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The End of Benson’s Political Aspirations (Part 11 of 13)

Ezra Taft Benson wanted to run for U.S. President. Dr. Matt Harris describes a few attempts by Benson to run for POTUS, and how Church leaders finally put an end to Benson’s political aspirations.

Matt: The Birchers will create this secret organization called the Committee of 1776. It’s run by Birchers. It’s got Birch footprints all over it, but “we can’t reveal ourselves as Birchers because it’s too controversial.” And they say this in their board meeting. “If we say it’s us, then people will be turned off by it. So do not mention that Robert Welch or anybody is behind this. But it’s really mostly Birchers doing this.

So they draft Benson as their presidential candidate and they draft a man named Strom Thurmond, who was a Dixiecrat in the 1940’s, and split off from the Democratic Party because he was so pro-segregation and didn’t like the civil rights tack that President Harry Truman was taking.

And, without going into the details, the ticket fizzles. It doesn’t raise enough money. Thurman never had the buy-in, to be honest, that Benson had. Benson was alarmed by it and just giddy about it. President McKay gives the green light for him to do this, by the way, which is interesting, over the protest, of Hugh Brown and some other leaders.

Elder Benson and his son Reed fly out to Birmingham and they have a three hour meeting with George Wallace and Benson tells Robert Welch, “He’s a great guy. We have a lot in common.” So, Benson tells Governor Wallace, “I need to get the support of President McKay. I can’t do this unilaterally.” President McKay knew that there was some pushback when he gave the green light to run with Strom Thurmond. Some of the Apostles told him, including Hugh Brown, “This is stupid. Don’t do this.”

McKay is an old Scottish man. He had a little temper. “Don’t tell me what to do.” The brethren were sensitive to that, including Hugh B. Brown. So he goes back to Salt Lake and tells President McKay in a highly confidential meeting, “They want me to be the presidential candidate with Wallace.” This is on the Independent ticket because there’s a Republican Mormon who might wrap up the Republican nomination. So we’ve got two high profile Mormons running for the same office.

GT: This is George Romney, right?

Matt: George Romney, right. What really muddies the water is there are a number of brethren who support George Romney and not Benson. That’s another challenging issue.

GT: And Marion G. Romney is in the quorum. How is he related to George?

Matt: They’re cousins. So, we’ve got that dynamic going on, too. Romney has gotten priesthood blessings from President McKay, from other people about running and they tell him, “You’re going to run and we support you.” President McKay supports George Romney and tells him this.

If you were’t aware, George Romney is the father of Mitt Romney.  Harris tells how LDS leaders ended Benson’s political ambitions.
Byt the way, Harris’ book on Benson is now available for purchase on Amazon!  See https://amzn.to/2EHTklK

Check out our conversation….

Dr. Matt Harris describes Ezra Taft Benson's attempts to run for POTUS and how his political career ended.
Dr. Matt Harris describes Ezra Taft Benson’s attempts to run for POTUS and how his political career ended.

Our other interviews about Benson.

252: Benson on Civil Rights & Communism (Harris)

251: Benson and John Birch Society (Harris)

250: How Ezra Taft Benson Joined Eisenhower (Harris)

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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….