The Mormon Faith & Black Folks
Question #52

Q. Is the Mormon Church segregated?

A. No. Never has been. But of course in a Church were every male over the age of 12 is supposed to hold the Priesthood, and where Temple-marriage is the ultimate purpose and goal of every Member, not allowing black men of Hamitic lineage to hold the Priesthood effectively prevented all but a handful of black Hamitic converts to the Church before 1978 (not counting the tens of thousands of black Africans who started their own Book of Mormon-believing congregations in West Africa starting in the early 1950s).

Many white churches in the 19th and early 20th century (and some still today) would have separate galleries, or separate entrances, or separate congregations or conventions or even denominations for their black members. Often, but not always, if they had separate conventions or denominations, they would have ordained ministers (pastors) who were also black; to serve over these black congregations or conventions. In some cases an entirely new church would be formed; controlled by black ministers.

The Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States contained both black and white members; the black members in separate congregations with their own black ministers. Then the black ministers got together and formed the A.M.E. Church (African Methodist Episcopal). Denominations like the Seventh-day Adventist church had a separate convention (collection of congregations) for its black members until recently. Churches like the Assemblies of God had no black members until recent years, but told blacks who wanted to join them to join black denominations with similar beliefs and practices.

Since Hamites were not allowed to into the Priesthood until 1978, relatively few blacks (except for non-Hamitic blacks like Fijians and so forth) joined the Church. Although the Church could have formed a few segregated congregations, with white or some other non-Hamitic Priesthood-officers over it, it never did so. Negroes (black Hamites) worshiped in white or Latin congregations.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s some black Members in Utah desired to form a fraternal organization of black Members of the Church; so that they could meet together and fellowship and form a support group. This became known as the Genesis Group; the word genesis is Greek and means “beginning”.

*Ruffin Bridgeforth Jr. and the Genesis Group

The first President of the Genesis Group was Ruffin Bridgeforth Jr. He came to Utah from Louisiana, U.S.A., in 1946. He had heard that Mormons ‘hated black folks’, but soon discovered that this was a false rumor; one among many being circulated in the Black Community. He knew that black men could not hold the Priesthood at that time; so he didn’t join the Church even though he greatly admired it and admired most white Mormons he knew. However, he and his Hispanic wife (who was born a Mormon but went inactive) eventually listened to The Plan of Salvation from the Mormon missionaries, and received a confirmation from the Spirit that the Church was true. Ruffin joined the Church in 1953. He remained active in it the rest of his life.

In 1971 Ruffin Bridgforth and two other black Mormons decided that a group should be formed to help black Mormons fellowship each other. They decided to call it The Genesis Group, and the first meeting of this group was on June 8th, 1971. Black Members would meet in their own Wards (congregations) where they lived, but they would meet together once a week while other Mormons were going to Priesthood or Relief Society meetings. During these meetings black Gospel music was played and sung; which one cannot find in regular LDS worship meetings.

Brother Bridgeforth, with Darius Gray and Eugene Orr, later met with several Apostles, and in October of 1971 the Genesis Group was made an official auxiliary organization of the LDS Church. It remains so today.

The Revelation of the LORD to President Spencer W. Kimball occurred on June 1st, 1978, and was announced to the presiding officers of the Church on June 8th, 1978; exactly seven years, to the day, that the first meeting of the Genesis Group was held.

After 1978, black Mormons (and other Hamites) were allowed into the Priesthood, and into LDS Temples. Yet the Genesis Group continues today as a fraternal organization for black Latter-day Saints; both men and woman and their children, as well as their relatives of other races; if they have any.

Black Mormons are in no way required to become members of the Genesis Group. In fact, the great majority aren’t. However, black Members who live in a geographical area may form a Genesis Group in their area if there is enough interest. Today, such groups exist in Salt Lake City, Utah, Oakland, California, and Washington, D.C. Naturally, no such organization is necessary in places like Africa or Brazil; where entire wards (congregations) and stakes (dioceses) are black.

All members of the Genesis Group worship in their wards where they live, with people of other races, and they go to Genesis activities which are offered at other times during the week or month. These activities include Black Gospel Music, picnics, support groups, and service activities; like when the Genesis Group of Washington D.C. helped paint and repair a local black Pentecostal church which had fallen on hard times.

There is some discussion about creating all-black branches (small local congregations) in the Church; so that more black men can hold Priesthood-officer positions in local congregations. The LDS Church provides special branches and wards for people who speak only Spanish in the Unites States; as well as for Chinese, Vietnamese, Laotians, Tongans, Samoans, and other nationalities whose language and culture would make it difficult for them to feel comfortable in white English-speaking Mormon congregations. As of now, no decision has been made on this matter. There are black Members for this proposal, and black Members against it.

In a television interview in 1998, Darius Gray, the current (2000 A.D.) President of the Genesis Group, was asked about the organization and its founder: Ruffin Bridgeforth Jr. Brother Gray said:

“Ruffin Bridgeforth was the first president of Genesis. He was ordained to that position by Gordon B. Hinckley in 1971. He held that call in the Church till his death. He was never released until he died, twenty-five years and some months later. A dear man, a grand man, probably the most Christian man I’ve ever known; humble, soft spoken, knowledgeable, that quiet wisdom that leads so well. He is greatly missed, loved, and remembered.” (Gray Interview, p.2)

Before he died President Kimball spoke of special wards and branches for people of different cultures and languages. He said:

“Many challenges face all of us as we fellowship and teach the gospel to the cultural and minority groups in our midst....When special attention of some kind is not provided for these people, we lose them.” (Mormon Identities in Transition, p.64)

*Mormon Church no longer a ‘White Church’

President Gray was also asked if African-Americans still viewed the ‘Mormon Church’ as a ‘white church’. He replied:

“I think in the past that there has been a misconception in the Black Community that we as black Mormons give up our culture, our heritage, to be part of this ‘white’ church. I don’t see it as a white church. I don’t see Christianity as a white religion. We are as black and proud of our heritage as anyone else in any other church, and I hope that those attitudes [in the Black Community] might change as well.” (Gray Interview, p.2)

Indeed, half of all Latter-day Saints in the world today are not white, and that number is steadily growing. In a few years (after 2001) white Mormons will be the minority in the LDS Church, and in 100 years (if Jesus doe not yet return) white Mormons will be a small minority in the Church.

Please feel free to e-mail Darrick Evenson

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