African-American Mormons


BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: Now, a report on African-Americans joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the Mormons. There are still only a few thousand black Mormons out of about five and a half million Mormons throughout the U.S. But the number is significant, because for many years Mormon leaders taught that blacks had been cursed by God. Therefore the church had barred them from the priesthood — full membership in the church. Deborah Potter has our story.

DEBORAH POTTER, correspondent: It’s Sunday morning in North Philadelphia, and Nicole Giles is about to be confirmed. Nicole grew up a Baptist, but she’s decided to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the Mormons.

NICOLE GILES (Mormon Convert): I needed this. And they came into my life when I was going through a really hard time. And, you know, I’m just thankful.

POTTER: Thomas Russell is visiting the church for the first time. A Mormon missionary convinced him to give it a try.

THOMAS RUSSELL: It wasn’t too much of what he said. It was the power that I felt in his light that convinced me to come.

A Mormon church service in PhiladelphiaPOTTER: This staid service is not the style of worship many African Americans are used to. But this brand-new church on North Broad Street draws them in.

Brother IYOWUNA COOKEY (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Philadelphia): If you are visiting us for the very first time today, you should feel very welcomed here, and we hope that we’ll be seeing a lot more of you.

POTTER: Black membership in the LDS church is growing here in Philadelphia’s toughest neighborhoods and in cities around the country. There’s no official estimate of converts by race, but in a church of about 12 million members worldwide, African Americans remain a distinct minority.

Elder STOTT (Missionary, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day-Saints): My name is Elder Stott and this is Elder Nelson. We’re missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

POTTER: Many Mormons spend two years as missionaries, preaching the word according to the Bible and the Book of Mormon, which they believe was revealed to their church’s founder, Joseph Smith, after God and Jesus Christ appeared to him in upstate New York in 1820.

Elder STOTT: And if God chose and called Joseph Smith to be a prophet, a prophet like Moses, Abraham, and those guys, then this message is unique. This message is awesome.

Young Mormon missionariesPOTTER: Mormon outreach in black communities was almost nonexistent until 1978, when then-president Spencer Kimball reported a revelation saying blacks could become priests. In a church with no professional clergy, all LDS males become eligible for the priesthood at around age 12. Denying that right to blacks meant they could not perform rituals or hold leadership positions.

Today, the church is expanding in black neighborhoods, including Harlem in New York, where it opened a new chapel late last year. A few blacks now hold high positions in the church. Ahmad Corbitt is a stake president in New Jersey, roughly the equivalent of a Catholic bishop presiding over a small diocese.

AHMAD CORBITT (Stake President, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, New Jersey): I think the appeal is the power of the gospel on our families — a very practical appeal — teachings that make us better human beings and better family members. And the African-American community needs that salvation of the family.

JAYNE CORBITT (Wife of Ahmad Corbitt): We believe that we can be married for eternity, and that’s done in the temple. And because we can be married for eternity and our children are ours for eternity, it makes what we do in our home very important.

POTTER: But despite its efforts to appeal to blacks today — celebrating their heritage and tracing their genealogy — the church has never repudiated its old teachings that blacks were cursed by God as descendents of Cain or Ham. Armand Mauss is former president of the Mormon History Association and a visiting scholar at California’s Claremont Graduate School of Religion.

Professor Armand Mauss, former president of the Mormon History Association and a visiting scholar at California’s Claremont Graduate School of ReligionProfessor ARMAND MAUSS (Former President, Mormon History Association and Visiting Scholar, Claremont Graduate University, School of Religion, Claremont, CA): The old ideas that were used to justify this ban on priesthood, those ideas have survived even after the policy was changed that they were supposed to justify. And so you still encounter places in the church, among white people, in which the ideas come up again.

POTTER: Darron Smith, who became a Mormon at age 15, says it’s painful to hear fellow church members cite what he calls racist teachings.

DARRON SMITH (Coeditor, BLACK AND MORMON): They’re harmful for blacks because they psychologically damage blacks, whether they admit that or not. And they — and one way that they — I think that this harms blacks is that blacks often will recite the same kind of folklore and justification for it as whites do.

CORBITT FAMILY (Saying Grace): We’re grateful for the gospel in our lives and we say this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

POTTER: Ahmed Corbitt argues that it’s what the church does now that counts, not its history of excluding blacks.

Ahmad Corbitt, Stake President, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, New JerseyMr. CORBITT: There was a purpose in it. I don’t know that we fully understand it, that anyone does, including, I’ve heard leaders — top leaders — say that very thing. But we can come together and feel the fruits of it, the love of it and spirit of it, and we can know it’s true despite that.

POTTER: Not good enough, says Darron Smith. He’s says his faith is strong and he’s staying in the church, but he wants to see it change.

Mr. SMITH: The church has never come out publicly and said this is an issue. This is a problem. We need to stop spreading pernicious rumors, innuendos, folklore about our black brothers and sisters as being cursed. This is not productive in our efforts to proselytize blacks and to retain blacks in the church.

Prof. MAUSS: The old folklore, the old doctrines about curses and marks and the displeasure of God and all of that could easily be repudiated and, I suspect, will be someday.

POTTER: But experts say that admitting a past mistake could undermine the authority of Mormon leaders and the LDS belief that God speaks directly to them.

UNIDENTIFIED PASTOR: God is our Father. He loves us and he wants to instruct us.

POTTER: What matters most to Thomas Russell is finding a spiritual home. He doesn’t know much about Mormon church history yet, but he likes what he’s seen so far.

Mr. RUSSELL: And this is where I need to be, and this is where I’m coming.

POTTER: For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, I’m Deborah Potter in Philadelphia.

  • D Sande

    Who drank the Jim Jones Kool Aid? I think if the KKK would allow blacks to join, these folks would join!

  • Lee Baker

    Ridiculed again by the Mormon Church

    By Lee B. Baker,
    Former Mormon Bishop

    For several years now, every Tuesday
    evening I have had the great privilege of addressing the Christian and Mormon
    listeners of Worship FM 101.7 in Monrovia, the capital City of Liberia, West

    I have come to know several of the
    station managers and a number of the more frequent callers to the weekly
    program. Through their comments,
    questions and photographs, I have been genuinely moved to see the application
    of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Over the past few months the question of
    racist teachings in the Book of Mormon and from the past Leadership of the
    Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been on the minds of the Liberian
    converts to Mormonism and the many Christians who struggle to understand how
    such a Church can be growing in Africa.

    I believe the answer is relatively
    simple; it has been the perfect merging of a sincere lack of knowledge on the
    part of the Mormon converts and a disturbing lack of accountability on the part
    of the Mormon leaders. A near total lack
    of knowledge across Africa specific to some of the more explicit teachings found
    within the Mormon Scriptures, principally that Black Skin[1]
    is a representation of wickedness and even less information concerning the
    racism and bigotry openly and officially taught by the early Leadership of the
    Mormon Church. This combined with the current Church Leadership’s inability to
    clearly and specifically reject its own racist teachings both in print and from
    its past Senior Leadership, has left the Black Race with only a short
    irresponsible and offensively juvenile Official Statement[2]
    that claims the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints knows very little
    about its own race-based policy that had lasted for well over 100 years:

    “It is not known precisely why, how or when this
    restriction began in the Church, but it has ended.”

    Maintaining a detailed and comprehensive
    history of every aspect and teaching of the Church has been both one of the
    hallmarks and one of the downfalls of Mormon Church. Within the relatively young Church,
    authoritative documentation, however corrupt it may have been, has never been
    in short supply. Each of the Senior
    Leaders of the Mormon Church has had several official biographers as well as an
    army of Church authorized historians to record for the faithful Mormon all
    facets of the History of the Church. In
    fact, one of my first of many “Callings” in the Mormon Church was that of a
    Ward (Congregational) Historian, long before I became a Bishop.

    The peculiar assertion that the Mormon
    Church itself does not know the details of its very own race-based
    policy of restricting the Blacks from holding the Priesthood is tremendously
    embarrassing for all Mormons and exceptionally degrading for anyone who
    actually believes it.

    As a former local leader of the Mormon
    Church, I have repeatedly assured the African members of the Mormon Church that
    the documents and “Scriptures” I have read to them over the air are both Authorized and Official for the time period they are relevant to. I clearly state the current position of total
    acceptance of all Races by the Church, but I must highlight the fact that the
    Book of Mormon still carries it’s obviously racist message that dark skin was a
    curse and Jesus was white. I have said
    many times on-air that like the Mormon Missionaries, I too believe that every
    African should have a copy of the Book of Mormon, if only to learn the truly
    racist teaching of the Mormons.

    I have and will continue to teach the
    African Nations from the authentic Mormon Scriptures and the Church History
    documents, which I had purchased from the Mormon Church to know my past responsibilities
    as a Mormon Bishop. The official records of the Mormon Church include many
    jokes and sermons given within the Official Semi-Annual General Conference of
    the faithful Mormons, using the “N-word”, Darky and Sambo. Additionally, these Church published books
    record nearly 100 graphic sermons and lessons that clearly teach the principle,
    practice and policy that Black Skin was, is and will remain forever the Curse
    of Cain.

    Only in the recent past has the
    “Complete History” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints come to
    the attention of its own membership, much less to the under developed regions
    of the world. As this information is
    discovered, an ever increasing number of members of the Mormon Church have come
    into a personal crisis of faith, most notably Elder Hans Mattsson[3]
    of Sweden, a General Authority of the Mormon Church who has gone public with
    his doubts and questions.

    Not unique to Africa, has been the
    Mormon Church’s training of young Missionaries to strictly avoid any discussion
    of several of the more embarrassing, yet true, teachings of the 183 year old
    Church. Chief among these subjects has been Polygamy and Blacks and the

    With the smooth talent of a skilled
    politician, the Mormon Church has ended its Official Statement with the
    following hypocritical and deceitful, but technically accurate quote:

    “The origins of priesthood availability are not
    entirely clear. Some explanations with
    respect to this matter were made in the absence of direct revelation and
    references to these explanations are sometimes cited in publications. These previous personal statements do not
    represent Church doctrine.”

    As a former Mormon Bishop and member of
    the Mormon Church for over 32 years, let me be of some help with the
    translation of this very carefully crafted message. The two key noteworthy
    phrases are: “in the absence of direct
    revelation” and “These previous
    personal statements do not represent Church doctrine.”

    I will address the most obvious first, clearly
    the “previous statements” from the
    Church and its Leadership “do not”
    represent the Church doctrine today.
    The policy was reversed in 1978 and there is no question as to
    the policy today. The hypocritical deception is that between 1845 and 1978
    those “statements” did, very much “DID”
    not “DO” represent past Church doctrine.
    Yet, I do give full credit to the clever Mormon authors and editors for
    their most skillful use of the English language.

    And finally, the most revealing and
    enlightening statement from the Mormon Church is: “in the absence of direct revelation”. So then, it is incredibly true and accurate
    that without any mockery or sarcasm; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
    Saints had for nearly 100 years, restricted a significant portion of the human
    race, millions and millions from God’s intended blessings of Eternal Marriage,
    Salvation and even Godhood, without knowing why they did it, all without
    “direct revelation”?

    This Official Statement of religious
    shame and embarrassment comes from the Headquarters of a Church that claims to be guided in all things
    by “direct revelation”. How then, did such an exclusive doctrine
    based on prejudice, bigotry and racism become so accepted, so authoritative, so
    convincing and so commanding for so long, without “direct revelation”?

    As a former Bishop of the Church of
    Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I give testimony that what they have stated
    is true, in that, they are racist and do not hide the History of the Church
    from its members or the public, this, their Official Statement on Race and the
    Church demonstrates that fact.

    I believe that the truly wicked
    teachings as well as the repulsive history of the Mormon Church concerning
    Polygamy, Polyandry, Blood Atonement, and Blacks and the Priesthood is
    available for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

    It is my prayer that all Mormons and
    non-Mormons will come to know the true history of The Church of Jesus Christ of
    Latter-day Saints. That every man, woman
    and young adult on the earth today will find the time to read the Book of
    Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price from cover to
    cover to see the deception they hold, and then… read the Word of God with the
    eyes of a child, and follow the true Jesus, the true Christ found only in the


    Lee B. Baker

    Former Mormon Bishop

    [1] 1 Nephi 11:13, 1 Nephi 12:23,
    1 Nephi 13:15, 2 Nephi 5:21, 2 Nephi 30:6, Jacob 3:5,
    Jacob 3:8-9, Alma 3:6, Alma 3:9, Alma 3:14,
    Alma 23:18, 3 Nephi 2:14-16, 3 Nephi 19:25, 30, Mormon 5:15, Moses 7:8, Moses 7:12,
    Moses 7:22, Abraham 1:21, Abraham 1:27