The Mormon Faith & Black Folks
Question #50

Q. Didn’t Brigham Young say that interracial couples should be killed ‘on the spot’ and that always would be so?

A. No! He did say that a white master who would have sexual relations with his female slave should be put to death. Here is his comment:

“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.” (Journal of Discources 10:110 emphasis added)

Notice the threat is upon “the white man”.

Anti-Mormons and others use this statement to say that Brigham Young advocated that interracial couples be killed.

But, he was actually preaching to the few white Southern Mormons who came to Utah with their black slaves; as a warning. He knew (as just about everybody knew) that white slave-owners would often have sexual relations with their black female slaves. In speaking of plural marriage (polygamy) the Brethen in Brigham Young’s day would often say that the U.S. already practiced a form of polygamy in that Southern white slaves-owners would have one “white” wife and many “black” concubines. Rape and coerced sex between white Masters and black female slaves was all too common. The famous African-American evangelist Frederick K.C. Price wrote:

“In the days of slavery there was never anything said about a white man sexually assaulting a black woman; that was all right-indeed, it was a common practice.” (Race, Religion, & Racism, p.25)

Statements by Brigham Young must be put into the context of the situation at the time. Southern Mormon slaveowners were migrating to Utah, and it was common-knowledge that white Southern slave owners often had sexual relations with their black slaves. Brigham Young often used harsh hyerbolic language against practices he condemned; which included thievery, adultery, and the rape of black female slaves by their white masters. This may be what Brigham Young meant when he said:

“The conduct of the whites towards the slaves will, in many cases, send both slave and master to Hell.” (Journal of Discourses 2:185)

The Laws of the Territory of Deseret did forbid interracial marriage, and had fines and jail time for the white master who had “carnal relations” with a female slave. Had Brigham Young wanted a death penalty for the white master, or the black female slave, or for “interracial couples” he probably could had gotten it. But the laws of the Territory of Deseret, which he helped write and enforce, had no such penalty.

Joseph Smith, as Mayor of Nauvoo Illinois, once “fined” two black men $25 for “trying to marry white women”. In the South they would have been lynched for that.

Even though Brigham Young used very harsh language in records to white masters having sex with their female slaves, the penalty for such actions when Utah was the Territory of Deseret, and thus under complete Mormon control, was not particularly harsh. Jules Remy, a British Gentile visiting Salt Lake City in 1860, wrote:

“Slaves coming into the Territory with their masters of their own free will, continue to be in all respects slaves, but cruelty and withholding proper food, raiment, etc., makes the ownership void. Every master or mistress who has carnal relations with his or her Negro slaves forfeits his or her right to the slaves, who thereby becomes the property of the commonwealth. Every individual man or woman who has carnal relations with a Negro or a negress who is sentenced to imprisonment not exceeding three years, and to a fine from 500 to 1000 dollars.” (A Journey To Great Salt Lake City 1:469-70)

Of course, the ‘slaves’ in Utah in 1860 were indentured servants. Congress abolished indentured servitude and slavery in all American states and territories in 1863; becoming effective in 1865 when the South was defeated.

Brigham Young often used what is called ‘hyperbolic language’ to emphasis a point. Jesus did the same thing when He said that if one’s hand offends you to cut it off, of if one’s eye offends you to pluck it out. Hyperbolic language is not supposed to be taken literally. Brigham Young also used such language in regards to adulterers and thieves, that they should be ‘sent home’ (i.e. killed), but the penalties for thievery and adultery under the laws of the Territory of Deseret, in which he was governor and undisputed leader, were lashes of the whip and not death. Had Brigham Young wished to implement the death penalty in the Territory of Deseret (Utah) during the time he was governor of the territory he could have easily done so; with no power preventing him.

To try to tear Brigham Young’s statements out-of-context and say he advocated “death on the spot” for “interracial couples” is nothing more than a lie; of the father of lies.

Please feel free to e-mail Darrick Evenson

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