Black Latter-day Saint History on Display in the Church History Library

Contributed By Keith A. Erekson, Church History Library Director

  • 22 May 2018

A photo of the homestead of Green Flake in Union, Utah, circa 1910. Green Flake was a black member of Brigham Young’s 1847 vanguard pioneer company. Photo courtesy of the Church History Library.

The Church History Library is pleased to present historic documents from black Latter-day Saint history as we commemorate the 40th anniversary of President Spencer W. Kimball’s announcement that the priesthood could be conferred on “all worthy male members of the Church.”

One of the most significant events in modern Church history, the announcement provided opportunities to men and women of African descent throughout the world for priesthood ordination as well as for individual and family temple ordinances.

The exhibit features 16 historic documents, including the record of Elijah Able’s priesthood ordination, the handwritten copy of Jane Manning James’s autobiography, personal stories of conversion and testimony, and photographs of 19th-century pioneers and 20th-century Saints from the United States, Brazil, Ghana, and Nigeria. The exhibit also includes published copies of novels and autobiographies of black converts from Africa and the United States, a Mormon Tabernacle Choir member, and the first black General Authority.

A photograph of Jane Manning James, circa 1862–1873. Jane Manning James was an early black convert who lived with Joseph Smith and his family in Nauvoo and became one of the first African American women to enter Utah. Photo courtesy of the Church History Library.

A photograph of Elijah Able, circa 1862–1873. Elijah Able was an early black convert who received the priesthood, served missions, lived in Kirtland and Nauvoo, and migrated with the Saints to Utah. Photo courtesy of the Church History Library.

The documents will be placed on public display from May 21 through June 9 during the library’s normal hours of operation—Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours to 8 p.m. on Thursday evenings, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays.

Admission to the library and exhibit is free and open to the public.

Guests will be invited to leave their names and testimonies in special commemorative volumes that will be preserved in the library’s permanent collections as a record of this 40th anniversary celebration.

The Church History Library is the official repository for the Church’s archival, manuscript, and print collections and contains many records of the faith, sacrifice, and service of black Latter-day Saints from the 19th century to the present day.

We invite all to visit the exhibit and learn more about the rich history of blacks in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A complete list of the items on display is published on the library’s blog, “The Historical Record,” at churchhistorylibrary.org.