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Dating the LDS Priesthood and Temple Ban

We’ve been talking a lot about the ban, but when did the ban actually begin?  Warner McCary seems to be the last person who might have been ordained as late as 1846.  Apostle Parley P. Pratt privately said blacks were cursed with regards to priesthood, and Brigham Young spoke forcefully that blacks were cursed in an 1852 address to the Utah Legislature.  However, in 1879, church leaders didn’t know how to respond to Elijah Abel’s request to be sealed to his wife in the temple, and as late as 1921, Apostle David O. McKay didn’t even know that a ban existed.  When did the ban actually happen?  We asked Dr. Paul Reeve that question.  Let’s listen in on our conversation….  (You can get a transcript here on our website, or at!)

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1 thought on “Dating the LDS Priesthood and Temple Ban

  1. I’ve always been of the opinion that the ban started in 1847 not necessarily from Pratt’s statement, but 1847 is a pivotal year: (1) as mentioned Warner McCary’s sexual interracial polygamy was a BIG issue. (2) Enoch Lewis’s mixed race child. (3) I was surprised that Paul downplayed Joseph Ball’s race in Massachusetts. Ball was the first black Branch President in 1846. It has been my understanding that Ball and William Smith (Joseph’s brother) started doing some sexual polygamy in Massachusetts and Parley P. Pratt “released” Ball and sent Ball & Smith to Nauvoo where Smith became church Patriarch. Ball worked on the temple in Nauvoo and was told he would receive his endowment, but that didn’t happen. Connell O’ Donovan has documented that Ball received his Patriarchal blessing from William Smith in Nauvoo and was of proclaimed from the Tribe of Canaan. Perhaps Paul Reeve hasn’t seen this but it seems like a pretty good reference that Ball was black. (I believe O’Donovan has said Ball’s parents were from Jamaica.)

    So I would add a 3rd black scandal to 1846-7. Certainly William Smith was excommunicated by Brigham Young for publicly espousing polygamy, and Smith told a newspaper that blacks were not being accepted into the church, but it is m y understanding that McCary was baptized just after Smith made the statement.

    So by my take, you’ve got 3 scandals in 1846-47, and Brigham Young and Parley P. Pratt said “Enough!” The only way to “prevent” blacks from marrying whites (and perhaps sealing them as McCary was claiming to do) was to stop ordaining them, and prevent them from attending the temple. Elijah Abel had received his Washing and Anointings in 1836 in Kirtland, but he was refused entry to Nauvoo. Ball left Nauvoo following William Smith’s excommunication and the temple wasn’t completed. Unfortunately for Abel, he was in Cincinnati and was not able to get his Nauvoo Endowment, which he was denied under Brigham, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff, despite his 4 missions of absolutely faithful service.

    So I vote 1847 as the real year. As said before McCary was the last man ordained (though Reeve is not certain of that). Regardless of whether McCary was ordained or not, he is primarily responsible for changing Brigham’s thinking, along with Enoch Lewis and Joseph Ball. There weren’t any public statements (there was no bishop’s handbook back then), and there probably was not a standardized policy, but unless there is another black person ordained after McCary in 1846, that seems like a de facto ban happened in 1847. It was semi-publically announced in Young’s 1852 address to the legislature, and may have essentially been a gray area until 1908. I didn’t know about the direction of no more proselyting among blacks in 1908, so certainly that year is significant in terms of the ban, but I think an informal/de facto ban was in place in 1847 onward.

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