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How Lester Bush Debunked the Missouri Thesis

We’re continuing our conversation with Dr. Newell Bringhurst.  We will continue where we left off and explain in more detail the Missouri Thesis.

Newell:  The Missouri Thesis is the argument that the origins of black priesthood denial go back to the Mormon problems in Missouri.  Missouri is a slave state and the Latter-day Saints go into Jackson County in the early 1830s, 1831-1832.  Most of them are from the north, they are northerners.  They are basically Yankees, people from the northern states so immediately there is a system of tension of tension between the Mormons/Latter-day Saints with the people that are there, have come there from the south and settled Missouri.  A lot of people have brought their slaves and so on.  There aren’t a huge number of slaves in Missouri.  During the Civil War it was a border state, but there was enough slavery that it was a legal institution in Missouri.

The argument of the Missouri Thesis is the Mormons coming in tended to be anti-slavery because they were coming from the northern part of the country.  Those that were there that had migrated from the south were pro-slavery.  So the Mormons could see that this was a difficult situation.  To try to strengthen their position in Missouri, they saw Independence, [Missouri] as a center place for Zion.  That was where they were going to gather in the last days in the early revelations [in the Doctrine & Covenants.]  They saw Zion and Independence where that was going to be the final gathering place before the coming of the Millennium and the end times.  It was very important for the Mormons from that point of view.

So the argument is that Joseph Smith felt it necessary to accommodate the pro-slavery position and the anti-black position.  In order to accommodate that they were willing to—especially as it became more difficult during the course of the 1830s, they decided that they would deny blacks the priesthood.

Lester Bush’s groundbreaking article discounted the Missouri Thesis and connected the priesthood and temple ban to Brigham Young rather than Joseph Smith.

Then Lester Bush comes along.  He’s doing a lot more intense research than Taggart did.  Taggart’s research is not thorough. In the meantime Lester Bush has been working assiduously on his study of blacks in the church, and he has been asked to write a review of Taggart’s.  It turns out that it is a review essay published in Dialogue in 1970.  His review essay is longer and more thorough than Taggart’s original book.  That’s the upstart.  I’m sure you’re familiar with it.  You’ve probably read both side by side.  There’s no comparison with regards to the thoroughness and the rigor of the sources utilized and the way that it was written.

Then of course Bush comes along three years, four years later with his definitive Dialogue article, Mormonism’s Negro Policy[1] that is the classic—the first real legitimately scholarly examination of the issue, the path-breaking article that we all, those of us that came after him, owe him a lot for:  myself, Armand Mauss, and all those who came after me.

Bush’s article was cited by President Kimball as being highly influential as Kimball studied the roots of the ban.  We also discuss some prominent slaveholding LDS Church leaders.  Check out our conversation…..

[1] The article is titled Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine:  An Historical Overview, and found at https://www.dialoguejournal.com/2012/mormonisms-negro-doctrine-an-historical-overview/

Bush's Dialogue article refuting Missouri Thesis

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Elijah Ables’ Attempt for Temple Blessings #BlackHistoryMonth

We’re continuing our discussion of Black History Month with Russell Stevenson.  He’s the biographer of Elijah Ables, and we’ll talk about the end of Elijah’s life.  Did Elijah Ables affiliate with any other groups like James Strang, William Smith, or Sidney Rigdon?

Russell:  Going with that, we can maybe conclude that Elijah was certainly diplomatic and kind and charitable.  If you really want to go further out on a limb, more than the evidence that we have suggests, you can say that he affiliated with William Smith, the movement.  I’m not inclined to say that we have evidence to suggest that.

We’ll also talk about how Elijah worked on the Salt Lake Temple, but was never allowed to get his endowment.  Did he continue to try through the end of his life?

Now in 1879, he does petition to receive his temple endowment.  By this point his wife has passed away.  We do have some evidence that he petitioned Brigham Young at some point, but again that’s pretty late and we don’t have any contemporary documentation to back that up.

Check out our conversation…..

(Don’t forget to check out our previous conversations about Elijah Abel’s early life, his mission to Canada, and his troubles in Cincinnati.)  You also might want to check out what Paul Reeve said on this topic!

Photo from dedication of the Salt Lake Temple dedication in 1892
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Why Brigham Changed His Mind on Black Ordination

Brigham Young is often seen as the person responsible for instituting the ban on black members from LDS temples and from the priesthood for male members.  It turns out that the story is a little more complicated than that.  Russell Stevenson, biographer of Elijah Ables, talks about a few incidences with some other early contemporaries of Elijah Ables, in which Brigham praised black ordination, specifically a faithful black elder in Massachusetts.

Russell:  When Brigham Young is addressing William McCary, he mentions explicitly the example of Walker Lewis in Massachusetts, and [Brigham] says [Walker] is one of the best elders that we have.  This is in the context that William McCary is talking about how unwelcome he is feeling within the Latter-day Saint community.  All of these different people are using the n-word to describe him.  They say, “There goes that old {n-word} and his white wife,” referring to Lucy Stanton who was the daughter of a former stake president.

Now the fact that Brigham Young would invoke the example of Walker Lewis as a way of assuring and maybe trying to make William McCary feel better about being within the Latter-day Saint community, that tells you that Brigham Young saw William McCary and Walker Lewis as being more or less equivalent in some regard or another, and certainly within the realm of holding the priesthood.

We will talk more about this man, named Walker Lewis, as well as a few other black people, and talk about why the ban was instituted in the first place.   This is a really important conversation and I hope you check it out…..

(Don’t forget to check out our previous conversations about Elijah Abel’s early life, his mission to Canada, and his troubles in Cincinnati.)