Following the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal government tried to put pressure on the LDS Church to quit discriminating against blacks with regards to the ban on priesthood. A Civil Rights investigation was opened to see if BYU was in compliance with the Civil Rights Act. Dr. Matt Harris describes the results of that investigation.
Matt: The timeline is important. So April of 1968 is when they mail the civil rights letter, the letter to [BYU] President Wilkinson. This is the Office of Civil Rights in Denver, Colorado. They’re an arm of the Justice Department. Just a little context here, the Lyndon Johnson administration, in the 60s, decides that they’re going to go after private high schools and universities that discriminate against African Americans. So that’s a priority for the Justice Department in the Lyndon Johnson administration.
[Wilkinson] knows that if it ever went to court that if BYU were to sue the federal government for violation of their religious rights, they would lose. He knows this because it’s going on during that time. Some Christian universities are suing and losing. So there’s case law that’s been built up in favor of the Justice department.
So he knows what’s going on, and he knows if he goes to court, he’s going to lose. But he has the board, and the board of trustees is comprised of the apostles, most of them are apostles. These guys are, most of them are conservative, and they don’t like being told what to do.
Oh, my goodness! So, the federal government telling them how to run their school, that is just way too much for them. Harold Lee is another one. “How dare they tell us what faculty to hire?” He says that.”We’ll shut this place down if we ever have a negro student,” he says. I mean, they’re defiant. They’re belligerent, and so poor Wilkinson is caught right in the middle of the Civil Rights investigation and this recalcitrant board that doesn’t want to be told what to do.
Joseph Smith had a revelation that Jackson County, Missouri was the promised land. It turns out that the Jackson Country residents weren’t on board with that revelation. It was a very tumultuous time when Mormons and Missourians both wanted to control the local politics. Dr. Alex Baugh describes many of the reasons the two groups didn’t get along.
Alex: So, politically, we’re basically Democrats now in Jackson County.
GT: Mormons were Democrats. Did you just say that?
Alex: No question. Yeah. Yeah.
GT: What happened?
Alex: So politically, we were Democrats. Jackson County is named after Andrew Jackson. I mean, the Jacksonian Democracy, Jackson. So politically, we we’re a little more aligned that way, but that pans out differently depending on where we were, and so on. But there were definitely not many Whigs in the church. So there’s the political issue, although, again, I think what Missourians were more worried about, Rick, was not so much that Mormons were Democrats, but that the Mormons would hold office and be the ones who would govern. They kicked us out of Jackson County in 1833, at the right time if you want to say it that way. Had Mormons continue to immigrate, they would have outnumbered the local citizenry. There’s no question. So the political aspect was more numbers than the difference in political power.
Alex: They just didn’t want the Mormons being the the ones who are making the laws and carrying out the edicts, whatever.
GT: So was it religion, or was it politics that was the bigger issue?
Alex: Yeah, well, it’s always religion, and, that was my point. You can look at the slave issue. You can look at Northerners versus Southerners. You can look at the social. I think we can safely say that at least in Jackson County, the Mormons were a little bit of a cut above some of the frontier Missourians. That doesn’t mean that some of the Missourians were not well educated and sophisticated, but at least bright people. I think the Mormons were probably a little bit of a cut above, at least in, like I say, Jackson County, maybe not as much in Clay [County.] There are some bright people in Clay County. Oh, my gosh. We’ve got a future U.S. senator in David Rice Atchison. There were just some bright political figures in Clay County.
But the point is political, social, economic, the Mormons were rather clannish. We traded among ourselves. That doesn’t mean we didn’t help support the local economy and local merchants, but we were trying to implement consecration. But the underlying thing, Rick, was we were seen as religious radicals. I mean, we went against the Christian elements of the day. We believed in strong prophetic leadership. We didn’t believe in the Trinity. We claimed visions. I’m just trying to think here, again, we practiced Consecration. That was part of our economic element that we combined together to support each other. We believed in additional scripture. Oh my gosh, that went against [everything.] “A Bible, a Bible.” So we were seen as on the religious fringe. If we would have been any other faith, there would have been no problem and we could have still had some of those differences, and probably lived peacefully. But it was oil and water, and we just didn’t mix. So it was a lot of things.
Check out our conversation…..
 The Republican Party was founded in 1854. The Whig Party were essentially replaced by the Republican Party.
If you’re interested in early Church history, don’t miss our interview with Dr. Mark Staker on the Kirtland Period.
Utah politics are different than national politics in a few different ways. For example, Utah governors enjoy the highest ratings of governors in any state! Does LDS Church culture play a role in this?
Rod: The best explanation I’ve heard was [former Utah Governor] Mike Leavitt. I asked him about it. He said, “If you do an okay job, they sort of sustain you.” Sustain is a Latter-day Saint word. The Latter-day Saints sustain people in their congregations and they always do it unanimously. There is a Latter-day Saint tradition of supporting leaders, and it extends to governors, if you do an okay job. So Utah has popular governors, more popular than maybe any other state. They’re certainly contenders and Utah has long serving governors.
And state politicians are more concerned with balance budgets than cutting taxes.
Rod: Utah Republicans are tax-cutters in Washington and budget-balancers in Utah. The Utah legislature and Utah governors are scrupulous about balancing the budget. They’re careful. Occasionally, there might be a very small deficit that slips in and they immediately pay it off the next year. They’re careful, and they’ve been that way for decades. They weren’t always that way. But they’ve been that way for decades. But in Washington, all the Utah Republicans voted for Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts, voted for Donald Trump’s tax cuts, voted for George W. Bush’s tax cuts. Now, they say we should cut spending to balance the budget, but they know that’s not going to happen. They voted for tax cuts, even though it increased the deficit.
Now here, they like tax cuts too. They cut taxes, but they don’t cut taxes, if it’ll make a deficit ever. And they’ll raise taxes if they need to, to balance the budget. In Utah, a balanced-budget comes first. In Washington, tax cuts come first. The difference is that Utah Republicans own Utah State Government. They want it to be strong and properly run. Whatever strength Washington has, it’s eventually going to be used against us. Put them in deficit. Cut the taxes. Starve the beast. Do everything you can to beat up on them, because even so, even after you’ve done everything you can, they’re going to come out here and run you off federal land or declare a monument or make you allow abortions. I mean, they’re going to do bad stuff to you out here. So you don’t want them any stronger than you have to have them.
We’ll also talk about the national monument controversies among Presidents Clinton, Obama, and Trump. Rod Decker tells more about how Utah politics are different from the nation. Sign up for our free newsletter at https://gospeltangents.com/newsletter to hear the conclusion of our conversation with Rod!
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