Went to college in the West. One of the schools we played sports against every so often was Brigham Young. Starting in the mid-late 60’s, as a result of the Civil Rights movement, the pushback against the racist teachings of the Mormon Church historically and at that time became much more intense. While there certainly are Mormons who are racist, as there are in just about any other religion – Mormons weren’t really a part of the Southern racism which drove segregation and Jim Crow. It fell into the category of “other”…
Historically, the issue surrounded Church Founders views and “revelations”. Revelations which were not inconsistent with anti-abolition racial attitudes at the time of the founding of the Church.
Mormons were a bit thin on the ground here in Northern Virginia until the mid 60’s. I remember my parents always attending various social events for the Links, my Mother’s Sorority, and the black fraternities at the Marriott Key Bridges. Bill Marriott, the founder of the Hotel Chain was probably the local area’s best know Mormon. I asked my Dad, why the various events were always at the Marriott – and he said “It’s because it’s the only major hotel in the area which will rent ballroom facilities to black folks.” Turns out, Marriott Hotels didn’t segregate, whereas every other hotel from the HoJos to the Hilton did in the South. Many black organizations were loyal to Marriott for a generation because of that.
You can’t regulate what someone thinks of you, but it is ultimately their actions towards you which really count.
Mormons, particularly those from the Wast – are about the “whitest” folks in America. I’m a big fan of the NBC show, “The Sing Off”, and have to confess that I love the sound of a Choir, whether Gospel or “traditional” (maybe because I can’t sing a lick). The Brigham Young University Choir is one of the best of the best from year to year, and this year the guys doing A Capella on the Sing Off were very good. BYU Choirs also compete against HBCUs in Gospel. One of the Sing Off segments involved singing traditional R&B this year, to which several of the singers had a laugh about some white boys from BYU trying to sing Soul Music coming from a background where not much beyond pops and country is played on the radio. Good sense of humor.
So, if Mitt Romney is the Republican Presidential candidate – will most black folks not be voting for him because he is a Mormon… Or because he is a Republican. I honestly think that Republican thing, and the bad racial freight attached to that is what counts, anymore.
It’s looking more and more likely that Barack Obama will be facing Mitt Romney next November. According to recent polls, Romney’s much-debated “Mormon Problem”—considered by some to be a main roadblock to the Republican nomination in 2008—has decreased in salience among the white evangelicals on whom he’ll probably depend in both the primary and general elections. But one element of the Mormon problem that’s yet to be vetted will come into stark relief should this match-up take place: the Mormon Church’s troubling history of racial exclusion.
This history is a long one, stretching back to the inception of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in the 1830s. Joseph Smith Jr., the founder of Mormonism, ran for president in 1844 as a moderate abolitionist; ordained a black man, Elijah Abel; and offered to adopt one young black convert, Jane Manning James, as his spiritual daughter. Yet earlier in his life, Smith wrote anti-abolitionist screeds replete with racist sentiment typical of Christian pro-slavery apologists of antebellum America. In one 1836 letter to missionaries in the South, Smith excoriated northern abolitionists as the instigators of discord among southern slaves who, he argued, were generally happy.
Other figures early in the Church’s history illustrated such prejudices as well. The Mormon Prophet Brigham Young stated in 1852, “Any man having one drop of the seed of [Cain] … in him cannot hold the priesthood.” Up until the mid-twentieth-century, some prophets perpetuated the idea that blacks were spiritually inferior, the permanently cursed descendants of Ham and Cain (a myth once popular in many American churches). In 1931, Church President Joseph Fielding Smith, the great-nephew of Joseph Smith Jr., wrote a widely distributed treatise—still available on Kindle—asserting that blacks were “fence-sitters” during a pre-mortal battle between God and Lucifer. When they were sent to Earth, according to Fielding Smith, blacks were marked with darkened skin as a permanent reminder of their perfidy. Until 1978, black men were forbidden from holding the Mormon priesthood, a sacred status that almost every Mormon male attains, and black couples could not marry in Mormon temples, a revered ceremony that Mormons believe unites the family for eternity.
This aspect of LDS history will probably prove less of a problem for Romney than for his Church, which is actively trying to change the dominant perception of Mormons as all but exclusively white. Romney’s presidential bid does not rely on the black vote, and he has put distance between himself and the history of racial exclusion once practiced by his church. On “Meet the Press” in 2007, Romney tearfully recalled the moment in 1978 when he heard that the Church had lifted the century-and-half-long ban on blacks holding the Mormon priesthood. “I was driving home from … law school. … I heard it on the radio and I pulled over and literally wept.” Since then, Romney has reached out to some black communities; a January 2008 Salt Lake Tribune article reported that Romney aided poor Massachusetts Haitians—using the French he acquired as a young missionary—while serving as the Church’s regional leader in Boston in the 1990s…