The University of Utah’s first Mormon Studies professor is a historian researching early black converts

W. Paul Reeve (Photo courtesy University of Utah)

University of Utah History Professor W. Paul Reeve has been appointed as the school’s first Mormon Studies professor.

Reeve has taught and written widely on the Utah-based faith, most recently writing Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness.” The book earned the Mormon History Association’s Best Book Award, as well as the John Whitmer Historical Association’s Smith-Pettit Best Book Award, and the Utah State Historical Society’s Francis Armstrong Madsen Best History Book Award.

Bob Goldberg, director of the U.’s Tanner Humanities Center, says that Reeve’s appointment moves the school “into the front rank of schools engaged in the vibrant, intellectual exploration of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its institutions, history and people.”

Goldberg added that Reeve’s scholarship will “help advance our goals of fostering understanding, respect and tolerance while expanding the breadth and depth of our program.”

Reeve, director of graduate studies in the History Department, says he is honored to have been chosen for the professorship, an opportunity that gives him time to explore LDS studies on a deeper level.

 “[This] professorship elevates the status of an already strong Mormon Studies initiative and helps to solidify the U.’s position as a leader in the field,” he states.

Specifically, Reeve plans to launch a new digital history project, “A Century of Black Mormons.” That effort will build a database of black converts baptized into the faith between 1830 and 1930.

Until then-LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball’s 1978 revelation lifting a ban on blacks in the all-male Mormon priesthood, the existence of black members was largely unknown, Reeve explains.

His digital history project seeks to “correct that perception and to recover the names and lives of black Mormons who have been erased from collective Mormon memory. Their lives matter and their names deserve to be known,” Reeve says.

Reeve’s professorship was created by the David E. and Melinda K. Simmons Foundation.