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Before 1978: LDS Policies for Bi-racial Families in Brazil & South Africa

I’d like to introduce Dr. Matt Harris in our next conversation.  He has done a lot of Mormon history work and he’s not very well-known, but I think he will be, especially after he finishes his upcoming books.  We will talk about some of these books that he has published, as well as his future books.  We’re also going to talk about the history of the ban.  With the 40th anniversary of the removal of the ban coming up here in just a few weeks, this will be a very timely interview.  Dr. Matt Harris has some really interesting insights and it is going to reveal some really cool, historical information.  It’s one of my favorite interviews yet.  Now, let’s ask a little bit about how he is going to talk about Brazil.  What did the church do with missionaries there?

Matt:  In Brazil, they were kind of trendsetters, if you will.  They did what are called lineage lessons.  The mission president instructed the missionaries, and the mission president I should say got approval from Salt Lake to do this lineage lesson.  But it really was just mostly practiced in Brazil, rather than other places with African populations.  But anyway, these lineage lessons stipulated that if missionaries were out proselytizing and they came across somebody who had African ancestry, who had a parent that they felt would be a prime candidate for the restriction.  They were supposed to come to the door, knock on the door, recognize that they were under the ban and they would just say, “Can you tell us we’re in the neighborhood; we are trying to find this general store or other church. Can you tell us where it is?”

If they weren’t sure if this couple had African ancestry, then they would come in and ask questions about their genealogy, trying to determine through discussion if they had African roots.  Sometimes they would even ask to look at their photo album.  They were discrete about it.  They weren’t going to tell people this is what we are looking for, but this shows you how difficult the burden was in determining the bloodline.  J. Reuben Clark recognized this as early as 1938 and expressed skepticism that the church could confer the priesthood on Brazilians without violating this policy.

There were similar issues in South Africa.  What happened there?

Dr. Matt Harris talks about how LDS Church dealt with racial issues in Brazil & South Africa before the 1978 revelation.
Dr. Matt Harris talks about how LDS Church dealt with racial issues in Brazil & South Africa before the 1978 revelation.

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