have been using Woodruff’s version for a century.

Paul  27:36  That’s right.

GT  27:36  We still we still don’t have this speech yet.

Paul  27:39  Yeah. {chuckles} We’re working on it. We’re working on it. It will be publicly available. Yeah, so that’s right. So most scholars had relied upon it and Woodruff doesn’t date it either. So that led to confusion as to the chronology of events at the legislative session. He doesn’t date it as 5th of February. He just sticks it in his journal with no date. And so that also led to confusion amongst scholars. So we now know it’s a 5th of February speech, and we have the full Pitman transcription. And we will have then side by side, the Woodruff’s version versus the Pitman transcription version. Okay, so scholars can compare across columns.

GT  28:26  Nice.

Paul  28:26  Yeah. And the Pitman version has, “No one of African ancestry can hold one jot or title a priesthood.” And I think that’s…

GT  28:40  Jot sounds a lot like drop.

Paul  28:41  I think Woodruff is going with one drop. Right? And the speech says one jot or tittle.

GT  28:51  Really, semantically it isn’t really that much better.

Paul  28:55  Well, but it’s not one drop of African blood. It’s “can hold one jot or tittle of priesthood.” And so he’s not talking about African ancestry. He’s saying, “If you have African ancestry, you can’t hold one jot or tittle of priesthood.” That is what the Pitman Version says. Woodruff gets “one drop of African blood.” I think he gets confused there.

GT  29:20  Okay. Because one drop was a common phrase of the day…

Paul  29:24  It was.

GT  29:25  …in dealing with slavery and that sort of thing, right?

Paul  29:27  It was. Right.

As we conclude our conversation with Dr Paul Reeve, he tells how the 1978 revelation affected Black Women as well. We’ll briefly review Jane Manning James attempt to get temple blessings, as well as find other women seeking sealing blessings. We’ll also talk about how Joseph F Smith closed opportunities for blacks, and both David O McKay & Spencer Kimball’s reopening opportunities. Check out our conversation…

Orson Pratt Rejects Curse of Cain

GT  08:44  And I will just remind people of our previous interview. I have one titled Becoming a Fanboy of Orson Pratt. I still think it’s cool that Orson Pratt was advocating for black voting rights in 1852.

Paul  08:58  It is cool, and he sticks to his convictions. And we have an another new speech that will be in the next book, but also I just briefly quoted in this book. Orson Pratt in 1856 gives another strident anti-slavery speech wherein he says we have no proof that Africans are descendants of “Old Cane.”

GT  09:21  Oh, really?

Paul  09:23  And that’s the only justification Brigham Young ever gives for the racial restriction is curse of Cain. Orson Pratt doesn’t buy it. He says there is no proof. Hopefully we all know in 2023, Orson Pratt is correct. Black people are not descendants of Cain, but that was a long-standing justification for where black skin came from, calling black people as cursed and Brigham Young is bringing that into the faith with him and giving a theological weight in this case.

GT  09:55  See that flies in the face of biblical literalism. Right?

Paul  09:58  That’s right.

GT  10:00  I know quite a few biblical literalists in my ward.

Paul  10:04  Yeah.

GT  10:04  So I think there are a lot of people that still would believe that Africans come from Cain.

Paul  10:08  Right. Yeah. If you read the book of Genesis, I mean, it doesn’t actually say that. It was a biblical exegesis or a biblical way of interpreting. Some early scribes suggested that the mark that God put on Cain was black skin, but the Bible doesn’t say that. [Early scribes say] the curse is somehow racial. The Bible doesn’t say that. It was just standard interpretations, and then you throw in the Curse of Ham or Canaan, and that was justification for enslavement. And they said, Well, the Bible supports slavery.

Jane James’ Attempt at Temple Blessings

Paul:  1884 she picks up where Elijah Abel leaves off basically, and she doesn’t really [give up] until she passes away in 1908. Is repeatedly told no, she has given limited us recommends for the Salt Lake Temple for the Logan temple to perform baptisms for the dead. She had also participated in baptisms for the dead in the endowment house in 1875, along with several other black Latter Day Saints, but denied the crowning temple rituals.

Joseph F Smith Solidifies Restrictions

Paul:  16:08  Yeah, I mean, I make the case that Joseph F. Smith is really the one responsible for solidifying the restrictions in place. Because in 1908, he basically argues that Elijah Able’s priesthood was declared null and void by Joseph Smith himself.

GT:  Which wasn’t true.

Paul:  It’s not true now. But he makes that claim. And so that becomes the new memory in the 20th century, the restrictions were always in place. God put them in place. They were there from the beginning; man can’t do anything about it. And all goes back to Joseph. It goes back to Joseph. It’s even traces through the foggy mists of time into the eternities. Right? And that becomes a memory for the 20th century. And the leadership believes that, and it becomes entrenched. And so that helps us to account for why it takes so long to unravel.

Is it ok to call the priesthood ban a “racist policy”?

Paul:  I use Freda Lucretia Magee Beaulieu in that 1978 Revelation chapter. She can answer the temple recommend questions exactly the same as a white person before June of 1978. The white person will be admitted to the temple and Freda denied. It’s not based on worthiness, because she’s answering the questions the same. It’s based on race. That’s racism. So I’m not sure that people have fully come to terms with that. And I hope that by illustrating how these policies impacted the lives of real people, that it might prompt people to think more deeply about that. So, if you’re making determinations based on a person’s race, that’s racism. If you’re not making determinations based on their answer to temple recommend questions, so you can answer the temple recommend questions, exactly the same. Right? But you’re barred because of your race, then that’s racism.

GT  26:45  Okay. We’re not judging people by the content of their character, but by the color of their skin.

Paul  26:51  Right. Or by their devotion to God and President Russell M. Nelson has actually articulated that. He has said in recent speech, “Let me be clear. We are not judged based on our skin color. we are judged based on our devotion to God and His commandments.” The racial restrictions worked exactly the opposite. President Nelson taught eternal truths. The racial restrictions violated those truth.

What are your thoughts about the ban? Have you read Paul’s book yet?