Archive Section II
THE LEGRAND RICHARDS INTERVIEW
AND THE NEGRO QUESTION
Interview with Apostle LeGrand Richards
For many generations black people were denied the Mormon priesthood and access to their temple. The early LDS leaders taught that they were the cursed seed of Cain and that they were last in line to receive these privileges and would have to wait until all the world had been evangelised.
The reversal of this policy of exclusion by then LDS president Spencer W. Kimball long before the above mentioned conditions were met resulted in an exodus of many Mormons to the fundamentalist camp. The following interview with LDS Apostle Richards further demomnstrates that the impetus behind the policy change was not so much revelation (which in any case would have contradicted earlier LDS prophets) but the fact that in countries like Brazil, where African blood is thoroughly mixed with the whites, hardly any of the members were elligible for priesthood ordination of temple admission. The interview speaks for itself.
By Wesley P. Walters and Chris Vlachos
16th August 1978
Church Office Building
(Recorded on Cassette)
WALTERS: On this revelation, of the priesthood to the Negro, I've heard all kinds of stories: I've heard that Joseph Smith appeared; and then I heard another story that Spencer Kimball had, had a concern about this for some time, and simply shared it with the apostles, and they decided that this was the right time to move in that direction. Are any of those stories true, or are they all?
RICHARDS: Well, the last one is pretty true, and I might tell you what provoked it in a way. Down in Brazil, there is so much Negro blood in the population there that it's hard to get leaders that don't have Negro blood in them. We just built a temple down there. It's going to be dedicated in October. All those people with Negro blood in them have been raising the money to build that temple. If we don't change, then they can't even use it. Well, Brother Kimball worried about it, and he prayed a lot about it.
He asked each one of us of the Twelve if we would pray - and we did - that the Lord would give him the inspiration to know what the will of the Lord was. Then he invited each one of us in his office -individually, because you know when you are in a group, you can't always express everything that's in your heart. You're part of the group, you see - so he interviewed each one of us, personally, to see how we felt about it, and he asked us to pray about it. Then he asked each one of us to hand in all the references we had, for, or against thatproposal. See, he was thinking favorably toward giving the colored people the priesthood.
Then we had a meeting where we meet every week in the temple, and we discussed it as a group together, andthen we prayed about it in our prayer circle, and then we held another prayer circle after the close of that meeting, and he (President Kimball) lead in the prayer; praying that the Lord would give us the inspiration thatwe needed to do the thing that would be pleasing to Him and for the blessing of His children. And then the next Thursday - we meet every Thursday - the Presidency came with this little document written out to make theannouncement - to see how we'd feel about it - and present it in written form. Well, some of the members of the Twelve suggested a few changes in the announcement, and then in our meeting there we all voted in favor of it - the Twelve and the Presidency. One member of the Twelve, Mark Peterson, was down in South America, but Brother Benson, our President, had arranged to know where he could be reached by phone, and right while we were in that meeting in the temple, Brother Kimball talked with Brother Petersen, and read him this article, and he (Petersen) approved of it.
WALTERS: What was the date? Would that have been the first of June, or something?
RICHARDS: That was the first Thursday, I think, in May. [June?] At least that's about when it was. And then after we all voted in favor of it, we called another meeting for the next morning, Friday morning, at seven o'clock, of all the other General Authorities - that includes the Seventies' Quorum and the Patriarch and the Presiding Bishopric, and it was presented to them, and there were a few of the brethren that were out presiding then in the missions, and so the Twelve were appointed to interview each one of them.
WALTERS: Now when President Kimball read this little announcement or paper, was that the same thing that was released to the press?
WALTERS: There wasn't a special document as a "revelation", that he had and wrote down?
RICHARDS: We discussed it in our meeting. What else should we say besides that announcement? And we decided that was sufficient; that no more needed to be said.
WALTERS: Was that the letter you sent out to the various wards?
RICHARDS: And to the Church; and to the newspapers, yes.
VLACHOS: Will that become a part of "scripture"?
RICHARDS: Yes, I've already thought in my own mind of suggesting we add it to the Pearl of Great Price, just like those last two revelations that we've just added.
WALTERS: Will this affect your theological thinking about the Negro as being less valiant in the previous existence? How does this relate? Have you thought that through?
RICHARDS: Some time ago, the Brethren decided that we should never say that. We don't know just what the reason was. Paul said, "The Lord hath before appointed the bounds of the habitations of all men for to dwell upon the face of the earth," and so He determined that before we were born. He who knows why they were born with black skin or white and so on and so forth. We'll just have to wait and find out.
WALTERS: Is there still a tendency to feel that people are born with black skin because of some previous situation, or do we consider that black skin is no sign anymore of anything inferior in any sense of the word?
RICHARDS: Well, we don't want to get that as a doctrine. Think of it as you will. You know, Paul said "Now we see in part and we know in part; we see through a glass darkly. When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away, then we will see as we are seen, and know as we are known." Now the Church's attitude today is to prefer to leave it until we know. The Lord has never indicated that black skin came because of being less faithful. Now, the Indian; we know why he was changed, don't we? The Book of Mormon tells us that; and he has a dark skin, but he has a promise there that through faithfulness, that they all again become a white and delightsome people. So we haven't anything like that on the colored thing.
WALTERS: Now, with this new revelation - has it brought any new insights or new ways of looking at the Book of Abraham? Because I think traditionally it is thought of the curse of Cain, coming through Canaanites and on the black-skinned people, and therefore denying the priesthood?
RICHARDS: We considered that with all the "for's" and the "against's" and decided that with all of that, if they lived their lives, and did the work, that they were entitled to their blessings.
WALTERS: But you haven't come up with any new understanding of the Book of Abraham? I just wondered whether there would be a shift in that direction. Is the recent revelation in harmony with what the past prophets have taught, of when the Negro would receive the priesthood?
RICHARDS: Well, they have held out the thought that they would ultimately get the priesthood, but they never determined the time for it. And so when this situation that we face down there in Brazil - Brother Kimball worried a lot about it - how the people are so faithful and devoted. The president of the Relief Society of the stake is a colored woman down there in one of the stakes. If they do the work, why it seems like that the justice of the Lord would approve of giving them the blessing. Now it's all conditional upon the life that they live, isn't it?
WALTERS: Well, I thank you for clarifying that for me, because you know, out in the streets out there, there must be at least five, ten different stories about the way this happened.
RICHARDS: Well, I've told you exactly what happened.
WALTERS: Right. Well, thank you so much. I appreciate it.
RICHARDS: If you quote me you will be telling the truth.
WALTERS: Ok, well fine. You don't mind if we quote you then?
WALTERS: Ok, that's great!
This page was created on 12 June 2000
Updated on 10 March 2001
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