A Utah scholar has released a database for tracking the history of African American members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The University of Utah History Professor Paul Reeve has spent the past five years creating the database
“There’s an outside public perception that Mormonism has always been white and the black LDS pioneers have largely been erased from collective Mormon memory," Reeves said. “It’s a social history project that simply attempts to recover what has been lost. Not the perspective of what it meant to be a Mormon in the 19th century from the leadership, but the perspective of racial minorities in a racially suspect minority religion.”
He says LDS church records did not track racial identity until the 1978 revelation allowing African Americans to hold their priesthood.
“We’re tracking birth and death," he said. "If they were baptized into the faith before slavery was outlawed, we’re tracking whether they were a slave at the time of baptism [or] if they went through a faith transition after they joined Mormonism."
The database was released Saturday in Salt Lake City at the conference, Black, White, and Mormon: A Conference on Race in the LDS Church Since The 1978 Revelation.
Bob Goldberg, another professor of history at the University of Utah, spoke at the conference. He says the release of a research database about black LDS history is timely.
“The church has been reexamining the past, and I think very very healthily reexamining the past," Goldberg said. "And being able to argue that the narrative that has been created is not necessarily the narrative that offers a great deal of truth or light in regard to not only the past but the present and the future."
Goldberg also says the conference and new database mark 40 years of progress toward racial equality in the church.
“I’m more of an observer than a participant," he said, "but what I want to do is give people a platform in order to speak about what has been achieved, what still needs to be achieved, what does the road ahead look like."
The public database can be accessed here.