Juvenile Instructor » “Crows Can Now Eat Crickets”: An attempt to complicate our understanding of LDS reactions to the 1978 Revelation on the race-based Priesthood and Temple Ban
 


“Crows Can Now Eat Crickets”: An attempt to complicate our understanding of LDS reactions to the 1978 Revelation on the race-based Priesthood and Temple Ban

By: Christopher - February 12, 2014

What follows is a sort of follow-up to Joey’s excellent post last week analyzing reactions to the 1978 revelation ending the race-based priesthood and temple ban. I am admittedly far outside of my own field here, and it is entirely possible I’m not aware of some study that has already been written and published. Please feel free to point out any such work in the comments, and to otherwise respond to the post.

In December 2007, perennial presidential candidate and prominent Mormon Mitt Romney was asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” about the 1978 revelation that signaled a shift in LDS church policy and lifted the ban that had previously denied people of African descent ordination to the priesthood and entrance into LDS temples. Romney’s response was a familiar one to most Mormons:

I can remember when I heard about the change being made. I was driving home from — I think it was law school, but I was driving home — going through the Fresh Pond rotary in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I heard it on the radio and I pulled over and literally wept. Even to this day, it’s emotional.

Such memories are common among Mormons old enough to remember the announcement. Dallin Oaks, then serving as president of Brigham Young University, recalled in a 2007 interview with documentarian Helen Whitney receiving the news while with his family at their mountain cabin. “I went outside and I told my boys, and I sat down [voice cracks with emotion] on that pile of dirt and cried. And I still feel emotion for that moment.” While many recall these individual moments of emotion and gratitude, others remember communal celebration. Times and Seasons blogger Alison Moore Smith recently described her memory of what transpired in her Provo, Utah neighborhood:

In spite of growing up in ultra-conservative “Happy Valley,” when the priesthood ban was lifted for blacks in 1978, my mom came running down the stairs screaming for joy. People in my neighborhood very literally flooded into the streets, hugging and dancing and crying with happiness.

Similar memories seem to be offered every time the topic is raised in Sunday School, Priesthood, and Relief Society meetings. Everyone seemingly remembers not only where they were, but also who they were with, and how they felt. I’ve little desire to challenge either the sincerity or the accuracy of those memories. In an effort to better understand the immediate impact of the 1978 revelation on the church collectively and individual members, I would like to pose some questions and offer some preliminary thoughts on the subject.

I am far from an expert, but do know enough about the scientific a historical study of memory to understand that memories—especially of particularly emotional or significant events—change over time, shaped by their communal sharing and the added perspective that comes with the passage of time. I’ve intentionally avoided pursuing that particular line of thought here, both because I am not an expert and because I don’t want to come across as challenging the sincerity of those memories.

What I’d like to do instead is address two points in particular: The first is more speculative (at least at this point) and the second is, I think, more sound. Both, I hope, complicate the accepted wisdom that “reaction worldwide [to the revelation] was overwhelmingly positive among Church members.”

Point 1: I wonder just what it was that provoked the emotional responses that came in the hours, days, and months following the June 9, 1978 announcement. The tears of joy and relief came, at least in part, to the spiritually egalitarian convictions of many Mormons. Elder Oaks recalled being “troubled by this subject through college and my graduate school, at the University of Chicago where I went to law school.” He described the “many black acquaintances” he had in Chicago and that “many times … my heart ached for that, and it ached for my Church, which I knew to be true and yet blessings of that Church were not available to a significant segment of our Heavenly Father’s children.” I wonder, though, if some of the joy—some of the “hugging and dancing and crying with happiness”—came not out of a concern for the spiritual well-being and progression of their black brothers and sisters, but rather out of a relief that the Church would no longer be publicly criticized for its exclusionary policy; that the boycotts of BYU athletics would cease, that the demonstrations against and denunciations of Mormonism would end, and that the stinging charges of racism would become a thing of the past.

Point 2: There were, of course, some Mormons who did not respond overwhelmingly positive to the announcement. During my time at BYU, I was introduced to another student, a Utah native, who had recently been baptized into the LDS Church. His ancestors, he told me, were Mormon pioneers who crossed the plains, but his parents left the church in the aftermath of the revelation on the priesthood, believing it to be in apostasy. I’ve heard from another friend whose grandparents were living in Bermuda at the time, that several ward leaders similarly left the church in response to the revelation. Still another friend told me of a man in his ward who admitted to initially responding by asking “is the priesthood special if anybody can have it?” Of course, each of those stories and memories are mere anecdotes. What is needed is a fine-grained analysis of contemporary sources from 1978—newspapers, diaries, journals, and other such recorded observations—that reveal the variety of reactions by church members to the news. One such source comes from the December 1980 issue of Sunstone. There, Mormon Folklorists William Wilson and Richard Poulsen reported the results of “a careful sampling of Mormon folklore” in 1978 and 1979. They reported that “a new cycle of jokes … developed immediately following the announcement” and proposed that the off-color and frankly racist jokes warranted at least an asterisk in any conclusions about the universal elation in response to the 1978 revelation among Mormons. Some of the jokes made fun of the stereotyped “black” manner of speaking and habit by rhetorically inserting newly black priesthood holders into everyday Mormon conversations:

Q: How do you know when the millennium is here?
A: When you open your door and hear, “Hi! Wees you
new home teachers.”

***

Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Isa.
Isa who?
Isa yo new home teacher.

***

They’re putting a new song in the hymnbook:
“Come, Come Ye Saints, Do-da, Do-da.”

Others offered new spins on racist jokes in circulation among Latter-day Saints prior to 1978. “Why are crows black? Because they wouldn’t eat crickets in the pre-existence” became “Crows can now eat crickets.” Still others, in the words of Wilson and Poulsen, “had a sharper bite.” To wit:

Have you heard of the new office in the Aaronic priesthood?
There will be priests, teachers, deacons, and de-coons.

***

Did you hear they’ve raised tithing to 12 percent?
To pay for busing.

What to make of these distasteful “jokes” is difficult. Wilson and Poulsen concluded that “they suggest that many Mormons were still gripped by the bigotry of the past and were still having trouble keeping pace with their leaders.” This is likely an accurate observation, but it seems possible, perhaps even likely, that the tellers of these jokes, and those who laughed and then repeated them, were also among those who had earlier wept for joy and celebrated the revelation. Individuals are complex: Our actions are not always consistent, and the motives and meanings behind them not always immediately obvious.

In a 1983 essay, sociologist Armand Mauss observed that “in parts of the Mormon heartland, at least, there was a period of discomfiture” in the wake of the revelation, citing the work of Wilson and Poulsen as evidence.[1] It seems likely that such discomfiture existed beyond the Book of Mormon belt, too, and more research on how the revelation was received in regions ranging from the West Indies to apartheid-plagued South Africa, and from Mexico City to Managua, would go a long way toward rounding out our understanding and helping us better gauge how Mormons around the world responded to the historic events of June 1978.

___________________

[1] Armand Mauss, “The Fading of the Pharaohs’ Curse: The Decline and Fall of the Priesthood Ban Against Blacks in the Mormon Church,” in Lester E. Bush and Armand L. Mauss, eds., Neither White nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church (Midwale, Utah: Signature Books, 1983), 169. See also Armand L. Mauss, All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003), 241. Edward Kimball’s excellent 2008 BYU Studies article on “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on the Priesthood” documents the reaction of several high-ranking church officials, along with that of African American and Afro-Brazilian Latter-day Saints. He mostly ignores, though, the reactions of rank-and-file white Latter-day Saints.



40 Comments

  1. Interesting questions, Chris. I encountered a few of those horrid jokes in the early 1980s, but the source was someone who I suspect hadn’t ever thought of anything deeply enough to feel moved by the announcement in 1978. And that one anecdote (admittedly not “data”!) suggests to me that there was a portion of the church membership which simply accepted the revelation on priesthood because it was announced by the prophet, but without much emotional reaction.

    It’s interesting that the reports of overwhelmingly positive reactions generally seem to come from people who were better educated or who had had substantial interaction with Blacks–Elder Oaks had lived on the South Side of Chicago for over a decade, and Mitt Romney had seen his father’s involvement in the Civil Rights movement in Michigan, and had lived outside Utah most of his life.

    Other than those jokes told by an unthinking young Utah County resident, the only negative reaction I’ve ever heard was from a family I visited on the far south side of Chicago. They never attended church, and would likely have felt quite out of place in the Hyde Park Branch. But the husband/father did manage to tell us that he didn’t think “that announcement about blacks and the priesthood” was right.

    Finally, I don’t think Mitt Romney deserves “perennial.” Save that for William Jennings Bryan or Harold Stassen or even Gus Hall. Twice doesn’t make you a perennial.

    Comment by Mark B. — February 12, 2014 @ 8:52 am

  2. thanks Chris for the post. I think, judging from my own experience at the Y on issues such as diversity, it is likely that most people were indifferent. No doubt that it was relief to some and that others were happy about the revelation but my probably most were simply concerned with more immediate things, after all, most had little association with black people. I’ve seen this in my own department when we talk abut diversity or recruiting more people of color. Some people are motivated and enthused, a couple are uncomfortable and resistant and the majority simply sit, listen and then go about their business when the meeting is over. There is something that is almost numbing about our culture in Utah. I remember shortly after 9/11 when most people were consumed discussing the terrorist attacks that most students in my classes were simply unto other things. It is quite possible that in believing in continuing revelation and the afterlife simply makes things in this life very meaningless unless it affects us personally.

    Comment by Ignacio — February 12, 2014 @ 9:21 am

  3. Great post and important questions, Christopher. It also reminds me of Matt B’s article on Mormon bigfoot, and how folklore about Bigfoot’s blackness transformed following 1978.

    Comment by Ben P — February 12, 2014 @ 9:43 am

  4. Wonderful, Chris.

    Question. Is “Crows can now eat crickets” your own title, or an actual quote from the period.

    Wowsers.

    Comment by Max — February 12, 2014 @ 9:47 am

  5. Great post, Christopher. I was living with my parents in Provo, teaching at the MTC, and attending BYU in June 1978, when the announcement was made. It remains one of my freshest, most distinct memories. In regards to question 1, I think you’re right. It felt as though a very heavy, very embarrassing weight had been lifted and then jettisoned. In regards to question 2, I’m frankly at a loss to account for any negative reactions. I read later the same sources you cite, but I never heard anything approaching such statements. In my Provo neighborhood (Edgemont), at the MTC, in my classes at BYU, the response was uniformly, unreservedly positive. At least, that’s my memory.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — February 12, 2014 @ 10:15 am

  6. Thanks for the feedback, everyone.

    Mark and Ignacio, I particularly appreciate your respective perspectives and comments. I hope others similarly weigh in.

    Thanks for reminding me of Matt’s article, Ben. That is certainly relevant here.

    Max, it’s an actual quote from the Wilson and Poulsen piece. I quote it in the post above, though it’s not isolated like the other “jokes.” Essentially, the pre-1978 quip that “Crows are black because they wouldn’t eat crickets in the pre-existence” became “Crows can now eat crickets.” Wowsers is right.

    Comment by Christopher — February 12, 2014 @ 10:16 am

  7. Thanks, Gary. Just saw your comment. Your own recollections of Utah County mirror those of others I’ve talked to. Thanks for weighing in. Can you say more about the impact of the revelation on things at the MTC? Edward Kimball briefly discusses it in his 2008 article, but I’m curious about your perspective as someone on the ground, in close contact with the missionaries.

    Comment by Christopher — February 12, 2014 @ 10:24 am

  8. Now that you mention it, I do remember some variation of “Wees your home teachers,” although I don’t remember whether it was in my Las Vegas ward in 1978, or at BYU a year or two later. Early, though. I don’t think I’ve heard anything like that since then.

    What I remember about that day, besides the where-I-was and how-I-heard-it, was the immediate and lasting recognition that it was authentic, despite hearing it from an unofficial source. I don’t think I was *quite* one of Ignacio’s “indifferents,” because that sense of confirmation was so powerful, but I didn’t know anyone it directly affected, hadn’t been any sort of an activist, hadn’t yet felt any guilt or embarrassment. It was just the way things were. No one in my immediate awareness was upset or left the Church, although I do remember hearing about it elsewhere.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 12, 2014 @ 10:49 am

  9. The LTM president, Max Pinegar, convened a special LTM-wide meeting on June 9, 1978, at 9:00 p.m. He read the letter, talked about some of the context, then said: “We shouldn’t go beyond this statement. Don’t editorialize. Don’t make statements about what’s going to happen. We should be conservative in our comments. There will be those in the Church who will take issue with the First Presidency’s statement.” He said that some will maintain that the Church was forced into this action. “This,” he stressed, “is not true.” He also touched on inter-racial marriage: “we never council people to intermingle. It’s their decision if they want to.” And about missionaries to Africa: “We’re not prepared yet. But he time will come when we will teach missionaries going to Africa.”

    The missionaries I worked with seemed to accept things in stride. Those of us who’d had to address the Church’s race-based prohibitions in the mission field were overjoyed. I didn’t hear anything to the contrary.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — February 12, 2014 @ 11:58 am

  10. I felt a sense of letdown and a tad bit of disillusionment along with the rejoicing. Before 1978, I had personally concluded, after reading Lester Bush’s article, that there was no reason for the practice to continue (if there ever was) and that if one day I were ever in a position of authority I would do all I could to end it. But before 1978 there was still an element of trust in me, that perhaps there was some reason God had for the practice, and that when God made God’s revelation ending the practice we would understand why God ever directed the practice. That is, I thought the end of the practice would be more spectacular than it was, and that any doubts (which I had) about the practice would be laid to rest at that time. The end of the practice came by letter–it did use the word “revelation”, but it was difficult to distinguish it from any other administrative change the FP and 12 ever made. Since then, of course, various stories have leaked about marvelous manifestations some of the Brethren say they experienced associated with the change. But there was nothing disclosed to explain why God, in God’s mysterious ways, had instituted such a policy. Or that when I had defended the policy to friends on the basis that God directed it for reasons humans don’t understand and that God would later reveal, I was wrong. So in a real sense, it was disillusioning about God’s constant direction of the Church, emphasis on “constant.” Of course God wanted the practice to end, I have no doubt that the FP and 12 received an inspired, revelatory and prophetic message to end the practice. But it did not help me in anyway to believe that the previous practice was directed by or pleasing to God. Since then, I have come to read President Woodruff’s proclamation that prophets won’t lead the Church astray to mean that God will help the prophets, eventually, to correct decisions that were wrong. And that is what the 1978 revelation was. But it made me much less likely to accept as the primary or sole basis for following a decision, “Trust us. This is what God has directed and humans cannot change it.” So yes, it was a moment of rejoicing that the gospel was now what it was always intended to be. And yes, I would no longer have to defend a racialist current practice of the Church. But it made a chink in the armor of my willingness to accept things said by the Brethren.

    Comment by DavidH — February 12, 2014 @ 12:44 pm

  11. Thanks for the additional comments. I think the respective experiences of Ardis, Mark, Ignacio, Gary, and David—while all on the relieved, pleased, happy, joyful, etc. side of reactions—demonstrate the subtle nuances of individual responses to the announcement of the revelation/change in policy, which is exactly what I was hoping to highlight and learn more about with this post. Thanks, everyone.

    Comment by Christopher — February 12, 2014 @ 12:59 pm

  12. Fantastic post, Christopher. Thanks for further complicating the history of Official Declaration 2; it certainly provides some interesting cases for public memory.

    I have started asking folks who remember OD2 coming out if they knew others who weren’t as overjoyed. I have yet to speak with someone who didn’t know someone who was less than overjoyed. I think this would possibly be a great project for the Redd Center’s Oral History team.

    Comment by J Stuart — February 12, 2014 @ 1:12 pm

  13. I had grown up in Ogden, the most racially diverse city in Utah at the time, and had both been taught the incorrect folk doctrines that justified the ban, and read some things that made me question it, including Eugene England’s essay from the early 70s.

    Racism was a bigger issue in Ogden than most other areas in Utah, as they had fewer minorities in general at the time. The Hi Fi Shop murders in Ogden heightened racial tensions in 1973/1974, and I remember hearing a lot of racist rhetoric at Weber State where I was attending, and also at church during that time. That was when I think I really began to feel that the ban was wrong, and fostering some racist attitudes in the church. I was a few years out of college, and at work in Salt Lake, when the announcement was made, and my wife called me from home with the news. My first reaction was surprise, and over a period of a few days, relief and an eventual sense of gratitude. My best recollections are that I heard some of those jokes that were mentioned, and getting some uncomfortable stares when I used a video of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech as part of an elders quorum lesson I was teaching in about 1980.

    My completely anecdotal take is that many rejoiced, many were just not all that invested in it, and a not insignificant number quietly continued with private belief in some of those folk doctrines for years, despite the revelation. Living in the Ogden area had exposed me to more of the not so concealed racism present there, and it took a bit longer for it to subside. I do remember mostly positive responses, but there were many silent faces that seemed to be having a harder time with the news.

    Comment by kevinf — February 12, 2014 @ 1:21 pm

  14. My second paragraph should be interpreted as other areas in Utah had fewer minorities, not Ogden. Ogden had always attracted more outsiders, due to the railroad hub, Hill Air Force Base, and the Defense Depot west of town.

    Comment by kevinf — February 12, 2014 @ 1:26 pm

  15. I was too young to remember the announcement. But reading my (now deceased) father’s journal from the time of the announcement was illuminating to me.

    My father served a mission in Brazil during the 1960’s. His missionary journal is peppered with references to “the blood” and “the curse” and the whole dilemma of tracing the amount of “Negro” ancestry of particular investigators. It was a problem for them.

    I should add that one of my father’s top stated purposes in life was loyalty to the Church. He was active in the Church his entire life, and served in many positions in the Church. He was nothing if not true. And he never would have repeated any of the jokes referenced above.

    So, it was with some surprise when I read in his journal that my father was, actually, totally bewildered at the 1978 revelation. It’s not that he didn’t accept the revelation at the time; he mentions how it was his right and duty to obtain spiritual confirmation of President Kimball’s direction. But, it was so contrary to what he had understood about blacks and the priesthood, that he was left more than a little confused.

    My father was happy to jump on board, no doubt. But the fact that the revelation was at odds with his understanding of the race-based priesthood restriction produced some pretty serious cognitive dissonance at the time.

    So, if you’re looking for other images than the proverbial weeping for joy, I suppose my father’s initial reaction could be summarized as “scratching his head.”

    Comment by Hunter — February 12, 2014 @ 1:41 pm

  16. Chris: I would be careful about reading the proliferation of racist jokes among Mormons immediately after 1978 as evidence of pockets of passive Mormon opposition to the 1978 revelation. The jokes are based on offensive stereotypes. However, lots of people thoughtlessly subscribe to stereotypes while being genuinely opposed to more virulent forms of racism and genuinely celebratory when those more virulent forms of racism end. If this was not the case, progress on civil rights in the United States would have been basically impossible. I think an equally plausible reading of these jokes is that the 1978 revelation simply made race and Mormonism particularly salient and that salience interacted with racial stereotypes to produce these jokes. They are not coded messages of opposition, just racist Mormon jokes at time when Mormons were thinking about race.

    I am not denying the existence of objections to the revelation by some Mormons, but I don’t think that these jokes are particularly strong evidence of this.

    Comment by Nate Oman — February 12, 2014 @ 2:23 pm

  17. Great post Christopher. I would love to see someone take on a thorough study of this. I’ve also seen references to bishops and stake presidents (notably in the South and in South Africa) who were excommunicated for refusing to follow the ’78 revelation. I would also love to see someone take on a project that looks at what changed and what didn’t change in terms of typical teachings about blacks and the priesthood as a result of the policy change. I was almost nine in June of 1978 and yet I still grew up believing all of the old racist folklore surrounding the ban. Most members today (in my experience–aside from well educated–as in, beyond a BA degree) still believe there is a connection between the curse of Cain/Ham/Cannan, and some version of “fence sitters in the preexistence,” and the racial restrictions on priesthood and temple blessings. I also wonder if anything changed after 1969, when the church officially offered a “mysteries of faith” explanation rather than the racist myths as justification for the ban.

    We now have an opportunity to document reactions to the Church’s new race and the priesthood statement. Some reactions (generally more positive) will be easier to document because of the internet. But I’ve heard of a range of responses, although no racist jokes, thank goodness.

    Comment by RD — February 12, 2014 @ 2:25 pm

  18. I remember the day. I was on my mission to Korea, and was at the mission home for a baptism to be performed there. My reaction was probably more one of relief than anything else. I didn’t know enough blacks in my life up to that point that I felt I had a personal stake in the ban, and race wasn’t an issue on my mission.

    Missionaries, being young and stupid, told jokes. None of them you posted, though. I only remember a couple of them, and none of those were particularly funny or clever.

    I didn’t see it, but I was told that our mission president did the dance of joy when he got the news.

    Comment by CS Eric — February 12, 2014 @ 2:56 pm

  19. Not sure I get the joke about “why are crows black,” but it seems to me it’s making fun of Mormons more than it’s making fun of blacks. In fact looked at that way, it’s actally pretty funny.

    Comment by wondering — February 12, 2014 @ 4:11 pm

  20. When I decided the ban was wrong, I would tell the crows are black joke as away to surreptitiously say that the ban was completely irrational, and the notion that the ban was tied to something in the pre-existence made as much sense as saying crows were black because of something their ancestors had done. The only post 1978 joke I recall is that Louie Armstrong was replacing the Angel Moroni on the top of Mormon temples. Rightly or wrongly, I saw that as a playful way of rejoicing.

    But jokes can be taken a variety of ways. I am a big Obama supporter, and have been since 2006. I thought it was pretty well known around the office. The day after the election I sent a couple of friends at the firm a link to an onion article entitled something like: “Americans Vote To Give Worst Job in the Country to a Black Man.”
    I thought it was funny, and directed at U.S. racism, not at Obama. Within a day, a member of our management committee came down to see me, closed the door, showed me what I had sent around, and said he was concerned that I had distributed a racist joke. I apologized, pointed at the prominent Obama poster in my office, and told him that he must have misunderstood the joke. He finally got it, but told me I needed to be more cafeful. That is why I am anonymous for this (in case someone where I work sees this, I don’t want this post to be misunderstood.) What one person views as a joke critical of racism may be viewed by someone else as a racist joke.

    Comment by Anon — February 12, 2014 @ 4:30 pm

  21. Thanks, everyone, for the great comments. A couple of responses:

    Nate, I don’t think I ever concluded that the telling of racist jokes about the revelation=opposition to the lifting of the priesthood/temple ban, but rather that the telling of racist jokes about the revelation=something other than all Mormons pulling over in their cars and crying or spontaneously celebrating in the streets.

    RD, thanks for bringing up the perpetuation of the folklore, which is a closely related issue.

    wondering: the punchline is that crows are black for the same purported reason that people of African descent are–because of their actions in the pre-mortal existence. The target of the joke is quite obviously black people, not Mormons.

    Comment by Christopher — February 12, 2014 @ 5:07 pm

  22. Those jokes are rather shockingly awful, no matter how you interpret them. I think point 1 is a really good one, and you handled that really well.

    Comment by Saskia — February 12, 2014 @ 5:35 pm

  23. Chris: fair enough. My only point was that the reactions might well coexist in the same person. One is not necessarily evidence for the absence or insincerity of the other.

    Comment by Nate Oman — February 12, 2014 @ 5:50 pm

  24. Exactly, Nate. And that’s the precise point I tried to communicate in this post.

    Comment by Christopher — February 12, 2014 @ 7:48 pm

  25. When I heard about the Revelation of the lifting of the ban on Blacks being able to now be ordained to the Priesthood I jumped up and down, pumping my fists in the air for joy. The ban bothered me immensely.

    I was sent to Houston, Texas on my mission. I was not impressed with my mission president. He did things that went against what the SLC church leadership wanted done. Several missionary companions including myself went on splits with other missionaries that were in other areas/wards. We spent a Saturday going out with the young men and young women so they could learn about missionary work. We came to a poor, Black neighborhood. There were several youth who refused to get out and talk with the Black people. These same youth and some of the adults said the lifting of the ban was wrong. These same people also did not want Hispanics in their wards. It was embarrassing that those youth stayed in the car. It was obvious. I also know of people who turned in their Temple recommends in protest of the lifting of the ban.

    The Black people were very nice and gracious. Some sang religious hymns with us. It was quite fun actually. But those who refused to talk with the Black people put a damper on the whole day. This was in 1982-1984.

    I grew up in a small town that was 99% Hispanic. I was the only LDS in my school during my junior and senior years of high school and Caucasion. I know what discrimination feels like. The Hispanics did not like me because I am white and Mormon, and the whites did not like me because I am Mormon.

    Comment by JG — February 12, 2014 @ 8:43 pm

  26. The comment in Point 1 (“…if some of the joy… came not out of a concern… but rather out of a relief…”) does not necessarily involve an either / or sentiment. Can one not feel relief that their Church may be less criticized and at the same time be concerned about the welfare of others?

    Comment by Wally Bob — February 12, 2014 @ 8:44 pm

  27. I was in high school in 1978 and remember the rejoicing, relief, bewilderment, shoulder-shrugging, and jokes that are so well-described in the original post and the comments. For Mormons of a certain age, there is another moment that brought forth similar responses (minus the jokes), though it would have happened a couple years later and on an individual basis. I recall several conversations in which Latter-day Saints spoke of their reactions to the first time they attended the temple and the hand representing God that came from the other side of the veil was black. It was usually unexpected and something to marvel at.

    Comment by Grant Hardy — February 12, 2014 @ 9:57 pm

  28. Thanks for this posting.

    I turned 30 on June 8,1978. That Thursday evening, I was sitting in a full chapel of men in Twin Falls, Idaho (I guess it must have been a priesthood meeting, but I don’t remember why) when I heard the announcement. I felt extremely happy and relieved since I’d thought and believed for a long time that the Church had no good reason to do what it’d been doing relative to blacks. I’d felt ashamed for not being more vocal and supportive of receiving a revelation and I remember the earlier years when BYU sports bans had hit the evening news.

    My background was similar to kevinf’s above (Utah born and raised, although my father wasn’t a member and mother never attended, South German mission ’67-’69, Weber State graduate in ’74, and, with my wife and toddler daughter, moved from Utah to Illinois shortly thereafter. By ’78 I’d lived in the Bay Area in California, too.)

    I remember feeling surprised that more people didn’t feel my joy and relief. It seemed like most just accepted it, although I remember people all along the range of reactions, but very few as happy as I was.

    Comment by wreddyornot — February 12, 2014 @ 11:21 pm

  29. Interesting post. My recollection is the same as Gary’s, and I agree that there is definitely some merit to what you suggest in point one. I blogged on my reaction here:

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2007/06/14/a-missionarys-view-of-the-1978-revelation/

    Comment by Kevin Barney — February 13, 2014 @ 7:53 am

  30. More great comments, recollections, and questions. Thanks, everyone.

    Wally Bob, you’re absolutely right, and I never claimed otherwise. My response to Nate in comment 24 applies to your question as well. People’s responses were varied, nuanced, and complicated.

    Good insight, Grant. Thanks for commenting!

    wreddyornot and kevinf, it’d be interesting to take a closer look at the way this all played out in Ogden, given its historical status as Utah’s most racially-diverse city. Thanks for that insight.

    Kevin Barney, I was only just beginning to read the blogs in 2007 and thus missed your awesome post. Thank you so much for posting your actual journal entry! Fascinating stuff. Anyone else care to post theirs? :)

    Comment by Christopher — February 13, 2014 @ 8:35 am

  31. On June 8, 1978, I was a BYU student, traveling by car with my wife and baby to SLC, listening to talk radio when I heard the news. I was elated and cried tears of joy. My thoughts turned to my mission in Peru, 72-74, and the “golden” families we did not teach because their ancestry would not permit the priesthood. Selfishly, I wondered why this change didn’t happen 6 years sooner. How different my mission could have been. I’m now again in South America on a mission with my wife. A few months ago, a stake patriarch here showed me the old Alvin R. Dyer fence sitter paper. Old myths take at least a couple of generations to die.

    Comment by Dale Farnsworth — February 13, 2014 @ 1:09 pm

  32. I’m mixed on this post. People piled onto Randy Bott when he repeated Mormon folklore regarding the Priesthood ban, is repeating these jokes any better? I served in Brasil prior to the ban and I still have my Portuguese copy of the Lineage Lesson we taught investigators. Most did not join the Church after we taught that lesson. Yet, the black Brasilian Saints were incredibly faithful. When I heard the announcement I got on my knees and said a prayer of gratitude. Personally, I think those of us who knew the before and after of the revelation have a different understanding of it as opposed to those who were not born yet or are too young to have a memory of the difference.

    Comment by Jim — February 13, 2014 @ 1:14 pm

  33. Interesting timing: just yesterday I was scratching my head over my mother’s approving repost on Facebook of the meme from the Cheerios commercial about parents that don’t match, essentially expressing her disapproval that people would disapprove of such a family.
    This surprise is because I can remember the announcement when I was a new teenager, and how upset my parents were because they could no longer rely on the priesthood ban to prevent their daughters from marrying a black man. I think the announcement came at a particularly fraught time in our Midwest big city, as bussing was about to be federally imposed. My folks felt so strongly about the wrong-headedness of that, that they moved the whole family to an extremely rural area in the south where there were no black people at all, before the busing began.

    I guess my contribution is that people’s feelings and understandings do change considerably with the passage of time. What was at first confusion was replaced with acceptance and peace.

    Comment by Anon too — February 13, 2014 @ 1:35 pm

  34. I was only two in 1978, but have an anecdote. My first Book of Mormon teacher at BYU (c. 1998) told us that after the 1978 revelation, several hundred LDS signed their names to a full-page ad in a local newspaper to the effect that they knew Kimball was a fallen prophet, this revelation wasn’t possible, on the basis of past statements, scriptural interpretation, etc.

    I’ve used that story (or at least, my fallible memory of it), but never actually tried to hunt down the ad for confirmation or correction.

    Comment by Ben S — February 13, 2014 @ 1:36 pm

  35. Thanks, Dale, Anon too, and Ben S. All interesting anecdotes and experiences. I appreciate you sharing.

    Ben S, was the “local newspaper” a Utah paper? Seems like it wouldn’t be difficult to find.

    Jim, Randy Bott said horribly racist things in an effort to justify the priesthood ban. I included the several racist jokes in this post in an effort to demonstrate that not all Latter-day Saints were as racially egalitarian as their memories today might suggest. If you don’t understand the difference, I’m not sure what to tell you.

    Comment by Christopher — February 13, 2014 @ 5:07 pm

  36. As a non-mormon, I find this type of public introspection and debate amongst the faithful very refreshing and endearing. Thank you all!

    I lived briefly with LDS and have held them in high regard for 40 years – except for a few issues – like the “race” thing. It has always been clear to me that any truly pious path should address all types of discrimination in depth, and for that reason have discounted, but not dismissed, the Mormon path. Clearly, not all are (were?) welcome. Mormonism is for white people, and Mitt Romney is its exemplar.

    I like it when Christians ask: “What would Jesus do?”. As I believe the bible to be an inspired work of hearsay, I’d like to think that at least one of the Apostles was black (I imagine it was Thomas). And Jesus, being a Jew, probably looked a lot more like Yassir Arafat than the sanitized statuary popularized by the Catholic church.

    Discrimination is a painful and unfair injustice. It can only be dispelled by digging up the dirt. I applaud Christopher and those who are willing to engage the painful lessons necessary to right such wrongs and bring their church forward. I think that is what Jesus would do.

    We white people have no idea how good we have it. When I meet random black folks who smile at me with genuine warmth I am struck with their inner strength and beauty of spirit.

    If Mormonism included reincarnation, and LDS folks actually thought that the “birth lottery” might turn out a little differently next time, 1978 might have come a lot sooner…

    Comment by Eric — February 13, 2014 @ 5:43 pm

  37. I grew up in TX and my parents & brother & I converted to the Church about 15 years before the Revelation. I remember the “Home Teacher” _joke_ before 1978.
    One member acquaintance was very concerned because his father was rather bigoted against blacks and thought he would leave the Church. I asked him if he was in Church the Sunday after the announcement. He said “Yes” and I asked him how many blacks were there. He said “None.” I told him the Church still has a long way to go. (His father did not leave the Church and even went to meetings after blacks started attending.)

    @36 – Eric:
    I noticed your conclusion that “Mormonism is for white people, and Mitt Romney is its exemplar.” Is that why Church membership is so large in Latin American countries, and in the Philippines, and is growing so fast in Western Africa, and is well established in Asia, etc?

    Comment by Wally Bob — February 14, 2014 @ 12:05 am

  38. Yes, it was a local Utah newspaper. Might have been the SL Trib, as I assume the DN wouldn’t have run such an ad.

    Comment by Ben S — February 14, 2014 @ 12:02 pm

  39. Thanks, Ben. A little searching has turned up references to it. Now – to track down the issue. Stay tuned.

    Comment by Christopher — February 14, 2014 @ 1:04 pm

  40. Excellent! I’d love more detail if/when you discover it. I’ve always harbored a slight (irrational?) fear my teacher or my memory had greatly exaggerated.

    Comment by Ben S — February 14, 2014 @ 7:35 pm