The Mormon Faith & Black Folks
Question #39

Q. I've heard that it was Brigham Young, and not Joseph Smith, who came up with the Curse of Cain doctrine and the Priesthood ban. Is this true?

A. There is no firm and convincing evidence either way, but, in this author's opinion: probably not. Although there is no sermon or written statement from the Prophet Joseph Smith which describes the Curse of Cain or Priesthood ban, there are circumstantial evidences to point to him as the originator of both. Those who publicly and privately testified that Joseph Smith taught them that Negroes were not entitled to the Priesthood were as follows:

1. Brigham Young (Apostle and 2nd President of the Church)

2. John Taylor (Apostle and 3rd President of the Church)

3. George Q. Cannon (Apostle and Counselor in The First Presidency)

4. Abraham O. Smoot (Apostle)

5. Caleb A. Shreeve Sr. (Patriarch)

6. Zebedee Coltrin (President of the Seventy)

Those who do not wish to believe that Joseph Smith originated the Curse of Cain doctrine and Priesthood-ban point out that three of the above men (the last three) were Southern whites who converted to the Church, and that they may have "invented" their stories as a way to prevent equality for black men in the Church. They point out that Zebedee Coltrin's memory was flawed, since Coltrin once said that he ordained Elijah Abel but Joseph Smith revoked that ordination; which is not true. While it is true the Zebedee Coltrin made statements which don't accord with the facts, there are at least three Apostles who testified that Joseph Smith told them that the "Negro had no right to the Priesthood", and that Joseph Smith was quite upset when he said this, and seemed terribly disappointed. Two of those Apostles (Brigham Young and John Taylor) became the 2nd and 3rd Presidents of the Church.

All of these brethren testified that the Prophet Joseph Smith taught them the Curse of Cain doctrine and authorized the Priesthood-ban. In the Minutes of the August 22nd, 1895, meeting of The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

"President George Q. Cannon remarked that the Prophet taught this doctrine: That the seed of Cain could not receive the Priesthood nor act in any of the offices of the Priesthood until the seed of Abel should come forward and take precedence over Cain's offering."(The Perfection of Man, pp.110-111)

Zebedee Coltrin, who knew Joseph Smith personally, later wrote that in the year 1834 he and another Mormon had an argument over whether to ordain Negroes to the Priesthood. They went to Joseph Smith:

"Brother Joseph kind of dropped his head and rested it on his hand for a minute, and then said, 'Brother Zebedee is right, for the Spirit of the Lord saith the Negro has no right to the Priesthood.' He made no reference to Scripture at all, but such was his decision. I don't recollect ever having any conversation with him afterwards on this subject. But I'v heard him say in public that no person having the least particle of Negro blood can hold the Priesthood."(Mormons and the Negro 2:10)

There exists no sermon or written statement from the Prophet Joseph Smith which mentions the Curse of Cain nor the Priesthood ban. Some Members of the Church use these facts to declare that it was Brigham Young, and not Joseph Smith, who originated them.

Yet, all of the elements of the Curse of Cain doctrine can be found in the revelations and writings of Joseph Smith:

1. "Cain rose up against Abel, his brother, and slew him."(Moses 5:32)

2. "And I the Lord set a mark upon Cain..."(Moses 5:40)

3. "The seed of Cain were black."(Moses 7:22)

4. "A blackness came upon all the children of Canaan." (Moses 7:8)

5. "Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus."(Abraham 1:23)

6. "Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham."(Abraham 1:25)

7. "How this king of Egypt was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the Canaanites by birth" (Abraham 1:21)

8. "And the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land" (Abraham 1:22)

9. "And...from Ham, sprang the race which preserved the curse in the land."(Abraham 1:24)

10. Pharoah, the son of Egyptus, who was the daughter of Ham and Egyptus (the Cainite woman) was of the lineage (bloodline), which was "Blessed with wisdom" but "Cursed as pertaining to the Priesthood"(Abraham 1:26)

11. In a debate with Nauvoo Mayor John C. Bennett, over who had the greatest complaint against the white mans treatment, the Amerind (Indian) or the African (Negro) Joseph Smith said that "The Indians have a great cause to complain of the treatment of the whites, than the Negroes or sons of Cain."(History of the Church 4:501)

12. In 1831 Joseph Smith identified Negroes as "the posterity of Canaan"(History of the Church 4:445-6)

Many white Mormons are embarrassed by the Curse of Cain doctrine and the Priesthood ban. They do not want to be thought of as "racists" and, since the World calls both the doctrine and the ban "racist" they accept it as such. So, they seek ways to disassociate themselves from it: calling it "personal opinion" and not revelation, or denying it ever happened at all. However, the facts speak otherwise. All the Presidents of the Church from Brigham Young to Spencer W. Kimball declared that the Curse of Cain and Priesthood ban were from the LORD. All statements from The First Presidency during this time period said the same thing. That remains the official position of the Church until The First Presidency publicly repudiates it, and to the date of the publication of this book The First Presidency has not repudiated the Curse of Cain doctrine nor the legitimacy of the Priesthood ban policy which was based upon the Curse of Cain doctrine. The circumstantial evidence points to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and not Brigham Young, as the probable originator of both the doctrine and the policy.

Please feel free to e-mail Darrick Evenson

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