Mormon History Association Honors Darius Gray for Contributions to Mormon History

Contributed By By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 19 June 2014

Darius Gray responds after receiving a special citation from the Mormon History Association for outstanding contributions to Mormon history.  Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Article Highlights

  • Brother Gray joined the Church in 1964 during a time when African American Church members were few.
  • His most important achievement was his codirection of the Freedmen’s Bank Record Project, which yielded a treasure trove of documents covering four generations of African Americans.

At a time when many faithful Latter-day Saints of African lineage were patiently waiting for the day when the priesthood would be granted to all worthy men without regard for race or color, Darius A. Gray and two other men knelt in prayer prior to approaching the leadership of the Church.

The result was the formation in 1971 of Genesis, a support group for black Latter-day Saints. Brother Gray and his two colleagues, Ruffin Bridgeforth and Eugene Orr, were set apart by Church Apostles as the presidency of the group, with Brother Bridgeforth as president.

After the 1978 revelation on the priesthood (see Official Declaration 2 in the Doctrine and Covenants), Brother Bridgeforth was one of the first black men to receive the priesthood and the first to be ordained a high priest.

In 1997, after the death of Brother Bridgeforth, Brother Gray was set apart as Genesis president and held that position until 2003.

Now, Brother Gray has been honored by the Mormon History Association with a special citation for outstanding contributions to Mormon history.

Meeting in San Antonio for its 49th annual conference, the group presented the citation at its annual awards banquet on June 6.

“Contributions to history generally take one of two genres: writing history or being history,” said association executive director Ronald O. Barney in presenting the award. “Darius Aidan Gray is one of the very few personalities within the Latter-day Saint tradition who has achieved excellence in both genres.”

He recounted that Brother Gray joined the Church in 1964, “during a time when African American Church members were few and unappreciated.”

Darius Gray, left, embraces MHA executive director Ronald O. Barney after receiving a special citation for outstanding contributions to Mormon history. At far left, Richard E. Bennett, this year's association president, applauds. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Darius Gray responds after receiving a special citation from the Mormon History Association for outstanding contributions to Mormon history. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Darius Gray, center, displays the special citation given to him by Ronald O. Barney, right, executive director of the Mormon History Association. Richard E. Bennett, left, this year's association president, applauds. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

“In 2008 he coproduced and codirected with Margaret Blair Young the groundbreaking documentary Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons, which screened in a number of public television markets,” said Brother Barney.

With Sister Young as coauthor, he created the award-winning trilogy of novels about early black Mormon pioneers, Standing on the Promises, Brother Barney added.

“[Brother Gray] participated in the highly acclaimed PBS family history series Ancestors, produced by KBYU Television, and was involved in the KUED documentaries Utah’s African American Voices and Utah’s Freedom Riders,” Brother Barney said.

He added that Brother Gray also recently cohosted Questions and Ancestors, a nationally aired program on genealogy.

“Significantly, [Brother Gray] was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Award by the Utah NAACP, a recognition of his contribution to bridging the religious and racial divides in Utah,” he said.

“Unquestionably, his most important genealogical achievement was his codirection of the Freedmen’s Bank Record Project, an 11-year effort that yielded a treasure trove of long-inaccessible documents covering four generations of African Americans, the descendants of whom number over 10 million.”

Brother Barney remarked, “It is difficult to overstate the influence of Darius Aidan Gray on countless individuals within and outside the LDS Church. Few, if any, in the history of Mormonism have had a more profound impact on its efforts to eliminate racism and bigotry.”

After receiving the award before a standing ovation, Brother Gray responded, “It is something I will cherish, and I thank you. I thank you more, though, for your friendship, for your warmth. There aren’t words to convey how much that means.”

Two days later, as part of a post-conference tour, Brother Gray participated in a panel discussion on civil rights that took place at the President Lyndon B. Johnson Ranch. Coincidentally, that was 36 years to the day, June 8, 1978, when the revelation on the priesthood was announced.