Why My Race Is a Gift from God: Perspectives from an African American Latter-day Saint

Impressions from Granddaddy

When I had the opportunity to serve as proxy for Granddaddy's endowment, I received more guidance and inspiration. I was contemplating the irony of my being the one with the holy priesthood, and using it to do his exalting work, when he was the one who had dedicated his life to lifting a heavily burdened people much closer to God. As the thought lingered in my mind, I distinctly felt the impression, which I instinctively knew had come from Granddaddy, that our lives—his and mine—for the most part were intended to be the way they had proceeded, as we each had been given unique missions on earth to fulfill in accordance with God’s plan ourselves and our family.

I was brought to realize that in living when and as he did, Granddaddy had fulfilled the primary missions which he had come to earth to accomplish and that it was now time for me to complete my tasks upon the earth on behalf of both the living and the dead. I felt impressed that many of the spirits who came

to earth as blacks and served as slaves in the Americas, including my forebears, chose to accept the circumstances of their birth in accordance with God’s plan for them individually and for all His children generally.

Considering more specifically my ancestors and posterity, I felt that a multitude of spirits had rejoiced when I was baptized into the LDS Church and when I later received my own temple endowment preparatory to doing work for the dead.

The final impression was solemn and direct: As Granddaddy’s sole descendant with the rights of the priesthood and temple privileges, I was the key link between my ancestors and their opportunity for eternal blessings. My faithfulness would not only significantly impact their eternal futures but would also determine, in part, whether the spirits chosen to come to earth through my seed would be blessed with an understanding of the gospel in mortality.

This remarkable occurrence infinitely strengthened my testimony concerning who I am and regarding Heavenly Father’s love for all His children. Most importantly, it confirmed for me in a very personal and unmistakable way that my spirit did not come to earth to dwell in black flesh, and into a family of black African lineage, because my ancestors and I were somehow cursed.

Simply put, like unto the blind beggar healed by Jesus central to the story in John 9, I was not born black because I sinned as a premortal spirit or because my parents, real or imagined (i.e., Cain, Ham, or anyone else), sinned in mortality. Rather, I am black, and of the lineage once subjected to priesthood and temple restrictions by the LDS Church, because I chose to accept the mortal mission given me by my Heavenly Father. It is a mission that required me to come into mortality as a black American at a time when the gospel was restored upon the earth, and when the priesthood would be made available to all worthy males, so that in some small way the works of God might be made manifest in and through me.

The Gift of Being Black

For many years I had the good fortune to be associated with a play about the life and times of black Mormon pioneer Jane Manning James, entitled I Am Jane, which contains a poignant scene where Jane is speaking with Elijah Abel, a black convert ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood by the Prophet Joseph Smith. Jane asks Elijah to give her a straight answer about what she has heard preached by some Latter-day Saints concerning the curse of Cain and black skin. Elijah replies that he once took the question to God, and then shares with Jane his perception of God’s response. I close this article with my sincere prayer that Elijah’s words will bring each reader the same comfort and counsel they do me:

I feel, Sister Jane, that ours is:

Not a curse but a gift t’us,

The best path we could seek

A place where God can lift us

We kneel; our knees is weak

And when one of us is kneelin’,

We understand his fears.

We know what all us is feelin’

We cry each other’s tears.

That’s just what Jesus done

For all us human folk.

He agreed to come get born

To feel ev’ry pain and poke.

So’s he could understand us,

What it is to be a slave.

So’s he could get beneath us

And push us outa the grave

Would you rather be the massa

Or the Roman with his whip?

Would you rather nail the Savior—

Put vinegar to his lip?

Or learn the lessons of sufferin’—

How we nothin’ without grace.

Jesus, He give us a callin’

He gifted us our race.

A Reason for Faith was written to do just as the title implies, provide reasons for faith by offering faithful answers to sincere questions. Before the internet, historical and doctrinal questions not addressed in LDS Church curriculum were mostly found in the scholarly articles of academic journals. This is no longer the case. These topics are now widely debated and discussed online and in other forums. And when members of the Church come across information that is unfamiliar, they may feel surprise, fear, betrayal, or even anger. Laura Harris Hales has assembled a group of respected LDS scholars to offer help in A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine and Church History. Together these authors have spent an average of 25 years researching these topics. Their depth of knowledge and faith enables them to share reliable details, perspective, and context to both LDS doctrine and Church history. The information in these essays can begin an exciting process of discovery for readers as they learn from a source they can trust. Each chapter is engaging and thought-provoking, providing an invaluable resource for both the merely curious and the seriously concerned.

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