Symposium Honors Alexander Doniphan, Hero in Early Church History

Contributed By Cindy McDavitt, Church News contributor

  • 22 November 2016

General Robert Arter, retired, presents the Alexander W. Doniphan Community Service and Leadership Award to Susan Easton Black. Observing is John Dillingham.  Photo courtesy of Liberty Missouri Stake.

Article Highlights

  • Susan Easton Black was awarded the 2016 Alexander W. Doniphan Award.
  • General Doniphan is remembered as a war hero and a leader.
  • Sister Black has received numerous awards for her research and writing.


“An orator, jurist, statesman, soldier, and a Christian … a lawyer for over 50 years and a life without reproach,” reads in part the inscription on a gravesite monument dedicated to revered Missourian Alexander W. Doniphan. On October 22, members of the community in Liberty, Missouri, gathered at a symposium and award banquet to remember and honor the life of Doniphan.

Susan Easton Black, emeritus professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University, was awarded the 2016 Alexander W. Doniphan Community Service and Leadership Award at a banquet held later that evening.

Symposium attendees assembled beneath the stained glass windows in the John Gano Memorial Chapel on the campus of William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri. Honored speakers included Alexander L. Baugh, BYU professor of Church history and doctrine, who delivered a life sketch of both Alexander Doniphan and Lilburn W. Boggs, the governor infamously remembered for his issuance of the “extermination order” that sought to rid Missouri of its Mormon residents by force.

Though Doniphan has been gone for more than 100 years, his name is often on the lips of the communities in which he served, as both a local school and highway bear his name.

General Doniphan is remembered as a war hero and a leader in statesmanship, business, and education. However, it was his refusal to carry out a direct order by General Samuel Lucas to execute Joseph Smith and other prisoners that has endeared him to members of the Church. Doniphan, a bold defense lawyer only 30 years old at the time, replied, “It is cold-blooded murder. I will not obey your order … ; and if you execute these men, I will hold you responsible before an earthly tribunal, so help me God.”

Guests of the symposium sat merely a half mile away from the historic Liberty Jail as Dr. Black presented on the incarceration of Joseph Smith at that prison. Her remarks focused on the five-day period between March 20 and March 25, 1839. It was during this time that Joseph dictated an epistle, portions of which were later canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants.

The final presenter, Jeremiah J. Morgan, general counsel to the Missouri Supreme Court and president of the Liberty Missouri Stake, spoke to symposium attendants about religious freedom in the current age. He said Alexander Doniphan was “an example for today.” Doniphan, ever a supporter of religious freedom, used the legal and legislative system and his personal influence to stand up for the rights of persons of other faiths.

At a banquet after the symposium, the Alexander W. Doniphan Community Service and Leadership Foundation bestowed its namesake award to Sister Black for her achievements in education.

The foundation recognizes the honoree as one who exemplifies General Doniphan’s outstanding characteristics. The award has been presented 10 times since its inception in 2002.

Sister Black has been the recipient of numerous academic awards for her research and writing. She has authored, edited, and compiled over 120 books and almost 400 articles.

For nearly 40 years, Sister Black taught hundreds of students about the influence of Missouri on Joseph Smith and early Latter-day Saints.

Left to right: Clint Patterson, chair of the Alexander Doniphan Community Service and Leadership Foundation, and past recipients General Robert Arter, retired; John Dillingham; Ray Brock; and Dr. Christian Sizemore pose with Dr. Susan Easton Black after she received the Doniphan Award. Dr. Sizemore was part of the color guard from the Sons of the American Revolution, who presented the colors. Photo courtesy of the Liberty Missouri Stake.