A Mormon Image: Elijah Abel

Elijah Abel is generally thought to be the first black Mormon. (Click on the picture to the right for a larger image.) He was most likely born into slavery and escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad. In 1832 he was baptized by Ezekial Roberts. In 1836 he was ordained an elder, most likely by Joseph Smith. He was later ordained a Seventy and during the course of his life he served at least three proselyting missions. He came west with the Saints, settling in Salt Lake City, where he worked on the Salt Lake Temple as a carpenter, although Brigham Young refused to allow Elijah to recieve his temple endowment. He died in 1884. Both his son and grandson were ordained Elders.

For more information on Elijah Abel and other black Latter-day Saints, check out www.blacklds.org.

16 comments for “A Mormon Image: Elijah Abel

  1. Nate, Thanks for sharing this. While exploring the “Black Mormons” site, I found a reference to the Genesis Group, which is described as follows: “The Genesis Group is an official organization of the Church which was established in 1971 to meet the unique needs of its African-American members.” http://www.blacklds.org/news.html#Genesis

    Is this group widely known among members of the Church? This is my first exposure to it, even though I have lived in a couple of wards with a substantial African-American population. What do they do?

  2. I know that my dad worked with the Genesis group as a High Councilor in the Liberty Stake in SLC during the 1970s. (The years just before the revelation on the Priesthood.) I don’t know if it extended beyond SLC.

  3. Check out our sidebar and you can find the link to the Genesis Group’s website, which contains the Group’s interesting history and a summary of what they do. It certainly extends past Salt Lake, as many here in Oakland are involved (the past president, Darius Gray, lives in my stake). I also remember them sponsoring a few events when I lived in New York City.

  4. I would say that the group is not widely-known among members but is becoming more so.

    The Salt Lake branch is the most active, the LA-area one has really taken off in the past 3-4 years, and here in the Bay Area [Oakland to be exact], we’re just starting to re-launch our branch [I believe that there was a Genesis group her in the 80s but it fizzled out in the 90s].

    The Genesis groups work closely with the Public Affairs Committees of the Church. They generally are involved in four main activities:

    1. Promoting the Church’s geneological resources for African Americans through events, workshops, exhibits, etc.

    2. Encouraging community service in underserved communities (esp. black neighborhoods, but in LA their scope has really expanded to include other ethnic minorities).

    3. Reach out to the black community by forming relationships with local black churches. This is not an easy thing to do as we’re seen as a ‘white’ church. This is done by members of the Church serving on ecumenical councils, visits to black church leaders, media placements with the black press, and joint service projects. Oakland has a long ways to go with this, but one of the things we’ve done is lent out our Interstake Center (which has a large meeting hall with a stage and a pipe organ) for black community events — a funeral for a prominent Gospel musician, for example. And the Bay Area Gospel Music Awards will be held here later this spring.

    4. Strengthen black members and educate white members about the issues facing black Mormons. This is done most often through monthly meetings/firesides. There are often guest speakers. The music is sung a lot more soulfully. And sometimes there are meetings where rank-and-file members discuss their experiences, etc. White members are welcome at Genesis events and while I haven’t been able to attend the three that we’ve had so far, I have heard very positive comments from white members about them.

    Beyond Oakland, LA and Salt Lake, I believe that there is a Genesis chapter in Chicago. Beyonod that, I don’t know. From what I can tell, the Church supports the Genesis group wholeheartedly, but is being cautious about its growth.

  5. Okay folks, help me out. I acknowledge almost complete ingorance on this subject. If the first black member of the church was baptised in something like 1836, was ordained an elder and served three missions, exactly how and when did black members lose the opportunity to hold the priesthood? Anyone? Anyone? I’m at a complete loss.

  6. Thom,

    The policy of priesthood denial appears to have been initiated under Brigham Young. Young insinuated during his ministry that everything he ever said he learned from Joseph Smith, but there isn’t any historical evidence to back this up with respect to the priesthood denial. And of course, the existence of Elijah Abel certainly makes problematic any attempts to date the policy any earlier than Young.

    Given the inordinate preoccupation with “gay issues” that have characterized T&S of late, maybe it’s time to beat the “Blacks and the Priesthood” issue to death. Anyone? This issue really merits a new thread all its own, so I’ll abstain from spilling my guts for the time being.

    Aaron B

  7. I don’t think that there was a firm policy until well after the death of Brigham Young. In part I think that this was because there weren’t all that many black members and things got decided on an ad hoc (and therefore inconsistent basis). I don’t think things got formalized until after the turn of the century.

  8. The Genesis Group is known by about 3% of active LDS. It has about 4000 Members most of whom are semi-active in it. Salt Lake and Denver and Houston groups are active. Others are defunct or semi-active; like Oakland and Atlanta. Here is their websites:

    Why did the Church forbid blacks from the priesthood (and temple) for 150 years? Here is why:

  9. For what its worth, it appears to me that the Oakland Genesis group is neither defunct nor semi-active. They sponsor events fairly regularly — I got a flier for an event at church yesterday.

  10. For what its worth, it appears to me that the Oakland Genesis group is neither defunct nor semi-active. They sponsor events fairly regularly – I got a flier for an event at church yesterday.
    Comment by Greg — 8/23/2004 : 7:51 pm

    About Oakland and the possibility of better days to come. Several years ago I was visiting my folks in East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area. It was stake conference so we attended at the Interstake Center in Oakland opposite the Oakland temple, just like I had done when I was a kid. A children’s choir drawn from Oakland & its suburbs provided the music. The kids were black, white, yellow, red and brown & many shades in between. They sang beautifully.

    Not to state it over-dramatically, but that children’s choir gave me a fairly stirring vision of what could be.

  11. Just a little bit of intellectual and moral decency, please ! It is a dark episode of the History of the Church. To deny black people the chance of being ordained can only being defined as RACIST. There is no social nor theological (it would be even worst !) justification to back this specific Church policy applied during those years. Any theological or doctrinal discussion over this issue is just sad and I would say rather embarrassing.
    From an inactive gay member of the Church dating a black guy.

  12. From one who often gets lost when we have more than one thread on the same topic (boy did I get confused with all the Nibley threads), what was the question?

    I appreciate the links. They will help me find a new exegis. Since whoever shot it down.

    I agree with you, Derren, it was racist. I do not equate being black with being homosexual. They are entirely different situations, although for you, perhaps the element of, crap, I can’t think of the word, discrimination, appears the same. Being black is not a moral issue. For many of us, being gay clearly is a painful moral issue which is an entirely different subject than the one we’re discussing here. I will write to you. heh, heh, heh. Those who know me are already composing their condolences to you. Not because I’m homophobic, but because I answer e-mails.

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