Friday, February 6, 2009

My dad and the untold story of black mormons

I saw a moving film (for the second time) on Saturday night called "Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons."

It does a beautiful job of covering, as one of the producers, Darius Gray, put it afterwards, both the the bitter and the sweet. I felt somehow healed by it, not just in terms of racial reconciliation but also in terms of reconciling my faith. I highly recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity to see it -- whatever your race or religion.
Check out some extended clips from it here.

Coincidentally, I also received a short memoir from my dad this week on the same topic. I was excited to get this piece of family history -- I'd never heard all the details before. Like my dad, I am proud of the progress my country and my church have made over the past several decades. Thanks, Dad, for recording and sending this!

"In light of the recent inauguration of President Obama, our first black president, I thought it would be fun to share a set of cultural experiences I had in South Georgia.

"In 1979, I was living with my growing family in South Georgia. Just one year after the revelation on blacks receiving the priesthood, our small branch of the Church, in Americus, Georgia, was the only integrated church in the County, with 50% black population. I was a counselor in the branch presidency, and we were having trouble getting white members to accept black members attending church with whites, refusing to sit anywhere near them, and certainly not on the same pew!

"I had a black home teaching companion named Willie, and after home teaching the relief society president, I learned from the elder’s quorum president that I was never to bring Willie with me to her house again. Not letting us in the house the first time, she had let us visit with her on her old southern porch. Next time, I was informed, she would not be so kind.

"At work, I was teaching multi-cultural training, with a 50% black and 50% woman workforce. The white men didn’t like us “HR black lovers” too much, because of this training, and said it was totally unnecessary, since they had been raised by black mammies, and therefore got along with their black brothers quite well.

"On the home front, the white man who built my house came by one night, under the cloak of darkness, to tell me that if I sold my house to a black man, which I was considering doing, he, the builder would be run out of town and it would destroy his business.

"One day, Sister Stevenson, a black member of our branch asked my wife Vicki and me to sing at her son’s funeral. Her son had been killed in a drive-by shooting. So Vicki and I went to the funeral at a small, one-room church out in the country. The church looked like an isolated wooden shack, with a red dirt parking lot, and a single picture of Martin Luther King hung from the white walls inside.

"When it was our turn to sing, there was no piano for the accompanist we had brought, so we proceeded to sing Oh My Father “acapella.” In the middle of the first verse we realized the crowd of black family members was beginning to sing with us, clapping and swaying to the beat. So, yes, you guessed it, we went the distance with all the verses with black choir accompaniment. Vicki and I adapted to the southern singen style, and found ourselves exhilarated by the spiritual experience we were having together.

"After the funeral, and at the luncheon, most of those black family members and friends hugged us and told us how much they liked the song, accepting us as members and friends of the family. I was deeply moved by this experience as our hearts were touched by their kindness and love. I have often wondered since then, when and how we might begin to be as loving and Christian as this community of black people. 30 years later, I take great joy in seeing how much progress the Church and our nation have made.


Lindsey said...

wow! that's just amazing! love your dad's love for everyone and not being afraid to show that. hope you have a great day today!!!

Dexter's Girl said...

i kind of stumbled on your blog, but I love the comments you posted from your dad. My parents joined the church in 1976 in California, but by 1979 they were in Greenville, Texas. My dad was also in the branch presidency and his experiences with the branch after the revelation were similar. My dad doesn't read blogs, but can I copy the post and email it to him (cited, of course)?

Allison said...

Hi, yes of course you can send the post to your dad. Thanks for stopping by :)