American History is steeped in inequality. The tradition that all men are not created equal stems from a myriad of racial pedagogies, many deriving from the Puritan tradition. Ever since the Civil Rights Movement, America has attempted to purge racial social injustice and break patterns of inequality. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, like many churches propagated these wrong traditions and has since the 1970s attempted to undo rhetoric after having given the priesthood to those of African descent. The church has recently furthered its efforts by denouncing all theories that justify racial discrimination. At a time and place where racial equality was frowned upon, my grandfather David S. King championed Civil Rights in the state of Utah, not only going against the sentiment of Church leadership, but also the majority of its general membership.
I sat in the chapel, where David King attended church, during his funeral and listened to the eulogies offered by his children. In order to familiarize the audience with his character, his son Steve listed a few of his father’s own favorite achievements in life. “What was his favorite piece of legislation that he helped to pass,” with a chuckle Steve continued, “Civil Rights.” I do not believe that one soul in that chapel who knew him even just a bit, dead or alive, would have disagreed. Throughout his church, political, and professional career he worked closely with Africans and African Americans.
My father worked for the Marriott in Salt Lake City in the early eighties. He told me a story about a hotel resident that he described as a very fair-skinned black woman. After the two had introduced themselves, she learned that my father’s dad was David S. King. She said to him, “David King is a hero in our family.” The woman’s aunt needed a lawyer in Salt Lake City. She went to every law office downtown to find someone to represent her and no one would take her case, because she was black. Finally someone tipped her off and said, “Go to David King. He will be able to help you out.” David King took her case without question and became a hero to that family. This was the general racial climate amongst Mormon elites in the 1950s.
Throughout his career, he served in many capacities including: U.S. House of Representative for the State of Utah, Ambassador of the United States to the African nation of Madagascar and the island nation of Mauritius, LDS Mission President to Haiti, lawyer, seminary teacher, professor, bishop, and long-time French gospel doctrine teacher whose pupils were primarily African. I remember attending his LDS congregation after his death, and Africans would come up to me and shake my hand, because I was the grandson of David S. King and they would tell me stories about how great of a teacher he was to them.
David King loved Africans and those of African descent, but he also loved the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was stalwart in his faith. He never demonized the Church or its leadership, even when prominent LDS general authorities directly questioned his political intentions. He always spoke of the Brethren with the highest respect. I asked my father how David King was able to remain so faithful to the church when its leadership so greatly contradicted his political beliefs. He told me that his father would say, “They will come around eventually. I just hope that it will be in my lifetime.”
In 1978, the Church restored priesthood blessings to African members and members of African descent. In December 2013, the church released a statement that says, “Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse … or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”
This may be the closest to an apology that the Church will ever offer for its past racism. I know that my grandfather is smiling from heaven.
Brian David King, Mesa, AZ