an archive of unsettling histories, mythistories, and mystories
from U.S. & Mormon settler colonialism, white supremacy, and imperialism
from U.S. & Mormon settler colonialism, white supremacy, and imperialism
The Lowry Letters: How one euro-settler stood up to his first presidency for their white-supremacist anti-Blackness
This is a story about an 1947 exchange of letters between Mormon sociologist, Dr. Lowry Nelson and his First Presidency – George Albert Smith, J. Reuben Clark, Jr., and David O. McKay.
First Nelson gets a letter from his old buddy Heber Meeks. Meeks wrote: “At the request of the First Presidency I visited Cuba in view of doing missionary work on that island.” Having learned that Nelson had recently spent time in Cuba, Meeks wanted to pick his brain.
With questions like “Are there groups of pure white blood in the rural sections?” “Are they maintaining segregation from the Negroes?” And, will “doing missionary work in Cuba in view of … the ignorance and superstition of the people and their being so steeped in Catholicism?”
Sincerely your brother, Heber Meeks, Mission President
Nelson responds: “The attitude of the Church in regard to the Negro makes me very sad.” Nelson did not know “that there was a fixed doctrine on this point” and refuses to believe it.
“I do not believe that God is a racist ... If the Church has taken an irrevocable stand, I would dislike to see it enter Cuba or any other island where different races live… For us to go into a situation like that and preach a doctrine of "white supremacy” would, it seems to me, be a tragic disservice ... There are no pure races, on this anthropologists are in general agreement… And to teach them the pernicious doctrine of segregation and inequalities among races where it does not exist would be tragic. It seems to me we just fought a war over such ideas.
Sincerely, Lowry Nelson"
(Seems like a good time to note that Mormons saw an “unusual opportunity” in Nazi “racial question” as "It was always difficult for genealogical workers to get into (German peoples) archives.” because they didn’t want their dead ancestors baptized by the Mormons. But “due to … the almost necessity of proving that one's grandmother was not a Jewess” those archives were opened.)
So, Nelson is really disturb about this “doctrine of ‘white supremacy’” and writes to the Prophet for clarity.
“Dear President Smith:
Perhaps I am out of order, so to speak. I have done so … with the impression that there is no irrevocable church doctrine on this subject. I devoutly hope that such crystallization has not taken place. The many good friends of mixed blood … (I met in Cuba) would be shocked indeed if I were to tell them my Church relegated them to an inferior status ... As I told Heber, there is no doubt in my mind that our Church could perform a great service in Cuba, particularly in the rural areas, but it would be far better that we not go in at all, than to go in and promote racial distinction.”
Sincerely, Lowry Nelson"
The First Presidency responds:
“The basic element of your ideas and concepts seems to be that all God’s children stand in equal positions before Him in all things.” But this is contrary to the very fundamentals of God’s dealings with Israel… We are aware that some Higher Critics do not accept this, but the Church does.
“From the days of the Prophet Joseph even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by any of the Church leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel.
“Furthermore, your ideas, as we understand them, appear to contemplate the intermarriage of the Negro and White races, a concept which has heretofore been most repugnant to most normal-minded people from the ancient patriarchs till now.
They finish by saying, we know you academics are tryna “breaking down of race barriers in the matter of intermarriage between whites and blacks, but it does not have the sanction of the Church and is contrary to Church doctrine.
Faithfully yours, George Albert Smith, J. Reuben Clark, Jr., and David O. McKay. The First Presidency"
Nelson responds with a fairly long letter.
He thanks the First Presidency for their letter, but lets them know it was “a disappointment.”
He starts sort of thinking out loud about how it’s strange he’s never had to confront this doctrine before. Like they talked abt it in Priesthood meetings with people who had never seen a Black person, “let alone…lived in the same community.” But there was never really any scripture on it.
He then starts getting sociological talking about “certain basic principles” of societies. One of which is “social change…forever in a state of flux.”
So, he says, “the early Hebrew” idea of race or ethnicity is rooted in their ethnocentrism – in the fact that they were a monoculture. Because they didn’t spend time with people with different melanin content they assumed people with different melanin were inferior.
But Jesus came to end the old ways. And this ethnocentric doctrine “does not square with the teachings of Jesus Christ.”
Sincerely your brother, Lowry Nelson. Professor of Sociology
The First Presidency respond: “We feel very sure that you understand well the doctrines of the Church.They are either true or not true. Our testimony is that they are true.” So we’re not “impressed by the reasonings of men however well-founded they may seem to be.” They advise Nelson not to get lost in “worldly learning” as he has too much potential to do good.
“We therefore prayerfully hope that you can reorient your thinking and bring it in line with the revealed word of God.”
Faithfully yours, THE FIRST PRESIDENCY
I guess knowing that he’s not convincing his Prophets of anything he publishes an essay five years later title “Mormonism and the Negro” in “The Nation” magazine.
I think this part is really important for us to read so I’m posting the whole thing.
“A very real difficulty is the fact that those who disapprove of the church's attitude have no way of expressing their point of view. It is safe to say that most of the one million members give passive assent to the present policy.
For most of those living in Utah and adjacent states the Negro question is academic; they hardly ever see Negroes, much less live in the same community with them. In any case, they would find comfortable agreement with the white-supremacy idea because of latent historical prejudices which they share with so many other white people. However, my knowledge of the deep humanitarianism of the Mormon people leads me to think that if the question could be openly discussed they would line up on die side of justice.
Such open discussion, especially in print, however, is a perilous undertaking for any member. It automatically leaves him open to the charge of "disobedience to constituted authority" which may lead to his being excommunicated. The upshot is that discussions by interested persons are largely subrosa (done in secret).”
Collection of images by Lowry Nelson from his year (1945-46) in Cuba. (see more)
CIVIL RIGHTS: TOOL OF COMMUNIST DECEPTION, by Ezra Taft Benson. General Conference, September 29, 1967
1936 - This church’s 1st official statement against communism
1949 - 1st official statement on their anti-Black doctrines and policies.
1966 - 2nd official anti-communist manifesto.
1969 - 2nd anti-Black manifesto
This church has published two official statements defending their anti-Blackness and two decrying communism. During that time (WWII & Civil Rights era) they released zero statements against Nazism , white-supremacy, or fascism. (Though Deseret News did print articles in support of Nazis)
As Civil Rights organizers fought against anti-Black segregation, this church was fighting for their religious freedom to practice and preach anti-Black policies and doctrines. In this church’s collective mind, Black people were in their divine place in God’s “caste system”––they already had all the rights God has given them.
Ironically, it was Ezra Taft Benson’s mission trip to post-Nazi Germany that led to him to being so firm in his anti-communism. He blamed the hardships of Germans on the rise of communism from the ashes of fascism. But for some reason he never thinks that maybe Nazism is what created the devastation and starvation in post-war Germany, not the struggling form of communism that rose in its wake.
Tho anti-communism and white-supremacy were already a deeply embedded feature of this church when Benson went to Germany. Benson’s mentor, J. Reuben Clark, (known white-supremacist, First President, and US State official) co-authored this church’s 1936 official statement decrying communism as satanic. Clark also co-authored the first public anti-Black statement. And he liked to collected and handed out antisemetic propaganda in the US and Nazi Germany.
The year after this church released their 1936 anti-communist statement, President Grant spoke under a Nazi flag to Nazi Mormons in Nazi Germany telling them, ““Stay here…We want to keep the Church intact and the missionaries working.” During this time, this church was helping Nazis do their genealogy work in search of Jews to exterminate.
The Venn diagram of Mormonism’s far-right politics, anti-communism, anti-Blackness, white-supremacy, and US-exceptionalism forms a circle.
“In July 1937, the Mormon Prophet Heber J. Grant, spoke to 800 members at a rented meeting hall in Frankfurt. Like all buildings in Nazi Germany, it came with a large swastika flag. On Aug. 7, the Deseret News, the Church-owned Salt Lake City daily, ran this picture. In its news columns, the DN regularly published wire service stories about Hitler’s treatment of Germany’s Jews. But in the religion section, it had no qualms about associating the Church President with Nazi symbolism.” (Nelson, David Conley. Moroni and the Swastika: Mormons in Nazi Germany. University of Oklahoma, 2015.)
CIVIL RIGHTS: TOOL OF COMMUNIST DECEPTION
And the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, was no different. He made it clear that he believed as Young did that N. Euro settlers are inherently superior to Africans.
“I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality…I…am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position.”
- Lincoln 1858 Presidential debate
“What is that mark (of Cain)? You will see it on the countenance of every African you ever did see upon the face of the earth, or ever will see. If there never was a prophet, or apostle of Jesus Christ spoke it before, I tell you, this people that are commonly called negroes are the children of old Cain.”
- Brigham Young
“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do…And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do? They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?”
- Cliven Bundy (Far-right Mormon), 2014
I am nicholas b jacobsen, an artist, researcher, historian, educator, and organizer. I am a trans-non binary Euro-settler raised in the Nuwu lands of so-called Utah. My family has been Mormon and Utahn for as long as either of those concepts have existed. My ancestors sacrificed everything--their identities, homelands, jobs, health, & safety to become Mormon, Utahn, U.S. American, & white--to settler their Zion. They also sacrificed their humanities as they committed genocide against Kuttuhsippeh (Goshute), Timpanogos Shoshone, Shoshone-Bannock, Eastern Shoshone, Ute, Nuwu (Southern Paiute), and Diné (Navajo). Because my ancestors made my home through Indigenous genocide in their home/lands––I take it as my personal responsibility to unsettle what my ancestors settled, while helping my fellow settlers do the same through reading, writing, art, and community building.
American Exceptionalism / Constitutionalism
Anti Communism / Imperialism
Art / Personal
Curse Of Cain / Ham
Dallin H. Oaks
End Times / Latter Days
Ezra Taft Benson
J. Reuben Clark
Lamanites And Indigeneity
Pure / White Supremacy
Settler Colonialism / Zionism
Spencer W. Kimball
The Family Proclamation / Marriage / The Gay Agenda
Under The Banner Of Heaven
W. Cleon Skousen