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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….