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Almost Famous: 1969 Black Ordination Nixed by Lee

Despite several attempts to end the ban in the 1960s, Hugh B. Brown made one final attempt in 1969 and almost succeeded.  However, the attempt was nixed by Harold B. Lee. Dr. Matt Harris will give us more information on this, and I think you will hear some really amazing stuff in this next episode.

Matt:  Anyway, the McKay sons and Brown, when Taggart’s thesis comes out, they will use Taggart’s research and say, “Look.  This is just a policy.  This is a policy, it is not a doctrine.  So, if it is just a policy, President McKay, then we can overturn this.”  President McKay agrees to ordain a black man named Monroe Fleming, a loyal member at the Hotel Utah.  This is in September of 1969.

GT:  Wow.

Matt:  Yes, yes.  So, he agrees to ordain Monroe Fleming to the priesthood.  It is interesting, the document that I have that talks about this.  It just says Monroe Fleming.  It doesn’t say all persons of African ancestry.  But you can only imagine that if you allow Monroe Fleming the priesthood, based upon his worthiness of course, then that means that other worthy black members of the church can now hold the priesthood.  That’s how I interpret that.

[McKay] agrees to do it, and when Harold B. Lee and Joseph Fielding Smith, mostly Harold B. Lee, because Joseph Fielding Smith is now in his 90s, and his health is getting the best of him.  But when Harold B. Lee finds out about it, he puts an end to it and says, “This is not something that we can do, and if we do it, it has to have buy-in from the Quorum of the Twelve, the full quorum.”

So, President McKay, and I’m going to paraphrase, he says, “I’m too old to fight him.  I’m not going to do it.  We will let President Lee worry about this problem.”  That’s what he says, this “problem.”

We will also talk briefly about some of the BYU protests where other teams were protesting the church’s stance with blacks and the priesthood and temple ban.

Matt:  President Brown wants to lift the ban to get the athletic protests off their back.  In November of ’69 he tells Kenneth Pitzer the Stanford President.  He calls him up.  He said, “This is Hugh Brown of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I just want you to know, we are going to lift the ban.”

GT:  He calls the Stanford University president.

Matt:  Yes, he calls the Stanford president and tells him we are going to lift the ban, and even writes him a letter.

GT:  The reason why is because Stanford had just cancelled some sort of a series.

Matt:  Correct.

GT:  Was it football or basketball?  Do you remember?

Matt:  Basketball, I think it was basketball.  It was that fall, they cancelled their contract with BYU basketball.

Lee strongly rejected attempts for black ordination
Lee strongly rejected attempts for black ordination

Check out our other conversations with Matt, like Brown’s previous attempts to end the ban.  Check out our conversation….

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BYU Protests

Last summer BYU made a big public push to get into the Big 12 Conference.  Joining the Big 12 would mean a lot more money to the university and a lot more prestige for their athletic programs.  Not everyone is excited about BYU joining the Big 12 however.   Iowa State University students protested BYU’s entrance into the Big 12, concerned that BYU’s policy on gay athletes would cause problems with their own gay athletes.  I asked Dr. Darron Smith of the University of Memphis what he thought about this issue.

Darron:  I think that they [BYU] have enough sense to know that the world is watching them when it pertains to this kind of a thing.  So I understand and I’m sympathetic to what the plight of the gay athlete is at the Big 12 Conference, but I think it’s a little bit overstated paranoia.

It’s not the first time BYU has been the subject of protests.  Back in the [19]60s, the University of Wyoming had fourteen players who protested playing BYU.  It was a pretty ugly incident back in the day.

Darron:  The Black Fourteen were fourteen young black men who were in the 1960s like most predominantly white institutions were starting to recruit black players, the WAC [Western Athletic Conference] was recruiting black players in the mid to late 60s….blacks are wanting to assert themselves and they want to protest BYU’s position on blacks via the Mormon Church, so they’re coming after BYU via the Mormon Church’s position on blacks.  BYU’s a target.

There were also some other protests.  Stanford University isn’t exactly spotless with regards to race relations either.  Was Stanford hypocritical when they protested playing BYU?

Darron:  Very hypocritical, very hypocritical.  It goes to show you where our level of thinking is around issues of race were during that time frame.  The focus was on African-Americans, right.  That was the focus.  Pull the beam out of your own eye before you turn the gaze on others.  They didn’t see that as a problem.

We’ll also talk about some other professional sports teams:  the Washington Redskins, the Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves.  We’ll even talk about the Utah Utes.  Are those racist mascots? What does Dr. Darron Smith of the University of Memphis think about those?

Darron:  It’s still racist.  I call it commodity racism, racism with a twist.  Yes.  Because you’re still using, still tapping into the same stereotypical ideas, whether you have their permission or not, you’re still reinforcing a cosmology of racial indifference, that these people aren’t set up for this type of endeavor, to be the fodder of entertainment, so yeah.

Should these teams change their mascots?  Let’s listen in on our conversation….

BYU Protests: Black, Gay, & Native American Racism