The early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which was organized in 1830 in New York, U.S.A.) were anti-slavery and fair toward Blacks. When the Latter-day Saints migrated to the state of Missouri, after facing persecution in Ohio, their anti-slavery stance brought even more harassment—the majority of Missourians wanted a slave state. Joseph Smith, the first prophet of the Mormon Church, even wanted to create a haven for Blacks in Missouri. Congregations of Latter-day Saints never segregated Blacks; they were always welcome.
Black Mormons of the early days of the Church were ordained to the Mormon Priesthood, but later, a ban was put on the practice. In the twentieth century, Mormon leaders became very concerned about the ban and attempted to find historical evidence to determine the reason for it. They searched for records of received revelation that would have brought it about, but no record was found. Therefore, the modern prophets and leaders of the Mormon Church do not know why the ban was instituted, but they felt they needed a revelation from God in order to grant the priesthood to Black Mormons.
Mormonism has a lay clergy. Therefore, no one is trained for the ministry; there are no schools. The priesthood is defined as the power and authority to act in the name of Christ. Worthy male members of the LDS Church who hold the priesthood are able to minister as they are called to do from time to time, and to perform all the miracles performed by the original apostles of Jesus Christ. They may also perform ordinances that are binding eternally. It is a wonderful thing to exercise the priesthood power in one’s own home, with the ability to heal the sick and comfort the troubled minds and hearts of wife and children. Since priesthood holders are called to lead congregations as bishops of wards, and groups of congregations as stake presidents, and even the Church, lay members have to be willing to follow and sustain these leaders. That means the membership at large (mostly white throughout most of the Church’s history) must be willing to follow and sustain those called leaders.
The civil rights movement helped to move white populations away from their historical bigotry. Remember that during the pre-Civil War period, there were many whites who did not believe that Blacks had souls, as if they were sub-human. Joseph Smith taught that it was the lack of opportunity (or the availability thereof) that makes the difference in culture and behavior, performance and wisdom.
As the civil rights movement progressed, society, especially in the United States, put a great deal of pressure upon the Mormon Church to offer the priesthood to Black Mormons. It took a long time, because the leadership wouldn’t act without a confirming revelation. Many of the members and leadership prayed for years for such a revelation, and it finally came to the prophet of the Church and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1978. Prophet Spencer W. Kimball announced that from then on, the priesthood would be bestowed upon every worthy male member of the Church, regardless of race. The membership received this announcement with great joy.
Apostle David B. Haight said the following:
I noticed an edition of the Chicago Tribune on the newsstand. The headline in the paper said, “Mormons Give Blacks Priesthood.” And the subheading said, “President Kimball Claims to Have Received a Revelation.” I bought a copy of the newspaper. I stared at one word in that subheading—claims. It stood out to me just like it was in red neon. As I walked along the hallway to make my plane connection, I thought, Here I am now in Chicago walking through this busy airport, yet I was a witness to this revelation. I was there. I witnessed it. I felt that heavenly influence. I was part of it. Little did the editor of that newspaper realize the truth of that revelation when he wrote, “… Claims to Have Received a Revelation.” Little did he know, or the printer, or the man who put the ink on the press, or the one who delivered the newspaper—little did any of them know that it was truly a revelation from God. Little did they know what I knew because I was a witness to it (David B. Haight, “This Work Is True,” Ensign, May 1996, 22).
Since then, the Church has grown exponentially in Africa. There are black bishops and black general authorities. Continuing tradition, congregations are not segregated. Black Mormons are enjoying all the blessings of church membership, including participation in leadership.
To learn more, go to http://www.blacklds.org