I advertised a post for this morning billed as “the ugliest post Keepa has ever published,” a title that I hope will draw regular visitors from the two aggregators listing Keepa, but deliberately ambiguous so as not, I hope, to draw undue attention from casual trolls or to stand out from more obviously inflammatory titles in a list of Google results. I may be naive in hoping that I don’t provide ammunition to troublemakers; this post is directed only to regular readers who have been exploring our heritage along with me, who recognize that the way things are isn’t necessarily the way they used to be or should have been, but who value the struggles and efforts (and occasional failures) of our ancestors to live as God directed them to live.
And I’m stalling.
This post contains material that is the flip side of the 1935 Sunday School lesson posted recently which offered hope and a Christian solution to the difficulties between peoples, chiefly between races. That lesson did not address Mormonism in particular, including the priesthood restriction and associated explanatory teachings, but it was a hopeful and helpful guide to “getting along” – or it would have been, had it been followed.
The teachings of that lesson were not always those that were explicitly taught by the Church, nor did that lesson reflect the attitudes and assumptions of chiefly Caucasian Latter-day Saints toward men and women of other races, particularly toward blacks, and particularly toward the black body (in contrast to religious theory about race).
Sometimes our expressions were intended to be benign and sweet, but in fact were patronizing and have become entirely offensive with the passage of time, as with this poem appearing in the Juvenile Instructor in 1920:
Little Nigger Baby
By Frank Steele
Little nigger baby with your curly, kinky hair,
And a pair of eyes alookin’ sad and deep;
Two tiny hands aclunchin’ at your mammy’s lovin’ breast,
And she rocks her little sugar babe to sleep.
Little nigger baby, just arrived from heaven above,
My heart is full of tenderness for you;
Beneath that dusky skin a guileless heart I see
Alovin’ just like white folks’ babies do.
Little nigger baby, rest on your mammy’s breast,
And angels will watch over while you sleep;
The smallest sparrow never falls unseen by Jesus kind,
And his spirit ever hovers near His sheep.
Little nigger baby, you’re asleep now, and I see
That lovin’ mammy fix you snug and warm;
And a kiss she gives her honey and a prayer she breathes to God
And her baby sleeps on sweetly till the morn.
I have here on my desk accounts of missionary activities and ward entertainments, some as recent as the ‘50s, illustrated with photographs of white members made up in blackface to participate in minstrel shows (I do not have scans ready or I would insert them here). No doubt intended to be humorous and even cultural rather than deliberately hurtful, such entertainments mocking the bodies of blacks, and the casual way in which such pictures were printed in Church publications, betray at the very least a careless, callous attitude toward race among Church members – an attitude so pervasive that artist Arnold Friberg – a child who may never even have seen a black man in real life – could draw this cartoon and have it published in an issue of the 1926 Juvenile Instructor.
Cartoons like this can be matched with numerous “Funny Bones” jokes from the same era. We’ve discussed the prevalence of ethnic humor in Keepa’s regular Saturday posts reprinting jokes from old Church magazines – but the ethnic humor we’ve seen has been generally limited to Europeans (chiefly Italians, Scots, and Irish). I have either excluded, or rewritten (with a notice of such rewriting) the very frequent jokes at the expense of blacks. Such jokes are usually written in supposedly black dialect, and always, always, always depend for their humor on the stereotype that black men were lazy thieves, raiding the watermelon patches and chicken coops of their more law-abiding neighbors.
That stereotype, you may remember, was the basis for a Beneficial Insurance ad previously featured on Keepa, where a black man who has stolen two watermelons encounters a chicken ripe for the stealing. He’ll regret either of his choices (abandoning the chicken to keep both melons, or dropping a melon to catch the chicken), but you will never regret your decision to go with Beneficial.
Some Mormon references to the black body were, of course, not intended to be comical but were rather deliberately intended to shock and disgust. One of the most egregious examples of this to have come to my notice was an article in the Young Woman’s Journal in 1912, explaining the hygienic need for “The Individual Sacrament Cup” over the previously used “common cup” shared by all members of the congregation. You can read the entire article here (p. 216), but the relevant portion is quoted below.
The Individual Sacrament Cup
By Dr. David L. McDonald
Entering the city of Washington, D.C. a few years ago, we hastened to a public fountain to quench our thirst – it was one where the cup is chained to the post. Just as we reached it we saw a negro place his thick lips over one side of the cup, and as we waited we looked at the cup and then at him and wondered if we wanted a drink out of that cup. We were reminded that there were one hundred thousand negroes in the city of Washington. We thought it probable that dozens of negroes had drunk from that cup. We concluded that to drink from it would mean to take material undesired and not bargained for.
On continuing our journey to Baltimore, we realized that some two hundred thousand negroes share the public fountain cup with their white brethren. This took away our desire of quenching our thirst from those public cups. We learned later that the negro per se is harmless, but the tubercle germs in a large percentage of their mouths are deadly to the one who drinks after them. These germs are far too small to be seen by the naked eye, unless grouped into colonies of millions. It is this tiny world of deadly germ life that is to be dreaded and avoided, and these germs find green pasture in the mouths of the sick, be they black or white – the time and nature of the illness depending on the variety of the invading term.
The article goes on to discuss germ theory and how the common sacrament cup can pass along germs, and how much better it will be for all Latter-day Saints to adopt the system of individual sacrament cups recently invented by the author, which can be easily sterilized for reuse. The article never again refers to blacks or suggests that black men were members of any Mormon congregation and may have drunk from the common sacrament cup before it reached you. The article would have been just as effective, just as accurate in its explanation of how bacteria may be passed from person to person, without its opening paragraphs. Those paragraphs have no purpose other than arousing a sense of horror and disgust beyond distaste for germs themselves.
And finally, Church publications have, from time to time, included lessons on the presumed genealogy of the various races, justifying the pre-1978 exclusion of blacks from the ranks of the priesthood, and the consequences to the descendants of a Latter-day Saint who might marry a black man or woman. I am presenting only one such lesson here – one by no less a scholar than B.H. Roberts, whose purpose was to provide material to prospective missionaries who would be called on to teach the principles of the Mormon gospel and to debate with ministers and others in the mission field. In some ways, this lesson is atypical of related lessons in outdated manuals: Roberts cites the verses from Moses and Abraham most commonly used as justification for old Mormon ideas regarding black genealogy, in connection with his lesson outline on “The Law of the Lord as Affecting the Negro Race Problem.” He does not, however, address a single word to that issue, but merely directs his readers “From All the Foregoing Deduce the Law of God in the Question.”
Rather than explicating Mormon thought, Roberts’ sole purpose, as evidenced from the “special text” and the explanatory notes (chiefly no. 4), is to condemn interracial marriage. The entire racial lesson is presented here so that you don’t assume that missing issues are covered. (I have omitted two irrelevant sections from the end of the lesson on writing missionary speeches and “the singularity of Joseph Smith’s Vision of God,” but every word regarding race is presented here.)
The Seventy’s Course in Theology
Outline History of the Seventy
A Survey of the Books of Holy Scripture
Compiled and Edited by
Elder B.H. Roberts
Of the First Council of the Seventy
The Deseret News
Salt Lake City
Scripture Reading Exercise.
THE LAW OF THE LORD IN ANCIENT AND MODERN REVELATION
APPLIED TO THE AMERICAN NEGRO RACE PROBLEM
I. The American Negro Race Problem.
1. Advent of the Negro Race in America.
2. Slavery and the Abolition of It.
3. Political Enfranchisement of the Black Race – Its Wisdom or Unwisdom.
4. Present Status of the Negro Race Problem.
REFERENCES. History of the United States by Alexander Stephens, pp. 36, 88, 366. Same Author’s “War Between the States. Old Virginia and her Neighbors (John Fiske). Vol. I, p. 18, 19, Vol. II. pp. 7, 29, 41, 172-222, 228-234, 235-6.
Emancipation Proclamation (Abraham Lincoln). War Between the States Vol. II, Appendix to Papers and Messages of the Presidents’ Vol.
For Present Status of the Question see “The Color Line.” With Benjamin Smith. McClure Phillips & Co., N.Y.
II. The Law of the Lord as Affecting the Negro Race Problem.
1. The Progenitor of the Race.
2. The Manner of Its Preservation through the Flood.
3. The Curse Put Upon It by Noah.
4. In What Respects a Forbidden Race.
5. From All the Foregoing Deduce the Law of God in the Question.
REFERENCES. Book of Moses – Pearl of Great Price, Chap. v, verses 5-8, 22; Chap. viii, verses -8, 2 [sic]; Chap. viii, 12-15. Gen. ix: 18-27.
Book of Abraham. Chap 1: 9-11, 21-28. Compare Gen. ix: 18-27; also “The book of Abraham – A Divine and Ancient Record.” (Reynolds), p. 6, 7. Smith’s Old Testament History, Chap. iii.
SPECIAL TEXT: “Let not man join together what God hath put asunder.” – “The Color Line,” chap. 1.
1. Introduction of African Slavery into America: “Some time anterior to this period (i.e., 1620 A.D.) the Spaniards and Portuguese had bought from the chiefs on the coast of Africa negro captives, and had carried them to other parts of the world, especially to South America and the West Indies, and had sold them as slaves. This traffic they had continued without intermission, and in the year 1620 a Dutch vessel brought to Jamestown twenty of these unfortunate beings and sold them to the colonists of Virginia. This was the introduction of African slavery in the British American colonies, which has been the source of so much subsequent trouble, as we shall see. By the close of the year 1620 the population of the colony amounted to nearly two thousand. Upon the subject of the introduction of African slavery in Virginia, and afterwards in all the other British colonies, out of which so much trouble and strife subsequently arose, it is quite proper here to state that a majority of the colonists at Jamestown were very much opposed to this introduction in their community of these supposed descendants of Ham as “bondsmen and bondswomen” for life. Their opposition arose, however, perhaps more from considerations looking to the best interests and future welfare of the colony, in its progress in moral and material development, than from any feelings of humanity towards the unfortunate victims of this species of commerce. The African slave trade was at that time not only tolerated by all civilized nations, but actively engaged in for profit by many of the most distinguished Christian monarchs.” (Stephens’ History of the United States, p. 36.)
2. The First American Slave Ship: “In 1636 was built at Marblehead, in Massachusetts, the first American slave-ship; it was called the Desire, and was intended for the African slave-trade, in which most of the European nations were then engaged directly or indirectly. The first cargo of African slaves brought into Massachusetts was by the Desire, on the 20th of May, 1638. Many of the most prominent men purchased slaves out of this cargo; so that Massachusetts was a few years only behind Virginia in the introduction within the English settlements on this continent of this unfortunate race of slaves.” (History of the United States, Stephens, p. 88.)
3. The Beginning of Abolition: “On the 12th of February 7, 1790, a petition, invoking the Federal authorities to adopt measures with a view to the ultimate abolition of African slavery, as it then existed in the respective States, was sent to Congress, headed by Dr. Franklin, who had been a very distinguished, though not a very active leader, owing to his age, in the ranks of the “Nationals,” in the Philadelphia convention. There were then in the United States 697,897 negro slaves. They had been introduced into all the States, as we have seen, but most of them were at this time in the southern States. This movement was looked upon with alarm everywhere by the true friends of the federal system, as it invoked the exercise of powers not delegated by the States to Congress. After a thorough discussion on the 23rd of March, 1790, in the house of Representatives, the question was quieted for the time by the passage of a resolution “That Congress have no authority to interfere in the emancipation of slaves, or in the treatment of them within any of the States; it remaining with the several States alone to provide any regulations therein, which humanity and true policy may require.” (History of the United States, Stephens, p. 367.) The act of emancipation did not come until 1863, in the midst of the Civil war, and then it was regarded merely as a war measure.
4. The Race Question as Affecting the Southern States Perhaps the most convincing book in justification of the South in denying to the negro race social equality with the white race is the one written by William Benjamin Smith, entitled “The Color Line, A Brief in Behalf of the Unborn,” from which the following is a quotation:
Here, then, is laid bare the nerve of the whole matter: is the south justified in this absolute denial of social equality to the negro, no matter what his virtues or abilities or accomplishments?
We affirm, then, that the south is entirely right in thus keeping open at all times, at all hazards, and at all sacrifices an impassible social chasm between black and white. This she must do in behalf of her blood, her essence, of the stock of her Caucasian race. To the writer the correctness of this thesis seems as clear as the sun – so evident as almost to forestall argument; nor can he quite comprehend the frame of mind that can seriously dispute it. But let us look at it closely. Is there any doubt whatever as to the alternative? If we sit with negroes at our tables, if we entertain them as our guests and social equals, if we disregard the color line in all other relations, is it possible to maintain it fixedly in the sexual relation, in the marriage of our sons and daughters, in the propagation of our species? Unquestionably, No! it is certain as the rising of tomorrow’s sun, that, once the middle wall of social partition is broken down, the mingling of the tides of life would begin instantly and proceed steadily. Of course, it would be gradual, but none the less sure, none the less irresistible. It would make itself felt at first most strongly in the lower strata of the white population; but it would soon invade the middle and menace insidiously the very uppermost. Many bright mulattoes would ambitiously woo, and not a few would win, well-bred women disappointed in love or goaded by impulse or weary of the stern struggle for existence. As a race, the Southern Caucasian would be irrevocably doomed. For no possible check could be given to this process once established. Remove the barrier between two streams flowing side by side – immediately they begin to mingle their molecules; in vain you attempt to replace it. * * * * The moment the bar of absolute separation is thrown down in the South, that moment the bloom of her spirit is blighted forever, the promise of her destiny is annulled, the proud fabric of her future slips into dust and ashes. No other conceivable disaster that might befall the South could, for an instant, compare with such miscegenation within her borders. Flood and fire, fever and famine and the sword – even ignorance, indolence, and carpet-baggery – she may endure and conquer while her blood remains pure; but once taint the well-spring of her life, and all is lost – even honor itself. It is this immediate jewel of her soul that the South watches with such a dragon eye, that she guards with more than vestal vigilance, with a circle of perpetual fire. The blood thereof is the life thereof; he who would defile it would stab her in her heart of hearts, and she springs to repulse him with the fiercest instinct of self-preservation. It may not be that she is distinctly conscious of the immeasurable interests at stake or of the real grounds of her roused antagonism; but the instinct itself is none the less just and true and the natural bulwark of her life.
At this point we hear some one exclaim, “Not so fast! To sit at table, to mingle freely in society with certain persons, does not imply you would marry them.” Certainly not, in every case. We may recognize socially those whom we personally abhor. This matters not, however; for wherever social commingling is admitted, there the possibility of intermarriage must be also admitted. It becomes a mere question of personal preference, of like and dislike. Now, there is no accounting for tastes. It is ridiculous to suppose that no negroes would prove attractive to any white. The possible would become actual – as certainly as you will throw double-double sixes [in dice], if only you keep on throwing. To be sure, where the number of negroes is almost vanishingly small, as in the north and in Europe, there the chances of such mesalliances are proportionally divided; some may even count them negligible. But in the South, where in many districts the black outnumbers the white, they would be multiplied immensely, and crosses would follow with increasing frequency. * * * But some may deny that the mongrelization of the Southern people would offend the race notion – would corrupt or degrade the southern stock of humanity. if so, then such a one has yet to learn the largest-writ lessons of history and the most impressive doctrines of biological science. That the negro is markedly inferior to the Caucasian is proved both craniologically and by six thousand years of planet-wide experimentation; and that the commingling of inferior with superior must lower the higher is just as certain as that the half-sum of two and six is only four.
I’m pretty sure I can trust regular commenters to keep remarks within bounds; if you are not a regular commenter, however, please read our guidelines on the “About” page (see link near the top of the sidebar), and be aware that I may moderate with a heavier hand than usual, if necessary.