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Enduring Systemic Racism (Part 6 of 7)

While Joseph Freeman was the first person to break through the racial priesthood barrier in the LDS Church, he has experienced a lot of racism in his life.  He describes some of the job discrimination he has faced as a teenager growing up in North Carolina.

Joseph:  A lot of the jobs in the city, white workers would be hired first, and then if they needed some other workers, they would hire blacks. But those jobs, you never got promoted. There was never a black supervisor. You were always the lower workers. I worked for Sears and Roebuck for three years on the dock there in Greensboro. I never saw, not one black supervisor. The plant was so big, it would take you almost 15 to 20 minutes to walk from the front door to the back door of the plant.  There was not one black supervisor in that whole building.

I worked for Cone Mills for a while, which is a textile [company] before I joined the army.  I loved my job, and I loved my supervisor. He was an old white guy.  He was kind of shriveled up with age, a skinny guy. I just loved that man. I talked to him one day and I said, “How can I become a supervisor someday.”  He looked at me and his mouth opened. His lips began to tremble, and a tear rolled down his cheek and he said, “It can’t happen, Joseph. It just can’t happen.” I didn’t understand it. Because I wasn’t thinking about the racial things going on, institutional racism. I didn’t even know about anything like that. I’m just a kid growing up, trying to find a job, thinking about college, and he’s telling me about something that’s real, that’s happening behind closed doors in the back room of the building. These people know. You’re never going to allow the black people to come up in the company and develop.

When I left for the army, I just didn’t think like that. I didn’t even realize those kind of things were happening. I thought that the doors of life are open to me like they are to anybody. Older people that I grew up with, used to talk about education.  They’d say, “You get to get a good education. Nobody can take that from you.” I understood that. But I didn’t understand the idea that, you might have an education, but you’re still not going to get the job. I can remember when I was probably about 16, and I started driving. I drove up to the bank one day, and there was a black teller. She was working the window, that was the first black teller in the whole city of Greensboro.  It was just wonderful. Every time I’d go, I mean, it was just like seeing an angel. She’d smile. She understood that the black people were very proud of her being there in that position. That’s not a high position. You’re not making a lot of money, but she had a nice clean job that nobody else had. She was the first black girl to do that. So it was just wonderful.

On our side of town, we had black dentists, black doctors. We never saw a white doctor unless you went to the hospital. Those doctors, of course, had the practices not in white neighborhoods, but in black neighborhoods.  People paid cash. They didn’t have insurance. That’s just how it went.

In the schools, they were not integrated with white students or white teachers. But, during my senior year, they actually did change. My senior year, we had white teachers mixed with black teachers. It was hard. It was hard on them and hard on us, because they didn’t want to be there. I can remember one white teacher that I had, that was really nice.  She was an English teacher. I can’t remember her name. But she was just very kind, very sweet. But most of the teachers during that time, it was just like a robot teaching you. If you wanted to ask questions after class, they were going home. They didn’t spend time to help you with your problems, if you were struggling with math or something like that.

So, it took a while for people to learn to adjust and love one another. That’s how life feels. That’s what Martin Luther King was fighting for, I should say, marching for. He was trying to bring America to the point of saying, “We must go to school together. We must go to church together. We must live together in order to love one another.” Because you can love somebody that you do not know. You begin to know them. You begin to realize they’re human just like you are. They want the same things that you want, a good job, an education and to take care of the family. [It’s] just that simple, nothing more. That is why continually marching, enduring going to jail, all the things that had to happen in order to bring that about, so that we could learn to love one another. When I joined this church, inside of me, I understood that. It didn’t matter whether we have the priesthood. It matters that we worship the same God together.

What are you thoughts about systemic racism?  Check out our conversation….

Joseph Freeman describes enduring systemic racism growing up in North Carolina. Jobs were denied black men & women based on race.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Joseph!

492: Instant Celebrity

491: Joseph’s Baptism

490: Meeting Mormons at PCC

489: Holiness Preacher Joins Army

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Genesis Group & Black Spirituality (Part 5 of 7)

The Genesis Group was founded in the early 1970s to help keep black members active even though they couldn’t hold the priesthood.  Joseph became a member of that group.  He wasn’t one of the original founders, but he will talk about some of his earliest remembrances of that group and will talk about an amazing member, Monroe Fleming.  Monroe almost became the first black member ordained a decade earlier in 1969.  You won’t want to miss this.

Joseph:  By the time I came here in 1976, I didn’t know where the group was located. People had told me about the group, even when I was in Hawaii.

GT:  Oh, really?

Joseph:  But, how do you contact the group? There was no phone number in a phone book or anything like that. When I moved into this stake, Bishop Swain knew Ruffin Bridgeforth personally. When he first sat down with me, I met with him in his office. He then said, “Are you interested in meeting members of the group?”  I said, “Yes, I’ve heard of it, and I don’t know anything how to find them. So, he says, I’ve got the number. He dialed Ruffin right then, called him up and then Ruffin invited me, gave me the address to where they were meeting. They met once a month on the first Sunday of the month. I think, maybe about seven o’clock in the evening.  I took my family. We went to our first meeting, had a great time. From that time on, I was a member of the group. Every first Sunday, we were there.

GT:  Is Ruffin still around here?

Joseph:  Ruffin has passed away.

GT:  Oh, bummer.

Joseph:  Yeah, I think had sugar diabetes. I believe that that was probably one of the things that took him away. But Ruffin was such a wonderful man. The general authorities loved him a great deal. He became more like a father to me. I don’t remember now how old Ruffin was. But in those years that I moved here, I was about 25 when I received the priesthood. I met him before receiving a priesthood. So, I was either 24 or 25 when I met him, and he was probably, in his early 50s, about that time. He just kind of took me under his wing. He was just such a wonderful guy. He was great speaker.  Ruffin shared with me a story. I think I told you some years ago that Brother Fleming had been asked by President Monson if he would write his testimony down.

GT:  You’re talking about Monroe Fleming.

Joseph:  Monroe.

GT:  I definitely want to talk about Monroe Fleming. Now for those who don’t know Monroe Fleming, I did an interview with Matt Harris about a year ago.  Monroe was almost in your shoes. He was almost the first guy, back in 1969.

Joseph:  That’s right. Yeah.

GT:  Tell us more about Monroe Fleming.

Joseph:  When people were going on missions years ago, they would go to the mission home, and it was at the Joseph Smith Building, which is [the old] Hotel Utah.  I never went to the Hotel Utah. It was just a big, marvelous building.  I didn’t have anything to do with it. Well, Monroe worked there. So, when the missionaries would be trained, and they get to the end of their training, they would bring in Brother Fleming, and have him share his testimony.  I’ve met many, many missionaries today, that are perhaps my age and that told me that they saw and met Brother Fleming years ago when they first finished the mission training, before leaving for their mission. They would just share with me how excited they were meeting a black man who had a great testimony and shared that testimony with them. After the priesthood was given, Brother Fleming contacted me. He said, “I’d like to hear your testimony.”  So, a couple of times, we went out together and went to firesides where I was the speaker. He got to share and talk over the conversation of me receiving the priesthood, how I felt and everything, and how he felt. I didn’t get a chance to hear him speak before I left Salt Lake and moved away, though. But he was a wonderful guy. I didn’t know him personally.  It’s been a long time, but I just love the guy. He’s just a really nice man.  He had a beautiful testimony.

I wish I had been able to meet Monroe Fleming.  (He passed away in 1982.)  What do you know about the Genesis Group? Check out our conversation….

Joseph Freeman tells us about the Genesis Group and his memories of Monroe Fleming.

Don’t miss our previous conversations!

492: Instant Celebrity

491: Joseph’s Baptism

490: Meeting Mormons at PCC

489: Holiness Preacher Joins Army

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Instant Celebrity (Part 4 of 7)

Following his ordination in June 1978, Joseph Freeman became an instant celebrity.  He was asked to be interviewed on prominent news networks and was a much sought-after speaker in Utah. What was it like to be such a sought after speaker?

Joseph:  Well, one of the things that, for me, having been a young minister, I was used to speaking. So, people began asking me to speak more and more.  I was speaking no more than anybody else in the Church, in the beginning. But suddenly, I was speaking at least three times a week, and sometimes three times a day. My wife and I and the children, we were just traveling every weekend. We would spend all day Sunday going someplace speaking. In those days, the church, you had a morning meeting, and then you’d come back in the afternoon. Then you might have a fireside after that. So, most Sundays would be that way. I would speak somewhere in the morning, or speak at a sacrament meeting, and then do a fireside. [I would speak] at least two firesides almost every weekend. Then sometimes in the middle of the week, I would speak to a youth group. Our life was just busy like that. Then, my Bishop called me.  He had been put in the stake presidency. Later, he became the patriarch in the stake. He said that the general authority, and I don’t know which one that had set him apart, said to him, he asked him, somebody told the general authority that Bishop Swain was my Bishop, and he had ordained the first black that received the priesthood. Then, that general authority said, “Well, how is Brother Freeman doing?”  The bishop says, “Well, I don’t know.  He’s so busy speaking and traveling.” He said, “Well tell him to slow down and become busy in his own ward, and just be like everybody else, so that he can grow in the Church and the Church then can utilize him.”  So, the bishop called me up immediately and told me.   I then immediately called. I had appointments six months ahead. So I called all of these people and told them, I needed to slow down and only speak once a month. So, that’s what the calendar became. Even today, I try not to do more than that. But I’m not speaking as much like I used to.

GT:  It finally calmed down.

Joseph:  Yes, that’s right. But it was an exciting time, and not something to brag about, but to rejoice about. I rejoice in knowing that God had saw me, a little nobody and that he’d blessed me to receive the priesthood. It didn’t matter whether I was the first or 151st, it just mattered that I had the priesthood. It’s the same way today, I’m just grateful to hold the priesthood.

Check out our conversation….

Joseph Freeman became an instant celebrity after he was ordained in 1978, appearing on ABC’s Good Morning America!

Don’t miss our previous episodes with Joseph.

491: Joseph’s Baptism

490: Meeting Mormons at PCC

489: Holiness Preacher Joins Army