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Genesis Group & Black Spirituality (Part 5 of 7)

The Genesis Group was founded in the early 1970s to help keep black members active even though they couldn’t hold the priesthood.  Joseph became a member of that group.  He wasn’t one of the original founders, but he will talk about some of his earliest remembrances of that group and will talk about an amazing member, Monroe Fleming.  Monroe almost became the first black member ordained a decade earlier in 1969.  You won’t want to miss this.

Joseph:  By the time I came here in 1976, I didn’t know where the group was located. People had told me about the group, even when I was in Hawaii.

GT:  Oh, really?

Joseph:  But, how do you contact the group? There was no phone number in a phone book or anything like that. When I moved into this stake, Bishop Swain knew Ruffin Bridgeforth personally. When he first sat down with me, I met with him in his office. He then said, “Are you interested in meeting members of the group?”  I said, “Yes, I’ve heard of it, and I don’t know anything how to find them. So, he says, I’ve got the number. He dialed Ruffin right then, called him up and then Ruffin invited me, gave me the address to where they were meeting. They met once a month on the first Sunday of the month. I think, maybe about seven o’clock in the evening.  I took my family. We went to our first meeting, had a great time. From that time on, I was a member of the group. Every first Sunday, we were there.

GT:  Is Ruffin still around here?

Joseph:  Ruffin has passed away.

GT:  Oh, bummer.

Joseph:  Yeah, I think had sugar diabetes. I believe that that was probably one of the things that took him away. But Ruffin was such a wonderful man. The general authorities loved him a great deal. He became more like a father to me. I don’t remember now how old Ruffin was. But in those years that I moved here, I was about 25 when I received the priesthood. I met him before receiving a priesthood. So, I was either 24 or 25 when I met him, and he was probably, in his early 50s, about that time. He just kind of took me under his wing. He was just such a wonderful guy. He was great speaker.  Ruffin shared with me a story. I think I told you some years ago that Brother Fleming had been asked by President Monson if he would write his testimony down.

GT:  You’re talking about Monroe Fleming.

Joseph:  Monroe.

GT:  I definitely want to talk about Monroe Fleming. Now for those who don’t know Monroe Fleming, I did an interview with Matt Harris about a year ago.  Monroe was almost in your shoes. He was almost the first guy, back in 1969.

Joseph:  That’s right. Yeah.

GT:  Tell us more about Monroe Fleming.

Joseph:  When people were going on missions years ago, they would go to the mission home, and it was at the Joseph Smith Building, which is [the old] Hotel Utah.  I never went to the Hotel Utah. It was just a big, marvelous building.  I didn’t have anything to do with it. Well, Monroe worked there. So, when the missionaries would be trained, and they get to the end of their training, they would bring in Brother Fleming, and have him share his testimony.  I’ve met many, many missionaries today, that are perhaps my age and that told me that they saw and met Brother Fleming years ago when they first finished the mission training, before leaving for their mission. They would just share with me how excited they were meeting a black man who had a great testimony and shared that testimony with them. After the priesthood was given, Brother Fleming contacted me. He said, “I’d like to hear your testimony.”  So, a couple of times, we went out together and went to firesides where I was the speaker. He got to share and talk over the conversation of me receiving the priesthood, how I felt and everything, and how he felt. I didn’t get a chance to hear him speak before I left Salt Lake and moved away, though. But he was a wonderful guy. I didn’t know him personally.  It’s been a long time, but I just love the guy. He’s just a really nice man.  He had a beautiful testimony.

I wish I had been able to meet Monroe Fleming.  (He passed away in 1982.)  What do you know about the Genesis Group? Check out our conversation….

Joseph Freeman tells us about the Genesis Group and his memories of Monroe Fleming.

Don’t miss our previous conversations!

492: Instant Celebrity

491: Joseph’s Baptism

490: Meeting Mormons at PCC

489: Holiness Preacher Joins Army

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How Kimball Persuaded Apostles to Agree on Lifting the Ban

In our next episode with Dr. Matt Harris, we will talk about how President Kimball persuaded the apostles to lift the priesthood and temple ban on black church members.  It turns out the Brazil Temple was a key part of that, as well as Bruce R. McConkie’s change of heart.

Kimball knows the consequences of doing something unilaterally without quorum buy-in.  He sees that in church history, and he experiences it himself during the McKay administration.  So, President Kimball recognizes this is such a delicate task, and that if he is going to make this, arguably, probably the most momentous—not arguably.  In the 20th century, it is the most momentous decision in the church, second maybe only to plural marriage, giving black people the priesthood.

So, he knows he has to have buy-in.  How do you get buy-in from people who have very, very deep-seated racial views?

President Kimball announces the Brazil Temple.  This is a bulwark to help the brethren to come along with this.  He recognizes that you can’t have temple in this heavily bi-racial nation, where the people who sacrificed and do so much to build the temple are shut off from it.  I mean he understands this.

We will also get into more detail on Monroe Fleming’s “almost” ordination in 1969!

Matt:  The “loyal negro” at the Hotel Utah is Monroe Fleming.  He had been working there for years.  Church leaders all knew him.  Of course, it is a church-owned property.  He was a very faithful member.  I think he joins in the early ‘50s, so clearly he is a pioneer in the church.  He comes of age in the church before the priesthood revelation, so he understands the restriction.  But it is not clear if there is going to be an announcement; it’s just that “We are going to ordain this loyal negro man.”  That’s all it is.  I think Hugh B. Brown mentions Monroe Fleming in a different document, but the McKay document that I have, it’s just “a loyal negro member at the Hotel Utah.”

Pres. Kimball Announced a new temple in Brazil to get buy-in to help apostles understand why ban needed to be lifted.
Pres. Kimball Announced a new temple in Brazil to get buy-in to help apostles understand why ban needed to be lifted.

Check out our conversation!  Don’t forget to listen to Matt describe how McKay almost ordained Monroe Fleming in 1969.

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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….