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What led this civil rights activist to join the Church, become the first Black man sealed in Salt Lake Temple

by | Feb. 18, 2021

Makes You Think

In this week's episode of This Is the Gospel, Isaac Thomas shares that he is no stranger to racism and prejudice. As a civil rights activist, he participated in many sit-ins and marches advocating for equal rights for all. So after hearing from a drill instructor at basic training for the Air Force that the Church was racist, Isaac almost stopped his pursuit of the gospel. But after attending a church meeting for the first time with some of his fellow basic training buddies, that all changed.

An adapted excerpt from the story is below.  Listen to the full podcast here or  read the transcript here. 

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The first time I learned that I couldn't hold the priesthood was when [the missionaries] gave me the last lesson, which was added to the series of lessons that they [gave] me. . . . They told me all the reasons—all the reasons that at the time they were told. And I listened. And then I said, "You'll have to tell me that again." And they repeated everything. And then something just said, "It's okay." And I said, "Fine. Fine, I'm okay."

The thing that kept me anchored was I knew Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I knew that. I got that witness. I can't deny that. I knew the Book of Mormon had been restored by the prophet of God—I can't get rid of that one either. If those two are true, then The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Church of God. 

I actually joined the Church [on] December 15th in 1972 in an old chapel in San Angelo, Texas. I remember just fighting with myself in the restroom, going, "Should I leave? Should I stay? No, get out of here, this is bad. No, you need to stay, this is going to be good for you." But I indeed stayed and I was baptized and it was glorious for me. Really, I’d never felt so good [in] all my days. I remember the feeling of being light and forgiven.

There was some dissonance because I didn't know what other Blacks would think of me [as a member of the Church], how they would accept me. I wasn't sure how the rest of my family members would accept me, which troubled me because we were [a] very close family. And so I was wandering in this mist of darkness, really, just feeling my way, but I could not deny what I know to be true. . . . When my mother asked me, "What church did you join?" and I said, "the Mormon Church," she dropped the skillet. My cousin left cussing. My brother said, "You did what?" And I just kind of sat there silently. And then my grandparents, when they heard about it, they said, "Just leave him alone, it’s one of his passing things. It'll be okay." But after a while, when I stopped drinking, smoking, carousing, doping and all those things, my grandmother finally said, "I don't care what church it is, hallelujah to it." It got me to be the person that they wanted me to be. Because my grandmother, when I was younger, I was ill and she promised the Lord that if I was saved . . . that I would dedicate my life to the Lord. And I have to admit, I found that out and I purposely tried not to be that person, but here I am.

Well, I decided once I got out of the military that I wanted to go on a mission. That was 1976 or [1977]. And I knew I couldn't [because of the priesthood ban], so I wrote President Kimball a letter and said, "Dear President, I'd like to go on a mission. I don't care if I can't baptize people. Somebody else can do all that. All I want to do is be able to get in there and to teach people—just to teach them the gospel." I got a letter back and it said, "Dear Brother Thomas, we're sorry, you can't go on a mission because you don't have the priesthood."

Then, I went, "Women go on missions!" So I wrote him another letter, "Women go on missions!" I got another letter back saying, "But they had to go to the temple and take out their endowment. And for you to go on a mission, you'd have to take out your endowment. So you can't go." And I said, "I'm going on a mission one way or the other, okay?" [I had this] mindset that there's more than one way to skin a cat. . . .  I'll figure it out, then I'll let them know. That was my mindset. I had not given up, but I accepted what he said, I understood what he was saying and why it was being said. But I figured there was some other way for me to accomplish the thing that I wanted to do. Because after all, the Lord gives no commandment unto the children of men unless He provides a way to accomplish the things that he has commanded.

For the rest of Isaac's story and for more stories of faith from Black members of the Church, listen to the full podcast here or  read the transcript here. 

Lead image courtesy of Isaac Thomas
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