The only book dealing directly and only with the concept of race and racism in the list is a work published this year by Oxford University Press and written by W. Paul Reeve called Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness. Elijah Able, “Not one drop,” and 1978 are often highlights of the historical Mormon struggle with race, though it is important to know that there is more to the story than a ban on priesthood ordination for black men starting officially in 1852 (Young) and ending in 1978 (Kimball). The very concept of race is more than the color of ones skin but a reflection on the quality of person, where race is merely a social construct with utility is designating the right and wrong sort of people. Mormons throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th century were branded as non-white in order for protestant america to express it’s discontent and rejection of Mormonism’s heretical beliefs and eventually it’ practice of polygamy. In doing so Protestant america not only showed it’s contempt for Mormonism but revealed it’s racist position for all races that were not white, for if a group’s name or description is useful in producing insult, that group is surely not held in high esteem. As often seems to be the case Mormons could not ever win. in the 19th century they were not white and by the time the priesthood and temple ban against blacks was reversed they were seen as too white (e.g. Mitt Romney).
TL/DR: In this sixth installment of “Top Ten Books on Mormon History,” Ben and I discuss a thorough and compelling analysis on race in Mormon history, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness.
For a more detailed treatment of the first chapter and to see a picture of Brigham as a cephalopod read my review of the book on my personal blog. Additionally a good student of Mormon history on this subject should familiarize themselves with Lester Bush’s landmark Dialogue article from 1973, MORMONISM’S NEGRO DOCTRINE: AN HISTORICAL OVERVIEW.
Our “Top Ten Books on Mormon History” list was composed for someone new to Mormon History. The criteria for inclusion are the book’s demonstration of:
- Use of a sophisticated academic approach and emphasis on analysis over merely regurgitating data and documents.
- Coverage an important person, event, or period in Mormon history
- Quality of writing.
- Length (not too long).
- Matthew Bowman, The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith
Release in March
- Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling
Release in April
- Ronald Walker et. al., Massacre at Mountain Meadows
Release in May
- Sarah Barringer Gordon, The Mormon Question Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America
Release in June
- Kathryn Daynes, More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910
Release in July
- Paul Reeve, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness
Release in August
- Kathleen Flake, The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle
Release in September
- Armand Mauss, The Angel and the Beehive: THE MORMON STRUGGLE WITH ASSIMILATION
Release in October
- Prince & Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism
Release in November
- Martha Bradley, Pedestals and Podiums: Utah Women, Religious Authority, and Equal Rights
Release in December