Blacks in Mormonism: Blacks and Slavery in Missouri in the Early 1800s

Dr. Anthony Sweat

Dr. Anthony Sweat

Source Expert

Dr. Anthony Sweat, a leading expert on Mormon beliefs, brings diverse experiences to BYU’s religion department. He boasts a BFA in art and MEd/PhD in education, along with 13 years working with religious education programs. Now a prolific author on Latter-day Saint teachings, his research focuses on improving religious education methods. Dr. Sweat and his wife Cindy reside in Springville, Utah, with their seven children.

Fact Checked by Kevin Prince

The increased settlement of Church members in Missouri during the early 1830s caused concern among non-Mormon settlers who felt threatened by the growing numbers, political influence, economic impact, and cultural and religious differences of the Saints. Cultural factors relating to blacks in mormonism played a role as the Church openly embraced Native Americans as descendants of Israel and baptized individuals of color, challenging prevailing racial norms. However, the restrictive laws in Missouri posed challenges to the inclusion of free black individuals, prompting W. W. Phelps to address the issue in an article, emphasizing the Church’s autonomy from state laws and advocating for the gathering of people of color. 

Increased Tensions

The heading of Doctrine and Covenants Section 98 reads, “Increased settlement of church members in Missouri troubled some of other settlers who felt threatened by the Saints numbers, political and economic influence and cultural and religious differences.”

In July 1833, tensions escalated as a mob destroyed church property, targeted two members with tar and feathers, and demanded the expulsion of the Saints from Jackson County and their city of Zion (or, New Jerusalem). Economic, political, and religious factors played a role in what proceeded. 

Cultural Factors

Church members proclaimed that Native Americans were not a scourge on the land, that land belonged to them, and that they were children of Israel and members of the Covenant. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints openly baptized people of color and ordained blacks in mormonism to priesthood offices like Elijah Abel and Q. Walker Lewis. 

One of the main concerns regarding the topic relates to Churh’s progressive nature in race relations in the church. The common question is, “What if a black Latter-day Saint wants to gather in Zion? – Can they?” At the time, restrictive law in Missouri prohibited the residence of free black individuals in the state, posing challenges to equality. 

In response to the issue, W. W. Phelps wrote an article in the church’s newspaper, The Evening and Morning Star, in July of 1833. When these problems come to a head, he says, “to prevent any misunderstanding among the churches abroad respecting free people of color who may think of coming to the western boundaries of Missouri as members of the church, we quote the following clauses from the laws of Missouri.” 

He then cites Missouri Law Section Four which states, “no free Negro or mulatto other than a citizen of someone of the United States, meaning you’re a slave, shall come into or settle in this state under any pretext whatever.” W. Phelps then said, “wisdom would dictate great care among the branches of the Church of Christ on this subject, so long as we have no special rule in the Church as to people of color let pudence guide.” Phelps asserts that the laws of Missouri should not dictate the construction of the New Jerusalem in Zion, emphasizing the Church’s autonomy. He wants to include free people of color to gather with them, a proposition that faces opposition from the local Missourians.

The Missourians Response

The local Missourians respond to W.W. Phelp’s article in relation to the concept of blacks in mormonism with their own manifesto. They state, “we the undersigned citizens of Jackson County, believe that an important crisis is at hand as regards to our civil society in consequence of a pretended religious sect of people that have settled and are still settling in our county, styling themselves Mormon and intending, as we do, to rid our society peaceably if we can, forcibly, if we must and believing, as we do that the arm of the civil law does not afford us a guarantee, or at least a sufficient one, against the evils which are now inflicted upon us.” 

Furthermore, they express their intention to organize as a group, aiming for improved efficiency and effectiveness in achieving their objectives. They state, “to form ourselves we want to form ourselves into a company for the better and easier accomplishment of our purposes, a purpose which we deem it almost superfluous to say is justified by the law of nature.”  They firmly believe that these purposes align with the principles of natural law, although they acknowledge that it may contradict existing legal statutes. Their ultimate goal is to remove these individuals from the area.

In the late number of The Evening and Morning Star, by the leaders of the sect, there is an article inviting “free Negroes and mulattos” from other states to become Mormons and remove and settle among them. They go on to say that they think it’s their goal is to instigate black Latter-day Saints to rise up against Missourians as a whole. They go on to then say, they declare that God has given them this land and country, that sooner or later they must and will have possession of our lands for an inheritance. In section 101 of the Doctrine and Covenants, verses 6 and 7, it reads, “Behold, I say unto you, there were jarrings, and contentions, and envies, and strifes, and lustful, and covetous desires among them.” Meaning among the Latter-day Saints with each other.

By Dr. Anthony Sweat, Source Expert

Dr. Anthony Sweat serves as a leading authority on the topic of “Mormonism Explained” He holds a BFA in painting and drawing from the University of Utah and achieved his MEd and PhD in curriculum and instruction at Utah State University. Before assuming his role in the religion faculty at BYU, he accumulated thirteen years of experience working with Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. Dr. Sweat is a prolific author with numerous publications centered on the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His research primarily investigates the factors influencing effective religious education. Anthony and his spouse, Cindy, are proud parents to seven children and make Springville, Utah, their home.

Fact Checked by Mr. Kevin Prince, Source Expert

Kevin Prince is a religious scholar and host of the Gospel Learning Youtube channel. His channel has garnered over 41,000 subscribers and accumulated over 4.5 million views. Mr. Prince also created the Gospel Learning App, a reliable platform where individuals seeking truth can access trustworthy answers to religious questions from top educators worldwide.

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