The following is a transcript of the email correspondence I had with a Church Historian via the Ask Us feature of the Church History Library in the Summer of 2020.
I asked the following question to the Ask Us service of the Church History Library on July 15, 2020:
Do you have a photocopy of the original August 17, 1949 First Presidency Statement? The August 17, 1949 First Presidency Statement is referenced by historians, discussed in dissertations, and a transcript is presented on FairMormon (https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Mormonism_and_racial_issues/Blacks_and_the_priesthood/Statements#1949). According to Bringhurst and Harris it was not included in James R. Clark’s “comprehensive” set of First Presidency statements at the request of Joseph Fielding Smith, and this means that many Church members question its existence/validity.
Do you have a photocopy of the original 1949 First Presidency Statement? Can you email it to me as an attachment?
If you do not have it or cannot photocopy it, can you at least confirm that the statement exists and that it was a genuine First Presidency statement?
Informal telephone response
I initially received an informal telephone response, but it is fully superseceded in content and clarity by the written response I later received. The Church Historian was very kind and helpful.
First written response
Aug 28 2020, 11:06am via System
I apologize for the delay in getting back to you.
We can confirm that the following text was used by the First Presidency in responses to inquiries about the priesthood restriction for several years beginning in 1949. The text was never issued publicly but, rather, was used as standard language in private correspondence.
“The attitude of the Church with reference to negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: ‘Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to.’
“President Wilford Woodruff made the following statement: ‘The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have.’
“The position of the Church regarding the negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality, and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the principle itself indicates that the coming to this earth and taking on mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood, is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the negroes.”
I hope that answers your question.
<A Church Historian>
Thank you, <Church Historian>. That’s super helpful!!
Do you happen to have a photocopy of any of the private correspondence? Was the private correspondence issued over first presidency signature on first presidency letterhead?
Do you have access to the original template?
Thanks, <my name>
Final written response
Aug 31 2020, 11:55am via System
First Presidency correspondence is not available for research and so we are unable to provide you with any additional documentation at this time.
<A Church Historian>