Date: November 25, 2019 (S1 E3 - Part 2: 21 min. & 23 seconds). For the entire show notes and additional resources for this episode, click here. Are you interested in other episodes of Speak Your Piece? Click Here. This episode was co-produced by Brad Westwood and Chelsey Zamir, with help (sound engineering and post-production editing) from Jason Powers from the Utah State Library Recording Studio.
In Part 2 of this episode, Reeve begins by telling listeners of SYP about some surprises he discovered while working on the Century of Black Mormons database. The database, Reeve notes, pinpoints locations of baptisms of African Americans. One interesting thing that emerged was a significant amount of baptisms that took place in Utah. Reeve states his surprise in finding in the source materials documentation of 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and even 5th generations of African American LDS Church members, and not just pioneer converts to the faith, but that the faith was passed on for generations.
Reeve’s other works on race include his 2015 award-winning book Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (Oxford University Press). Reeve notes that the thesis of this book is to address how Mormons, historically, have been seen through a racial lens. Starting in the nineteenth century, Reeve continues, Mormons were deemed as not “white” enough. This determination was largely based on Mormon policies of isolation and polygamy. At this time, members of the scientific and medical communities argued that the Mormon practice of polygamy contributed to the creation of a “denigrated” and “deformed” race and eventual sterility. In 1879, under the Hayes administration, the U.S. Government even went so far as to attempt to cut off European immigration to Utah, as large populations at the time were immigrating to Utah to convert to Mormonism. These immigrants, combined with the integration and conversion of Native American communities, contributed to “race mixing.” All of these policies and tactics contributed to the Mormon’s reputation as a suspect racial group, a real problem.
Reeve concludes Part 2 of this episode in stating that one can’t really understand the present without understanding the past. While still unforgivable, in understanding the racial history of the Mormons, it helps us to make sense of the attempts by the Mormons to impose racial restrictions within church practices. Understanding this past will hopefully teach us some very valuable lessons. Reeve hopes that his project is an attempt at bringing that history, and the stories of those silenced, back to public knowledge.
Bio: W. Paul Reeve was raised in Hurricane (Washington County) Utah. Since 2008, Reeve has been professor of American, Western, Mormon and Utah history at the University of Utah. Reeve is the first-ever Simmons Professor of Mormon Studies at the University of Utah, and has written a number of books, including: Making Space on the Western Frontier: Mormons, Miners, and Southern Paiutes (2007), Between Pulpit and Pew: The Supernatural World in Mormon History and Folklore (with Michael Scott Van Wagenen, 2011), and Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (2015).
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