Ezra Taft Benson was a sharp critic of the civil rights movement and called it a communist conspiracy. Why was that? Dr. Matt Harris details the red scare, and why Benson was so opposed to both communism and civil rights.
Matt: Elder Benson thinks that Martin Luther King–this is the Birch view, of course, but Elder Benson, following the Birch line thinking that Dr King is a communist agent. That somehow if you push for racial equality, you also want economic equality and that makes you a socialist and a communist. So Elder Benson is furious with Hugh B. Brown’s general conference talk, where the Church is on record as supporting civil rights. Now keep in mind what that means. Brown never said that we favor the civil rights stuff going on in Congress right now. Nor do we favor particular legislation in the State of Utah. There was nothing specific about it. He would write that too, to other Latter-day Saints who wrote him letters. “Does that mean we support the Civil Rights Act of 1963, that John F Kennedy is pushing through?” He’d write back, “We don’t support any particular policy. I just want you to know that we do support civil rights as a general principle.” So clearly, there’s some hedging with him.
We will also talk about his European Mission.
Matt: …after the whole Harding speech on the floor of the Congress, it created a buzz storm. And the brethren and President McKay [decide] “We’ve got to get Benson out of the country. We’ve got to purify his blood.” That’s what Joseph Fielding Smith says in a private letter. We’ve got to get him out of the country and purify his blood. What he meant by that is purify his blood of politics, of Birch. In 1963, ironically enough, the same month that Hugh B. Brown is giving that civil rights statement in conference, Elder Benson’s going to get summoned into the First Presidency’s office to be told that he’s going to be sent to Germany to preside over the European mission.
Check out our conversation….