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How Hinckley Prevailed Over Benson on Civil Rights (Part 12 of 13)

Ezra Taft Benson clearly wasn’t a fan of civil rights and called it a communist conspiracy.  But his counselor in the First Presidency, Gordon B. Hinckley, made peace with the NAACP and helped name a state holiday in Utah after King.  Dr. Matt Harris tells more about Hinckley’s effects on Benson.

Matt: For years, Dr. King’s been called a commie. Latter-day Saints of at least two generations grew up with this sort of thinking. So, what do you do about this? Well, when the Martin Luther King holiday was proposed in the early ’80’s, of course, the State of Utah just recoiled in horror. They can’t support the Martin Luther King holiday. The idea was, not only is he a communist, but he’s an adulterer and all the other things that these people had said about him. So, what happened was Utah decided they were going to call it Human Rights Day instead of Martin Luther King Day. There are a few other states that had gone that path, too.

Matt: Hinckley is privately befriending members of the NAACP. He’s doing a lot of stuff behind the scenes to really undo, quite frankly, what Elder Benson had spent much of his apostolic ministry doing: denouncing civil rights and Martin Luther King. So, President Hinckley is doing much of this stuff on his own. To finish the story here, that President Hinckley gives his support to rename the holiday after Martin Luther King. He tells the church lobbyist, he says, “Why don’t you go up to the hill and let them know that the church supports the renaming of Martin Luther King Day?” He’d been working in private with NAACP leaders. They have been pushing him hard. “Why can’t the church support this? Because you know, if the church supports this, that the legislature will fall in line.”

President Hinckley thought, “Oh my goodness, why don’t we support this? It serves no purpose in the 21st century, or as the 21st century approaches to not rename this after this iconic civil rights leader.” So, President Hinckley tells the church lobbyist, “Go up to the hill and tell them that the church supports the changing of the holiday.” It was done. And so in 2000, Utah became, I think it was like the 49th or 50th state in the union to recognize Martin Luther King holiday. What that means is that President Hinckley, yet again, is trying to modernize the church and to let Latter-day Saints know that, it’s unchristian to demean people of color and to call them a commie, and to deny them civil rights. That’s really, I think, one of, in my humble opinion, one of President Hinckley’s most enduring legacies is to really open up a new day for race relations with the church. As far as I know, because of President Hinckley, the NAACP has maintained cordial relations with the church hierarchy, because of him.

He also makes some interesting comments about Sheri Dew’s biography of President Benson.

Matt: If you look at Elder Benson’s biography that Sheri Dew did, that was published in 1987–this was during the early years of his presidency, which is really interesting if you look at this. And this is not a fault to Sheri Dew–otherwise I think it’s actually a pretty fine biography. But there’s no mention of the Birch Society, Robert Welch, none of that stuff. These guys were extremely close. And to not mention that in a biography is really extraordinary. Again, not a criticism of Sister Dew, but clearly somebody had prevailed upon her that, you know, “We’re trying to move beyond this stuff. This isn’t good for business.”

GT: So, you think she purposely was told to leave that out?

Matt:  Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I’m just speculating of course, but she had access to his papers and she knows how close they are.

Check out our conversation, and don’t forget to purchase Matt’s new book on Benson called Thunder from the Right.  My copy arrived on Tuesday and I’m just digging into it!

 

Gordon B. Hinckley made outreach to the NAACP and helped undo the harm of President Benson's race relations.
Gordon B. Hinckley made outreach to the NAACP and helped undo the harm of President Benson’s race relations.

Here are our other conversations about President Benson!

253: The End of Benson’s Political Aspirations (Harris)

252: Benson on Civil Rights & Communism (Harris)

251: Benson and John Birch Society (Harris)

250: How Ezra Taft Benson Joined Eisenhower (Harris)

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How Ezra Taft Benson Joined Eisenhower (Part 8 of 13)

Ezra Taft Benson joined Eisenhower to be his Agriculture Secretary in 1952.  Benson didn’t even vote for Eisenhower!  But President McKay allowed apostle Benson to serve for eight years in the Eisenhower administration.  Dr. Matt Harris tells more about the relationship between Ike and ETB.

Dwight Eisenhower has never met Benson before, but yet he wants a churchman into his cabinet because he thinks that will help with religious people for one and for two, he also wanted somebody in the Midwest. Even though, I guess, technically Utah’s not in the Midwest, he thought that that would help him with the Midwest vote. So he calls Benson and Benson says, “Are you sure you want me? I didn’t even vote for you.”

GT:  Oh, really?

Matt:  “I didn’t even vote for you.” So anyway, I won’t go into all the details, but he gets the blessing from President McKay. He gets the green light to take a leave of absence from his apostolic duties to go to Washington. What’s interesting is when he’s going to Washington, this is the era of McCarthyism

We’ll dig deep into Benson’s relationship with President Eisenhower, so you won’t want to miss it.  Please note this is the second half of our conversation with Dr. Matt Harris.  If you haven’t seen our previous interviews on the temple and priesthood ban, please check those out.  But here’s the next conversation with Dr. Matt Harris. Check out our conversation….

President Eisenhower looks on while Ezra Taft Benson is sworn in as Secretary of Agriculture by Supreme Court Justice Fred M. Vinson.
President Eisenhower looks on while Ezra Taft Benson is sworn in as Secretary of Agriculture by Supreme Court Justice Fred M. Vinson.

Check out our previous conversations with Dr. Harris!

161: Bruce R. McConkie Wrote Official Declaration 2! (Harris)

160: How Kimball Persuaded Apostles to Agree on Lifting Ban (Harris)

159: Almost Famous!  1969 Black Ordination Nixed by Lee (Harris)

158: Hugh B. Brown’s Attempt to End Ban in 1962! (Harris)

157: Did Pres. McKay Try to Rescind Ban in 1955? (Harris)

156: When, Where, & Why Did the One-Drop Rule Originate? (Harris)

155: Before 1978:  How LDS Leaders Handled Bi-racial Families in Brazil and South Africa (Harris)

 

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Civil War Prophecy Leads to Black Ordination (Part 5)

On Christmas Day in 1832, Joseph Smith had a revelation that the Civil War would begin in South Carolina.  Almost 30 years later, it happened.  William Bickerton was impressed with the revelation, and thought it would bring about the end of the world.  The revelation proclaimed that slaves would rise up against their masters.  Would it allow for black ordination?  How did Church members react?

Daniel:  I believe it’s in 1871. The little Redstone branch, it’s called the racist doctrine. The Little Red Stone or that’s how I talk about it in the book of the Little Redstone branch in Pennsylvania doesn’t want to give equal partnership and equal rights to African-Americans and they believe that black people are below white people.

Most of America was racist and from our standing. The South believed in slavery and even a lot of people in the north didn’t necessarily believe in slavery, but they definitely, most people in the North didn’t believe that Africans were equal to whites.

And you start to see that even within the Bickertonite movement, there are members that don’t believe that African-Americans are equal to white people or to the average Americans. And even after the war, African-Americans, at least African-American men are given equal citizenship rights to white men. And there’s people in the congregation, that little Redstone congregation. that don’t agree with that, especially within the church. They’re going to be barred from the priesthood and all these other things.

GT: Now is this in Pennsylvania?

Daniel: This is in Pennsylvania. So, this is Union country after the war. So, what ends up happening is one of the conferences, somebody, I believe one of the apostles, it was Joseph Astin I believe has to write a letter and send it to little Redstone and tell them. I really like this letter because it’s very politically minded.

And, they use the scriptures to kind of show, to kind of ease them in, to show them. So, they say, listen, in the New Testament, we read that the gentiles were looked down upon by the Jews. They were considered unclean. But then the apostle Peter has that dream where God tells them, don’t consider the gentiles unclean anymore. The Gospel brings them up. It says, “So too have we been taught,” or “we’ve been led,” I think the term is used. “We’ve been led to believe or to think,” that black people, I think they used the term Negro or colored people. It’s colored, I believe they used. “We’ve been led to believe that the colored people are below us, but the gospel brings them up and brings them to have equal access with the supper of the Lord,” or something like that. Very political, very well read, but trying to say no, they’re equal to us and even if you don’t think that they are, secularly the gospel brings them up. So, we are to give them equal access to everything that we have and they are to be considered everything that we have.

Check out our conversation…

Joseph Smith's Civil War prophecy led William Bickerton to believe blacks were authorized to receive priesthood.   They are the first Latter-day Saint group to ordain a black apostle.

Joseph Smith’s Civil War prophecy led William Bickerton to believe blacks were authorized to receive priesthood. They are the first Latter-day Saint group to ordain a black apostle. 

 

Check out our other conversations with Dr. Stone!

199: Biblical Support to Ordain Women (Stone)

198: Bickerton Becomes Prophet (Stone)

197: Sidney’s Church Falls Apart (Stone)

196: Rigdon/Spalding Manuscript Theory (Stone)