Mormania: 1974-Black Young Men Can Be Boy Scout Patrol Leaders

I find it ironic, in light of this recent article about Mormons being intentionally kicked out as scout leaders in another Christian church, that in 1974 the LDS Church changed its policies when it found that they were having unintended consequences.

Prior to 1974, LDS Church guidelines required Senior Patrol Leaders in their Boy Scout Troops to also be deacons in the LDS Priesthood. Based on this requirement, black young men could not be senior patrol leaders.  In August 1974, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People prepared to file a lawsuit against the LDS Church.  The Tri-City Herald of August 2, 1974 reported that

Two hours before Boy Scout leaders were to appear in federal district court to answer a discrimination suit, the Mormon Church announced this morning it has changed its policy and will no longer prevent black boy scouts from becoming senior patrol leaders in its troops.

The statement issued by the church admitted that its previous policy of denying black young men this opportunity "is not in accord with the charter from the Boy Scouts of America under which the church operates its scouting program."

Since that time, the deacon’s quorum president of each LDS ward is usually also the senior patrol leader, but it is no longer a requirement.
The Bangor Daily News of August 2, 1974 reported that the NAACP was, however, not satisfied with the Church’s decision, calling 

…the church’s new policy “racist” and said they planned to go ahead with the suit anyway.
“It is apparent that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America are bedfellows against the interested of black people,” said the NAACP spokesman Mike Clark. Clark, a political science professor at the University of Utah, claimed that
the Church’s new statement “has changed absolutely nothing. We consider the policy statement itself to be racist and condescending.”

The Bryan Times of August 3, 1974 sheds further light on what the concerns of the NAACP likely were over the new policy:

Church leaders and national Boy Scout officials agreed on a new guideline providing that “generally the deacons quorum president would serve as the senior patrol leader” unless someone else is “better qualified.”

But [Mike] Clark said the church’s new statement apparently required that a black boy be better qualified than his white counterparts.

Interestingly, Spencer W. Kimball, LDS Church president at that time, stated that 

the Church “never intended to discriminate against anyone” with its policy of reserving the “senior patrol leader” post in each troop to the local Mormon Deacon’s Quorum president.

In fact, according to the August 2nd Tri-City Herald article (quoted above), stated that the BSA found 

no evidence the earlier church policy instituted a year ago had in fact worked to exclude any qualified boy from the position of senior patrol leader…

However, the NAACP disagreed.

The suit was brought by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people against the national and local Boy Scouts and a Mormon-sponsored troop where two black scouts had allegedy been denied consideration for appointment as senior patrol leader because of their race.

It is likely that the local LDS ward was implementing policy as it was written without knowledge by the general leadership of the Church of the affect it had on the two young black men.

Wendell J. Ashton, a church spokesman, said [that] any boy can achieve other leadership positions in the Scout units and the church does not prevent “any boy in the troop from gaining the outstanding benefits of leadership, character development, and advancement.”

On August 12th, 1974, in the Spokane Daily Chronicle, Carl T Rowan wrote the following:

I know a  lot of…Mormons who…I cannot consider racists. But I am left with perplexing questions about how people who speak with such devotion about love for all mankind can accept a church doctrine that denies the priesthood to blacks.

When I discussed this topic with my children recently, my daughter said that withholding the priesthood from black men was one of the dumbest things she had ever heard of. I told her that, on the face of it, I agree, until I came to the realization that, apparently, somewhere, sometime, a prophet of the Church received a revelation stating that blacks were not yet to receive the priesthood. 

“Did it make sense for Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac?” I asked, trying to illustrate the point.  Then answering my own question, I replied “No, until we realize that God asked him to.”

In his Daily Chronicle article, Carl Rowan went on to opine that the Church’s new policy would be

much to the embarrassment of whatever white deacon is found to be less qualified [to be senior patrol leader].

Rowan went on to discount the claim by a member of the Church (which happened to be accurate reflection of LDS Church doctrine) that

“we don’t think blacks are inferior because they don’t hold the priesthood. Our women may not hold the priesthood, and we…don’t regard them as inferior [either].”

I can see how someone, especially a black person, and more especially a black person outside the LDS Church would be offended at such a policy. It was not, however, intended by the Church to be offensive or racist.


  1. "It was not, however, intended by the Church to be offensive or racist."

    Are "secondary intentions" still intentions?

    The Church certainly intended to support Brigham Young as the mouthpiece of the Lord, sustain him as a prophet, and perpetuate his teachings.

    Brigham Young is was an aggressively outspoken racist. He was pro-slavery, anti-abolition, and even prophesied that the day the "Negro" was offered full fellowship in the Church was the day the Church had fallen into apostasy.,_Blacks,_and_the_priesthood

    Perhaps Spencer W. Kimball did not intend to be racist, but he certainly intended to perpetuate the culture, tradition, and heritage founded by Brigham Young.

    It's ironic that according to Brigham Young, the LDS Church has no priesthood authority anymore.

  2. @ B. Lewis: google "presentism"


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