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In our next episode with Dr. Matt Harris, we will talk about how President Kimball persuaded the apostles to lift the priesthood and temple ban on black church members. It turns out the Brazil Temple was a key part of that, as well as Bruce R. McConkie’s change of heart.
Kimball knows the consequences of doing something unilaterally without quorum buy-in. He sees that in church history, and he experiences it himself during the McKay administration. So, President Kimball recognizes this is such a delicate task, and that if he is going to make this, arguably, probably the most momentous—not arguably. In the 20th century, it is the most momentous decision in the church, second maybe only to plural marriage, giving black people the priesthood.
So, he knows he has to have buy-in. How do you get buy-in from people who have very, very deep-seated racial views?
President Kimball announces the Brazil Temple. This is a bulwark to help the brethren to come along with this. He recognizes that you can’t have temple in this heavily bi-racial nation, where the people who sacrificed and do so much to build the temple are shut off from it. I mean he understands this.
We will also get into more detail on Monroe Fleming’s “almost” ordination in 1969!
Matt: The “loyal negro” at the Hotel Utah is Monroe Fleming. He had been working there for years. Church leaders all knew him. Of course, it is a church-owned property. He was a very faithful member. I think he joins in the early ‘50s, so clearly he is a pioneer in the church. He comes of age in the church before the priesthood revelation, so he understands the restriction. But it is not clear if there is going to be an announcement; it’s just that “We are going to ordain this loyal negro man.” That’s all it is. I think Hugh B. Brown mentions Monroe Fleming in a different document, but the McKay document that I have, it’s just “a loyal negro member at the Hotel Utah.”
Despite several attempts to end the ban in the 1960s, Hugh B. Brown made one final attempt in 1969 and almost succeeded. However, the attempt was nixed by Harold B. Lee. Dr. Matt Harris will give us more information on this, and I think you will hear some really amazing stuff in this next episode.
Matt: Anyway, the McKay sons and Brown, when Taggart’s thesis comes out, they will use Taggart’s research and say, “Look. This is just a policy. This is a policy, it is not a doctrine. So, if it is just a policy, President McKay, then we can overturn this.” President McKay agrees to ordain a black man named Monroe Fleming, a loyal member at the Hotel Utah. This is in September of 1969.
Matt: Yes, yes. So, he agrees to ordain Monroe Fleming to the priesthood. It is interesting, the document that I have that talks about this. It just says Monroe Fleming. It doesn’t say all persons of African ancestry. But you can only imagine that if you allow Monroe Fleming the priesthood, based upon his worthiness of course, then that means that other worthy black members of the church can now hold the priesthood. That’s how I interpret that.
[McKay] agrees to do it, and when Harold B. Lee and Joseph Fielding Smith, mostly Harold B. Lee, because Joseph Fielding Smith is now in his 90s, and his health is getting the best of him. But when Harold B. Lee finds out about it, he puts an end to it and says, “This is not something that we can do, and if we do it, it has to have buy-in from the Quorum of the Twelve, the full quorum.”
So, President McKay, and I’m going to paraphrase, he says, “I’m too old to fight him. I’m not going to do it. We will let President Lee worry about this problem.” That’s what he says, this “problem.”
We will also talk briefly about some of the BYU protests where other teams were protesting the church’s stance with blacks and the priesthood and temple ban.
Matt: President Brown wants to lift the ban to get the athletic protests off their back. In November of ’69 he tells Kenneth Pitzer the Stanford President. He calls him up. He said, “This is Hugh Brown of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I just want you to know, we are going to lift the ban.”
GT: He calls the Stanford University president.
Matt: Yes, he calls the Stanford president and tells him we are going to lift the ban, and even writes him a letter.
GT: The reason why is because Stanford had just cancelled some sort of a series.
GT: Was it football or basketball? Do you remember?
Matt: Basketball, I think it was basketball. It was that fall, they cancelled their contract with BYU basketball.