This is the story of Len and Mary Hope, black converts to Mormonism. Len was baptized just before WWI near Magnolia, Alabama, and Mary later on in Cincinnati. When they first attended church, they were asked not to return. Their response was, “Can we still pay our tithing?” Len and Mary became dear friends with Elder Marion D. Hanks, one of the missionaries who went to their home monthly and served them the sacrament. After the sacrament the Hope family and the missionaries would sing and eat Mary’s homemade ice cream.
For those who own Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons (Here.) Len’s tells his story in one of the special features. Elder Hanks recorded it in 1945.
Len Hope’s Story:
Brothers and sisters, I wish to state why I become a Latter-day Saint. I once belonged to the Baptist Church. Before I become a Baptist, I thought it was wise to ask some of the old members that have been members of the church for a long time, how do you get religion and what was it.
Some of ‘em stated to me that when you get religion, you have to pray for it. You have to see peculiar things, and have peculiar dreams, and see yourself crossing Hell on a spider web. I thought that was very peculiar, but I was willing to try it. So I tried to get religion that year, and I prayed for it, and seek very hard for religion, the way I know — beggin’ the Lord for religion, but I couldn’t get religion that year.
I couldn’t see myself crossing Hell on a spider web, nor neither could I see any peculiar things. Next year, I try religion again. And, as you know it’s customary for those in the Baptist or Methodist denomination how they gather, the people down on them benches, called mournin’ benches. You set down and pray, and they’ll pray for it, and after that period, why they give us a prayer period, a rest period, to go out and pray for our sins. And they let us go out for an hour or two hours, prayin’ for our sins. So I went out late at night and went up and lay down in a cotton patches and cornfield, lookin up to Heaven, begging the Lord for religion, dew falling on me heavily. Well after it was impossible for me to see any of these peculiar things, it looked like there was no religion for me. So I went back to the Church and promised to live all the laws of the Baptist Church, keep all the commandments of Jesus Christ as far as I could understand it. I give the preacher my hand, and with covenant. So when the vows was over, they baptize us, and shortly after that the Lord showed me in a dream, that I had to be baptized over again. I wasn’t in the right Church; it wasn’t happening.
Finally, I began to search the scriptures night and day, trying to find out who had the right Church, and which of all the sects is right. To make a long story short, I read great much about the gift of the Holy Ghost, what Jesus Christ says that when the Holy Ghost come upon you, it’ll even guide you to all truth, bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever you have said. I figured right then and there, everybody needs the gift of the Holy Ghost. So I began to ask the preachers then about the gift of the Holy Ghost, asked them what was the Holy Ghost and how could you get it. One preacher said that ‘you get the Holy Ghost when you get religion; they both go hand in hand.
I didn’t feel much like I had the gift of the HG. I asked another preacher. He said you had to go out and pray for the gift of the Holy Ghost. I wonder how they differ in their opinions, calling themselves God’s sent messengers. So I decided to take the last one’s advice. And I thought by appealing from a praying ground in some outer place, that looked like I was deserted or throwed away, humble myself so much so until –like I was in sackcloth and ashes.
SO I choosed my praying ground: an old house where people had lived long years past, little house had bought a lot of damage, floor was rotted out of the house and the top had bout rotted off and you could look and see the stars and the moon and so forth. So I got in this old house and began to pray for the gift of the Holy Ghost. I prayed and I cried all night for the gift of the Holy Ghost. Next morning, no gift of the Holy ghost. I thought I wasn’t praying right. I thought that by making covenant with the Lord, be might give me the gift of the Holy Ghost. I thought to him to promise him that I was neither going to eat nor drink until receive the gift of the Holy Ghost or die.
The elders was all come down from Alabama preaching the gospel, but the never did come preach to us. We live way out in the country…This particular house, we had cultivated it. Daddy had plowed up every pathway that come up to the house. They [the missionaries] didn’t even see a pathway to come up to the house. And it had been raining about 40 days in the year of about 1913. And can you picture the elders, coming up to our muddy place in their beautiful shiny shoes and nice suits of clothes, bringing them little tracts? They brought a little tract up to our house, give it to my sister. I wasn’t home, and when I came in, she said, “Here’s a tract the elders left for you.” I wonder why she didn’t try to read it or thought the tract was for her. Well, she give me the tract. I began to read it, and one of the first things I saw, how the elders had their callings to preach the gospel in the United States and that they could lay their hands that someone might receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. I was convinced right there and then. They was having conference down to the chapel, so I went down immediately and applied for baptism. The elders said, “Brother Hope, we’ll be glad to baptize you, but we’d rather you be sure of yourself. Get more books and read so you don’t get scattered by the evil winds of darkness and the cunning craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” I thought that was very wise. So I go back home, and way out from Salt Lake City, I got the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price and many other books and read them all through, and they read so good that I hungered to be baptized.
While I was thus consumed, I was called into the war and served my time overseas and served my time over there and felt like the Lord was with me in every move. I felt like he was in a partnership with me. I felt like instead of in the service, I was going to school. I learned many things. Some of the things looked like I should have been scared while I was going through the dangerous things, and I was very thrilled and surprised and joyful. Those things I went through, I really believe I’d've been killed, but the Lord knew my work wasn’t finished on this earth, so he suffered me to get home without a scratch. So as soon as I got back home, I applied for baptism immediately. And they take me way up in the woods to an old creek and they baptize me, take me out on the banks, confirmed me a member of the church, laying their hands on my head for the gift holy ghost. I heard how people of other denominations claim how when the Holy Ghost hit them, why they had to jump and hollar and I seen the latest people sittin’ in church, and preacher begin to preach, preachin’ about their dead relatives and so forth and get them feeling powerful and so forth, and they claim that was the Holy Ghost, I guess, but anyway they started screaming, throwin’ little babies cross the church, and people who catch the baby they all begin to walk dainty and tryin’ to stand on their head and cut somersaults. Well, if the Holy Ghost was kind of like that, I wasn’t so particular about it. However, I went rejoicing and liked to jump too. But the elders said, “It don’t come like that, Brother Hope. You begin to live the gospel and the Holy Ghost will come as you need it more.” That’s exactly what happened. I begin to live the gospel and the Holy Ghost when it comes, comes out of the small still voice telling you to feel as wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove; bold as a lion and humble as a lamb. Greatest thing of all the world it’ll give you an assurance in your heart to know which of all the sects is right. And from that day to this, I haven’t had any doubt in my heart that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the only true Church on this earth. And I know if you live the gospel, pay an honest tithing, live the word of wisdom, we’ll be saved back into the presence of our Lord, from which we have come forth.
So I begin to live the gospel, and in a few days, the mob crowd come for me some of the little classes of white people that lived in that vicinity. They had the pistols, the rifles, the sawed-off shot guns. Come to my brother’s home and tell me to come out and asked to talk to me. Wasn’t going to hurt me. Seem to me that if they wasn’t going to hurt me, they would’ve left the guns at home. And I got up enough nerve to go out and talk with them. And they said, “What happened here? You went over the seas and you learn few things about the white folks and you wanna come back here and you want to join them, is that it?” I told them no, I had been investigating this gospel long before I went overseas, and therefore I find that this was the only true Church on earth, and therefore I came back and joined. They stood there for a little while and they said, “Well, go down to the bank and we goin’ hang you from a limb and shoot you full of holes.”
Pretty hard licks, and I was scared. So I went down the next morning, down to Church where they was having a conference and told them my experience and what had happened. To my surprise, I thought I was going to see them with hung down head and sad carriage, but what do you think I saw? Some of the beautifulest smiles that the Latter-day Saints give. They said, “Brother Hope, this is just the persecution of the devil. We all have to endure this.” I thought to myself, these beautiful people, (And when you read the word of Wisdom, you can see on the outward appearance the same as the inward are spiritual.) If these beautiful people can endure persecution, why couldn’t I? I just felt like coulda been hung to the limb and shot full of holes. So they told me I could get my name scratched off, but the elders and so forth and the missionaries told me it was wrote down in Salt Lake and not only wrote down in Salt Lake, but wrote down from heaven. I can’t doubt the gospel the least bit, and I know it. I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of the living God. And I know that all the way down to President O’Mckay is true prophets of God. I bear you my testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
*Note by Darius Gray:
Clinton Montgomery lynched Magnolia, Alabama December 20 1909
Brother Hope had good reason for fear yet he remained strong in his testimony.