Teaching Official Declaration #2

For the Mormon Sunday School teachers out there, this one is for you.  This is a follow-up to an earlier post: Mythbusters: Official Declaration #2 edition. 

Today, I taught the lesson on Official Declaration #2. For most of us, it is over. Whether with grace or clumsiness or perhaps #facepalm moment (or three), we’ve taught the lesson on Official Declaration #2.
Since it deals with one of the great lines of exclusion drawn in human societies in the modern (and arguably, pre-modern age), it was a heavy load. That it took place within a community and faith system that many of us cherish, the anxiety and pain is particularly stark. Can we broach it, particularly as people of European descent? We do not know what it’s like to live in black skin. All the stories of Missouri persecutions–as searing and sympathetic as they are–will not stand up to any comparison with the black experience in America.
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A Cacophony of Events: Heroes, Villains, and Official Declaration #2

Margaret Young’s latest piece on Official Declaration #2 gives us a taste of the sheer complexity that (ought to) undergird any conversation on race in Mormonism. I have earlier noted that Young had ascribed change in Mormonism to the relationship activists had with church leadership.  Yesterday, she (quite rightly) responded by pointing out that for every voice on the inside of the Church hierarchy (and there were plenty), there were two voices for change on the outside. Continue reading

The Priesthood Ban and Homosexuality: A Comparison with Limits

Disclaimer

This should in no way serve as an argument against recognition of gay marriage.

The comparison between the priesthood ban excluding the blacks and the Church’s opposition to gay marriage is practically begging to be made (see also here and here)–especially if you want the Mormon leadership to change their tune on gay marriage: “If the Church could change on this, then why not?

Why not, indeed?

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Elijah Abel, Elijah Able, Elijah Ables: The Documentary Evidence

Elijah Abel/Ables is such a fascinating figure.  Thanks to the research that can be found in my book on him, we learn that we have probably been spelling his name wrong all this time.

Most renderings suggest that Elijah’s name was  spelled “Elijah Abel.” Indeed, W. Kesler Jackson’s recent biography of him makes it appear that he has found the signature of Elijah Abel; however, as one of his editors told me, the “signature” was “just a pretty font.”  The only instances we have of people spelling his name “Elijah Abel” are when white people are doing the recording.

According to two early manuscript sources, Elijah spelled his name alternatively as “Elijah Ables” and “Elijah Able.”  In 1854, a letter from “Elijah Ables” came to the office of Brigham Young.  The letter specifically indicates that this letter belonged to someone in the Appleton M. Harmon company, making it a positive ID for the first black Elder.  Four years later, Elijah signed a receipt of payment as “Elijah Able.”

So before people get bent out of shape over an authorial decision, it would be well to look at the manuscript evidence first.   As with many nineteenth-century Americans, he was not at all committed to one spelling.   The 1860 and 1870 censuse reports render it as Able and Ables, respectively. Additionally, newspapers spelled the Able/Ables name as “Able,” “Ables,” “Abel,”  and even “Abels,” sometimes within the same paragraph.

We misspellers are in good company.

1) Elijah Ables, Letter to Brigham Young, March 14, 1854

Elijah Abale Signature 1

2) Elijah Able, Receipt of Payment, June 1, 1858Elijah Able Signature 2 (larger)