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Mormonism, Race, and the Priesthood: A Timeline

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Mormonism, Race, and the Priesthood: A Timeline

Robert M. Bowman Jr.

For further information on these events, in addition to the sources cited, see our article Race and the Priesthood: Analysis of the New Mormon Statement.





Joseph Smith dictated the Book of Mormon, which teaches that the dark skin of the Lamanites—supposed ancestors of the American Indians—was a curse on them for their wickedness (see also Racism in the Book of Mormon).


Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon and founded the LDS Church.


Joseph Smith finished dictating his translation of the early chapters of Genesis, later known as the Book of Moses. The book teaches that black skin is the mark of the curse of Cain (see also Blacks and the Book of Moses).


Elijah Abel, who was one-fourth African by descent, was given the LDS priesthood and ordained as an elder. He was one of perhaps only two such black men to receive the priesthood during Joseph Smith’s lifetime.

Joseph Smith publicly argued that slavery was mandated in the Bible and criticized the abolitionist movement (see also Joseph Smith and the Abolition of Slavery).


Joseph Smith finished his translation of the Book of Abraham, which taught that the blood line that included the Pharaoh of Egypt was not permitted to hold the priesthood. The book also taught the idea that human beings are born into different estates in mortality because of their conduct as preexistent spirits in heaven (see also Blacks, Priesthood, and the Book of Abraham).


Joseph Smith taught that slavery should be abolished but blacks kept separate from other races (see also Joseph Smith and the Abolition of Slavery).


Joseph Smith was killed in a gun battle while in jail.


Parley Pratt, an early Mormon leader, stated that the lineage of blacks “was cursed as regards the priesthood.”


Brigham Young stated that “the Lord had cursed Cain’s seed with blackness and prohibited them from the Priesthood.”


Brigham Young gave speeches publicly stating the LDS Church’s doctrine that blacks were under the curse of Cain and would not be permitted to receive the priesthood until all of the people of other races had finished receiving that blessing (see Brigham Young on Race).


Joseph Smith III, the son of the LDS founder Joseph Smith Jr. and president of the rival group called the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, announced that men of all races were welcome to receive the priesthood.


Elijah Abel’s son Enoch received the priesthood in the LDS Church, despite the official policy of denying the priesthood to men of even partial African descent.


The First Presidency, including future LDS President David O. McKay, issued an official statement affirming that the exclusion of blacks from the priesthood was not “a policy” but a “direct commandment” from God based on doctrine taught since the beginning of the LDS Church (see also 1949 Mormon Statement on Blacks and the Priesthood).


The First Presidency, including President David O. McKay, issued an official statement reaffirming that it was God’s plan since before mortality that blacks would not receive the priesthood (see also 1969 Mormon Statement on Blacks and the Priesthood).


The LDS Church announces the construction of a temple in Brazil, leading to concerns among the leadership as to how to handle larger numbers of people of African descent joining the Church and financing its temples but not being permitted to use them.


The First Presidency issues its statement rescinding the exclusion of blacks from the priesthood, claiming to have received a revelation authorizing the change, but saying nothing about the racist doctrines of the LDS scriptures and former prophets on which that exclusion had been based. This statement is part of the Mormon scripture called Doctrine & Covenants, as Official Declaration 2 (see also Mormon Statements on Race in Doctrine and Covenants).


The LDS Church official website publishes an article on “Race and the Priesthood” stating that the Church disavows all racist “theories” of its past. The statement makes no mention of the presence of those racist ideas in the Mormon scriptures.