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Black, White, and Mormon II: A Conference On Race in the LDS Church Since the 1978 Revelation

June 29-30, 2018

Salt Lake City Library

Nancy Tessman Auditorium

Artwork by Karyn Dudley

On June 8, 1978, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Spencer W. Kimball’s revelation extending the lay priesthood to "all worthy male members . . .  without regard for race or color." To mark this event and analyze the Mormon Church’s ongoing efforts to achieve racial equality, the Tanner Humanities Center will host “Black, White, and Mormon II,” a multidisciplinary conference in collaboration with the College of Humanities’ Simmons Mormon Studies Professor Paul Reeve. This follows our 2015 conference on Mormonism and race that received national and international press coverage.  Here, we expand these themes and examine new issues to investigate how the LDS Church sustains an ever-increasing multiracial and multicultural membership and to explore the impact of doctrinal change at the grassroots.

“Black, White, and Mormon II” will begin on June 29, 2018 with the Sterling M. McMurrin Lecture on Religion and Culture delivered by African American writer, historian, and activist Latter-day Saint Darius Gray. Gray joined the Mormon Church in 1964 and has been a central figure in pressing for racial change and serving as a voice for African American Mormons.

On June 30, 2018, scholarly and community panels will discuss how African American Mormons understand America’s current racial and religious climate, will examine the Mormon Church’s racial policies and practices, and will explore the impact of the 1978 revelation.  Panelists also will assess the Mormon Church’s progress on race at institutional and membership levels and consider what needs to happen to advance racial equality moving forward.

Click here for detailed panelist biographies.

Friday, June 29th, 2018
Sterling M. McMurrin Lecture on Religion and Culture

Darius headshot

Darius Gray

"A 54-Year Journey Toward Racial Equality in the Mormon Church"

7:00 - 8:00pm
Salt Lake City Library
Nancy Tessman Auditorium

Our keynote speaker at this conference will also coincide with this year's Sterling M. McMurrin Lecture on Religion and Culture. Trained in broadcast journalism, at the University of Utah and Columbia University, Darius Aidan Gray worked for KSL radio and television during the late 60s and early 70s.  He especially enjoyed documentary film production and was privileged to be placed on loan to UNICEF to film grassroots aid projects in several African countries. 

Mr. Gray was Director of Development for the Department of Communications at Brigham Young University where his past business and broadcasting background(s) served him well. He co-hosted “Questions and Ancestors” a nationally aired program on genealogy.

He was the coauthor (along with Margaret Young) of an award-winning trilogy of novels about early Black Mormon pioneers entitled Standing On The Promises. Also with Margaret, he co-produced two documentary films, Jane Manning James: Your Sister In The Gospel and Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons. The latter film was featured nationwide on the Documentary Channel.

 In 2003, Mr. Gray was released as President of The Genesis Branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, having served for six years. The Genesis organization was established under the direction of The First Presidency and The Quorum of The Twelve Apostles in 1971, with the goal of providing support to Black Latter-day Saints.

Established in 1992, the McMurrin Lecture supports the study of religion at the University of Utah. The McMurrin Lecture honors beloved scholar and teacher Sterling M. McMurrin (1914-1996), who served as U.S. Commissioner of Education during the Kennedy Administration. Since 2006, we have hosted religious studies scholars and commentators: 
Eboo PatelAkbar Ahmed, Krista TippetsReza Aslan, Thupten Jinpa, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Kathleen FlakeDavid CampbellLester Bush, Jr., and Stephen Prothero. Lectures are held on campus or in the community and are free and open to the public. To read more about and/or to view previous McMurrin lectures, please click here

Community and Academic Panels
9:00 - 5:00pm
Salt Lake City Library
Nancy Tessman Auditorium

Welcome and Opening Remarks
8:45 - 9:00am
Bob Goldberg, Tanner Humanities Center
Paul Reeve, University of Utah

Panel 1: The Burden of Blackness in America and the LDS Church: Racial Battle Fatigue and Racial Violence
9:00 - 10:30am
Ryan Gabriel, Brigham Young University
William Smith, University of Utah
Tekulve Vann, LDS Family Services
(Chair) LaShawn Williams, Utah Valley University

This panel offers an overview of racism in America and in the LDS Church and examines the obvious and hidden costs of prejudice. Gabriel and Smith will discuss the impact of racism on African Americans through their research on racial violence and racial battle fatigue. Vann and Williams will respond by examining how these issues play out in the LDS community.

Panel 2: Getting Past the Racial Past
10:45am - 12:15pm
Paul Reeve, University of Utah
Ahmad Corbitt, LDS Public Affairs
Wain Myers, Former Genesis Presidency
(Chair) Alice Burch, Genesis Relief Society

This panel addresses racial issues in the LDS Church since the 1978 policy change. It asks what progress has been made, what has stayed the same, and what still needs to change. Reeve will outline the historical context and examine the lingering impact of "whiteness" on Mormonism. Corbitt will address the Church’s outreach toward blacks and what that outreach might suggest about contemporary senior Church leaders’ perspectives on blacks in the present and future of the Church. Wain Myers was recently released from the Genesis Presidency and is the author of From Baptist Preacher to Mormon Teacher. He will consider the role of Genesis on the African American community from the perspective of Salt Lake City and from his experience in Genesis outside of Utah. Alice Burch will discuss her work as the president of the Genesis Relief Society.

Lunch Plenary Session
12:30 - 1:45pm 
Marcus Martins, Associate Dean, Religious Education, BYU-Hawaii
"Forty Years after 126 Years: Reflections from an Aging Black Man in Zion"

Plated lunch will be served at the Leonardo. All food service spots have been reserved. Extra room will be available for those who want to attend the talk without food service.

Panel 3: Coming of Age Under The Revelation
2:00 - 3:30pm
Jake Rugh, Brigham Young University
Robert Foster
Phylicia Rae Jimenez
(Chair) Kay Montgomery

This panel addresses the racial and religious issues facing Mormons who came of age after the 1978 revelation. Rugh will address the sociology of race and Mormonism and how this impacts its young, black members and the work he has done with students at BYU on race education and integrated classrooms. Remaining panelists will detail their generations' experiences in the LDS Church and consider how America's current racial and religious climate influences their faith.

Panel 4: Race, Religion, and Community
3:45 - 5:15pm
(Chair) Robert Burch, Utah Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society
Betty Sawyer, Utah Black Roundtable
Audia Wells, LDS Self-Reliance Services
Ronald Coleman, University of Utah, Professor Emeritus

This panel considers the way race intersects in church and community. When racial issues percolate nationally, such as police shootings, the Charlottesville violence, and National Anthem sports protests, black Latter-day Saints sometimes feel invisible among their white congregants. Conversely, while local black churches and community groups such as the Utah Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society and the Utah Black Roundtable address racial issues regularly, they must do so in a community dominated by white Latter-day Saints. Together, these panelists will discuss how to build productive community connections to navigate contemporary racial issues and concerns.

Cultural Celebration with Marj Desuis
5:30 - 6:00pm

Our gratitude to the following sponsors of the conference:

Charles Redd Center, Brigham Young University Smith-Pettit Foundation
LDS Church History Department W. Paul Reeve, Simmons Professor of Mormon Studies
Gregory Prince  Jon and Philip Lear
Mormon History Association The Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative at the David Eccles School of Business


 For information on previous years of the conference, click here.

Please contact Megan Dipo at 801/587-8879 or

Last Updated: 3/28/19