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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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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

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Joseph’s Baptism (Part 3 of 7)

What does it feel like to be an adult convert to the LDS Church?  Joseph Freeman describes those vivid feelings as he rose up out of the waters of baptism.

GT:  All right. So, I guess my biggest question. I mean, here you were. You’re a Holiness preacher. I mean, you said, it didn’t bother you that you couldn’t hold the LDS priesthood.

Joseph:  Let me explain it like this. There came a time, I guess, when I was in Hawaii, as I would have the opportunity to speak in various churches, I felt the spirit with me. But I felt something was lacking. That’s why I kept fasting and praying and trying to reach deeper and be closer to God, because I knew something was not there that should be there. I didn’t know if it was authority, or what. I had received a license to preach the gospel through the church that I had grown up in there in Greensboro. The minister awarded me a license. It was actually to the government, as well. You have to apply for it. But he sent me the certificate while I was in Hawaii. It just seemed like there’s something still not there that should be there. So, when people begin to tell me about the priesthood, I begin to think, “Is this the reason I’m feeling this way? Is this the reason that something is missing in my life, in the authority, in whatever it is that I’m doing?” I couldn’t put my hands on it. But I know this. The day that I was baptized, that feeling disappeared. So, it wasn’t the priesthood, or not having the priesthood. It was becoming a member of this church.  I can remember. The bishop baptized me, and then one of the missionaries confirmed me. There were two missionaries, I can’t remember the name of one, but one was Elder Harris. The second missionary, I know, he lives here in Utah, but I don’t remember his name right now. But as I was dipped into the water, I came up, there was just a beautiful feeling. It’s like, I guess, if I could describe it like this standing under like an April shower, outside, and it’s just cool and refreshing. I felt like, I was washed clean, cleaner than I’d ever been in my life. That was just a very special feeling as I joined the Church.  The one thing that, I guess resonates with me, as a member, I feel the spirit stronger in my life on an everyday basis. I know that people in other churches have the spirit, and they feel the spirit too. But there’s something special about being a member of this church and feeling the Spirit. I could never go back to where I came from. I feel the spirit different times when I visit other churches. But there’s something about being a member of this church that’s constant. It’s constant, and it’s right. I feel the spirit in a little bit different way. That tells me what I’m doing is the right thing, where preaching this gospel is the right thing. When I read the Book of Mormon, it’s the right thing. Every time I go to church is the right thing. I have never felt to go back where I came from. Just keep moving forward. Yeah.

GT:  So how did your family react differently? Can you tell us about how they reacted when you joined the Church?

Joseph:  My mother and father are both very religious. My father just had a birthday in March, he turned 100 years old. My mother passed away a few years ago, when she was 87. My mother never spoke anything against the Church. I remember–I don’t think I even told her that I had joined the Church when I was baptized, but somewhere along the way, I told her.  I remember when I was visiting with her in North Carolina, we lived in Greensboro. She said, “Oh, the Mormon people, that’s those rich people on the other side of town.”  Well, where the church was located, there was only one chapel that I can remember in Greensboro at that time. There was another chapel that was outside of town a little bit. It was in a very wealthy neighborhood, and so it was a new area that had been built up.

Joseph has had a job maintaining temples in Colorado, New Mexico, and Montana and shares his experiences there. What are your thoughts on him joining the church knowing he couldn’t hold priesthood?  Would you have done that?  Check out our conversation….

Joseph Freeman describes why he joined the LDS Church despite the ban that was in place in 1973.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Joseph!

490: Meeting Mormons at PCC

489: Holiness Preacher Joins Army