The date was 9 June 1978, and the world had just heard President Spencer W. Kimball announce that a new revelation had been received.
“Witnessing the faithfulness of those from whom the priesthood has been withheld, we have pleaded long and earnestly in behalf of these, our faithful brethren, spending many hours in the upper room of the temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance.
“He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood. … Accordingly, all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color. …
“We declare with soberness that the Lord has now made known His will for the blessing of all His children throughout the earth who will hearken to the voice of His authorized servants, and prepare themselves to receive every blessing of the gospel.” (Ensign, July 1978, p. 75.)
The announcement was an exciting event for members of the Church throughout the world. This was certainly true for those of us living in Albany, Georgia. Our minds raced with excitement as we anticipated the great effect the reaction would have in our lives and in our ward. Our thoughts flashed to the New Testament account of Cornelius, a righteous Gentile who was prepared to receive the gospel and then was instructed by an angel to visit the Apostle Peter:
“And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him.
“But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.
“And as he talked with him he went in, and found many that were come together.
“And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.
“Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me?” …
Cornelius replied: “Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.
“Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
“But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” (Acts 10:25–29, 33–35.)
Like Peter, the bishops and branch presidents in our area were quick to respond to the revelation of the Lord. There was excitement and power in their words that first Sunday after President Kimball’s announcement, as local Church units officially received notification of the revelation through the priesthood channels and spread the news to their congregations. The situation was clear to us all after that Sunday. The Lord had spoken; now it was up to the Church organization and membership to respond.
The reaction of different Church members varied, as one might expect. Some called the bishop and expressed concern. Others asked questions. Generally, however, they wanted to accept the will of the Lord and do what was right. A member of the high council summed up the attitudes of many when he said, “I have lived in the South all of my life. I’ve held prejudices. Now the Prophet and the Lord have asked me to change my views and practices. I’ll certainly go along with it, support it, and sustain it.” He spent his family home evening talking with his family about how they could follow the intent of the Lord’s manifestation.
Two weeks later things began to happen—The meetinghouse for the Albany, Georgia, First and Second Wards was dedicated. Among the many nonmembers attending the dedicatory services was Alice Moultrie, a friend from work who had responded to our invitation to attend.
“It was a wonderful meeting,” Alice reflected the next day at work. “The people were so friendly. Even though I was just about the only black person there, I felt right at home. I feel something drawing me there.”
That something, of course, was the Holy Ghost. In the ensuing weeks as Alice was taught by the missionaries and the members, she received many powerful manifestations from the Holy Spirit regarding the truthfulness of the gospel.
She accepted the baptismal challenge and the day finally came when she was led by the hand into the waters of baptism. As she took her place in the baptismal font, her eyes grew wide and she exclaimed softly, “So this is the baptismal font!” The meaning of her comment was not understood by others until after the meeting had concluded.
“I had seen that font before in a type of vision,” she shared with us later. “I saw myself in the water and every other detail of the font’s interior exactly as it is. When I stood in the water and looked up, I realized the Lord had shown me my baptism before it happened.”
Soon after her baptism Alice was called to be the secretary of the ward Sunday School organization. More recently, because of her warm spirit and her burning testimony, she has been called to be a stake missionary.
Although she was the first black convert in our ward, she did not have the distinction very long of being the only black member. In the twelve months following Alice’s baptism in late August of 1978, some forty black brothers and sisters were baptized in the Albany area—and their numbers have continued to grow. A heavy outpouring of the Spirit has accompanied each conversion. Here are some examples:
1. Herbert and Mildred Samuels were baptized just a few weeks after Alice Moultrie. The first black elder to be ordained in the Albany First Ward, he became a dynamic stake missionary with an intense love for others. Sister Samuels is a counselor in the Primary and adds much to the ward with her gifted soprano voice. Their temple marriage took on added significance when Brother Samuels died in a tragic car accident in the summer of 1980.
2. Mark and Ada Clark’s conversion to the Church was especially significant to us since he, like Alice Moultrie, was a colleague at work. He had impressed us for some time as being an “unbaptized Mormon,” but procrastination had prevented us from asking him the golden questions. Success often creates boldness, however; and in the light of the missionary success our ward was having, the approach to Mark was rather blunt. “Mark, you need to learn more about the Mormon church!” Because of the friendship we shared he was not offended, and he agreed to meet with one of us in our home to receive the missionary discussions.
Within two weeks, it was apparent Mark and Ada would be baptized. They were doing all the right things. Their questions in the discussion were thoughtful and spirited. They prayed often about the message of the gospel. They studied the Book of Mormon and the pamphlets they received and struggled until they understood what they had read.
After meeting with them and the missionaries for the third discussion, we received a strong impression that 11 January 1979 (the date they had been preparing for since the first meeting) was indeed to be the night of their baptism. When Satan began placing obstacles in the Clarks’ path that final week, it would have been easy to have given in to their request to “hold off on the baptism for a little while.” But the Spirit prompted us to hold firm, and so we did.
We both went to visit with Mark just two hours before his scheduled baptism to bear our witness and to answer his questions. The Spirit was very strong as we all knelt to pray. Following prayer, Mark rose to his feet and asked simply, “What do we need to bring for tonight?” Later that evening he and his wife were baptized. Subsequently they, too, have been sealed in the temple. Mark is presently elders quorum president in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
3. Jim and Lawanda Coston joined the Church after being friendshipped and after receiving the discussions in the home of a recent convert in the ward. After baptism, Jim commented that he had lost the desire to engage in his usual social activities. His family had taken on added significance and he desired to spend the majority of his time with them.
In time, Jim was called to be a counselor in the elders quorum presidency, and Lawanda was called to serve with the Young Women. Then, early this year, Jim was presented to be one of the counselors in the bishopric.
Such outpourings of the Spirit have brought new excitement to the Church in the Albany area, and our love for one another has increased. One member, who had admitted earlier that he was finding it difficult to accept the impact of the revelation, remarked how the Spirit had influenced him while helping the missionaries teach a black family. “I felt the Spirit very strongly,” he said. “My eyes were opened. I know now how badly the Lord wants all of his children to be a part of his Church.” His words had a familiar ring of the Apostle Peter after teaching Cornelius’s household:
“While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.
“And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.
“For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,
“Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?” (Acts 10:44–47.)
As time progressed and black brothers and sisters have entered the Church, we have learned that an increased capacity to love does not come about by sermons from the pulpit or through directives in a priesthood quorum. It comes as a result of serving together, in such activities as pulling corn on the welfare farm, jointly teaching with the missionaries, sacrificing together to make a Church activity just a bit better, or just being friends.
The Saints in Albany have experienced something akin to what Peter and Cornelius experienced, and we feel strongly that our latter-day prophet is repeating the message found in the tenth chapter of Acts [Acts 10], namely:
1. There are many righteous persons on the face of the earth who have not had the gospel preached to them.
2. Many such individuals have been spiritually prepared, or are being spiritually prepared, for the messengers who will bring the glad tidings of the restoration of the gospel.
3. A revelation from God has come to the Lord’s anointed spokesman declaring that the fulness of the gospel should now be taken to people who previously (according to the Lord’s timetable) had not been included in full proselyting activities.
4. Members of the Church must overcome any prejudices and cultural patterns we might have in order to extend a true hand of friendship and fellowship to all individuals of all races, cultures, and tongues.
5. Rapid growth, far greater than that seen in past years, will accompany the Church as we follow the will of the Lord.
Because of our experiences in Georgia, we have felt the Spirit of the Lord in abundance. The formula is sweet but well known: in inviting our brothers and sisters to join us in the gospel fold, we’ve found ourselves entering anew.
David Paul Hanna (a counselor in the Georgia Atlanta Mission presidency at the time this article was written) is now an organization specialist in West Germany, where he is a counselor in the Bonn Branch presidency, Dusseldorf Germany Stake.