What is June 8th to Mormons?

What is June 8th to Mormons? June 8, 2023


Monument to the Black 14
Monument at University of Wyoming commemorating the protest of the Black Fourteen

The new kids on the block (those born after 2000) have no sense of why June 8th, 1978 launched one of the biggest news stories of the last century and changed the world. They will never know what it was like to be in a church–the LDS Church–which restricted its priesthood and temple privileges from those “of African descent.” Such a stance would be even more problematic today, since DNA tests reveal that ALL of us are “of African descent.” My DNA traces show up in northern Africa. My cousin’s DNA goes back to the Congo.

I was twenty-three years old when I heard that the restriction had been dropped. It was June 8, 1978. Ten years earlier, I had quietly challenged my seminary teacher (LDS seminary is common for high schoolers ages 14-18) on his use of the “N” word. In an anonymous evaluation, I said that he encouraged racism. During the next class period, he read my evaluation to the entire class and glared at me as he spewed out a racist diatribe, dropping the “N” word often. He said that we white kids in Provo, Utah knew nothing of the real world. He, on the other hand, had worked with [N-word plural].

The result of his speech? I quit seminary. And I told my dad, who was also appalled. When seminary began the next year, I stayed in the lobby and didn’t attend class. A good man, himself a seminary teacher (Don Black), asked why I wasn’t in class. I told him what had happened. He was also appalled. I don’t know if the conversation went higher. The racist seminary teacher kept his job, and I became alert to omnipresent racism around me. Perhaps the most shocking addition to my growing understanding was the visit of someone from our congregation who read my family a purported “prophecy” from one of the early presidents of the Church. It was the “prophecy” referenced by W. A. Wilson and Richard Poulson in this article, and quoted here:

According to the prophecy, President [John] Taylor supposedly saw a day of great trouble when warfare would strike the Saints and blood would run like water through the gutters of Salt Lake. As versions of the prophecy multiplied, a new detail was added: blood would run in the gutters as a result of racial warfare.  At the same time pressure brought to bear on the Church by the NAACP, by protesting black athletes at BYU ball games, and by a variety of civil rights and counter-culture groups increased. As a result, many Mormons became convinced that racial warfare was imminent.

It presented frightening images, but I was not persuaded that I was in danger. In fact, I became aware of a far more dangerous push towards racism through conservative idealogies, which were becoming so prevalent that an office called The Freeman’s Institute was set up just south of the Brigham Young University in 1971. (It is now known as The National Center for Constitutional Studies and functions in Idaho.)

I have no idea how I developed an aversion to far right politics back then, but I did. Many years later, my mother became a Fox News afficionado. She asked that I watch some of Tucker Carlson with her. I could endure only a minute. Carlson’s overt racism was nauseating.  I could not imagine why my mother couldn’t see that. I had heard Donald Trump refer to “Black Lives Matter” protestors as “thugs,” a familiar trope to me, echoing the scare tactics I had heard and witnessed during my teen years.

During those same years, Darius A. Gray, a Black Mormon who would eventually become my co-author, encountered more immediate scare tactics. When he went to purchase a gun holster, two white men spoke loudly in the store. One said, “I have a special temple recommend. I’ll be in the east towers. I can pick off a [N-word] off down Main street from two hundred feet away.” (A youtube featuring Darius Gray recounting these events along with Mel Hamilton, one of Wyoming’s Black Fourteen, can be found here.)

On June 8, 1978, the racial restrictions in the LDS Church were completely lifted. The church statement was this:

Dear Brethren:

As we have witnessed the expansion of the work of the Lord over the earth, we have been grateful that people of many nations have responded to the message of the restored gospel, and have joined the Church in ever-increasing numbers. This, in turn, has inspired us with a desire to extend to every worthy member of the Church all of the privileges and blessings which the gospel affords.

Aware of the promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us that at some time, in God’s eternal plan, all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood, and witnessing the faithfulness of those from whom the priesthood has been withheld, we have pleaded long and earnestly in behalf of these, our faithful brethren, spending many hours in the Upper Room of the Temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance.

He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood, with power to exercise its divine authority, and enjoy with his loved ones every blessing that flows therefrom, including the blessings of the temple. Accordingly, all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color. Priesthood leaders are instructed to follow the policy of carefully interviewing all candidates for ordination to either the Aaronic or the Melchizedek Priesthood to insure that they meet the established standards for worthiness.

We declare with soberness that the Lord has now made known his will for the blessing of all his children throughout the earth who will hearken to the voice of his authorized servants, and prepare themselves to receive every blessing of the gospel.

When questions were asked about the declaration and its implications, the answer was, “The declaration speaks for itself.”
However, it didn’t.

In the next three segments of this series, titled What is June 8th to Mormons, I will go over my own history as a white Latter-day Saint who sometimes had a front row seat to attempts to disentangle racism from Mormonism. Though the president of the LDS Church, Russell M. Nelson, has challenged members to “lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice,” we have a long ways to go. Nonetheless, I believe that precisely because of its tainted past in racial issues, the LDS Church is uniquely positioned to do precisely what President Nelson has asked.

Following is a link to the penultimate draft of a film Darius Gray and I made, called “Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons.” Sometimes, a copy of the final draft is available on ebay, though it’s rare.




About Margaret Blair Young
Margaret Blair Young wrote three historical fiction books with Darius Gray on Blacks in early Mormonism and made two documentaries on the same subject. Her work turned to the African continent in 2014, when she began making films with talented teams in the DR-Congo. You can read more about the author here.
"Margaret, excellent post as I would expect from you. Yes, things are getting better. We ..."

What is June 8th to Mormons?

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