Mormons and the Civil Rights Act


The Boston Globe posts an incredible letter from one of the Mormon “prophets” to then-Michigan Gov. George Romney in 1964, taking him to task for his support of the Civil Rights Act. I took the time to convert the PDF to text so I could copy it here because I want to be able to highlight some of the mind-blowing statements found in it.

Governor George W. Romney
Governor’s Mansion
Lansing, Michigan

Dear George:

It was a real pleasure to greet and have a moment to visit with you and Lenore here this past week. It is wonderful to see how enthusiastically you are received by the good people of Utah.

After listening to your talk on Civil Rights, I am very much concerned. Several others have expressed the same concern to me. It does not altogether harmonize with my own understandings regarding this subject; therefore, I thought to drop you a note — not in my official Church position, but as a personal friend. Only President McKay can speak for the Church.

I felt, George, your views were most liberal on this vital problem in the light of the revelations, but nevertheless, I cannot deny you the right of your position if it represents your true belief and feelings.

I would like to suggest you read two items on this subject, both by the Prophet Joseph Smith. Turn to page 269 of Teachings Of The Prophet Joseph Smith by Joseph Fielding Smith, and read beginning the middle of the page under the caption, “The Status of the Negro,” giving particular attention to the closing sentence on page 270. Also, read from Histopy of the Church, Period 1, Volume 2, beginning on page 436, under the heading, “The Prophet’s Views on
Abolition,” which article continues to the bottom of page 440. After reading this last-mentioned statement by the Prophet, then come back to the last paragraph on page 438, and give it some real thought. When I reflect upon the Prophet’s statements and remember what happened to three of our nation’s presidents who were very active in the Negro cause, I am sobered by their demise. They went contrary to the teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith —
unwittingly, no doubt, but nevertheless, the prophecy of Joseph Smith, “. . . those who are determined to pursue a course, which shows an opposition, and a feverish restlessness against the decrees of the Lord, will learn, when perhaps it is too late for their own good, that God can do His own work, without the aid of those who are not dictated by His counsel,” has and will continue to be fulfilled.

In this respect, let me give you a personal experience. A friend of mine in Arizona — not a Church member — a great champion of the colored race -— came to me after my call into the Twelve, and acknowledged President McKay to be a Prophet of God. He wanted me to ask President McKay to inquire of the Lord to see if the Lord would not lift the curse from the colored race and give them the privileges of the Priesthood. I explained to him that the Lord had placed the curse upon the Negro, which denied him the Priesthood; therefore, it was the Lord’s responsibility — not man’s — to change His decision. This friend of mine met a very tragic end by drowning. He was a most enthusiastic advocate of the colored cause and went about promoting for them all the privileges, social opportunities, and participation enjoyed by the Whites.

I am sure you know that the Prophet Joseph Smith, in connection with the Negro problem of this country, proposed to Congress that they sell public lands and buy up the Negro slaves and transport them back to Africa from whence they came. I am sure the Prophet, with his vision and understanding, foresaw the problems we are faced with today with this race, which caused him to promote this program.

The statements of the Prophet Joseph Smith have been a helpful influence on me because they accord with my own understandings regarding the Negro. I cannot, in my own feelings, accept the idea of public accomodations; the taking from the Whites their wishes to satisfy the Negros. I do not have any objection to recognizing the Negro in his place and giving him every opportunity for education, for employment, for whatever contribution he can make to the society of men and the protection and blessings of Government. Yet, all these things, in my judgment, should accord with the expressions of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It is not right to force any class or race of people upon those of a different social order or race classification. People are happier when placed in the environment and association of
like interests, racial instincts, habits, and natural groupings.

I am enclosing a little booklet entitled Mormonism and the Negro, which you may already have. If not, it is an enlightening exposition and quite well reflects the Church position in regard to these people.

I am not against a Civil Rights Bill if it conforms to the views of the Prophet Joseph Smith according to the references above given. I fully agree the Negro is entitled to considerations, also stated above, but not full social benefits nor inter-marriage privileges with the Whites, nor should the Whites be forced to accept them into restricted White areas. In my judgment, the present proposed Bill of Rights is vicious legislation. There needs to be some modification. The position of the Church cannot change until the Lord changes it Himself. Certainly I am not for exploiting racial or religious prejudices, but it is the present play up to the Negro voters which is unnecessarily creating problems that by a more firm, sensible approach can be avoided. There will be a few die-hard leaders, but then that has always been true with any debatable issue. Principle — religious or otherwise —— cannot be abrogated for political expediency.

Now, don’t think I am against the Negro people, because I have several in my employ. We must understand and recognize their status and then, accordingly, provide for them. I just don’t think we can get around the Lord’s position in relation to the Negro without punishment for our acts; going contrary to that which He has revealed. The Lord will not permit His purposes to be frustrated by man.

Please understand I have a great respect and admiration for you, but because of my feelings I thought I should express myself as I have so you will know my personal position.

This letter is for your personal use only (also Lenore), and is not to be used in any other way. It does not require an answer.

With best wishes and success to you and Lenore always, I am

Faithfully your friend and brother,

Delbert L. Stapley

I highlighted some of the things that leap out from the letter. There’s the ridiculous threat that God will kill him if he takes the wrong position, just like that poor guy in Arizona who drowned after merely asking if the church might change its racist position and to three presidents — Lincoln and Kennedy; I don’t know who the third might be — who tried to further equality for black people. So you better stop advocating equal rights or God will kill you, like he did the others.

Then there’s the idea that one can only support public policy that is in line with the views of Joseph Smith. Mormon theocracy, anyone? And lastly, you have to laugh at his claim that he’s not racist because he has several black people who work for him. Yes, people really thought this way. And many still do.

The good news is that Romney ignored Stapley and continued to advocate for the Civil Rights Act and for equality.

Comments

  1. sisu says

    three presidents — Lincoln and Jefferson; I don’t know who the third might be

    I assume he was referring to JFK?

  2. AsqJames says

    Maybe Romney Snr didn’t ignore qeverything in Stapeley’s letter?

    Principle — religious or otherwise —— cannot be abrogated for political expediency.

  3. kenbo says

    sisu@1 is correct. JFK was killed Nov 1963, just months before this letter was sent.

    Also, I question whether it was actually Jefferson he was referring to in his letter:

    “When I reflect upon the Prophet’s statements and remember what happened to three of our nation’s presidents who were very active in the Negro cause, I am sobered by their demise.”

    I would surmise that since both Lincoln and Kennedy met tragic ends while in office, the third president referred to was also killed or died in office. Garfield, McKinley, Harding and F. Roosevelt would be on the list, but my knowledge of their presidencies is inadequate to speculate which one was “very active in the Negro cause”.

    Kenbo

  4. says

    Good for him for being a crappy Mormon and going against the church’s position for political expedience. At least I can be fairly confident that president Romney, should that be a reality, will be similarly impious.

  5. sunsangnim says

    Wait, the elder Romney actually had core principles that he followed? How did his son learn the art of political shape-shifting?

  6. Zinc Avenger says

    My own personal Republican weathervane, my mother-in-law, is sitting out the next Presidential election, claiming that the Republican candidates are too crazy for her. She’s slightly to the right of moderate Republicanism (but dearly loved anyway).

  7. dingojack says

    “When I reflect upon the Prophet’s statements and remember what happened to three of our nation’s presidents who were very active in the Negro cause, I am sobered by their demise.”
    And who, prey tell are the three men to whom you elude?
    ‘Uh – Lincoln, Kennedy and – oh I forget the third one…”

    This guy isn’t related to Rick Perry by any chance?

    Dingo

  8. The Lorax says

    I’m sure the southern slave owners weren’t racist either. I mean, look at all the black people they had working for them!

  9. rork says

    “The position of the Church cannot change until the Lord changes it Himself.”
    The Lord adapts in mysterious ways, he even flip-flops on occasion. That’s actually a rather practical invention. Has he changed his mind about the genetics of first nations (“Indians”) yet, or is he still chewing on the evidence? How about universal flood killing all animals? The Lord is probably pretty good at research I figure. He may be busy though.

  10. peterh says

    Well, Eisenhower was luke-warm at best on civil rights; he ordered troops to quiet the unrest under his administration not so much to promote the rights of individuals but to uphold the dictates of federal law. A distinction worth noting.

  11. says

    Kind of amusing that this guy uses these veiled threats of early death for not following “The Prophet’s” words when “The Prophet” himself met an rather untimely death.

  12. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    I just don’t think we can get around the Lord’s position in relation to the Negro without punishment for our acts; going contrary to that which He has revealed.

    Governance by divine revelation is just teh awesomes.

    Church long held revelations as the word of God becoming unpopular and having real world consequences to the financial security of your church? Just have your profit change them and call them NEW LONG SUPPRESSED REVELATIONS!

    HALLELUJAH

  13. flex says

    I would suspect Garfield would be the 3rd president mentioned.

    Garfield was concerned the that high levels of illiteracy and poverty among the black laborers in the south would result in the formation of a peasant class, resulting in the formation of a slave class even when slavery was abolished. He also appointed a number of African Americans to federal offices.

    He was also assassinated, like Lincoln and JFK, and unlike any other president who died in office.

  14. anandine says

    My favorite line in Huckleberry Finn is when Huck thinks about the fact that if he helps the runaway slave, he’ll go to hell, and he says, “All right then, I’ll go to hell.”

  15. tubi says

    Every time I read “the Prophet Joseph Smith,” I reflexively followed it up in my head, “peace be upon him.”

    Also, McKinley was assassinated, but I don’t know how he felt about Negroes.

  16. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne says

    How did his son learn the art of political shape-shifting?

    From seeing what sticking to his core principles did for Romney père‘s political career?

  17. doktorzoom says

    Maybe we’re looking at this letter all wrong? After all, as we know from the Broadway musical, Mormons do indeed believe that “in 1978 God changed His mind about black people,” so this letter truly was prophetic.

  18. slc1 says

    Re Hercules Grytpype-Thynne @ #18

    That’s not entirely accurate. It was the use of the term brainwashing, which has the implication of someone who is weak minded, that did him in. Had he not used that term, he might well have been nominated over Nixon who had many enemies in the Rethuglican Party. I recall vividly the ridicule in the lame stream media that was entirely focused on his use of that term and not on his new found skepticism of the Vietnam War.

  19. abb3w says

    Having looked it up, I’ll note that –saving only the last sentence– the rest of the “Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith” passage seems extraordinarily progressive for the 1842 it’s attributed to.

    At five went to Mr. Sollars’ with Elders Hyde and Richards. Elder Hyde inquired the situation of the negro. I replied, they came into the world slaves, mentally and physically. Change their situation with the whites, and they would be like them. They have souls, and are subjects of salvation. Go into Cincinnati or any city, and find an educated negro, who rides in his carriage, and you will see a man who has risen by the powers of his own mind to his exalted state of respectability. The slaves in Washington are more refined than many in high places, and the black boys will take the shine off many of those they brush and wait on. Elder Hyde remarked, “Put them on the level, and they will rise above me.” I replied, if I raised you to be my equal, and then attempted to oppress you, would you not be indignant and try to rise above me, as did Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer, and many others, who said I was a fallen Prophet, and they were capable of leading the people, although I never attempted to oppress them, but had always been lifting them up? Had I anything to do with the negro, I would confine them by strict law to their own species, and put them on a national equalization.

    This also suggests that Mitt Romney’s attitudes on race were probably similar to his father, and thus relatively liberal. Not that this is likely to cost him any votes among whatever fraction of bigots survive among the Mormons.

  20. Aquaria says

    Now, don’t think I am against the Negro people, because I have several in my employ

    But would he let them use his toilet?

    This also suggests that Mitt Romney’s attitudes on race were probably similar to his father, and thus relatively liberal.

    They could just call them visionaries for the prophet, and the Mormons will buy it. They’re stupid that way.

  21. raven says

    The Mormon Chief Prophet, Revelator, and Seer has as much spiritual authority and contact with the gods as myself.

    Or my cat. Which is zero.

    This is one religious characteristic that I’m thoroughly sick of. The god told me this or that one.

    The gods seem to talk to millions of people. They all say different things to different people. They can’t all be right. Far as we know, none of them are right.

    The two most common communications from the gods are:

    1. God told me that he wants you to send me money.

    2. God told me that he wants you to send me your cutest teenage girls and boys for “religious instruction”.

    PS As some have mentioned above, Mormon beliefs change and evolve quite rapidly as the Prophets make it up as they go along. They even routinely rewrite the Book of Mormon. The members always pretend not to notice the shifts. It’s straight out of Orwell’s 1984. “We are at war with East Asia. We have always been at war with East Asia.”

  22. eric says

    I am sure you know that the Prophet Joseph Smith, in connection with the Negro problem of this country, proposed to Congress that they sell public lands and buy up the Negro slaves and transport them back to Africa from whence they came.

    Of course….because we all know that the ethical issue of people buying people and forcing them to do things against their will, is solved by having the government buy all the people and forcefully relocate them against their will.

    It is not right to force any class or race of people upon those of a different social order or race classification. People are happier when placed in the environment and association of like interests, racial instincts, habits, and natural groupings.

    I’ll bet this guy thought it was perfectly right for white Europeans to conquer the american indians and establish the USA. The whole ‘keep peoples in their homelands’ never seems to apply to whites.

    Anyone want to bet against me? Beuller?

  23. lofgren says

    The whole ‘keep peoples in their homelands’ never seems to apply to whites.

    How else are we supposed to spread the wisdom of staying in your homeland? If it weren’t for white Europeans invading and conquering everywhere on the globe, you would have all the other races of the world ignorantly spilling over their natural borders and expanding beyond god’s intended range for them.

  24. John Hinkle says

    This friend of mine met a very tragic end by drowning.

    In the Mormon Outfit, God’s the knee capper.

    God: If you help the coloreds, it’d be a real shame if you later fell on a knife twelve or terteen times, accidentally of course.

  25. Tobinius says

    The statements of the Prophet Joseph Smith have been a helpful influence on me because they accord with my own understandings regarding the Negro.

    Ah, the joys of bigotry.

  26. Michael Heath says

    Delbert L. Stapley writes:

    I do not have any objection to recognizing the Negro in his place and giving him every opportunity for education, for employment, for whatever contribution he can make to the society of men and the protection and blessings of Government.

    This type of logic is exactly how today’s bigots justify their bigotry in a way that has them convinced they aren’t bigots. By categorizing their thoughts to deny their own positions and avoid cognitive dissonance.

    Delbert L. Stapley writes:

    I am not against a Civil Rights Bill if it conforms to the views of the Prophet Joseph Smith according to the references above . . .

    Which is the exact train of thought argued by conservatives on all sorts of issues, including Christians advocating we deny gays their rights and use hatred to shove them back into the closets. And when they express this sentiment, the mainstream media never digs deeper with a question. As if it’s perfectly acceptable for a candidate for office to rely solely on bigotry that was taught to them through their holy dogma, while simultaneously claiming they are the authentic defenders of liberty and the Constitution.

    It took a regular citizen to reveal the absurdity of this logic with Michelle Bachmann, where her response was that gays have the same rights we do, they too can marry a person of the opposite sex.

  27. frog says

    abb3w @ 22: That passage makes me sad. He recognizes there is no difference between differently pigmented humans, but then, because God Sez So, darker people are to be kept down and prevented from enjoying the opportunities of pale folks.

    It’s conscious racism. He knew better, and still consciously advocated for slanting the playing field and accruing privilege for “his” people.

    What a filthy piece of shit.

  28. exdrone says

    I got one of these letters too. It read:

    You must send this letter to 10 other people. If you do not, you will receive unbelieveably bad luck. THIS IS NO JOKE! A friend threw this letter away. This friend of mine met a very tragic end by drowning. Don’t break the chain! Remember what happened to three of our nation’s presidents who ignored this warning. Mail it out today!

  29. Rike says

    “It is not right to force any class or race of people upon those of a different social order or race classification. People are happier when placed in the environment and association of
    like interests, racial instincts, habits, and natural groupings.”

    Wait – isn’t he also admitting here that men would be better off grouped – or paired – with men, and women with women? Maybe Mormons shouldn’t be such douches about gay marriages!

  30. sc_6bab79dcc7488c7f8e1331bb5373a072 says

    I love how he closes with “It does not need a reply.” The strong suggestion here is “Don’t bother replying, I’m not interested in what you have to say”. It’s not, so tell me what you think….or do you have anything to add? It’s the matter is closed, all that has needed be said has been said, verily and verily AMEN!

    Wow, and this guy was quorum of the twelve material.

  31. abb3w says

    @22, frog:

    He recognizes there is no difference between differently pigmented humans, but then, because God Sez So, darker people are to be kept down and prevented from enjoying the opportunities of pale folks.

    Not quite as bad as that. The degree of stupid in “separate but equal” hadn’t yet become as clear as hindsight now makes it. Even Harlan’s Dissent in Plessy is still a good half-century down the road. He recognizes the differences are environmental; and thus, thinks separation will help them develop without interference into an equal nation. Which was a common enough “liberal” position of the time. The idea of the races being fully equal was probably outright radical at the time. Maybe even more so than atheism.

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