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Walker Lewis: Faithful Black Elder

We’re winding down our Black History Month conversations with Dr. Newell Bringhurst.  In our next conversation, we’ll talk about Walker Lewis, a black elder in Boston, Massachusetts.  In fact Wilford Woodruff once described this faithful black elder as “an example to our more whiter brethren.”

Newell:  He was based in Lowell, Massachusetts and he was a barber.  He also belonged to a black Masonic lodge.  There was kind of an interesting Masonic connection there with him.  Connell O’Donovan has done a lot more research on him than I have and shown that he had interaction with a number of apostles that were coming through, so he was well known amongst the apostles that were coming through.  It was William Smith, the younger brother of Joseph Smith that ordained him an elder.

It’s William Appleby who expresses shock when he comes upon him and he finds out Walker Lewis is an elder in the church and this is after the death of Joseph Smith, and [Appleby] writes back, “Is it right that this man should hold the priesthood?  If it is so I have yet to learn it.”

So that’s caused some people to say the ban maybe was in place even earlier but there isn’t other evidence to support that.  Maybe it was just because whatever was going through Walker Lewis’s mind.  There just weren’t that many blacks in the church.  Maybe this was kind of an unusual situation for him.

Ultimately as I say he becomes kind of a well-known figure.  They don’t seem to question his priesthood.  That kind of supports the argument and is one more indication that there was no ban on black ordination.  Even in later church leaders, all the way down into the 20th century when Bennion is doing his study in [19]54, church leaders acknowledged that Walker Lewis had been ordained.  That was acknowledged by even J. Reuben Clark.  I discuss this in an article that is going to be forthcoming, the ’54 recollections and the church struggling with whether blacks could be ordained and what could be the historical justifications were.

But getting back to Walker Lewis himself, he eventually makes his way out to Utah thinking that maybe he can get his endowments but they deny him so he makes his way back to Boston or to Lowell and resumes his barber practice.  There are suggestions that later on, Jane James wants to be sealed to Walker Lewis because she is aware of who Walker Lewis was and that he was indeed a priesthood holder.  To bolster the legitimacy of her request for endowments, she says “Can I be sealed to Walker Lewis?”  Of course that is denied.  That is a poignant story in and of itself.

Had you heard of Walker Lewis before?

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Kirtland Era Polygamy

This is not your typical polygamy conversation.  How did polygamy get started in the LDS Church?  Dr. Mark Staker has a very interesting theory:  he thinks it was started by a former slave, Black Pete, who joined the Mormon community in 1830.  I talked about Black Pete in Part 1 and Part 2 of my discussion with Staker, an LDS Anthropologist, and Staker also makes the case that Oliver Cowdery, not Joseph Smith, wrote the Declaration on Marriage that was replaced by D&C 132 in the Doctrine & Covenants.  With the LDS Church’s stance on monogamy being God’s standard, does Staker believe that this de-canonized revelation could be re-canonized?  Check out the audio above, video below, or transcript (also on Amazon) to find out!  You’ll learn a lot about polygamy the foundations of polygamy in this episode!

Here’s a few interesting quotes from the podcast:

GT:  So wait a minute.  You’re telling me that Black Pete may have been responsible for introducing polygamy into the Kirtland community?

Mark:  I believe so, and I believe that’s why often we say well Joseph Smith was translating the Bible and he wants to know about Abraham and his wives, Isaac and Jacob and their wives and so he asks that.

Who authored the Declaration on Marriage?

Brigham Young believed it was all Oliver Cowdery.  Did he know all the details?  Scholars have disputed that but some of them have accepted his declaration.  I tend to believe that Brigham Young did know enough about those details that he was right that Oliver Cowdery had played the principal if not the sole role in getting that material included.

What are your thoughts?

https://youtu.be/z2CP5VsJyps

 

 

 

 

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Black Pete’s Mormon Mission in 1831

It may be surprising to many to discover that a man known in Mormon journals as Black Pete served a mission for the LDS Church in 1831.  (Back then, it was known simply as the “Church of Christ.”)  Dr. Staker notes,

Black Pete is one of these individuals that goes out preaching.  He joins three other individuals and they all go out as a group of four. They’re very interested in religious enthusiasm.  That might be what ties them together, but what this also suggests is that since those that we know about were ordained elders such as John Murdock, it could be that Black Pete had been ordained an elder as well to go out and he’s assigned to preach just like these others are assigned to go out and preach.

In this episode, we’ll discuss his visits from a black angel, and some of the unusual religious practices he imprinted on Mormonism.  We’ve already mentioned that he started speaking in tongues in Part 1 of our conversation, but in this episode, we’ll learn that Joseph Smith tamps down on these religious practices.  However, missionaries from Kirtland convert Brigham Young, who re-introduces the practice of speaking in tongues in Kirtland!  Pete also attempts to marry within the predominantly white community of Kirtland.  Staker notes that interracial marriage in 1831

would be national news, and it did happen occasionally. It ended up in the national papers that someone married a black person, but Emma’s aunt had done exactly that.

GT:  Emma Smith?

Mark:  Emma Smith’s aunt Diantha Hale had married a Joseph Wallace, a black man.

GT:  Oh I did not know that.

Mark:  Nobody did.  They kept it quiet.  By law they had to announce it in the newspaper, the marriage, but they didn’t mention race in that official announcement.

GT:  Wow!

Please listen here!  Here’s a link to a transcript (also on Amazon).  A video is found below.