Since February is Black History Month I’ve been thinking: what do we know about the history and experiences of black members of the LDS church?
For me, the answer is not much. I mean, I’ve heard my dad tell his story about having to defend the Church and it’s policies in a high school history class and I remember the black character in God’s Army and I’ve read Mary Sturlaugson Eyer’s memoir trilogy, but all those are rather superficial experiences. My dad isn’t black. The guy in God’s Army was a relatively minor character. Eyer’s memoirs add up to just barely three hundred pages all together.
Arianne Cope tangled with questions about black Mormon identity in her story, “Salt Water”, which was published in the most recent Irreantum. But her story seemed a little too much for me. It wasn’t enough that the character was supposedly the first black male to be ordained to the priesthood. He had to be fatherless and his grandma had to kill herself. The story is interesting, but, in my opinion, it was a lot to take on. Maybe more than the form could manage. Whatever your feelings about the story, it simply doesn’t do much to enrich the narrative legacy of Black Mormons.
A quick Google search turned up some interesting hits:
*The FAIR LDS Bookstore has a whole section dedicated to black mormon studies. Has anyone actually read any of these books? Are they accessible to the average reader in the Mormon market? Are any of them written by black Mormons themselves or is their history being filtered through white Mormon writers?
*Blacklds.org has a lot of good info but isn’t an artistic attempt. The testimony section is interesting but it also makes me wonder what a book by a black member would read like. Again, it doesn’t do much to enrich the narrative and artistic legacy.
*Then there’s the movie Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons. It sounds interesting and like a relatively good artistic step, but I haven’t seen it. Have any of you? What did you think? I wonder if I can ILL movies . . .
I know Deseret Book (through their Shadow Mountain imprint) has published a series, Standing on the Promises by Margaret Blair Young and Darius Gray, but I haven’t read those either. Have any of you? What do these books do to flesh out the narrative legacy? Are they aimed at a YA audience or adults? Are they artistic attempts like Young’s other books or are they more in the let’s-teach-history-the-fun-way camp (like Gerald Lund’s books)?
Now, I know I’m not the best read person when it comes to Mormon Literature, but I would argue that I have read more Mormon/LDS books than the average Latter-day saint. Most of my book choices are taken from book lists, like the AMV canon (which I would link to if I knew which post it was!), the AMV book club recommendations, and lists of former AML award winners along with what I come across in my Deseret Book catalogue. I’ve really made an effort to become well-schooled in Mormon arts and letters. But none of those resources I’m used to looking to cover the subject of black Mormons–at least not that I have found. So you tell me. Is this a gap in Mormon letters? And, if so why?