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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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

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)