Notable and Prominent Black Mormons

Joseph W.B. Johnson of Ghana

The LORD was preparing the way in black Africa many years before the 1978 Revelation!

One of the first black Africans who received the Priesthood after the 1978 Revelation was Joseph W.B. Johnson of Ghana; a man who had a "vision" of Jesus and many angels in 1964; telling him teach The Book of Mormon and the Joseph Smith Story to his countrymen. He later recounted this vision:

"One early morning about 5:30 am, while about to prepare for my daily work, I saw the heavens open and angels with trumpets singing songs of praise unto God...In the course of this I heard my name mentioned thrice, 'Johnson, Johnson, Johnson. If you will take up my work as I command you, I will bless you and your land.' Trembling and in tears, I replied, 'Lord, with Thy help I will do whatever you will command me.' From that day onward, I was constrained by that Spirit to go from street to street...to deliver the message which we read from The Book of Mormon...I did exactly as the Lord commanded me...and immediately our persecution started." (Mormon Identities in Transition, p.84)
Br. Johnson decided to preach The Joseph Smith Story and The Book of Mormon full-time; relying solely upon the Lord to take care of his needs. By the late 60s many West African newspapers were printing stories that the "evil Mormons" were "racist" and did not let black men hold the priesthood. Many said to Br. Johnson, "You would want to belong to a Church who won't let you hold the priesthood?" His reply was always the same: "I cannot deny the Church is true, for the Lord has told me so." ("The Day of Africa," Meridian magazine, Jan. 28th, 2004, p.1 online). By 1978, after much trial, tribulation, and persecution, Joseph W.B. Johnson had converted over 14,000 people to believing in the Prophet Joseph Smith and in The Book of Mormon. The great majority of these people were eventually baptized into the Church after 1978.


In 2004 Joseph W.B. Johson became a Patriach (a bestower of sacred blessings to Members via Priesthood authority).

Today (2004) Ghana contains many missions, stakes, wards, and branches of the Church. The Ghana Accra Temple was dedicated in January of 2004.


Two Ghanaian Stake Presidents


The Angel Moroni statue on the Accra Temple


The Aba Nigeria Temple

Joseph Freeman

The first black man of Hamitic lineage to be ordained since Enoch Abel (Elijah Abel's grandson) was Joseph Freeman; a black convert to the Church who had once studied to become a black Holiness church minister. He first discovered the Church while in the U.S. Air Force in Hawaii in the early 1970s. He was crushed when he first was told of the Priesthood-ban. Yet, he prayed about it and received an overwhelming feeling of peace. He was baptized, and later married a Mormon Tongan woman. He remained faithful and active before and after the 1978 Revelation and currently (2003 A.D.) serves as an LDS bishop (a lay-leader of a congregation of about 250 Mormons) in Salt Lake City.


Joseph Freeman and family (June, 1978)

Elder Helvecio Martíns

Helvecio Martíns was born a poor full-blooded Negro in a favela (ghetto) in Rio de Janeiro in 1930. After many years of working by day and attending school by night, he gained a university education. He rose by the power of mind and will to become one of the top executives in Brazil's major enegy company by 1972. Also in that year white American Mormon missionaries knocked on his door, and taught him the Gospel. When he was first told of the Priesthood-ban he became quite angry, but soon he prayed about it and received an overwhelming feeling of peace. He and his wife and family were baptized into the Church. At that time (1972) the Church in Brazil had many Mulatto members, but few full-blooded Negro members. Although not allowed to even become a Deacon, Br. Martíns eventually became a Gospel Doctrine teacher and the Church Spokesman for southern Brazil. After the 1978 Revelation, Br. Martíns received the Priesthood. He became a bishop, a High Councilor in a Stake, and a Mission President. While a Mission President in northeastern Brazil, he was called by The First Presidency to become a member of the 2nd Quorum of Seventy; the 5th highest quorum in the Church. He was the first black Seventy since Elijah Abel.


Elder Helvecio Martíns (c.1990)

His son, Marcus Martíns, was one of the first Mormon missionaries of Hamitic lineage since Elijah Abel. Dr. Martíns is now Chair of the Dept. of Religious Education at BYU-Hawaii.


Marcus Martíns, Ph.D. (c.2003)

Elder and Sister Chukwurah

In General Conference in 1997, Elder Christopher Chukwurah was sustained an Area Authority Seventy, and his wife Sister Florance Chukwurah was sustained as a member of the Relief Society General Board in October of 2003. Both are Nigerian Members.

Black Mormons Worldwide

Since the 1978 Revelation (granting all worthy males the Priesthood) the numbers of Black Mormons have risen dramatically. Today (2001 A.D.) the number of Black Mormons worldwide number anywhere from 350,000 to perhaps 500,000 (this would include "Mulattoes"; or people of part-black and part-white descent). About 150,000 Black Mormons live in Africa, about 150,000 (or more) in Brazil, about 20,000 in the Caribbean, anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 in the U.S., and the rest in other countries.

In 2003, The First Presidency announced the construction of two Temples in the black African countries of Ghana and Nigeria. Mormon Temples are not ordinary houses of worship, but are places where very sacred rites take place; Endowments, Sealings, and Baptisms for the Dead.


The Accra Ghana LDS Temple


Mormon Temples in Africa (2003 A.D.)

Little Known FACTS About Black Mormons

Black Mormons were among the first to travel to Utah with Brigham Young and the early Mormon pioneers. The man that actually led the Mormons into Salt Lake Valley (at that time a hostile desert) was Green Flake; a slave of a Southerner who converted to the Church. Brigham Young had Flake freed in 1854. Flake died a faithful Mormon. Fort Union, Utah, was originally a Black Mormon community 20 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Green Flake

Samuel D. Chambers (1831-1929) was a Black Mormon from Mississippi who converted to the Church in 1844, and in 1870 he moved to Salt Lake City. He was one of the largest land-owners and wealthiest men in Salt Lake Valley.

Samuel D. Chambers and his wife Amanda (c. 1910)

Dan Bankhead Freeman was another early African-American Mormon who worked as a blacksmith in Corinne, Utah:

Dan Bankhead Freeman

Jane Manning James was one of the most faithful Mormons in Utah. President Joseph F. Smith spoke at her funeral:


Jane and Isaac James


Jane can be seen in the very center of the photo of Mormons at General Conference about the year 1897. Can you find the other black Mormon in this photo?

Mary Ann Perkins was a black Mormon pioneer who settled in Bountiful, Utah:


Mary Ann Perkins (c. 1910)

John Brown accompanied Brigham Young on his entrance to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. He was among the first Mormons to enter what is now the state of Utah. In 1848 he travelled back to his home state of Mississippi in order to lead the Mississippi Mormons (both black and white) to the Salt Lake Valley. In the spring of 1848 57 white and 37 black Mormons left Mississippi in 11 wagons. John Brown later said:

"Every man, woman and child, both white and black, gazed at us with astonishment as we passed their habitations." [i.e. both black and whites in Mississippi couldn't believe that a black man was leading 11 wagons of almost 100 souls~both black and whites together] (from Black Latter-day Saints Pioneers online)

John Brown: Leader of the Mississippi Mormon immigration to Utah

There were only a few hundred Black Mormons in Utah at any given time before the 1960s. Here is a portait of three members of one early Black Mormon family:


Lucinda Flake (sitting) with her two granddaughters (Fort Union, Utah, c.1880s)

The First African-American Police Detective

The very FIRST African-American police detective in the United States was Paul Cephas Howell, a black Mormon who moved from the South to Salt Lake City in 1886. Mormon Church President Wilford Woodruff arranged for his employment as a police officer with the Salt Lake City Police Department; a department overwhelmingly Mormon. Officer Howell became a Detective with that department; the first African-American police detective.

Officer Paul Cephas Howell, Salt Lake City P.D., 1886

Darius Gray

Darius (pronounced "Dehr-rAI-us") Gray was a black man who let Mormon Missionaries teach him the Joseph Smith Story in 1964. This was during the Civil Rights Movement days in America. Darius relates:

"I found out the night before I was to be baptized that I wouldn't be able to hold the priesthood. I said, 'No way would I be baptized into that church tomorrow.' But I took it to God that night." (Deseret News, January 20, 2003)
Gray said that he was very angry, but he asked God in prayer what he should do. He relates that he heard "a succinct answer" from God that the Mormon Faith was "the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ". So, he was baptized. He attended and graduated from Brigham Young University, and worked as a television reporter in Salt Lake City. He later taught at BYU. On June 8th, 1971, he joined with Ruffin Bridgeforth, Jr., and Eugene Orr, and founded the "Genesis Group" a fellowship organization for black Members in North America. In October of 1971, the Genesis Group became an official auxiliary organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for black Members in North America. It remains to today.


Darius Gray with Frederick Douglas IV

Darius Gray became well-known throughout North America as an author, and the founder of the "Freeman's Bank Record"; the largest genealogical record of African-Americans names in the world. Gray assisted Alex Haley (author of Roots) in his research on his own family history for the book Roots and Queeny. Gray is the author of the Standing on the Promises trilogy of (about black Mormon pioneers), and lectures about African-American genealogy throughout the North America. In January, 2003, Darius Gray received the NAACP Martin Luther King Jr., Civil-Rights Award.


Darius Gray (2003 photos)

If you would like Bro. Gray to give a talk at your ward, or a lecture to your civic group, then you can contact him at: (801) 562-1324. He gives talks on Black Mormon history and heritage as well as African-American genealogy.

From Black Panther to Black Mormon

LeRoy Eldridge Cleaver, the Minister of Information in the early Black Panther Party, and the author of the international bestseller Soul on Ice (1968)--once considered the "Manifesto" of Black Nationalists and even white Radicals.

Cleaver was the most well-known American Black Nationalist and Radical in the 1960s. He was the most well-known Black Panther in the 1960s; the Party being a combination of Black Nationalism and Marxism. After fleeing the U.S. to avoid a manslaughter charge (he was with other Panthers in a shootout with Oakland California Police in 1969) he exiled himself to Algeria and later Cuba. He soon became disillusioned with Communism and Socialism when he saw that socialist countries were no "paradises of the workers" as he had been led to believe. He had a "born-again" experience in Cuba, and became a born-again Christian. He returned to the U.S. in 1975 and was given many years of probation (he was not the shooter). Being a famous figure for years, Cleaver was "wined and dined" by prominent Evangelicals and was offered multimillion dollar contracts to start his own Christian television ministry. He declined this, perferring to work (at a low salary) with young black men in a prison ministry. He concern was not becoming wealthy, but to work with young black men in prisons; to convert them to Christ as the way to free them from crime and gangs. By 1982 he had become disillusioned with the commercialism and showmanshipism of Evangelical Christianity, and he started looking into alternative religions. Also in 1982 he met Cleon Skousen, founder of the Freeman Institute (now called the National Center for Constitutional Studies). Cleaver gave talks for the Freeman Institute, and Skousen (a well-known Mormon author and former FBI agent) introduced Cleaver and his wife to the Mormon Faith. In 1984 he was baptized into the LDS Church. He remained a Member of it (although later not active in the Church) until his death in 1998, at age 62, of diabetes.


Cleaver in 1968 as the Presidential Candidate of the Peace and Freedom Party


Cleaver speaking at a Mormon ward (c. 1992)

Other Prominent Black Mormon Converts

In 1981 Modibo Diarra, the president of the National Teacher's Union of Mali, became a Mormon after much prayer and study of various religions and churches. Converting to a "Christian" church in Mali is very dangerous! But Br. Diarra remains faithful.


Modibo Diarra

In 1983, Joe Jordan, a former Nation of Islam minister, joined with his wife Penny. Br. Jordan later became a branch president in East Cleaveland, Ohio.


Penny and Joe Jordan

In 1989 Jesse Thomas Jr., a former Baptist preacher, joined the Church, and now serves in local priesthood-leadership positions. He is also starting a Genesis Group in the Denver area.


Jesse Thomas Jr. in front of the Denver Temple

In 1990 Elder Helvecio Martíns (a prominent Afro-Brazilian business leader) became a Member of the Second Quorum of Seventy; the fifth highest council in the Church.

In 1995 Lee Radcliff, a black Baptist minister who served as a pastor in Chicago and Mississippi for decades, joined the Church. He is only one of many current or former black ministers who join the Church after 1978.


Lee Radcliff

Late '60s and early '70s R&B singer Gladys Knight became a Mormon in 1998 after her son Jimmy and his family did. Gladys Knight was the singer in the R&B group Gladys Knight and the Pips. Today (2001 A.D.) she writes and performs Mormon Gospel music.

Gladys Knight

A number of African-American athletes have become Mormons; including the famous college and NFL football great Burgess Owens, and the NBA All-Star player Thurl Bailey (who now composes Mormon music).


Burgess Owens

Prominent Black African Mormons

In recent years several prominent black Africans have joined the Church, Julia Nompi Mavimbela (black South African woman's leader and founder of the National Council of African Women), and Justice Yohannes Chane; formerly of the Ethiopian Supreme Court. But most Black Mormons are just average folks from all walks of life.

A group of Mormon Primary Children in Ghana

A typical Mormon Chapel in Ghana

A Mormon Bishop with his wife and daughter

A group of Mormon missionaries in Ghana (those are NOT gang signs by the way)


An Elder's Quorum meeting in the Atlanta Branch (2003)

Black Mormons


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