Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship

Mormonism and Race in the Nineteenth Century, with Paul Reeve and Ardis Parshall (part 1) [ 1:00:44 | 57.42 MB ] Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

One of the most anticipated reviews in the upcoming Mormon Studies Review focuses on a landmark book called Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness by W. Paul Reeve. In this special two-part episode, historians Reeve and Ardis E. Parshall talk about the book and answer questions about the historian’s craft more broadly.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affirms the universal sisterhood and brotherhood of humanity. A recent Gospel Topics essay at explains that “Latter-day Saint scripture and teachings affirm that God loves all of His children and makes salvation available to all. God created the many diverse races and ethnicities and esteems them all equally.” The essay also traces the Church’s complicated history of perspectives on race, including the controversial restriction of priesthood and temple participation by black members of the Church which was lifted in 1978.

Part one

LDS church history on this topic is complex and at times surprising. Part one of this interview focuses on Reeve’s research about the concept of race in the nineteenth century. His book tells the puzzling story about how Mormons had to “struggle” to be recognized as “white.” The struggle had dramatic consequences especially for black church members. How did Mormons perceive American Indians, “Oriental” people (to use nineteenth-century parlance). How did the question of slavery impact early Mormon views of race and how were Mormons themselves racialized by outsiders?

Reeve organized his book around this striking political cartoon from a 1904 issue of Life, which we discuss throughout the interview:

The Mormon diversity depicted in this political cartoon was not intended to be a favorable representation.

Parshall will join us in part two which focuses directly on the topic of black members of the nineteenth-century LDS Church. Watch for it this Thursday.

About the guests

W. Paul Reeve is an associate professor of history at the University of Utah. Oxford University Press published his latest book, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness, earlier this year. 

Ardis E. Parshall is an independent historian in Salt Lake City, Utah. She runs the LDS history blog

Together they co-edited Mormonism: A Historical Encyclopedia.