News Release

Reflecting on Black Latter-day Saint History

One member discusses her journey to learn more

Black History Month is an opportunity for Canadians to celebrate the legacy of Black men and women who have shaped history and to tell their stories. For Clareena Lindsay, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Montreal, Quebec, this includes commemorating early Black Latter-day Saints and other Black pioneering members of the Church.

In February 2020, Lindsay was invited to give a presentation at the first Black History Month event held in the Montreal Quebec Mount Royal Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Born in the U.K., Lindsay is a Black Latter-day Saint who moved to Canada with her family as a teenager. Later, she married Hugo Lindsay, another Montreal Church member, and together they are raising their children.

Lindsay’s presentation focused on several Black members in Church history and the growth of the Church in Africa and the Caribbean. “It’s great to focus on Black history in February,” says Lindsay, “but Black history should be learned any time of the year.”

Below is a recent interview with Lindsay, reflecting on her 2020 presentation of Black history in the Church.


Thank you for being willing to do this interview. While your presentation was about Black history in the Church in general, it focused on Black pioneers, both in the early Church in the mid-1800s as well as Black members who are more recent trailblazers. Could you talk about how you came to your focus? What motivated you to do the research for this presentation?

Lindsay: “At church, we have spoken a lot about the pioneers, mostly white pioneers and the early Saints, but I felt that I could not fully relate to those stories. By researching Black pioneers, it helped me connect more. I did not know the stories of these faithful Saints, and I felt that many would want to know more about their challenges and how they stayed strong despite their circumstances. What motivated me to research this topic was wanting to explain the circumstances at that time and share all the information in a way that would uplift. I wanted my presentation to be balanced and informative.”

Whose stories were you particularly drawn to and why? How does your knowing about these Black Latter-day Saints change the way you celebrate Black History Month?

Lindsay: “I was really drawn to Jane Elizabeth Manning James and Victor Nugent. I was impressed by how Jane walked over 1,200 km to join the Saints in Nauvoo, and I was interested in her relationship with Emma Smith, how they had a close relationship. Jane seemed like a very strong person with a lot of faith and courage. Victor Nugent’s story also interested me, as I have ancestors from Jamaica, so it was interesting to find out how the Church started to grow there. [Victor and Verna Nugent, along with their son, Peter (who was baptized on the same day), were the first Jamaican converts.] Knowing about these men and women made Black History Month more meaningful to me. I was so impressed by all of their stories.”

Many people, both inside and outside of the Church, will know about the Church’s policy that restricted Black people of African descent from holding the priesthood and participating in some of the ordinances offered to Church members. These restrictions lasted from 1852 to 1978 and are highlighted in your presentation. What would you want people to know about this ban? How does this understanding change, challenge or complicate the ways in which you approach Black history in the Church?

Lindsay: “Something that I was not aware of, that I would want others to know, was that there were a few Black men who held the priesthood [in the early days of the Church]. They had received it before the ban was put in place. One of those men was Elijah Abel. I still do not fully understand why this ban was put in place and why it took so long for it to be lifted. There are theories that some came up with, but none are accepted as official doctrine of the Church.

“I have been attending church my whole life, and this topic was something that I had not thought too much about and has not been discussed too much. I was just aware that it had happened. Researching this topic helped me to think more deeply about the ban and face this topic head on. I hope there will be answers one day about this. For now, each of us has to find our own answers. Despite the ban, there were still many Black people joining the Church. The doctrine of the Church promotes equality and having love for all people.

“When the ban was lifted, members celebrated all around the world. It was a moment of rejoicing and a moment that many alive at that time remember vividly. Members called other Black members of the Church to celebrate with them and share the good news.”

What do you think people need to understand about Black Latter-day Saint history? How would you hope people would have conversations about it?

Lindsay: “I think it’s important to factor in the viewpoint of the time, meaning, not to hold those in the past to the same standard as today. Today, we all know the importance of equality and that everyone matters. But in the past, this view was not respected by everyone. Black Latter-day Saint history is complex. There is a lot that we do not know, but there are many resources to learn about the stories of Black members and their experiences in the Church. On the 40th anniversary of the lifting of the priesthood ban, the Church released more articles about Black Latter-day Saint history.

“I hope that people could speak more openly about Black Latter-day Saint history and that we could hear more of their experiences. I hope we could face the past together and try to learn from what happened. This would help me to feel more connected and more at peace. As a Black woman, it is important to me to know of other strong Black people, to learn of their accomplishments and about their lives.”

Why is it important to recognize and tell these stories of Black members in the Latter-day Saint community and share them with a wider audience now? What do you hope will happen by your sharing them?

Lindsay: “Many have not heard these stories before. Many Black people outside of the Church have the misconception that the Church is racist and that it is a white man’s church. Sharing stories about Black members of the Church can help people to connect more with their experiences and help them to see that there were many Black people in the Church. They would see how the Church grew in Africa, the Caribbean and around the world. Racism exists, but the gospel has always taught that we should love our neighbour and that the Lord ‘denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female, … all are alike unto God…’ (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 26:33). By sharing these stories of Black Latter-day Saints, I hoped that people would be inspired and strengthened from their experiences. I also hoped that many would also have the desire to research on their own and learn about the other Black pioneers that I had not mentioned.”

Is there anything else you want to share about your experience of learning about, sharing and reflecting on Black history in the Church?

Lindsay: “When I was first given this topic for my presentation, I was very stressed, as I did not know what I should include and was worried about how the audience would receive my words. Researching about Black members of the Church was a healing process for me. Although there is still more to learn, I felt peace and was able to come to terms with what had happened in the past regarding the priesthood ban. By sharing about Black history in the Church, I was able to have more conversations with those around me. I personally felt like it was the beginning of open conversation about this topic, and I was able to learn from others as well.

“[Reflecting on] these questions allowed me to think deeply and remember how I felt while preparing my presentation [in 2020]. It rekindled my desire to learn more about Black history.”

Contributed by Heather Thomson

Read the article in French

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