Ancestral Roots – In the Spirit of Humility and Love

04 Jul

The Foundation of My Premise

This post was written in response to comments that were made regarding thoughts I posted some time ago as a summary of a fireside that I conducted a few years ago under the direction of my Stake Presidency on the 1978 Revelation of the Priesthood. I have titled this entry “In the Spirit of Humility and Love” because truly it is in that spirit that I humbly submit this reply and subsequent follow-up.

From the positive feedback that I received from those in attendance that evening, the fireside could be counted as a success. My only regret, if I may use that word, is that there were no Black members of the Stake who attended this fireside which was open to all members – young and old, Young Single Adults (YSA) and Single Adults (SA) alike.

Presenting the fireside was a totally different experience for me, but I truly believe that it was an experience that I needed to help me grow and to prepare me for the next part of this incredible  journey that I am on. For that, I am truly thankful.

We Cannot Judge a Book by Its Cover

During the course of discussion I made the following statement that may have caused some misunderstanding as to the point that I was endeavoring to make. Therefore, I will now humbly defend the statement and add further clarification to the matter.

The statement that I made was: “. . . not all people with brown skin are African-Americans.” I realize that there are those who will disagree with the statement that I made and will want to call me a bigot or a racist. I only submit that before using such terms so freely as water flowing from a fountain, a person needs to research the true meaning of such words in a dictionary. I think that some may be surprised to find what those words truly mean. The Lord knows my heart and the statement was not intended to cause any type of hurt feelings, dissension, or confusion of any kind among my brothers and sisters. What I meant by the statement is this:

We cannot and we should not “judge a book by its cover.” We should not place people into a certain group or place a label upon them simply based on certain features and or characteristics such as skin color.

The recent advent of DNA testing will show and prove that all people with brown skin (i.e. Blacks) are not direct descendants of Africa. Studies have emphatically shown and proven that there are some Blacks who are of European descent, some are of Native American descent, and yes, some Blacks have also discovered through DNA testing that they are of English (or British) and even Irish descent.

The LDS Church’s Priesthood Restriction

With the first two points being established, we must admit that during the time of the Priesthood restriction in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints  any Black male member of the Church was denied the Priesthood automatically because he was believed to be of African descent – no questions asked. However, we must also emphasize the point that denial of the Priesthood was not based on skin color alone. Church leaders at that time went beyond that in so much that anyone of African descent, regardless of skin color, was denied the Priesthood. The example that I used was that if a White male member had a Black grandfather and a White grandmother, he too would have been denied the Priesthood because of his “African” heritage and lineage.

There were, no doubt, Bishops who may not have agreed with the practice of denying worthy Black male members the Priesthood, but speaking as a former Bishopric member, when direction is given from the General Authorities of the Church, that direction is to be followed and not ignored or stuffed away in a drawer to be forgotten. Having to deny faithful, deserving members the Priesthood based on their heritage, lineage, or skin color alone with no real explanation as to why had to be heart-wrenching at best.

A Living Testimony of the Truth

I also wanted to emphasize the point that there are many Blacks today who will not join the LDS Church based on their limited knowledge of the Priesthood restriction. They still feel that the Church was wrong in its actions against Blacks, therefore they feel that the Church is prejudiced, and Blacks would not be welcomed into their congregations. I am a living testimony and witness that nothing could be further from the truth.

I can further testify that I have personally been in some areas of this country where I would definitely feel unwelcome if I were to step through the doors of some churches and sit among their congregations. That simply is not the feelings that I have experienced these almost 19 years as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am humbled to be counted a member and to be able to enjoy all of the blessings of that membership without any regard to my race, heritage, or the color of my skin, including the full blessings and privileges of the Priesthood.

The Terms “Mulatto” and “African-American”

Now, I want to turn the tables and attempt to clear up my feelings about the use of the term “African American.” Personally, I think that the term has been overused and abused in a lot of cases. Any person who migrates to this country from the nation of Africa and decides to claim United States citizenship is entitled to refer to themselves as African-Americans. I do not have an issue with that. I also have no issue with the fact that our former President, Barack Obama, refers to himself as an African-American. After all, his father was Kenyan and his mother was a White American. He himself has stated that if he were to trace his family roots, those roots would be well grounded in Africa. Therefore, since the bloodline is traced through the father, the term Kenyan-American or even African-American certainly does apply to him.

On the other hand, I was born on 17 October 1958, in the United States of America to two wonderful parents who are now deceased, but both of them were natural born Black Americans. Therefore, if I must accept a label as to who I am, I am a Black American, not an African-American. I am a true blood American. In order for me to find any ties with Africa, if there be any, and the possibility exists that there may not be, would require a great deal of time and research on my part. With that being said, as I do my genealogy research and trace my family roots I find that many of my ancestors were identified in the census records as Mulatto (or members of a mixed raced of people). In my bloodline, there is Black blood, White blood, Native American blood, and even some European blood.

The question has arisen whether or not Mulatto was ever considered a race. The answer to the question is that society may not have used that term for people of color, as the term that was commonly used was Black, but in the earlier census records, under the race column, Mulatto was indeed considered a race.

I find it truly amazing that during my short 58-year lifespan I have been labeled as the infamous “N” word, a colored man, a Negro, a Black man, a person of color, and an African-American. It leads me to wonder why society has felt a need to place so many labels upon one race of people. It also leads me to wonder what the next label will be. Returning to the original question, I am left to ask yet another question: If Mulatto was never considered a race, when did African-American become a race?

Allow me to cite a couple of interesting facts that I recently came across concerning the use of the term African-American:

In the 20th century, many Black Americans shifted from colored to Negro to Black and, most recently, to African-American, sometimes within one generation. The term African-American has crept steadily into the nation’s vocabulary since 1988 when the Rev. Jesse Jackson held a news conference to urge Americans to use it to refer to Blacks. “It puts us in our proper historical context,” Jackson said then, adding in a recent interview that he still favored the term. He went on to say, “Every ethnic group in this country has a reference to some land base, some historical cultural base. African-Americans have hit that level of cultural maturity.”In a survey held in 1988 conducted by ABC and The Washington Post, 66 percent said they preferred the term Black, 22 percent preferred African-American, 10 percent liked both terms and 2 percent had no opinion. In 2000, the Census Bureau for the first time allowed respondents to check a box that carried the heading African-American next to the term Black.

Family – The Ties That Bind

I want to bring this discussion to a close by citing two examples from my own personal family history to drive my point home.

My paternal great-grandmother, Amanda Frances Bell was born to a Black mother and a White father who was believed to be a slave trader. Her picture can be seen on the left. Her complexion is extremely light skinned. What label should be placed upon her to classify her among a “race” of people? Was she Black? Was she White? Was she Mulatto? Or, should we just be satisfied and say that she was African-American?

I cite one final example. I have a young cousin (second cousin actually as he is the son of my first cousin) whose father is Black and his mother is White. If you were to see him you might think that he is a young white boy. However, in reality, he is not White, nor is he Black. What is he then? Where does he fit in? What label should be placed upon him? Should he also be classified as an African-American? After all, he was born in the United States of America and his father is Black.

The Heart of the Matter

The Lord knows my true heart. I do not mean to come across as being a racist or any such thing. That is not the intent of this treatise. The point that I return to once again is that we cannot and should not“judge a book by its cover.”

I sincerely believe that society, in many ways, has done a great injustice by placing labels on people, especially people of color, who have had many labels placed upon them. I have no ill feelings against anyone who wants to refer to themselves as African- American or any other type of American. That is their choice. God bless them. They are all still my brothers and sisters. We are all members of the same Heavenly family and God, our Eternal Heavenly Father loves each and every one of us unconditionally. He is no respecter of persons and therefore, He does not care what label we choose to use to identify ourselves or that society places upon us.

To some, as I mentioned, like in the case of former President Obama, being referred to as an African-American truly applies. But for those of us who are natural born Blacks, it may not necessarily apply. We will have to agree to disagree on that point.

As for me, I have always been and will continue to maintain till my dying day that I am an American. I am an American with a diverse background and a very rich heritage for which I am thankful. If my roots tie me back to Africa in some way that is good if not, that is good also. I am satisfied that my Heavenly Father placed me in the bloodline that He needed me to be a part of. If it is absolutely necessary that a label must be used to distinguish me from other people in the world, then I shall be satisfied to be referred to as a Black American and not an African-American. Better still, I am happy and satisfied to know that I am a child of God.

I submit these thoughts in the spirit of humility and love. May God speed the day when the use of labels to distinguish one race of people from another will no longer be necessary. What a blessed day that will be! God bless you all.

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