The Mormon Faith & Black Folks
Testimonies of Black Latter-day Saints

Testimonies of Black Latter-day Saints

For a conclusion we would like to share with you the testimonies of five black Latter-day Saints. Please remember that there are hundreds of thousands of black Mormons who have similar testimonies, but we have chosen these five as examples.

*The Testimony of Elder Helvecio Martins

“We are not alone; the Lord provides for us, speaks to us, and guides us through his living prophets. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is his Church and Kingdom here on earth.

We come unto Christ by receiving the ordinances of the gospel from those who have been called by prophecy and revelation. We must continue to strive with all our hearts, might, mind, and strength through prayer, fasting, and enduring to the end. If we do all of this we will gain exaltation in his kingdom. I pray that together we can act with complete devotion, faith, and confidence in the Lord. It is with total and profound love in my heart that I pray that all can have God’s eternal blessings.” (The Autobiography of Elder Helvecio Martins, p.xi)

*The Testimony of Mary Sturlaugson Eyer

Mary Frances Sturlaugson is an African-American; the youngest of 15 children. She attended a black church, but didn’t consider herself a true Christian. In 1975 she went to South Dakota for college, she was confronted by Mormon missionaries. She had heard of Mormons before, and believed them to be horrible racists and white supremacists. During the first meeting she swore at them, and screamed “I’ll never attend your stinking church!” The missionaries kept on returning; feeling that the Spirit was telling them to do so. She told them each time not to return. They kept returning. She eventually threatened their lives if they returned again. The missionaries called their mission president and told them about the threat. The mission president told them, “Don’t go back!” That night he had a dream. He woke up early the next morning and called the missionaries, and told them: “Go back!” They did.

Finally, out of pure frustration, she let the missionaries in, and let them teach her the Discussions. Mary didn’t want to believe what the missionaries told her. But the LORD had hold of her, and He had plans for her. He gave her no peace until she submitted to His Will and went limp in His arms. She cried to the LORD for peace, but He gave her none. Finally, she prayed to the LORD. She told Him that she accepted the truths the missionaries were sharing with her, and that she would submit to His Will and be baptized into the Church. At that moment the LORD gave her a feeling of complete and total peace.

Mary writes:

“In January I called my family to tell them I knew there was a God. I told them I believe the Mormons and the truth they taught about Jesus Christ. My brothers ended the conversation by giving me a choice-my family or the Mormons.” (A Soul So Rebellious, p.43)

One of her brothers told her:

“Stay away from ‘em. Those no good Mormons who go around teaching that you are lower than the animals on the earth.” (A Soul, p.41)

Mary told her family that she knew the Church was true, and that the LORD was calling her to it. Her family disowned her, and told her not to contact them again. At her baptism in 1976, the Mormons sang Hymn no. 80:

“I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me.

Confused by the grace that so freely He proffers me.

I tremble to know that for me He was crucified,

That for me, a sinner, he suffered, He bled and died.

I marvel that He would descend from His throne divine,

To rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine.” (LDS Hymns no. 80)

Mary joined the Church in 1976, when Hamites could not hold the Priesthood nor partake of the Higher Ordinances (Sealings and Endowments) the Temples. Although she had a firm testimony that the Church was true, she struggled greatly with the Curse of Cain Doctrine and its result: the Priesthood ban. She prayed and prayed for understanding. One night she felt prompted to open up the Doctrine & Covenants, and her eyes fell upon this passage:

“Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I am the same that came unto mine own, and mine own received me not. I am the light which shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not. Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?...Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not...Be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.” (D&C 6:21-3, 36-7)

After reading this a feeling of total peace came over her like before when she had first prayed about the Church. It all was in the hands of the LORD.

She wanted to serve a mission, but could not because missionaries had to be endowed in the Temple, and Hamites were not allowed in the temples. Although disappointed, she trusted in the LORD. Less than 2 years later came the 1978 Revelation, and Mary Frances Sturlaugson became one of the first black Mormon missionaries since Elijah Abel. She was called to the Texas San Antonio Mission. She was one of the few missionaries to actually extend her mission by six months. Mary was later was sealed (married) for time and all eternity to a white Latter-day Saint man named Eyer in the Oakland California Temple.

Mary writes:

“In January of 1976 I joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known to me at the time as the Mormon Church. I never thought, as I was growing up, I would ever be a member of the Mormon Church. Deep in my heart were feelings of hatred towards whites. I had heard how the ‘all white’ Mormon Church practiced white superiority by excluding blacks from its membership, and that they used revelation from God as the reason for doing so. Yet, after a difficult struggle with the Lord, the missionaries, and myself, it was impossible to cast off and deny what I knew in my heart to be true. I could neither erase nor overlook the feelings I had experienced when the missionaries shared their knowledge of the gospel with me. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was indeed the true church of God upon the earth.

Even when I had come to know that the Church was true, I found it difficult to accept it into my life. Though I knew that all the bad things I had heard about the Church were not true, my family didn’t share this knowledge. I was afraid! Afraid not only of the changes that had already begun to take place within me but also afraid to tell those I loved most of those changes, afraid that they would not understand or accept me anymore.

Despite all the feelings of fear I was unable to run from what I knew to be true-through I tried. Finally, I did what I had to do. I accepted the true gospel of Jesus Christ into my life; even though it cost me the people I loved the most on this earth-my family.” (Reflections of a Soul, p.15)

The Lord Jesus said:

“And ye shall be betrayed both by brethren, and kinfolks, and friends: and some of you shall they cause to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake.” (Luke 21:16-17)

He also said:

“And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29)

The Prophet Joseph Smith said:

“For a man to lay down his life, his character and reputation, his honor, and applause, his good name among men, his houses, his lands, his brothers and sisters, his wife and children, and even his own life also-counting all things but filth and dross for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ-requires more than mere belief or supposition that he is doing the Will of God, but actual knowledge, realizing that, when these sufferings are ended, he will enter into eternal rest, and be a partaker of the glory of God.” (Lectures on Faith 6:5)

*The Testimony of Joseph W.B. Johnson

The LORD was preparing the way in Africa for the 1978 Revelation. In 1964 Joseph W.B. Johnson, of Cape Coast, Ghana, had been a Seeker of Truth. He had studied various religions and churches in search of God’s Truth. He did not merely accept the church or religion of his parents; as most people do. Frustrated, he finally asked God in sincere and intense prayer to guide him to the Truth. Soon afterwards he came across a copy of The Book of Mormon; at a time when there were no Mormon missionaries in Ghana. He read the book from cover to cover, and relates what happened soon after:

“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 they help I will do whatever you will command me.’ From that day onward, I was constrained by that spirit to from 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)

Within the next 14 years Brother Johnson had converted over 14,000 of his fellow Ghanaians to The Book of Mormon and joined his congregation of Book of Mormon beleivers. Many or most of whom joined the LDS Church after the 1978 Revelation. Br. Johnson’s story is not that unique. The LORD had been preparing the way in Africa, and no white Mormon was even aware of it.

*The Testimony of Joseph Freeman

Joseph Freeman was a young man who was training to become a minister in the Church of God in Christ; the largest black Pentecostal church in the world. In his 20s he joined the Air Force, and was stationed in Hawaii. There he met many Mormons; especially Polynesian Mormons. They befriended him. He had been told that Mormons ‘didn’t like blacks’, but all the Mormons he met (white and brown) like him, and he liked them. Eventually he considered giving up his plans to become a Church of God in Christ minister, and join the LDS Church. He was then told about the Priesthood ban. It was hurt badly, but he still believed the Church was true. So, he went ahead and was baptized. He met a Samoan Mormon woman, and they were married. He continued active in the Church; even though he knew that his sons would never be allowed to go on missions or hold the Priesthood, and that he and his wife and children would never be allowed the Higher Ordinances of the Temple; like the Endowment and Temple-marriage. He humbled himself before the LORD.

In June 1978 he became the first black man of Hamitic lineage since the grandson of Elijah Abel (whose name was also Elijah) to be ordained to the Priesthood. He and his wife were soon married in the Hawaiian Temple, and had their children sealed to them.

Joseph Freeman later wrote a book of his experiences titled In The Lord’s Due Time, in which he wrote:

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that bright illuminating star, and is the beacon I look to for guidance. Jesus is the Christ! He died for MY sins and he stands at the head of his Church today. Never have I felt greater peace of mind and joy or had closer communion with the Father than I have since joining the Church.” (In the Lord’s Due Time, p.115)

*The Testimony of Aunt Jane James

The final testimony is from Jane James; a black woman who knew the Prophet Joseph Smith personally. She was known as Aunt Jane. She was converted to the Church in Connecticut, and her and her family and other black converts in that state decided to move to Nauvoo, Illinois, where the Saints were gathering. This was before trains, and they had no horses. They traveled by foot; a walk of over 1000 miles. In 1905 she was asked to give her testimony by the editors of the Young Woman’s Journal; a publication for young LDS women. She was asked if she knew the Prophet Joseph Smith, and Aunt Jane replied:

“Yes, indeed, I guess I did know the Prophet Joseph. That lovely hand! He used to put it out to me. Never passed me without shaking hands with me wherever he was. Oh, he was the finest man I ever saw on earth. I did not get much of a chance to talk with him. He’d always smile, always just like he did to his children. He used to be just like I was his child. O yes, my, I used to read in the Bible so much and in The Book of Mormon and Revelations, and now I have to sit and can’t see to read, and I think over them things, and I tell you I do wake up in the middle of the night, and I just think about Brother Joseph and [his wife] Sister Emma and how good they was to me.

When I went there I had only two things on me, no shoes nor stockings, wore them all out on the road. I had a trunk full of beautiful clothes, which I had sent around by water, and I was thinking of having them when I got to Nauvoo, and they stole them in St. Louis, and I did not have a rag of them.

They [Joseph and Emma] was looking for us because I wrote them a letter. There was eight of us, my mother and two sisters and a brother and sister-in-law, and we had two children, one they had to carry all the way there, and we traveled a thousand miles. Sister Emma she come to the door first and she says, ‘Walk in, come in all of you,’ and she went up stairs, and down he comes and goes into the sitting room and told the girls that they had there, he wanted to have the room this evening, for we have got company come. I knew it was Brother Joseph because I had seen him in a dream.

He went and brought Dr. Bernhisel down and Sister Emma, and introduced him to everyone of us, and said, ‘Now, I want you to tell me about some of your hard trials. I want to hear of some of those hard trials.’ And we told him. He slapped his hands. ‘Dr. Bernhisel,’ he said, ‘I think if I had had it to do I should not have come; would not have had faith enough.’

I was the head leader [of the group]. I had been in the Church a year and a little over. That is sixty-nine years ago.

So then our folks got places [to live]. He kept them a whole week until they got homes, and I was left. He came in every morning to see us and shake hands and know how we all were. One morning, before he came in, I had been up to the landing and found all my clothes were gone. Well, I sat there crying. He came in and looked around. ‘Why where’ s all the folks?’

Why Brother,’ I says, ‘they have all got themselves places; but,’ I says, ‘I haint got any place,’ and I burst out a-crying.

We won’t have tears here,’ he says.

But,’ I says, ‘I have got no home.’

Well you’ve got a home here,’ he says, ‘Have you seen Sister Emma this morning.’

No, sir,’ I says.

So he started out and went upstairs and brought Sister Emma down and says, ‘Here’s a girl who says she’s got no home. Don’t you think she’s got a home here?’ And she says, ‘If she wants to stay here.’ And he says, ‘Do you want to stay here?”

Yes sir,” says I.

Well now,’ he says, ‘Sister Emma you just talk to her and see how she is.’ He says, ‘Good morning,’ and he went.

We had come, afoot, a thousand miles. We lay in bushes, and in barns and outdoors, and traveled until there was a frost just like a snow, and we had to walk on that frost. I could not tell you, but I wanted to go to Brother Joseph.

I did not talk much to him, but every time he saw me he would say, ‘God bless you,’ and pat me on the shoulder. To Sister Emma, he said, ‘go and clothe her up, go down to the store and clothe her up.’ Sister Emma did. She got me clothes by the bolt. I had everything.

The folks that come to me think I ought to talk and tell what Brother Joseph said, but he was hid up (his enemies seeking his life) and I cannot remember now. I could not begin to tell you what he was, only this way, he was tall, over six feet; he was a fine, big, noble, beautiful man_ He had blue eyes and light hair, and very fine white skin.

When he was killed, I like to a die myself, if it had not been for the [home] teachers. I felt so bad. I could have died, just laid down and died; and I was sick in bed, and the teachers told me,

“You don’t want to die because he did. He died for us, and now we all want to live and do all the good we can.”

Things came to pass what he prophesied about the colored race being freed. Things that he said has come to pass. I did not hear that, but I knew of it.

After I saw him plain, I was certain he was a Prophet because I knew it. I was willing to come and gather [to Nauvoo], and when he came in with Dr. Bernhisel I knew him. Did not have to tell me because I knew him. I knew him when I saw him back in old Connecticut in a vision, saw him plain and knew he was a Prophet.

This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and there will never be any other on earth. It has come to stay.” (Young Women’s Journal,)

Please feel free to e-mail Darrick Evenson

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