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Prophets' Reactions When They Learned of the Priesthood Revelation: "I Sat Down on That Pile of Dirt and Cried"

June 8, 1978, is emblazoned into our collective memory as Latter-day Saints. Many of us identify with the sentiments of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, who said, "I can remember exactly where I was. For us, that's the 'where we [were] when Kennedy was shot' [moment], this deep, deep, spiritual, emotional moment in the history of the Church."

As we reflect back on the joy, the divine influence, and the nearness of heaven so many Church members experienced when the priesthood was extended to black members of the Church, we wanted to share with you what prophets and apostles have said about this historic occasion.

President Spencer W. Kimball

"I remember very vividly the day after day that I walked over to the temple and ascended up to the fourth floor where we have our solemn assemblies, where we have our meetings of the Twelve and the Presidency. And after everybody had gone out of the temple, I knelt and prayed. And I prayed with such a fervency, I tell you! I knew that something was before us that was extremely important to many of the children of God. And I knew that we could receive the revelations of the Lord only by being worthy and ready for them and ready to accept them and to put them into place. Day after day I went and with great solemnity and seriousness, alone in the upper rooms of the Temple, and there I offered my soul and offered our efforts to go forward with the program and we wanted to do what he wanted. As we talked about it to him, we said, 'Lord, we want only what is right. We’re not making any plans to be spectacularly moving. We want only the thing that thou dost want and we want it when you want it and not until.'" (Spencer W. Kimball, remarks, Johannesburg, South Africa, October 23, 1978, transcript of tape by Duane Cardall, Kimball Papers, as found in "Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood," Edward L. Kimball, BYU Studies)

"We had the glorious experience of having the Lord indicate clearly that the time had come when all worthy men and women everywhere can be fellow heirs and partakers of the full blessings of the gospel. I want you to know, as a special witness of the Savior, how close I have felt to him and to our Heavenly Father as I have made numerous visits to the upper rooms in the temple, going on some days several times by myself. The Lord made it very clear to me what was to be done." (“The Savior: The Center of Our Lives,” New Era, Apr. 1980, 36)

President Gordon B. Hinckley

"Following this discussion we joined in prayer in the most sacred of circumstances. President Kimball himself was voice in that prayer. I do not recall the exact words that he spoke. But I do recall my own feelings and the nature of the expressions of my Brethren. There was a hallowed and sanctified atmosphere in the room. For me, it felt as if a conduit opened between the heavenly throne and the kneeling, pleading prophet of God who was joined by his Brethren. The Spirit of God was there. And by the power of the Holy Ghost there came to that prophet an assurance that the thing for which he prayed was right, that the time had come, and that now the wondrous blessings of the priesthood should be extended to worthy men everywhere regardless of lineage.

"Every man in that circle, by the power of the Holy Ghost, knew the same thing.

"It was a quiet and sublime occasion. . . .

"No voice audible to our physical ears was heard. But the voice of the Spirit whispered with certainty into our minds and our very souls. . . .

"So it was on that memorable June 1, 1978. We left that meeting subdued and reverent and joyful. Not one of us who was present on that occasion was ever quite the same after that. Nor has the Church been quite the same." ("Priesthood Restoration," Ensign, 1988).

Elder David B. Haight

"The Spirit touched each of our hearts with the same message in the same way. Each was witness to a transcendent heavenly event" (Tate, David B. Haight, 280, as quoted in "Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood," Edward L. Kimball, BYU Studies).

"I was there. I was there with the outpouring of the Spirit in that room so strong that none of us could speak afterwards. We just left quietly to go back to the office. No one could say anything because of the heavenly spiritual experience" (David B. Haight, “This Work Is True,” Ensign, 1996).

Elder L. Tom Perry

"It was just as though a great burden had been lifted [from President Kimball]. He was almost speechless. It was almost impossible for him to contain his joy. Nothing was said or had to be said. We sensed what the answer was, the decision was made. There was a great feeling of unity among us and relief that it was over. As I have talked with other members of the Twelve since then, they felt the same as I did. I don’t think the Twelve will ever be the same again. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience" (Perry, interview, as quoted in "Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood," Edward L. Kimball, BYU Studies).

Elder Bruce R. McConkie

"While President Kimball prayed, the revelation came. When he ceased to pray, there was a great Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit such as none of those present had ever before experienced. There are no words to describe what then happened. It was something that could only be felt in the hearts of the recipients and which can only be understood by the power of the Spirit.

"When the Spirit of the Lord fell upon certain Nephite congregations, they were unable to write in language what happened and indicated that the outpouring of the Spirit could only be understood by the power of the Spirit. On the day of Pentecost in the Old World, it is recorded that cloven tongues of fire rested upon the people. It is thought that this is an attempt to find language which would describe the overwhelming power and impact of the Holy Ghost upon the hearts of people. On this occasion, in the upper room of the temple, something akin to the day of Pentecost occurred. All of the Brethren at once knew and felt in their souls what the answer to the importuning petition of President Kimball was. All knew with one voice what the intent and purpose of the Lord was with reference to the priesthood. Nothing could have been more clearly and forcibly presented. Some of the Brethren were weeping. All were sober and somewhat overcome. When President Kimball stood up, several of the Brethren, in turn, threw their arms around him and each of the Brethren knew that an answer had been received and that the voice of the Lord had been heard. All knew what should be done. At this point, they retired. . . . All of the Brethren felt subdued and sobered" (McConkie, formal memorandum, as quoted in "Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s Witness of the 1978 Revelation on the Priesthood," Trevor Holyoak, FairMormon).

President Dallin H. Oaks

"I can’t remember any time in my life when I felt greater joy and relief than when I learned that the priesthood was going to be available to all worthy males, whatever their ancestry. I had been troubled by this subject through college and my graduate school, at the University of Chicago where I went to law school. I had many black acquaintances when I lived in Chicago, the years ’54 through ’71. I had many times that my heart ached for that, and it ached for my Church, which I knew to be true and yet blessings of that Church were not available to a significant segment of our Heavenly Father’s children. And I didn’t understand why; I couldn’t identify with any of the explanations that were given. Yet I sustained the action; I was confident that in the time of the Lord I would know more about it, so I went along on faith.

"Nobody was more relieved or more pleased when the word came. I remember where I was when I learned that the priesthood would be available to all worthy males, whatever their ancestry. I was at a mountain home that our family had purchased to have a place of refuge. I had my sons up there, and we were digging something. We had a big pile of dirt there. I’ve forgotten what it was now, but the phone rang in the house. I went inside, and it was Elder Boyd K. Packer. He said: 'I have been appointed to advise you as a representative of the academic people, many of whom have been troubled by the ban on the priesthood, professors, and students, and so on. As president of Brigham Young University and as their representative [Elder Oaks was president of BYU at this time], I’ve been appointed to advise you that the revelation has been received that all worthy male members will be eligible to receive the priesthood, whatever their ancestry.' I thanked him, and I went outside and I told my boys, and I sat down [voice cracks with emotion] on that pile of dirt and cried. And I still feel emotion for that moment. I cried for joy and relief that the Lord had spoken through His prophet, that His blessings were now available to all: the blessings of the priesthood, the blessings of the temple, and the blessings of eternity. That’s what we desired. I praise God for it" (Oaks, The Mormons, PBS documentary, as quoted on Mormon Newsroom).

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

"I can remember exactly where I was. For us, that's the 'where we [were] when Kennedy was shot,' this deep, deep, spiritual, emotional moment in the history of the church. I was a very young commissioner of education, still in my 30s, and I was coming over from my office in the church office building to the suite of General Authority offices for something or other. . . . I walked into the office of the General Authority I was going to see, and he said, 'Have you heard the news?' This was barely moments out of the temple meeting and the announcement where it was official. And I said: 'What news? I haven't heard any news.' And he said all worthy men—regardless of race or status or circumstance—all worthy men are to receive priesthood.

"You're going to think all I do is cry, but this is in the same family as that missionary experience I described to you. I started to cry, and I was absolutely uncontrollable. I felt my way to a chair . . . and I sort of slumped from the doorway into the chair and held my head, my face in my hands and sobbed. . . .

"There's no issue in all my life that I had prayed more regarding—praying that it would change, praying that it would come in due time. I was willing to have the Lord speak, and I was loyal to the position and the brethren and the whole concept, but there was nothing about which I had anguished more or about which I had prayed more. And for that to be said in my lifetime, when I wasn't sure it would happen in my lifetime, . . . it was one of the absolute happiest days of my life" (Holland, "The Mormons," pbs.org).

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