Blacks in Mormonism: Marcus Martin’s Insights on Racism
Now, let me address out of my own experience what it feels like, what it is like for blacks in mormonism. Well, it means to be always on guard, on the edge, on edge, always preoccupied with the understanding that people will judge you more harshly. They’re going to be more critical of you in comparison with others.
I remember some experiences in my own life. Most of this I have spoken only briefly with family members or very close friends, but not in public like what I’m going to do now. I intend to offend nobody. But this is the kind of experience some of the experiences are funny, others are more troubling, and others are actually more serious.
Experiences at Church
Now, I remember on the funny side. I remember one time, I believe was 2001. I was attending a professional conference in Denver, Colorado, here in the United States, and I was with a group of colleagues from BYU Hawaii. And on a Sunday morning we went to attend the church in one of the local wards. Now it was far from our hotel where the conference was taking place and I had the rental car. So we got there a few minutes after the beginning of sacrament meeting. Well, we sat on the very back on the last pew of the chapel.
And when the sacrament hymn started to be sung, I was sitting here. There was two colleagues and the second colleague after me had this beautiful tenor voice, really lyrical, and he was singing very beautifully. And people were kind of trying to look back, but they couldn’t see us. We were on the very back of the chapel. Well, when the meeting ended, as soon as the closing prayer ended, one of the sisters left her pew and came and dashed.
She really ran in my direction, shook my hand and said, ‘I just want to compliment you, you have such a beautiful voice.’ Well, my colleagues started to laugh because white men can’t jump and black men can, they got to be either athletes or musicians. She thought I was the one and I had to tell well, actually have to compliment my colleague here, it wasn’t me. Funny stuff.
I remember also all this would have been 1993 or thereabouts I was in the Manti temple. No, it would have been 1995 probably. I was in the Manti temple, Manti, Utah temple with my wife. And after attending a beautiful session in the temple, I was waiting for her in the foyer and the brother who was at the recommend desk started conversation. Manti is a very small town, so blacks in mormonism are rare to see. And he said, well, he’s not from here. So he asked me, ‘Where are you from? Where are you coming from?’ Leaving Provo. I attend BYU. And at the time I was already working on my PhD and I was teaching sociology and religion classes.
I didn’t want to extend the conversation, so I just moved away and I went to see some of the other features in the foyer. Another brother came from inside and I could hear in temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints you cannot expect to have a whole lot of privacy. So I could overhear the two brothers, one of them asking, so who’s this brother?
He attends BYU? And the other man said, well, with a body like that, got to be a football player. Yeah, I really wanted to turn back and said, actually, I’m a part time lecturer in sociology and religion, but I just left it. It just a funny joke for personal consumption.
Experiences at Work
Now some other experiences are a little bit more troubling. I remember in 2000 and well, anyway, many years ago, early 2000s, we had an activity from BYU, Hawaii, at the Polynesian Cultural Center. And our TV crew could not film that activity. And so they asked me if I could do the honors. I had taken a television production course here in Hawaii, and so I put together a crew and with two cameras, and we went to the theater at the Polynesian Cultural Center at BCC. I was on one end, and I had the other two students on the other end of the theater to film the students presenting dances from many countries around the world.
Everything was fine until security came, approached me, and said, well, ‘what are you doing?’ So well, ‘I’m filming here. Sorry, I can’t talk to you right now. I’m busy here. I have to be taking care of the camera here.’
And the security officer, a lady, said, well, ‘we heard that there is a BYU professor who was coming here to film. Are you with him?’
My wife doesn’t like when I do this. But instead of telling the lady, yes, it’s me, I just pulled my wallet, took my business card, and gave it to her. So here’s my business card. Had my name there. Marcos Martin PhD.
And she kept looking at the business card. ‘So are you with him’ Then I said, ‘excuse me, I cannot talk right now. Okay, look, the next group is going to present. I have to be operating the camera here, okay? We can talk later because people are complaining that you are blocking their view. And I said, look, this is a video is going to be recorded and sold later to raise funds for student activities.’ So the lady left not even five minutes later. I think she comes back with two Honolulu police officers.
Now, when I saw the two HPD officers there, then I realized, I said, okay, now this could end in really big trouble. Blacks in mormonism don’t want things like this said in the history of their lives, they don’t want to have it to see included in the history of their life to be like any episodes of Hawaii 50. So the police officer said, ‘can you step outside?’ So I turned off the camera, I went outside, and I said, ‘Look, I’m filming here. This is it.’
Because people are complaining. Look, this is the angle we need. It’s television. But I decided not to escalate. I was very upset. Oh, my goodness. I was boiling side. I just went there, turned off the whole thing, packed the equipment, and went home. Now, the president of PCC at the time was a wonderful man, President von Orgill. And he sent me a letter of apology later.
It was all right. But now fast forward some 15 years. Yeah, probably around 15/14 years, maybe 2016. I was attending some meetings. I was the associate dean for Religious education at BYU Hawaii at the time, and I was attending meetings at the church office building in Salt Lake.
And afterwards, we had a satellite broadcast with a member of the Quorum Twelve Apostles. So as being the associate dean, I was in that reserved section in the front of the tabernacle and I went there. But pretty soon I was on the second pew, the second row of pews, and it started to fill up. So I didn’t want to be squeezed there because as you can see, I don’t squeeze very well. So I moved to the first row, to the front row.
I was sitting there. Some friends came, colleagues, Richard Holzapo, who at the time was still working as a BYU professor, and then Sister Anne Madsen, widow of Truman Madison, an old friend. We taught Sunday school many years ago in our ward in Provo, Utah. And so she came, we hugged and so on. We sat there, we were shooting the breeze.
Suddenly a sister comes, one of the ushers, and said, ‘excuse me, we’re going to have members of the apostles family. I’m not going to tell who the apostle was going to have members of the apostles family coming. They seem to be stuck in traffic and we’re going to need extra room for the family.’ Well, that’s reasonable. So she seemed to be talking directly to me, and I asked her, okay, how many of us you need to move?
She said, ‘just you.’ When she said Just you, all those thoughts start to come and say thinks like it is because I am one of the blacks in mormonism. So, I looked to my side and it was one of those very long bills in the tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Half of that bill was empty. You could seat six people my size easily there. So I looked at that and I said, I thought, just me, just one.
And so I asked her to say, ‘how many people are you expecting?’ And she said, ‘well, we don’t know.’ ‘When are they going to be here?’ ‘We don’t know.’ ‘And so you only need one?’ ‘Yeah, just one. Just you.’
Now I really wanted to say, why don’t we wait until they come? And then, if necessary, I’ll move some other place. But, then I remember that experience I had when they called Honolulu Police on me here in Hawaii. And I thought, okay, I’m here in the tabernacle of Temple Square. After her, if I dismiss her, she could bring security, those football linebackers sized security, to politely escort me out of the tabernacle. And this could end up with me instead of spending the night at a nice hotel, spending the night on a jail cell at the county jail. And really that’s not something I would want. And so I stood up, I told her, ‘okay, where do you want me?’ ‘Right there, third row.’
And they had a space like this. Now you see my size here? There are a space like this for me to sit there. Yeah, you guessed. Nobody came.
No family members of the member of the Quorum of the Twelve came and it was a very sad experience for me, very troubling. Why was I singled out? Was it because I hugged and gave a kiss to my old neighbor and friend and team teacher, fellow teacher? Or is it something else? I know people are going to say, oh come on, bro, my team is here saying too much in this.
But you see, that’s the problem. You try to dismiss things, but it’s one after the other after the other after the other after the other, and then you get things that are potentially a whole lot more serious.
I remember some 25 years ago I was at BYU, finishing my doctorate, finishing my PhD. And I was telling some colleagues that I was thinking about applying to some of the openings there to be a full time faculty member. I was a part time lecturer.
I wanted to be a full time faculty member. Well, one afternoon I was walking in front of the Humanities Building and one of the vice presidents of the university at the time caught up with me, said, ‘Hi, Rod Martinez, how are you doing? I understand you’re thinking about becoming a faculty member. Full time faculty member.’ I said, ‘yeah, that’s right. I’m giving serious consideration to that.’ And he said, ‘oh, that’s good.’ And then he said, ‘well, you understand that the bretheren are concerned with interracial marriages, right?’ Well, I wasn’t quite sure about that and said, ‘that’s all?’ And he said, ‘yeah, and remember, faculty members have to be role models for the students.’
Yeah, I got the message. They didn’t want blacks in mormonism to be there. So soon after that, of course, my application didn’t go anywhere. They told me that it’s not common practice at the university to hire faculty who got their PhDs in house, who graduated from our own, one of our own graduate programs. Okay, I can accept that.
The problem is that in the ensuing twelve months, five of my classmates were hired. So we go ahhhh… It’s kind of oh, by the way, if you’re a lawyer, don’t call me, okay? This is past, I’m just making a point here, okay? Why do people get upset? Okay? That’s all.
Don’t call me unless you’re my daughter. If you’re my oldest daughter who is a lawyer, you can call me, but just to tell me how your daughters are. Then, I went to Rick’s College and I heard through the grapevine that when I was a candidate at Rick’s College that somebody had told them, somebody, I don’t know who or where and I don’t want to know, that they should not hire me at Rick’s because I was going to be trouble for them. I don’t know where that came from, but anyway, that’s what I heard. Well, three years later they gave me what we call continuing faculty status.
But they said that they were not going to sponsor me for permanent residency in the United States, which meant that I had to leave. Otherwise, at the end of my work visa, I was going to be dismissed. So I started looking for another job and that’s when I came to BYU Hawaii. The interesting thing was that when I came to BYU Hawaii, I also heard through the grapevine that some of the folks, they were saying, oh yeah, Martinez went to Hawaii because they thought that I was going to be fired in Idaho. Where did that come from?
So you see, these are the kinds of things that hit when one after the other, on top of the other, on top of the other, on top of the other, until one day you go network on this thing. Network like in the movie from the mid 1970s.
‘I am mad as hell, I’m not going to take this anymore!’ But of course I wouldn’t do that. It’s just a thing that’s not quite me. But you can sense how a combination of many of these needy, picky little things that really gets on your nerves after years, after decades. And by the way, I’m giving examples here for the United States, but there were things in Brazil as well.
Yeah, I grew up with the old, oh yeah, you are black, but you have a white soul. When you go to heaven, you’re going to be white. Yeah, I grew up with that. When I was a boy, I learned that. So you live on edge because you know you’re going to be judged more harshly because blacks in mormonism can be treated dfferently.
You see, if I try to apply to further my career, it’s seen as ambitious. What do you think? It’s kind of that old false judgment that people make that sort of, oh, is being aggressive problematic, it’s tough. Or they are labeled as apity. In other words, a person who you don’t know your place, you don’t belong here, you don’t know your place.
Those are the kinds of things, hey, let’s not forget, oh yes, blacks are sexually hyperactive. And I heard that in a priesthood meeting, okay, in church, enough said. Now, it so happens that, yes, religious denominations may be helpful in healing hearts from racism and inoculating vaccinating these hearts against racism, but only if the tenets, if the beliefs of the church are free of any specks of racist views. That’s a lofty goal. Indeed it is, but sadly, frequently it’s not found in history.
By Dr. Marcus Martins, Source Expert
Marcus H. Martins holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Management, Masters in Organizational Behavior, and a Ph.D. in Sociology of Religion, Race and Ethnic Relations. Brother Martins joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1972, and in 1978 became the first Latter-day Saint with Black African ancestry to serve as a full‑time missionary in the twentieth century.
Fact Checked by Mr. Kevin Prince, Source Expert
Kevin Prince is a religious scholar and YouTube host of the Gospel Learning YouTube Channel. His channel currently has over 41,000 subscribers with over 4.5 million views. Mr Prince also developed the Gospel Learning App, a trusted source where truth-seeking individuals can easily find trusted answers to religious questions from the best teachers in the world.
ABOUT BLACKS IN MORMONISM
Our purpose at Blacks in Mormonism is to provide a factual and objective look at the history and beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. With so much sanitized history, misinformation and falsehoods being put forth, we are here to provide facts and objectivity to those who are sincerely searching for truth.