It’s an auspicious time for black Mormons, with an approaching anniversary that will be honored in workshops, conferences, speeches and celebrations throughout 2018.
This year marks four decades since the June 1978 end to the LDS Church’s ban on black men and boys being ordained to its all-male priesthood and on black girls and women being excluded from Mormon temples.
Alluding to the Israelites’ biblical sojourn in the wilderness, a group of African-American Mormons organized a collection of events under the title “Wander No More: 40 Years After the Priesthood and Temple Restoration.”
”Restoration” points to the fact that some black men were ordained under Mormon founder Joseph Smith and that the priesthood prohibition on blacks wasn’t institutionalized until after the LDS prophet’s 1844 death.
The first in a series of commemorations will be a two-day conference this weekend on the legacy of black Mormon pioneers at the visitor center of the church’s Washington, D.C., temple.
“It’s the first of its kind,” says LaShawn Williams, one of the main organizers.
The event was created by a committee of black women, featuring “black Mormons, speaking about black experiences in the church and black Mormon history,” Williams says. “We hope to help black Latter-day Saints feel connected and to explore how to engage all members in a discussion of our collective black Latter-day Saint history.”
So far, more than 600 people have registered for the conference, says Williams, who teaches social work at Utah Valley University.
Saturday’s sessions will include discussions of black missionaries, black women, priesthood and the temple, blacks in the scriptures, contemporary examinations of race and the church, intersections of black LDS identities, and reflections on resistance.
On Sunday, several black Mormon women will share the stories of their faith and conversions.
The conference will feature prominent black Mormons, including Janan Graham-Russell, Marvin Perkins and Bryndis Roberts.
“Whether you’re black, brown or white, this conference is for you,” writes Zandra Vranes, one of the “Sistas in Zion” authors. “You do not need to bring a black friend, have a black family member, or even know any black people in order to attend.”
Those who “didn’t serve their missions ‘in the hood,’ ‘the ghetto’ or ‘straight up Africa,’” can come, too, Vranes quips. “If you use any such terms to describe your mission, you definitely need to come to the conference so you can stop doing that.”