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A factual and objective look at the history of Blacks in Mormonism and the alleged Mormon racism within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Between 1852 and 1978, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints enforced a policy that restricted blacks in Mormonism from priesthood ordination, though the belief in a future lifting of the restriction persisted. The end of this policy came in 1978, under President Spencer W. Kimball, who cited divine instruction on the matter. Today, the Church rejects racist ideas and aims for unity, welcoming all to embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, disregarding racial limitations and actively addressing the consequences of racism worldwide. The church believes in the equality of all people, affirming that God accepts everyone regardless of race, gender, or social status. While historical slavery and racism affected the United States during the Church's founding, its founder, Joseph Smith, treated Black individuals fairly and even ordained some Black men to the priesthood.

Key Takeaways for Blacks in Mormonism


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affirms that God “denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female … and all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33). This scripture in the Book of Mormon sets the standard for what Mormons believe about blacks in Mormonism. In His infinite Atonement, Jesus Christ suffered “the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children” (2 Nephi 9:21), and He brings salvation “to all those who shall believe on his name” and have “faith unto repentance” (Alma 34:15). 


Historically, slavery and racism deeply divided the United States of America before the Civil War, the era when the Church was organized. Regarding blacks in Mormonism, the founding Prophet Joseph Smith (1805-1844) personally welcomed Blacks and treated them fairly, in church, state, and local city matters over which he had influence or control. During Joseph’s presidency, some Black men were ordained to the priesthood in Boston, Massachusetts, and in Kirtland, Ohio.


Between 1852 and 1978, the Mormon Church, under Brigham Young’s policy, prohibited men of Black African descent from being ordained to the priesthood. This decision came with the assurance that the restriction would eventually be lifted in the Lord’s time. Despite cultural prejudices and insensitivity in speculating the reasons for the limitation, many Black individuals still joined the LDS Church. These blacks in Mormonism received the Holy Ghost, and were promised eventual access to all priesthood rights and temple blessings through patriarchal blessings.


The priesthood restriction on blacks in Mormonism ended in 1978 when President Spencer W. Kimball received a clear divine instruction on June 1, after several months of pleading with the Lord. On June 8, the Twelve Apostles also received powerful confirmation through manifestations of the Holy Ghost. The revelation was embraced with great joy by all members and blacks in Mormonism, and it was officially added to the Doctrine & Covenants by the sustaining vote of the entire Church membership during the next General Conference on September 30.


Today, racist ideas are soundly rejected regarding blacks in Mormonism and all others in  Mormonism. The challenge for those who are living today is: how to judge and interpret the actions of the past. Detractors criticize motives and question why God would allow unjust policies if this were His church. Believers assert that God interacts with people where they are, revealing truth as they become ready to receive it. Regardless, modern people should avoid the risks of presentism, meaning applying current values to people of the past.


The end of the priesthood restriction marked a new era of unity, as the LDS Church aimed to mend fences and heal wounds caused by old prejudices and sufferings. Embracing full brotherhood and sisterhood with blacks in Mormonism, the Church opened its doors without racial limitations, fulfilling its mission to “go into all the world” to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ among every nation, family, language, and people,” (D&C 18:28). They are currently working to address and correct the consequences of racism worldwide.

Tough Questions + Honest Answers

The complete responsibilities and restrictions of Blacks in Mormonism are not historically answerable. However, we do know that during Joseph Smith’s ministry, free blacks were able to join the Church, and there is evidence that Black members were granted priesthood ordination.  There are three accounts of Black men who were ordained to the priesthood during Joseph Smith’s time: Elijah Able, Q. Walker Lewis, and Enoch Lewis. One additional member, Joseph T. Ball, who was bi-racial, was also ordained to the priesthood during this time. 

It is unknown if Black members were able to participate in or receive temple ordinances during Joseph Smith’s ministry. Elijah Able, who received a washing and anointing ordinance in Kirtland in 1836, is the only known case. Elijah also participated in baptisms for the dead in Nauvoo, Illinois. Holding the priesthood, however, may not have been considered necessary for members to participate in those ordinances.

Yes. Free Blacks could and did readily join the Church through baptism and confirmation. In 1835, one provision was added regarding slaves legally in servitude to masters. What would later become Section 134 was added at the end of the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, in 1835, which was entitled “Of Governments and Laws in General.” Its stated purpose was so that “our belief . . . may not be misinterpreted nor misunderstood,” and it presented twelve paragraphs giving “our opinions concerning the same.” These 12 statements, all beginning with “we believe,” do not appear to be revelatory but declaratory or explanatory, adopted by unanimous vote of a Church assembly, in Kirtland, Ohio, on August 17, 1835. Several verses deal with relations between church and state matters.  Verse 1 says that God will hold men accountable for their governmental acts. Verse 2 says that laws should secure the “free exercise of conscience,” the individual “right to control property,” and also “the protection of life.” Verse 12 included a concluding proviso that “we do not believe it right to interfere with bond-servants,” who were thus not to be taught or baptized “contrary to the will and wish of their masters.” This was to prevent “jeopardizing the lives of men,” and doing otherwise was seen as “unlawful and unjust, and “dangerous to the peace of every government allowing human beings to be held in servitude.”

There is no record that Joseph Smith taught or instituted a policy that prohibited black members of the church from receiving the priesthood or participating in temple ordinances. Joseph Smith believed that Black people were descendants of Canaan, but he did not teach that all Black people were restricted from the priesthood.

Joseph Smith’s views on race were complex and sometimes contradictory. There is evidence to suggest that he held both racist and non-racist views. Joseph Smith had similar views to Abraham Lincoln, such as full civil rights. However, he did not believe in interracial marriage.

Brigham Young may have been okay with black members of the Church having the priesthood before the ban was made known. In March of 1847, Brigham Young stated the following about Quaku Walker Lewis, a Black priesthood holder, “one of the best Elders we have.” However, it is also possible that Young’s views on race evolved over time. In 1852, he publicly announced the priesthood and temple ban, which prohibited Black people from holding the priesthood or entering the temple. This ban remained in place for over 100 years, until it was lifted in 1978. Ultimately, it is difficult to say for certain whether or not Brigham Young was okay with Black members of the church having the priesthood before 1847. There is evidence to support both sides of the argument.

The basic question here, although personally frustrating and socially perplexing, was not whether all worthy Black men should receive the priesthood, but when that would happen. Many assurances were given that this would indeed happen when the time was right. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, other prophets down to David O. McKay, and finally Spencer W. Kimball, all pleaded “How long, O Lord?” This question has long been asked by prophets, from David and Isaiah, to John the Revelator and Joseph Smith (see Psalm 6:3; Isaiah 6:11; Revelation 6:10; Doctrine and Covenants 121:1-3), and still today. Prophets help us wait upon the Lord, knowing that good will somehow come from patience, trust, and even frustration. In getting beyond cultural clashes, it is always good to remember that God loves everyone, that all are to love their neighbors as themselves, and that God’s timing and thoughts are not always the same as our thoughts, “neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 55:9). We must all repent and do better, while a century of adjusting and waiting indeed is a long time for us, it can help to remember that it is more like an hour with the Lord (see 2 Peter 3:8).

Explore: Blacks in Mormonism

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