In this interview, LeGrand Richards discusses the revelation to lift the priesthood ban for individuals of African descent and the subsequent Official Declaration 2. He highlights the role of Spencer Kimball, the then-president of the church, in seeking guidance on this matter. An admitted catalyst for the revelation is the concern about the growing number of people with African ancestry in Brazil, where a new temple was built. Richards describes the process, including personal interviews, prayers, and a unanimous decision among the Twelve and the First Presidency to extend the priesthood to all worthy males, regardless of race. The interview also touches on the issue of intermarriage (clearly stating the church is against the idea), the addition of the revelation to the Pearl of Great Price, and the absence of a doctrinal basis for previous restrictions. Richards emphasizes the conditional nature of blessings on living a righteous life. The interview provides insights into the decision-making process and the considerations that led to the policy change on priesthood and shows it was more of a board room decision than a “revelation” from God. Was this a policy change or a doctrinal change?
Legrand Richards was a prominent leader in the church, and he served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for over 30 years, from 1952 until he died in 1983. Richards played a significant role in the decision to lift the Priesthood ban on blacks in 1978. He is the grandson of Willard Richards who was present with Joseph Smith in Carthage Jail at the time of his death.
LeGrand Richards agreed to be interviewed by Wesley P. Walters and Chris Vlachos on August 16th, 1978. During the interview, Richards is asked a variety of questions but especially regarding the specific point of this monumental decision to lift the priesthood ban and how he experienced it as a senior apostle in the quorum. This was very soon after the lifting of the ban was announced, and there was naturally a lot of rumors circulating about the reasons and ramifications of the “policy” change. His response is significant because other leaders have made this decision into more than LeGrand Richards does. They have induced revelation and the hand of God, but his version feels simply like a board meeting making a business decision that makes sense for the corporation.
In the June 9, 1978 issue of the Deseret News, the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published a letter declaring that a revelation had been received by President Spencer W. Kimball lifting the ban on black men receiving the Priesthood.
In the weeks that followed, there was a great deal of speculation about the nature of the revelation. How was the revelation received? Did it come with a vision and divine visitation, as Joseph’s did in the First Vision? Did the Lord speak directly to the prophet in a first-person voice, as He did to Joseph in the revelations recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants? Did a heavenly messenger of great renown convey the message, as when Joseph experienced the Priesthood originally restored? There were rumors that Joseph himself appeared to the Prophet. The revelation lifting the ban was the most tangible and concrete example of a revelation directly from God for the whole church and there was a great deal of curiosity about it.
5 weeks after the initial announcement, two men were granted an opportunity to speak with Legrand Richards, one of the senior Apostles. They asked several key questions of the Elder and one of the most straightforward descriptions of the process of modern revelation was given in reply. In addition, other interesting topics were discussed including the existence of Joseph’s seer-stone, the legitimacy of the “Lectures on Faith” and changes to the Book of Mormon.
Transcripts of a portion of this interview have been published in various places online, however, this is the first time that the full audio recording and transcription of that interview has been made available online. The original audio quality was severely degraded and I have attempted to clean up the audio as much as possible. ((Download the audio from archive.org))The Legrand Richards Interview. Thoughts on Things and Stuff
The interview was hard to find for a time and has now been published in multiple places online and available at libraries. There is discussion regarding the interview content and LeGrand Richard’s request that it not be published, even though during the interview he emphatically states that he can be quoted. The Thoughts on Things and Stuff website was among the first places to make the full transcript as well as the audio recording available online. It appears that the interview is also available in the Church History Library and the L. Tom Perry Special Collections and Harold B. Lee Library at BYU.
Here is the relevant transcript from the interview:
Wesley Walters: On this revelation, of the priesthood to the Negro, I’ve heard all kinds of stories: I’ve heard that Christ appeared to the Apostles. I’ve heard that Joseph Smith appeared; and then I heard another story that Spencer Kimball had had a concern about this for some time and simply shared it with the apostles, and they decided that this was the right time to move in that direction. Now are any of those stories true, or are they all…
LeGrand Richards: Well, the last one is pretty true, and I might tell you what provoked it in a way. Down in Brazil, there is so much Negro blood in the population there that it’s hard to get leaders that don’t have Negro blood in them. We just built a temple down there. It’s going to be dedicated in October. All those people with Negro blood in them have been raising the money to build that temple. And then, if we don’t change, then they can’t even use it. So Brother Kimball worried about it, and he prayed a lot about it.
He asked each one of us of the Twelve if we would pray—and we did— that the Lord would give him the inspiration to know what the will of the Lord was. And then he invited each one of us in his office—individually, because you know when you are in a group, you can’t always express everything that’s in your heart. You’re part of the group, you see—so he interviewed each one of us, personally, to see how we felt about it, and he asked us to pray about it. And then he asked each one of us to hand in all the references we had, for, or against that proposal. See, he was thinking favorably toward giving the colored people the priesthood.
Then we had a meeting where we meet every week in the temple, and we discussed it as a group together, and then we prayed about it in our prayer circle, and then we held another prayer circle after the close of that meeting, and he (President Kimball) lead in the prayer; praying that the Lord would give us the inspiration that we needed to do the thing that would be pleasing to Him and for the blessing of His children. And then the next Thursday—we meet every Thursday—the Presidency came with this little document written out to make the announcement—to see how we’d feel about it—and present it in written form. Well, some of the members of the Twelve suggested a few changes in the announcement, and then in our meeting there we all voted in favor of it—the Twelve and the Presidency. One member of the Twelve, Mark Petersen, was down in South America, but Brother Benson, our President, had arranged to know where he could be reached by phone, and right while we were in that meeting in the temple, Brother Kimball talked with Brother Petersen, and read him this article, and he (Petersen) approved of it.
Wesley Walters: What was the date? Would that have been the first of June, or something?
LeGrand Richards: That was the first Thursday, I think, in May. [June?] At least that’s about when it was. And then after we all voted in favor of it, we called another meeting for the next morning, Friday morning, at seven o’clock, of all the other General Authorities – that includes the Seventies’ Quorum and the Patriarch and the Presiding Bishopric, and it was presented to them, and they all had an opportunity to express themselves and then there were a few of the brethren that were out presiding in the missions, and so the Twelve were appointed to interview each one of them.
I had to interview Brother Rex Reeve and read him the article and asked his feelings. He was thrilled because he labored down there in Brazil and he knew what it would mean for those people. And so every member of the General Authorities, to a man, approved it before the announcement went out.
Now we had a letter from a colored man up in Ogden, read like this; he was a member of the church, and he said “If the Lord is willing to let me have my wife and children in this life, why wouldn’t He be willing to let me have them in the next life?” That makes sense, doesn’t it?
And then, you know, the Lord gave revelation to Prophet Joseph where He said that “There is a law irrevocably decreed in the heavens before the foundation of the Earth was laid upon which all blessings are predicated and no blessing can be obtained except by obedience to the law upon which it is predicated.” Well all that means is that if you want to raise wheat you’ve got to plant wheat, doesn’t it? If you want corn then you’ve got to plant corn. Well if I plant wheat and get a harvest and the colored man plants wheat and takes a good care of it – why isn’t he as much entitled to the harvest as I, you see?
And then, um, [untelligible] and so.
Wesley Walters: Well I was going to ask you about
LeGrand Richards: So we figured the same with spiritual blessings. If the colored man lives as good as I do, he can serve the Lord and so forth, why isn’t he as much entitled to the blessings as I am? It’s been a united decision, there’s been no adverse comment by anyone of the General Authorities.
Chris Vlachos: What about intermarriage? Is it okay?
LeGrand Richards: what?
Chris Vlachos: Is it okay to marry?
Wesley Walters: Intermarriage, is that in view too?
LeGrand Richards: Well, no. Never. Before this decision was reached we’ve always recommended that people live within their own race – the Japanese ought to marry Japanese, the Chinese ought to marry Chinese, Hawaiians ought to marry Hawaiians and the colored people ought to marry colored.
Wesley Walters: And that would still be your position?
LeGrand Richards: That is still our position. But they are entitled to the temple blessings and the sealing of their wives to them. It’s all conditioned on their living. Now if they live right and they’re devoted and they’re good clean living – why shouldn’t they get the blessings?
Wesley Walters: Now when President Kimball read this little announcement or paper, was that the same thing that was released to the press?
LeGrand Richards: Yeah.
Wesley Walters: There wasn’t a special document as a “revelation”, that he had and wrote down?
LeGrand Richards: We discussed it in our meeting. What else should we say besides that announcement? And we decided that was sufficient; that no more needed to be said.
Wesley Walters: Was that the letter you sent out to the various wards?
LeGrand Richards: And to the Church; and to the newspapers, yes.
Chris Vlachos: Will that become a part of “scripture”?
LeGrand Richards: Yes, I’ve already thought in my own mind of suggesting we add it to the Pearl of Great Price, just like those last two revelations that we’ve just added.
Wesley Walters: At that point, is there a special reason why you add it to the Pearl of Great Price rather than to the Doctrine and Covenants? Is it just more convenient to put it in there instead of adding another number or something?
LeGrand Richards: I don’t know, we didn’t discuss the reason, which book it should go in, but the Pearl of Great Price was written and assembled later than the Doctrine and Covenants was and my Grandfather was one that organized the Pearl of Great Price. So when we discussed it in our meeting, we didn’t discuss whether it should go in the Doctrine and Covenants or the Pearl of Great Price. We just discussed how to add those two revelations to the Pearl of Great Price.
Wesley Walters: Will this affect your theological thinking about the Negro as being less valiant in the previous existence? How does this relate? Have you thought that through?
LeGrand Richards: Some time ago, the Brethren decided that we should never say that. We don’t know just what the reason was. Paul said, “The Lord hath before appointed the bounds of the habitations of all men for to dwell upon the face of the earth,” and so He determined that before we were born. He who knows why they were born with black skin or white and so on and so forth. We’ll just have to wait and find out.
Wesley Walters: Is there still a tendency to feel that people are born with black skin because of some previous situation, or do we consider that black skin is no sign anymore of anything inferior in any sense of the word?
LeGrand Richards: Well, we don’t want to get that as a doctrine. Think of it as you will. You know, Paul said “Now we see in part and we know in part; we see through a glass darkly. When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away, then we will see as we are seen, and know as we are known.” Now the Church’s attitude today is to prefer to leave it until we know. The Lord has never indicated that black skin came because of being less faithful. Now, the Indian; we know why he was changed, don’t we? The Book of Mormon tells us that; and he has a dark skin, but he has a promise there that through faithfulness, that shall again become a white and delightsome people. So we haven’t anything like that on the colored thing.
Wesley Walters: Now, with this new revelation – has it brought any new insights or new ways of looking at the Book of Abraham? Because I think traditionally it is thought of the curse of Cain, coming through Canaanites and on the black-skinned people, and therefore denying the priesthood?
LeGrand Richards: We considered that with all the “for’s” and the “against’s” and decided that with all of that, if they lived their lives, and did the work, that they were entitled to their blessings.
Wesley Walters: But you haven’t come up with any new understanding of the Book of Abraham? I just wondered whether there would be a shift in that direction.
Chris Vlachos: Is the recent revelation in harmony with what the past prophets have taught, of when the Negro would receive the priesthood?
LeGrand Richards: Well, they have held out the thought that they would ultimately get the priesthood, but they never determined the time for it. And so when this situation that we face down there in Brazil – Brother Kimball worried a lot about it – how the people are so faithful and devoted. The president of the Relief Society of the stake is a colored woman down there in one of the stakes. If they do the work, why it seems like that the justice of the Lord would approve of giving them the blessing. Now it’s all conditional upon the life that they live, isn’t it?
Wesley Walters: Well, I thank you for clarifying that for me, because you know, out in the streets out there, there must be at least five, ten different stories about the way this happened.
LeGrand Richards: Well, I’ve told you exactly what happened.
Wesley Walters: Right. Well, thank you so much. I appreciate it.
LeGrand Richards: If you quote me why you will be telling the truth.
Wesley Walters: Ok, well fine. You don’t mind if we quote you then?
LeGrand Richards: No.
Wesley Walters: Ok, that’s great!Chris Vlachos interview with Legrand Richards in 1978 regarding Lifting the Priesthood Ban
The interview with Legrand Richards in 1978 reveals the Mormon Church’s decision to end the Priesthood ban on blacks. The policy is viewed as racist, starting with Brigham Young, and persisting through the 1970s. Church leaders had pointed to Joseph Smith earlier, but it was proven that Joseph has personally ordained Elijah Abel and had no qualms with race and the priesthood, so we know it started with Brigham Young, who is proven to have said many racist things. The church commonly portrays this lifting of the ban and Official Declaration 2 as a revelation from God, but the quoted conversation suggests it was more of a logical decision in a board meeting. While these church leaders did pray, they also met as a group and followed the prophet who had seemingly made up his mind on how to solve the current problem. Concerns arose in Brazil due to the significant Negro population, impacting the construction of a temple. The decision was prompted by practical considerations, such as expansion and fundraising efforts, rather than a divine command. The interview implies a connection between the decision and financial interests, challenging the notion of divine inspiration. The portrayed motivations suggest that the change was driven by pragmatic concerns rather than a genuine shift in religious beliefs or divine intervention. Before this, the leadership framed the priesthood ban as a doctrine from God and refused to even consider changes. Then suddenly the change is not only considered, but enacted with little fanfare or grand Revelation from God. The timing here is suspicious as well since most of the staunch racist leaders had by now passed away and the collective sentiments among the top leaders had shifted since the 1960s and especially the 1940s.
How did this priesthood ban affect your faith as a Mormon? What were you taught about the background and reasons for the ban? How did you take it when the ban was lifted? Or were you raised after the ban was lifted and only come to terms with the racist doctrines of the church later in life? Share your own Mormon faith transition story at wasmormon.org!
- https://archive.org/details/1978LegrandRichardsInterview – Audio
- https://archive.org/details/apostle-le-grand-richards-1978-interview-on-negro-lifting-the-priesthood-ban/page/n23/mode/2up – Transcript
- h/t: https://www.reddit.com/r/exmormon/comments/14mh246/comment/jq5j9yn/