Podcast #3 – History of Mormon Dance

In this podcast, Russell Stevenson and Kate Harline discuss an aspect of Mormon cultural art that is easy to overlook: dancing.   Though seemingly recreational, Mormon dance in fact highlights deeper issues in the development of Mormon identity: theologically, sexually, and even racially.  They analyze how Mormon dance has served as a cultural “contact zone” between the Mormon community and outsiders.  They also interview Katherine Winder, a full-time professional Mormon dancer from the Repertory Dance Theater of Salt Lake City.  She tells how she came to be a dancer, how her faith informs her art, and her touching experiences as a dance instructor in a leper colony in India.  Join us for this compelling exploration of the Mormon people have used dance both to celebrate and control their bodies over the past 180 years.


Let Not God Speak with Us: The Tragedy of Mormon Racism

The story of white Mormon racism gives me heartburn.  It makes me sad, tragically so. And tragedies are only possible when there’s something–something big–to lose. As Rabbi Abraham Heschel observed, though “few are guilty…all are responsible.” Deflection and projection will not do.  To paraphrase the haunting language of poet Jeremy Loveday, “the culture of violence [though I would say, “racism”] touches us all. And by dismissing perpetrators as monsters, it allows us not to analyze our own actions.”  It is the simple and sincere question asked of Jesus: “What lack [we] yet?”  Jesus did not coddle the inquirer but directed him to give up the things he valued the most in order to follow him.  The young man walked away glumly; he never had considered the kind of sacrifice that Jesus’ kingdom required. Continue reading

Podcast #2: Race and the Priesthood

In this podcast, Kate Kelly Harline takes on the role of interviewer and discusses Russell Stevenson (author of Black Mormon: The Story of Elijah Ables and author of the forthcoming, For the Cause of Righteousness: A Documentary History of Blacks and Mormonism,  1830-2013). We discuss the meaning and ramifications of the LDS Church’s new statement on “Race and the Priesthood.”  Obviously, we present this perspective from the perspective of historical analysis.  Towards the end of my recent interview on RadioWest, one of my co-hosts specifically distanced himself from that perspective, and I respect his right to do so.  However, as the statement was an historical statement, we have little choice but to employ historical methods in assessing it–even if it does not fit neatly into talking points or agendas. We trace the origins, course, and trajectory of the Saints’ relationship with the black community and racial exclusion. Tune in for the conversation at the Mormon History Guy podcast.

2013?! Wow. Ok.

In a recent conversation with Doug Fabrizio, I made the comment that the priesthood ban was a collaborative endeavor, with plenty of culpability to spread around throughout the various strata of the Mormon community.  I said that it has taken this long for the Mormon community to reckon with their racial past.  He responded with a shocked: “2013?! Wow. Ok.”

Over the course of the past year, I’ve said the same thing myself as I have spoken on this topic over the course of the past year.  Continue reading

Review of Elijah Abel: The Life and Times of a Black Priesthood Holder

Published in the summer edition of The Journal of Mormon History, this review offers my analysis of W. Kesler Jackson’s Elijah Abel: The Life and Times of a Black Priesthood Holder.  Parenthetical references deal with material from inside Jackson’s book.  Bracketed references point to sources outside Jackson’s work.

Full Disclosure: For a copy of my book, Black Mormon: The Story of Elijah Ablesclick here. 
Continue reading

The White Element: Heber Meeks and the First Mormon Mission to Cuba

Rural Cuba, 1941

Rural Cuba, 1941

In summer 1947, Southern States Mission President Heber Meeks traveled to Cuba in order to determine whether Mormon missionary work should commence in the nation of Cuba.  Meeks had an impressive track record both as a church official and a public servant. He had directed the 1940 census in Utah and had once run as a Democrat for the state senate.  When called to be mission president of the Southern States in 1942, Meeks knew something about Utah Mormon society.

Upon Meeks’ return, he sent a letter to Dr. Lowry Nelson, a professor of rural sociology at Utah State Agricultural College, to inquire about his perspective on the race issue in Cuba. Nelson was shocked–he had never heard of such a doctrine in his faith community. For the next several eyars, Nelson engaged in correspondence with the First Presidency about their rationale for excluding blacks from the priesthood–perhaps some of the most revealing documentation about Mormon racial attitudes in mid-twentieth-century. It reveals that even in 1947, the priesthood ban was not common knowledge. Nelson was one of the leading public intellectual in the state of Utah.  He had been a BYU administrator, a member of the Roosevelt administration’s rural resettlement division, and the head of the experiment station at Utah State Agricultural College (now known as USU).  Nelson knew something about Mormon society, and yet even he had missed the race-exclusion memo.   Shocked, Nelson urged Meeks not to recommend proselytizing efforts. Continue reading