Death of the Anti-Black Doctrine

by Jerald and Sandra Tanner

(This article originally appeared in The Salt Lake City Messenger, Issue No. 41, December 1979)

David Briscoe and George Buck refer to June 9, 1978 as "Black Friday" because this was the day that Mormon leaders announced the death of the anti-black doctrine (see Utah Holiday, July 1978, page 33). Prior to that time blacks of African lineage were not allowed to hold the Priesthood nor go through the temple even though they lived exemplary lives. The Mormon position concerning blacks was clearly stated in a letter written by the First Presidency on July 17, 1947:

"From the days of the Prophet Joseph even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by any of the Church leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel." (Letter from the First Presidency, quoted in Mormonism and the Negro, by John J. Stewart and William E. Berrett, pp.46-47)

Bruce R. McConkie, who now serves as an Apostle in the Mormon Church, wrote the following in a book published in 1958:

"Negroes in this life are denied the priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty. The gospel message of salvation is not carried affirmatively to them...
"Negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain spiritual blessings are concerned..." (Mormon Doctrine, 1958, page 477)

In the July 1978 issue of the Salt Lake City Messenger we pointed out that in the past Mormon leaders have taught that the doctrine could not be changed. President Brigham Young, for instance, emphatically affirmed that blacks could not hold the Priesthood until AFTER the resurrection:

"Cain slew his brother... and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin.. ..How long is that race to endure the dreadful curse that is upon them? That curse will remain upon them, and they never can hold the Priesthood or share in it until all the other descendants of Adam have received the promises and enjoyed the blessings of the Priesthood and the keys thereof. Until the last ones of the residue of Adam's children are brought up to that favourable position, the children of Cain cannot receive the first ordinances of the Priesthood." (Journal of Discourses, Vol.7, pp. 290-291)

"When all the other children of Adam have had the privilege of receiving the Priesthood, and of coming into the kingdom of God, and of being redeemed from the four quarters of the earth, and have received their resurrection from the dead, then it will be time enough to remove the curse from Cain and his posterity... he is the last to share the joys of the kingdom of God." (Ibid., Vol. 2, page 143)

The First Presidency of the Church reaffirmed Brigham Young's teaching in 1949 (see Mormonism and the Negro, Part 2, p. 16), and in 1967, N. Eldon Tanner, was quoted as saying:

"'The church has no intention of changing its doctrine on the Negro,' N. Eldon Tanner, counselor to the First President told SEATTLE during his recent visit here. 'Throughout the history of the original Christian church, the Negro never held the priesthood. There's really nothing we can do to change this. It's a law of God.'" (Seattle Magazine, December 1967, p. 60)

The Mormon apologist John L. Lund wrote the following:

"Brigham Young revealed that the Negroes will not receive the Priesthood until a great while after the second advent of Jesus Christ,.. our present prophets are in complete agreement with Brigham Young and other past leaders on the question of the Negro and the Priesthood....
Social pressure and even government sanctions cannot be expected to bring forth a new revelation... all the social pressure in the world will not change what the Lord has decreed to be....
The prophets have declared that there are at least two major stipulations that have to be met before the Negroes will be allowed to possess the Priesthood. The first requirement relates to time. The Negroes will not be allowed to hold the Priesthood during mortality, in fact, not until after the resurrection of all of Adam's children. The other stipulation requires that Abel's seed receive the first opportunity of having the Priesthood... Negroes must first pass through mortality before they may possess the Priesthood ('they will go down to death'). Reference is also made to the condition that the Negroes will have to wait until after the resurrection of all of Adam's children before receiving the Priesthood... the last of Adam's children will not be resurrected until the end of the millennium. Therefore, the Negroes will not receive the Priesthood until after that time... this will not happen until after the thousand years of Christ's reign on earth....
The second major stipulation that needs to be met.. is the requirement that Abel's seed receive the opportunity of holding the Priesthood first." (The Church and the Negro, 1967, pp. 45-48)

Because Church leaders stressed for over a hundred years that blacks would never be able to hold the Priesthood DURING MORTALITY, the Mormon people were surprised when they learned of the death of the anti-black doctrine. They were aware of the fact that the change tended to undermine the concept that they were led by a "living prophet" who could not yield to the pressures of the world. Even though most Mormons claim they are happy with the doctrinal change regarding blacks, there is evidence that the "revelation" came as a real shock. A class at Brigham Young University which conducted a "random telephone survey" of Utah County residents found that 79 percent of those interviewed did not expect a change at this time. Furthermore, many people compared the news to an announcement of some kind of disaster or death:

"Some 45 percent of those who heard of the doctrine from personal sources expressed doubt that the news was true. This compares with only 25 percent of those who learned from media sources. Sixty-two percent of the former group expressed shock, compared with 52 percent of the latter....
Those surveyed appeared surprised by the announcement, Haroldsen said. Thirty-nine percent said they did not think 'it would ever happen'--that the priesthood would ever be given to blacks.
Another 40 percent expected it years in the future, after Christ's return, during the Millennium, or 'not in my lifetime.'...
In trying to explain how they reacted to the news, 14 persons compared its impact with that of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Another 13 compared it to the news of the death of an LDS Church president. Eight compared it to a natural disaster, especially the Teton dam break.
Others compared the news with the death of a family member or friend, with a declaration of war, or other major political event." (The Daily Universe, June 22, 1978)

The Mormon people apparently realized the deep doctrinal implications this change involved, and therefore they associated it with death or disaster. IF THEY WERE REALLY PLEASED WITH THE CHANGE, WHY DID THEY NOT RELATE IT WITH A HAPPY EVENT LIKE MARRIAGE, THE BIRTH OF A CHILD OR THE END OF A WAR? We feel that this survey unwittingly reveals what Church members really thought of the change.


The reader will remember that when the public began to find out the real truth about Watergate, President Nixon's press secretary Ron Ziegler said that statements which had previously been made were now "inoperative." What he really meant, of course, was that the past denials were untrue. Like the early statements concerning Watergate, the pronouncements and revelations that Mormon leaders used to support the anti-black doctrine have now become "inoperative." Although he did not use this word, the Apostle Bruce R. McConkie recently conceded that the old teachings concerning blacks were given "without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world":

"I would like to say something about the new revelation relative to our taking the priesthood to those of all nations and races.... 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, and people write me letters and say, 'You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such? And all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. 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.
We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don't matter any more.
It doesn't make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year (1978). It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light into the world on this subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them." ("All Are Alike Unto God," by Apostle Bruce R. McConkie of the Council of the Twelve, pp. 1-2)

Because of the new revelation concerning blacks, Bruce R. McConkie has had to make a number of changes in his "best seller", Mormon Doctrine. This is not the first time that Apostle McConkie has been forced to revise his book. The original 1958 edition was suppressed because it contained anti-Catholic material (see The Case Against Mormonism, Vol. 1, pages 8-9). When a new edition appeared in 1966, Apostle McConkie wrote that "experience has shown the wisdom of making some changes, clarifications, and additions." At any rate, when the "25th Printing" of Apostle McConkie's book appeared in 1979, the majority of the anti-black material was deleted or changed. For instance, the section on "NEGROES" (pp. 526-28 of the new printing) was completely rewritten and no longer contains McConkie's statement that "Negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain spiritual blessings are concerned..." Nor does it contain McConkie's long explanation of how blacks were "less valiant" in the pre-existence and therefore had "spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality..." In another section, RACES OF MEN, McConkie originally wrote:

"We know the circumstances under which the posterity of Cain (and later of Ham) were cursed with what we call negroid racial characteristics." (Mormon Doctrine, 1958, page 554)

This has been softened to read:

"We know the circumstances under which the posterity of Cain (and later of Ham) were born with the characteristics of the black race." (Mormon Doctrine, 1979, page 616)

In the 1958 edition, page 314, Apostle McConkie had written that "Negroes are thus descendants of Ham, who himself also was cursed, apparently for marrying into the forbidden lineage." This was shortened to: "Ham was cursed, apparently for marrying into the forbidden lineage,..." (1979 printing, page 343)
On page 102 of the 1958 printing, Apostle MeConkie wrote the following:

"As a result of his rebellion, Cain was cursed with a dark skin; he became the father of the Negroes, and those spirits who are not worthy to receive the priesthood are born through his lineage. He became the first mortal to be cursed as a son of perdition."

In the 1979 printing of McConkie's book, page 109, this has been changed to read:

"As a result of his rebellion, Cain was cursed and told that 'the earth' would not thereafter yield him its abundance as previously. In addition he became the first mortal to be cursed as a son of perdition."

The reader will notice that Apostle McConkie has changed the statement so that it no longer reads that "Negroes' are cursed with a black skin. In the 1979 printing McConkie does go on to talk of the "dark skin", but he calls it a "mark" rather than a "curse": "The Lord placed on Cain a mark of a dark skin, and he became the ancestor of the black race."
Although we believe that Apostle McConkie has the right to change his own writings, we feel that these changes tend to undermine his claim to have "all of the keys of the kingdom of God on earth."
(Mormon Doctrine, 1979 printing, page 45). In any case, we feel that McConkie's book may have to undergo even more revision. Although he apparently tried to remove all material unfavorable to blacks, he seems to have missed the following in his section entitled, CASTE SYSTEM:

"However, in a broad general sense, caste systems have their root and origin in the gospel itself, and when they operate according to the divine decree, the resultant restrictions and segregation are right and proper and have the approval of the Lord. To illustrate; Cain, Ham, and the whole negro race have been cursed with a black skin, the mark of Cain, so they can be identified as a caste apart, a people with whom the other descendants of Adam should not intermarry." (Mormon Doctrine, 1979, page 114)


In The July 1978 issue of the Salt Lake City Messenger we observed: "One thing that should be noted about the new revelation is that the Church has failed to produce a copy of it. All we have is a statement by the First Presidency which says a revelation was received." We went on to say that we "seriously doubt that President Kimball will put forth a written revelation on the bestowal of priesthood on blacks. We doubt in fact, that any such document exists. What probably happened was that the leaders of the Church finally realized that they could no longer retain the anti-black doctrine without doing irreparable damage to the Church. Under these circumstances they were impressed with the fact that the doctrine had to be changed and this impression was referred to as a revelation from God. In a letter to the Editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, June 24, 1978, Eugene Wagner observed '...was this change of doctrine really a revelation from the Lord, or did the church leaders act on their own? Why don't they publish that revelation and let the Lord speak in his own words? All we saw was a statement of the First Presidency, and that is not how a revelation looks.
'When God speaks the revelation starts with the words: "Thus sayeth the Lord...' It seems when the Lord decides to change a doctrine of such great importance he will talk himself to the people of his church. If such a revelation cannot be presented to the members it is obvious that the first presidency acted on its own, most likely under fear of public pressure to avoid problems of serious consequences and to maintain peace and popularity with the world.'"

At the 148th Semiannual Conference of the Mormon Church, members of the church were asked to "accept this revelation as the word and will of the Lord," but the only document presented to the people was the letter of the First Presidency, dated June 8, 1978 (see The Ensign, Nov. 1978, p. 16).
On June 2, 1979 the Church Section of the
Deseret News announced that "The statement of the First Presidency telling of the revelation extending the priesthood to 'all worthy male members of the Church' released June 9, 1978, will also he added to the Doctrine and Covenants." The reader will notice that it is only the "statement.. telling of the revelation" that will be added to the Doctrine and Covenants.
Some Mormons have put forth the rumor that the power of God was manifested as on the day of Pentecost when President Kimball gave the "revelation." Kimball himself seems to be trying to dispel this idea. The following statement about the "revelation" appeared in
Time on August 7, 1978, p. 55: "In other renditions it came complete with a visitation from Joseph Smith... In an interview, his first since the announcement, Kimball described it much more matter of factly to Time staff writer Richard Ostling: 'I spent a good deal of time in the temple alone, praying for guidance, and there was a gradual and general development of the whole program, in connection with the Apostles.'"
For some time after the anti-black doctrine was changed, Mormon leaders were reluctant to inform their own people of the details surrounding the giving of the "revelation." Finally, six months after the event, the Church News staff asked President Kimball if he would "care to share with the readers of the church news any more of the circumstances under which that was given?" President Kimball's answer is very revealing. He makes no reference to a voice or any written revelation. In fact, his statement gives the impression that it was only a feeling or an assurance that he received:

"President:...It went on for some time as I was searching for this, because I wanted to be sure. We held a meeting of the Council of the Twelve in the temple on the regular day. We considered this very seriously and thoughtfully and prayerfully.
'I asked the Twelve not to go home when the time came. I said, 'now would you be willing to remain in the temple with us?' And they were. I offered the final prayer and I told the Lord if it wasn't right, if He didn't want this change to come in the Church that I would he true to it all the rest of my life, and I'd fight the world against it if that's what He wanted.
We had this special prayer circle, then I knew that the time had come. I had a great deal to fight, of course, myself largely, because I had grown up with this thought that Negroes should not have the priesthood and I was prepared to go all the rest of my life till my death and fight for it and defend it as it was. But this revelation and assurance came to me so clearly that there was no question about it." (Deseret News, Church Section, January 6, 1979, page 19)

In his speech, "All Are Alike Unto God," pages 2-3, Apostle Bruce . McConkie told how the "revelation" was received. His description indicates that there was no spoken or written revelation--only a very good "feeling":

"The result was that President Kimball knew, and each one of us knew, independent of any other person, by direct and personal revelation to us, that the time had now come to extend the gospel and all its those of every nation,...including the black was a revelation of such tremendous significance and import; one which would reverse the whole direction of the Church,...The Lord could have sent messengers from the other side to deliver it, but he did not. He gave the revelation by the power of the Holy Ghost. Latter-day Saints have a complex: many of them desire to magnify and build upon what has occurred, and they delight to think of miraculous things. And maybe some of them would like to believe that the Lord himself was there, or that the Prophet Joseph Smith came to deliver the revelation...which was one of the possibilities. Well, these things did not happen. The stories that go around to the contrary are not factual or realistic or true,...I cannot describe in words what happened; I can only say that it happened and that it can be known and understood only by the feeling that can come into the heart of man. You cannot describe a testimony to someone."

Because of the circumstances under which the revelation on blacks came, many people have referred to it as "a revelation of convenience." We may never know all the details which led President Kimball to seek this revelation, but it is obvious that it was the result of pressure from many sources. In the July 1978 issue of the Messenger we pointed out that the Church was faced with an almost impossible situation in Brazil where so many of its members had black ancestry. Since that time we have learned from a source within the Church that Church leaders were very concerned that they were going to lose their tax exempt status on property they own in the United States. In the months just prior to the revelation, Church leaders were carefully watching developments in a case in Wisconsin in which an organization was about to lose its tax exempt status because of racial discrimination. The Church leaders finally became convinced that the tide was turning against them and that they would lose their tax exempt status in Wisconsin and eventually throughout the United States because of their doctrine of discrimination against blacks. This was probably only one of many factors which entered into the decision to admit blacks into the priesthood, but it may very well have been the "straw that broke the camel's back."

Other Links From This Issue:

Adding Revelations: On Saturday, April 3, 1976, "Two revelations received by former Presidents of the Church, were accepted as scripture" by members attending the church's semiannual General Conference. It had been nearly eighty-five years since revelations had been added to the Church's cannon. While Mormon's proclaim their leaders receive constant divine revelation directly from God, many felt that this was an exceptionally long time to go without God directly addressing his "saints" in these "latter days. In addition, some believed that these revelations were published only to silence the church's critics. This article provides information on the addition of these two new Mormon scriptures, and problems associated with them.

The Adam-God Doctrine and Living Prophets: Mormon Apostle Mark E. Petersen claimed that "To say that Adam is God is,...opposed utterly and completely to the scriptures as well as to our Articles of Faith, say that we have nothing to do with 'any other God but Adam,'..violates all the teachings of the gospel of Christ, who taught us to pray to the Father in the name of Christ,..." (Adam: Who is He? p. 14) Yet it was Brigham Young who preached those very things (see Millennial Star, Vol 15, p. 769; or Journal of Discourses, Vol. 1, p. 50). Many, if not most Latter-day Saints claim that Young never taught this theology, or that he was misquoted. However the study of history shows that such arguments do not stand up to the diaries and journals of many early church pioneers and leaders. For instance Hosea Stout wrote, "President B. Young taught that adam was the father of Jesus and the only God to us...." (Private Journal MSS, Vol. 2, p. 436, April 9, 1852) and future Church President Wilford Woodruff quoted Young as saying, "...Adam is Michael or God, and all the God that we have anything to do with..." (Private Journal MSS, April 9, 1852) This article suggests that the present teachings of a living prophet can sometimes prove to be tomorrow's false teachings of a dead prophet.

BYU Computer Study: Many Zealous Latter-day Saints claim that a BYU computer word study "proves" Joseph Smith did not write the Book of Mormon. The study "indicates that the book was authored by at least 24 different writers,..." and that "the tests went so far as to indicate that 'odds against a single author exceeded 100 billion to one,'..." (Provo Herald, Oct. 7, 1979) The faithful argue that this supports Smith's claim that the Book of Mormon was written by many ancient American authors. This article shows that such an argument is seriously narrow, as the word study can also point to Smith's heavy plagiarization of the Bible and other books. The Tanner's write, "...if a computer could actually be programmed to sort out writing styles, it would, no doubt, show more than 24 different authors. We would probably find Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Job, David, Solomon, Ezekiel, Daniel, Jonah, Micah, Malachi, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter, Jude, etc. The Book of Mormon also seems to have parallels to the Apocrypha, the Westminster Confession, and other publications...."

B. H. Roberts' Secret Manuscript: In 1922, Mormon General Authority B. H. Roberts prepared a report for the First Presidency to address arguments by non-Mormons that Joseph Smith used information found in the writings of "Josiah Priest, Ethan Smith, and others...." to produce the Book of Mormon. While LDS leaders claim that B. H. Roberts was using the "Devil's Advocate" approach in preparing his report, careful reading of Roberts' handwritten manuscript seems to show that he was deeply disturbed what he discovered. For instance Roberts writes, "...did Ethan Smith's 'View of the Hebrews' furnish structural material of...[the] Book of Mormon? It has been pointed out in these pages that there are many things in the former book that might well have suggested many major things in the other. Not a few things merely, one or two, or a half dozen, but many; and it is this fact of many things of similarity and the cumulative force of them, that makes them so serious a menace to Joseph Smith's story of the Book of Mormon's origin....Can such numerous and startling points of resemblance and suggestive contact, be merely coincidence?"

Other Links Related To This Topic:

Blacks Receive LDS Priesthood--Salt Lake City Messenger, July 1978: On June 9, 1978, Church President Spencer W. Kimball announced that he had received a revelation which allowed worthy males of African linage to hold the Mormon priesthood. Yet, over 100 years earlier, Brigham Young stated: "Shall I tell you the law of God in regards to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so." (Journal of Discourses, vol. 10, p. 110) He also said: "If there never was a prophet, or apostle of Jesus Christ spoke it before, I tell you, this people that are commonly called negroes are the children of old Cain...they cannot bear rule in the priesthood, for the curse on them was to remain upon them, until the resedue [sic] of the posterity of Michal [sic] and his wife receive the blessings,....until the times of the restitution shall come....Then shall Cain's seed be had in remembrance, and the time come when that curse should be wiped off...."(Brigham Young Address, Ms d 1234, Box 48, folder 3, LDS Church Historical Department) This newsletter discuses: the events which led to President Kimball's revelation--Mormon teachings on why certain races have dark-skin--misquoting early leaders to create fulfilled prophecies--the social and political pressures placed on the church--and much more.

Mormon Doctrine Altered --Salt Lake City Messenger, November 1997: Question to Mormon Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley: "There are some significant differences in your beliefs. For instance, don't Mormons believe that God was once a man?" Hinckley: "I wouldn't say that. There was a little couplet coined, 'As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.' Now that's more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don't know very much about." (San Francisco Chronicle, April 13, 1997) Yet in 1844, founding Prophet Joseph Smith stated: "First, God himself, who sits enthroned in yonder heavens, is a man like unto one of yourselves.... God himself; the Father of us all dwelt on an earth the same as Jesus Christ himself did... You have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves..." (Times and Seasons, Vol. 5. pages 613-14) This article reviews the changes and reversals made to important Mormon doctrines over the past 150 years--including polygamy, the law of adoption, and the ban on blacks holding the priesthood.

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Lighthouse Bookstore and Document Center: If you would like to find out how to order any of the books quoted in this article--or if you are looking for more information on Mormonism or Mormon history, click to the Bookstore and document center. Do you have comments or input regarding this or other publications from Jerald and Sandra Tanner. Drop them a line. Also, if you have additional information on this and other LDS related topics they would like to hear from you. (No mindless, blind-faith, dogmatic diatribes please!--However, sincere differences of opinion and insight are always appreciated).

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