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What restrictions did Blacks have in the Mormon 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

During Joseph Smith’s ministry, there was no Mormon priesthood ban. Black men and women were able to join the Church. It doesn’t appear that there were any restrictions on what Black members of the church could do to participate. Many Black people were baptized. The first Black individual to be baptized a member of the Mormon Church was Elijah Able. He was taught by Ezekial Roberts and was baptized in Ohio when he was 22 years old. 

Before Able, a free Black man named Peter participated in Mormon worship services, but there is no record of him being baptized. Another man named Joseph T. Ball was baptized into the church. Records show that Ball’s father was Black, however, census records show that Ball himself was considered white. 

There were at least two Black members who were ordained to the priesthood: Elijah Able, and Q. Walker Lewis. Elijah Able also participated in various temple ordinances. Able received a washing and anointing ordinance in Kirtland in 1836. Able also participated in baptisms for the dead in Nauvoo, Illinois. The LDS priesthood ban would take effect a few decades later. 

When members of the church began moving to Missouri in 1831, Missouri was a state that allowed slavery. Church members in Missouri experienced mob violence. One major reason that the Missourians treated Mormons with violence was the Missourians’ concern that free Blacks in Mormonism would come to Missouri and incite their slaves to rebellion. This would ruin the so-called contentment of their slaves who would begin intermarrying with the whites. Because of the mob violence, Mormon missionaries in the South were instructed not to proselyte slaves, unless they had permission from their masters. To counter various claims that Latter-day Saints were abolitionists (a group viewed as extremists at the time) the church newspaper editors published some newspaper articles critical of abolitionism.

Eventually, Missouri’s Governor, Lilburn Boggs, signed an extermination order forcing Mormons to leave the state or be executed. So, members of the Mormon Church were forced to leave Missouri and resettle in Illinois. While in Illinois, Smith appealed to the president of the United States for reparations for their land and property, which they were forced to abandon in Missouri. Smith and the members of the Mormon Church were denied reparations. After this, Smith decided to run for president. Part of his running platform was a plan for the emancipation of all slaves.