“A situation worse than polygamy”: Mormon Missionaries, “Mulattos”, and Defending the Faith in North Carolina, 1900
While continuing my research on Mormonism in the South this morning, I came across the story of a debate between some young Mormon missionaries and a couple of Protestant ministers in North Carolina in 1900. The local newspaper contained the following summary of the debate:
About 350 persons went on the excursion train Sunday by Hampstead to hear the debate between Elders J.P. King and J.W.S. Harvey, of the Second Advent Church, this city, and a number of Mormon elders who have succeeded in establishing a church in that section of Pender County. From other sections of the county people came by private conveyance, and the crowd was estimated at from 1000 to 2000. The debate was participated in chiefly by Elder King and a young Mormon elder, not yet twenty-one years of age, both of whom spoke for nearly three hours each. The debate was spirited but friendly, and entertained a large crowd. 
Apparently, the debate solidified Mormonism’s standing in the community, as several congregants in the Second Advent Church converted to Mormonism and according to one (quite celebratory) local Mormon commentator writing in 2004, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Hampstead area has never been challenged to another debate” and the local Mormon congregation in Hampstead “furnished the leaders of the Wilmington Branch in sixty-seven of its first seventy years.” 
No transcripts or contemporary reports of the debate exist, but several attendees were interviewed much later in their lives and recalled their memories of what occurred. According to those accounts, the Adventist minister brought up the Mountain Meadows Massacre and plural marriage in an attempt to smear Mormonism’s reputation and intimidate the young elders. When Elder King was finished, a young Mormon missionary from Provo by the name of Bert Williams arose to reply. While all of the interviewees recall that Williams handily defeated his Adventist opponent, one remembrance contains a specific recollection of what was said in defending polygamy:
The afternoon was taken up by Bert Williams, a 21-year old Mormon boy. For three or three and a half hours or more he discussed Mormonism with the people. He explained the Mountain Meadows Massacre. He explained everything pertaining to the arguments of Brother King. One item was Mormons and polygamy. When that question came up, Bert Williams said, “People living in glass houses should not throw stones. I was born and raised in Salt Lake City, and i have never seen a mulatto young’un on the streets of Salt Lake City.” So he insinuated that Brother King was throwing stones when he should have been looking at conditions around his door, which was, if not polygamy, a situation worse that polygamy. 
I am both intrigued and appalled (though not necessarily surprised given this sort of stuff) at the missionary’s apologetic tactic. I have never encountered a defense of polygamy by condemning interracial marriage or sex before, and am curious if other examples of such an approach exist. I further wonder what this might reveal about the efforts of Mormons of the era to strengthen their own identity as white Americans, and how all of this plays into Mormonism’s racial history. Does it illustrate, for example, a continuing disdain for interracial marriage (which has been suggested as being crucial to the beginnings of the race-based priesthood ban)? Within its immediate context of time and place (turn-of-the-twentieth century U.S. South), is this simply an example of the missionary trying to make a point to his (likely) predominantly white audience in a region historically plagued with black-white tensions and overt racism? Is there anything else particularly noteworthy in the passage? I’m interested in any feedback along these lines.
 “Large Crowd Present to Hear Debate between Adventists and Mormons,” Wilmington Star, April 1900, 10; as cited in Marion F. Barnhill, Sr., A History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Hampstead, North Carolina (Baltimore, MD: Gateway Press, 2004),27.
 Barnhill, History of the Church in Hampstead, North Carolina, 31.
 Alpheus Marion “Tobe” Shingleton, interview with Marion F. Barnhill Sr., 23 July 1970; in History of the Church in Hampstead, North Carolina, 41. I do, of course, recognize the potential problems of using a remembrance of the event 70 years after the event occurred, but wanted to bounce it around here anyway. And if the remembrance is actually more representative of Shingleton’s own views in 1970 than Elder Bert Williams’s in 1900, that opens up a whole series of other questions equally as interesting as those suggested in the post.