since I have now used this response twice in questions about the ban on giving blacks the priesthood, i decided i would just post it here. enjoy:
Actually, prior to 1852, there was no ban on black receiving the priesthood. For example, Elijah Abel, an free African American, was baptized in 1832 and ordained to the office of Elder in 1836 1. It wasn’t until later that blacks stopped being able to receive the priesthood. And the Lord actually had nothing to do with the initiating of the ban. David O. McKay said this on the subject:
“It is a practice, not a doctrine, and the practice will some day be changed.” 2
The ban was a policy instituted by Brigham Young, probably around 1852 3. Subsequently, Church leaders such as George Q. Cannon attempted to give a doctrinal basis to the policy by using scriptures that could be interpreted as saying that blacks were a lesser race. This was actually very common among most American Christian sects at the time. The policy became ingrained into the culture of the Church. It was around the time of David O. McKay that the matter came into question. But even though this was just a policy and not doctrine, the Lord’s help was required. Lester Bush, a scholar on the topic, said this about the need for revelation to end the policy:
“These were the authority of decades of vigorous and unwavering First Presidency endorsement of the policy; a preconceived and highly literalistic reading of several verses in the Pearl of Great Price; and an ambient culture which was indifferent to, if not supportive of, Mormon attitudes toward blacks.” 4
The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve struggled with the issue for over twenty years until that glorious day in 1978. The Lord clearly and distinctly revealed to President Kimball and subsequently to each of the Apostles that the Restoration of the Gospel would continue, despite our cultural weaknesses. Bruce R. McConkie said soon after something that has given me a great deal of respect for the man:
“There are statements in our literature by the early brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things…Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.” 5
I don’t hold a grudge towards those who have held cultural views which to us seem, to put bluntly, rather horrible. I realize they were products of their time, but were still great men who used the knowledge they had to the best of their ability.
For an great list of resources on the topic:
Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research on Mormonism’s Topic Guide entry to Blacks and the Priesthood.
Most quotes gleaned from:
Gregory A. Prince and Wm. Robert. Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005), 79-80. ↩︎
Lester E. Bush, Jr. and Armand L. Mauss, eds., Neither White nor Black (Midvale, UT: Signature, 1984), 209-10. ↩︎
Bruce R. McConkie, “All Are Alike unto God,” an address to a Book of Mormon Symposium for Seminary and Institute teachers, Brigham Young University, 18 August 1978. ↩︎