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What did Joseph Smith teach about Black people’s roles and responsibilities in the church?

Todd Noall

Todd Noall

Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Kevin Prince

Kevin Prince

Source Expert

Kevin Prince serves as the Source Authority at Mormonism Explained. Mr. Prince is a religious scholar as well as a technology industry CEO and entrepreneur.

Updated July 3, 2024

There is no record that Joseph Smith taught or instituted any policies regarding Black members of the Mormon Church. During the first two decades of the Mormon Church, there weren’t any policies prohibiting black members of the church from receiving the priesthood or participating in temple ordinances, like the Mormon priesthood ban. Joseph Smith believed that Black people were descendants of Canaan, he interpreted this to mean that God cursed the sons of Canaan with slavery. However, Smith did not think that slavery was right. In fact, when he ran for president, part of his platform was the emancipation of all slaves. 

Smith did not teach that the curse of Canaan restricted Black people from the priesthood. At least two Black men were ordained to the priesthood. These men were Elijah Able and Q. Walker Lewis. Records also show that Able participated in temple ordinances in Kirtland. He participated in a washing and anointing ordinance.

  • References
    1.  W. Paul Reeve, Let’s Talk About Race and the Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Comapny, 2023), 80-81.