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LDS Church in Africa #BlackHistoryMonth

It’s Black History Month at Gospel Tangents.  This is our final conversation with Russell Stevenson and we’ll talk the LDS Church in Africa.  Did you know that Nigerians in the 1960s and even in the 1950s I learned have asked for LDS missionaries to come teach the gospel to them.  It’s pretty surprising that they did this without any LDS presence in Nigeria.  Russell Stevenson will talk more about this in our next conversation.

Russell:  Throughout the 1950s, a number of church leaders are getting letters from various Nigerians across the river in Igboland, elsewhere begging for missionaries, asking for some kind of missionary presence.  The initial response by David O. McKay and others was some level of skepticism.  Maybe they are just looking for an opportunity to make money.  They are just looking for white people to give them business, maybe looking for a new source of patronage now that the British influence was beginning to recede.  By 1960 it was officially turned over to Nigerians.

In 1960 David O. McKay and the First Presidency, they send Glen Fisher, who has once been a mission president in South Africa to see what’s happening on the ground.  Are these potential converts legitimate?  Do they in fact want to join the LDS Church, or are they just looking for some kind of business opportunity?  Glen Fisher returned with a report that was gushing by saying these people are the real deal.  They crave Mormonism.  They crave the LDS Church.

So they go there and they come away with the same conclusion that Glen Fisher had come away with, that these people are the real deal.  They are legitimate.  They in fact crave Mormonism.  In fact Lamar Williams went further.  He said, “Ultimately we cannot keep the priesthood from these people.”  Essentially it’s only a matter of time.

GT:  What year is this?

Russell:  This is in 1961.

GT chuckles:  ’61.  That’s pretty prophetic!

Russell:  Yes.  I should note too, this isn’t the very first time you have Nigerians communicating this kind of thing to missionaries.  We have evidence all the way back to 1950 of a Nigerian reverend approaching missionaries in New York City asking for a missionary presence.  This is all throughout the post-war period.  I’m only talking about the period in which the activity is most sustained.

Find out more about what happened with the LDS Church in Africa!  I hope enjoyed our previous conversations with Russell on Elijah Ables, his mission, the temple/priesthood ban, and his attempts to get his endowment.  Check out all of these episodes for #BlackHistoryMonth!…..


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Early Life of Elijah Ables #BlackHistoryMonth

February is #BlackHistoryMonth and we’re starting off with Russell Stevenson, a Ph.D. candidate at Michigan State University in African-American studies.  He has written a biography of Elijah Ables, and we’re going to learn more about the first documented black man to hold the priesthood.  I’ll ask if Elijah Ables was born a slave, and we’ll learn as much as we can about his life before he joined the LDS Church.

Russell:  We do not have a lot of hard data on Elijah’s upbringing.  We know something about where he’s from.  We know that he was born in western Maryland.  There are a number of potential counties according to different documents where he could have been born in some say Frederick, others say Washington, others say Hancock.  We know that he was born at some point between 1808-1812.

As far as his religious upbringing, we know basically nothing about that.  We don’t even know with certainty that he was a slave.  Statistically speaking that part of Maryland, the free African-American versus the slave African-American ratio, it broke in favor of slaves.  Statistically speaking he was probably a slave at some point, but beyond that speculation we don’t know with certainty.

Really the first hard documentation we have of Elijah’s life comes through a photograph that we have, George A. Smith family photograph collection and it identifies his baptism year as being 1832.  Thanks to that photo, we have some sense of how old he was, which is again, somewhere between 20-24 years old, but the documentation is pretty limited.

Was he light enough to pass for white?  What was his occupation?  Russell answers these questions!  Check out our conversation…..

Don’t forget to check out our interviews with Margaret Young, Dr. Paul Reeve, Dr. Mark Staker, and Dr. Darron Smith as part of your studies of #BlackHistoryMonth!

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When Did LDS Start Ordaining Young Men?

Earlier this summer, one of my guests, Jim Vun Cannon of the Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, asked me why the LDS Church ordained youth to the Aaronic Priesthood.  At the time I said I need to talk to Greg Prince because he’ll probably have an answer.  Now is my chance.  In our next conversation, we’ll talk about the evolution of LDS Priesthood.  When and why is it that the LDS Church decided to ordain young men to the priesthood?

Greg:  My recollection is that I think it was 1904.  Joseph Keeler published a book under the direction of the First Presidency, that’s stated in the preface, and I’m blocking on what the name of it was but it was almost a general handbook of instructions.  I think it was Lesser Priesthood and Church Governance[1] (or something like that.)  It went through two editions and he changed the title later on.

But as far as I can tell, that was the first time when ages were prescribed for ordination into the Aaronic Priesthood.  Initially it was 12, 15, and 18 for Deacon, Teacher, and Priest.

Don’t forget to check out our discussion about early LDS Priesthood offices.  Check out our conversation…..

[1] See