Paul Reeve, a professor of history at the University of Utah, has developed a new website that details the history of African Americans members of the Church of Latter-day Saints. The digital history database – Century of Black Mormons – documents Black participation in the church between 1830 and 1930.
Other than two early Black members of the priesthood, African Americans were prohibited from becoming members of the lay priesthood in the church until 1978. This excluded African Americans from leadership roles in the church and prevented them from performing many of the churches rituals.
But there were Black Mormons from the early days of the church. The first documented Black person to join the church was Black Pete, a former slave who was baptized in 1830, when the church was less than a year old. Researchers have identified about 200 African American members of the church during the nineteenth century. Some were slaves.
Professor Reeve stated that “visitors to the database will be surprised at the previously unknown stories they find as well as the diversity of geographic locations where Black Saints converted. I hope the information in the database will help scholars of religion and lay people alike begin to understand what it meant to be twice marginalized — a member of a minority race within a suspect minority religion.”