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Mormon and Black: Vanna Cox has questions

Published June 8, 2008 1:39 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

PROVO - Vanna Cox is a born leader on the basketball court and in her high school. As point guard, Cox ran the plays and united the team; as Provo High School's first black student-body president, she talked about diversity and tolerance at the predominantly Mormon school.

Cox never allowed a racial slur to go unanswered.

"We heard the [racial epithet] all the time when we were kids at [LDS] church activities by kids who knew us," she says. "It's worse with teens. Maybe it's hormones or something."

She worried about the best approach. Should she be gentle or direct?

"It's starting to be hard to be nice about it," she says. "I try to go at it like Jesus would, but some take our kindness as weakness. They don't take us seriously."

When she and her sisters discovered the history of blacks in the LDS Church, they felt pride in black pioneers such as Jane Manning James and Elijah Abel and horror that Green Flake, a slave, was given as tithing to Brigham Young. They didn't understand the ban on blacks in the priesthood or the racist beliefs of LDS leaders they admired.

"We had to learn that the church is not all butterflies and cupcakes," she says.

Maykela Cox, Vanna's sister, is even more outspoken.

Maykela once asked her seminary teacher why Brigham Young had slaves. The teacher lashed out at her, saying, "I can't believe you would ask me this in front of the class."

She stopped attending seminary regularly, but when she does go, she says, she sits quietly rather than risk another attack.

"I feel swivel-headed sometimes, trying to be a good Mormon and defend my race at the same time."

Vanna, who will play basketball for Salt Lake Community College next year, isn't ready to quit the church.

"It's definitely something that helps me. I do love it," she says. "But the priesthood ban is always going to be a question for me. It hurts. It sucks."

- Peggy Fletcher Stack