Mormon church to celebrate end to ban on blacks entering the priesthood

On an otherwise unremarkable June day nearly four decades ago, the LDS Church made a momentous declaration: It was opening its priesthood to “all worthy males,” ending a centurylong ban on black men and boys being ordained, and on black women being allowed in Mormon temples.

That June 8, 1978, change was a divine revelation, top LDS leaders said at the time, which came after much prayer and meditation about the prohibition.

The church’s governing First Presidency said Monday that it will host a “celebration” June 1 at the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City to mark the 40th anniversary of that revelatory change. The event, details of which are yet to be announced, is to be broadcast from the Conference Center at 7 p.m.

Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Tamu Smith, left, and LaShawn Williams pose in Lehi in June.

To LaShawn Williams, a black Mormon, the celebration is a “step in the right direction.”

Williams, who teaches courses on social work at Utah Valley University, said “consistency matters most to me after a historic celebration.”

The LDS Church “is demonstrating a desire to listen and to do,” she said. “And my testimony will grow as [it continues] to do better.”

Darius Gray, one of the founders of Genesis, a support group for black Mormons, recently penned a blog for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ official website.

“I am black, an African-American convert who this year celebrates with millions of members the 40th anniversary of the priesthood being extended ‘to all worthy male members,’” Gray wrote in “Healing the Wounds of Racism.” “Since that time, church leaders have fully disavowed past speculation for why the priesthood was withheld, including the notion of blacks being less valiant in the premortal existence.”

Still, Gray said, “racially insensitive comments and attitudes concerning persons of color have not all gone away yet.”

The first step “toward healing is the realization that the problem exists, even among some of us in the church,” he wrote. “We cannot fix that which we overlook or deny.”

Gray and other black Mormons hope the 40th anniversary celebration will bring “renewed awareness of how the LDS Church has been enriched by its openness to members of all races.”