Few topics are more sensitive than that of skin color. This complicated subject defines how we interact as a society and as families, and even how we interact with God.
Where the Church Stands:
Being black is a complex reality for many people. Having dark skin isn’t itself a sin, but it is often an indicator of past sin. Even though individuals are sometimes cursed with dark skin because of sins committed in this lifetime, others may not have sinned in this life: those who were less valiant in the war in heaven are born with dark skin.
A Collection of Quotes and Conversations
This website is a collection of quotes and conversations; quotes from early apostles, prophets, seers, and revelators who taught us why colored people exist, and conversations with modern church members and non-members who have weighed in on the subject more recently. Despite the fact that we quote canonized scripture and apostles and prophets of God, the quotes on this website do not necessarily represent the official position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, the conversations and quotes are all authentic, representing the genuine beliefs of the highest authorities of the LDS church – all the way up to Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency.
This website is not comprehensive – there just isn’t space to include all the available history on this subject. But this site does provide a resource for those who were unfortunately born black and who might struggle with former teachings of the LDS church. By considering our explanations, black church members can learn to ignore history that may seem troubling while still remaining faithful to church teachings. In addition, it is our hope to show that we harbor no animosity toward black people. As Joseph Fielding Smith, the 10th prophet of the church, explained, “I would not want you to believe that we bear any animosity toward the Negro. “Darkies” are wonderful people, and they have their place in our church.” (Look magazine, October 22, 1963, page 79).
The church’s approach to this issue is often considered offensive to modern sensibilities and we don’t usually like to talk about it, but that’s OK. What matters is the truth, no matter how unpalatable it may seem at first. From a PR perspective, it would be more simple to continue sweeping our history under the rug, but we’ve found that the internet is making it impossible for us to do that anymore. In any event, it would be improper for us to not take a stand on this issue. As stated by the Apostle Mark E. Peterson, the civil rights movement is distorting the truth of this issue:
The discussion on civil rights, especially over the last 20 years, has drawn some very sharp lines. It has blinded the thinking of some of our own people, I believe. They have allowed their political affiliations to color their thinking to some extent, and then, of course, they have been persuaded by some of the arguments that have been put forth.We who teach in the Church certainly must have our feet on the ground and not to be led astray by the philosophies of men on this subject. (Apostle Mark E. Peterson, Race Problems – As They Affect The Church, Convention of Teachers of Religion on the College Level, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, August 27, 1954)
Back to the Beginning: The Curse
God has always placed the salvation of His children first and foremost in His priorities. In the 6000-year history of this world, there have often been people who were dangerous to the plans of God, people who would lead away God’s children or even, in extreme cases, hurt them or kill them. After Cain slew Abel, God cursed Cain with a skin of blackness so that his posterity would not be attractive to the righteous. Again quoting Joseph Fielding Smith,
“Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race. A curse placed upon him and that curse has been continued through his lineage and must do so while time endures. Millions of souls have come into this world cursed with a black skin and have been denied the privilege of Priesthood and the fullness of the blessings of the Gospel. These are the descendants of Cain…” (The Way to Perfection, pages 101-102)
This sentiment was also echoed by Brigham Young (the second prophet), John Taylor (the third prophet), Wilford Woodruff (the fourth…), Spencer W. Kimball, Bruce R. McKonkie, and even (according to Brigham Young) Joseph Smith, the original prophet of our faith.
We know of at least one other case in which people were cursed with a skin of blackness. In the Book of Mormon, we read about a group of people called the “Lamanites” who rebelled against God. According to the Book of Mormon,
‘And [God] caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people, the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.’ (2 Nephi 5:21)
It cannot be doubted, then, that the prophets taught that blacks were cursed. We understand that this doctrine is unpalatable, but truth is truth and we cannot apologize for it.
But, surely the Lord would not condemn many unborn souls simply because their ancestors were wicked? Indeed, He would not. Modern prophets have also explained why people continue to be born black. Central to the doctrines of the LDS church is that we lived as spirits before we were born. In the pre-existence, we had the ability to choose just as we do now. Those who are born black were less valiant in the pre-existence, and so are born cursed:
”There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, p. 61)
And from Bruce R. McConkie:
“Negroes in this life are denied the Priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty. (Abra. 1:20-27.) The gospel message of salvation is not carried affirmatively to them… negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain spiritual blessings are concerned, particularly the priesthood and the temple blessings that flow there from, but this inequality is not of man’s origin. It is the Lord’s doing, is based on his eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of Spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate.” (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, pp. 527-528)
It is Not a Sin to be Black, but God Forbids Interracial Marriage
In these socially progressive times, it has become common for interracial marriages to occur. The prophets of God have been extremely clear that marriage between whites and blacks is forbidden. Beginning with Brigham Young,
“Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Volume 10, page 110.)
Wilford Woodruff reiterated the importance of keeping our seed clean:
“And if any man mingle his seed with the seed of Cain the only way he could get rid of it or have Salvation would be to come forward and have his head cut off and spill his blood upon the ground- it would also take the life of his children.” (Wilford Woodruff Journal)
And if you’ve just skimmed over those quotes, read this one from Mark E. Peterson more carefully – nowhere has the position of the LDS church been stated more clearly:
“I think I have read enough to give you an idea of what the Negro is after. He is not just seeking the opportunity of sitting down in a cafe where white people eat. He isn’t just trying to ride on the same streetcar or the same Pullman car with white people. It isn’t that he just desires to go to the same theater as the white people. From this, and other interviews I have read, it appears that the Negro seeks absorption with the white race. He will not be satisfied until he achieves it by intermarriage. That is his objective and we must face it. We must not allow our feelings to carry us away, nor must we feel so sorry for Negroes that we will open our arms and embrace them with everything we have. Remember the little statement that we used to say about sin, “First we pity, then endure, then embrace.“
While we harbor no disrespect for Negroes, the Lord’s position on mixed marriages is clear. We have softened our stance somewhat since Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff declared that the penalty was death, principally because the church no longer authorizes corporeal punishment. But the law of God remains as these quotes and so many others that we have omitted demonstrate.
God is Merciful
Fortunately, God can help those who were born black overcome their skins of darkness and become “white and delightsome” once again – the curse can be removed! Both Brigham Young and Spencer W. Kimball, among others, spoke of this miracle of miracles. President Kimball even saw this happening among the Lamanites (Native Americans) after they were brought into white foster homes. In his words,
“The day of the Lamanites in nigh. For years they have been growing delightsome… The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation…There was the doctor in a Utah city who for two years had had an Indian boy in his home who stated that he was some shades lighter than the younger brother just coming into the program from the reservation. These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness. Spencer W. Kimball; The Improvement Era, Dec. 1960, p. 923)
It is unfortunate that so many black members of the church have not yet become white and delightsome people. We ask members to be patient and not to judge – because of their curse, they are slower to learn and slower to repent, but God remains ever ready to accept them when they turn to Him. For those black members who are reading this, we urge you to fight against the cursing that God placed on you at birth. You were perhaps born black, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t live a life of fulfillment and activity in the church.