Joseph Smith reminds me of a chameleon, especially regarding his beliefs about slavery and black people. I wonder if, like a chameleon, he adapted his dogma to what most benefited himself and the church.
Brigham Young believed slavery was an institution put in place by God as punishment for bad behavior by black descendants of Cain. It was their destiny to live lives of servitude. Young felt it was blasphemous to fight against it. God would remove the curse and end slavery when righteousness prevailed.
Mormons entered Utah with little regard for the indigenous people already living there. It didn’t take them long to begin participating in the purchase of Native people to add to their labor force. Mormons believed it was better to have them live as an enslaved or indentured person among the Mormons rather than a free life of what they perceived was savagery and degradation with their own people.
Although I attended church services every Sunday and seminary religious classes during the week, I never learned about Mormonism and slavery or incredible people like Biddy Mason until recently.
Until that changes and every Mormon knows Biddy Mason’s story and who she was, despite the church, they are not doing nearly enough, and for that, they should feel eternal shame.
All these years later, Mormons are still proud of their rescue stories. Theatrical reenactments, complete with music and costume, pay homage. Youth participating in coming-of-age treks are encouraged to draw upon the strength of the Mormon pioneer.
Daniel Wood mattered to those who planned his memorial, built a monument, and continued the cemetery’s upkeep. As someone who appreciates history, I was giddy with excitement over the details of Daniel’s funeral, including the details such as the lilac-colored lettering on the banner draping his casket. It made it easy to imagine myself there among my people.
Daniel was faithful to the church. At least twice, his loyalty prompted him to leave his wives, children, and homestead to go on a church mission searching for more converts.
Emma Maria Ellis Wood crossed a continent, turned her back on one God, and embraced another to become my great, great, great-grandmother.
She is wearing a dark-colored dress with a lace collar in the only photo I could find of her. Her hair is pulled back and hidden neatly under a bonnet. To me, she has gentle eyes.
Five men in Brown’s small army were black, a fact I never learned in school. Who were these black men, the white-centered telling of history left out, and why did they cross the bridge at Harpers Ferry that fateful night?
If teachers taught us of their bravery and sacrifice, we would know courage is not skin color. And that whiteness is not what makes us American.
It would be easy to absolve my grandfather of his choice to participate in a religion touting white supremacy by saying he was merely a man of his time. But that is a lie.
In addition to black people tirelessly championing their right to fair treatment, white men and women have fought beside them.
One such white man, John Brown, was born in 1800, like my grandfather Daniel.