Lester Bush described the attitude of LDS leadership and the difficulties in performing research for his essay “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine”:1
In attempting to gain access to some materials in the Church Historian’s Office, I was required to meet with its head, ninety-two-year-old Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith. His main points in our interview were that the work on blacks and the priesthood already had been done (i.e., his own work), and that the Church didn’t want every “Tom, Dick, or Harry” looking through its records. Naively—and armed with my temple recommend—I said I didn’t think I was any “Tom, Dick, or Harry.” He replied, with a smile, that they didn’t want any “Tom, Dick, or Bob” either.
… an archival staff member explained that I couldn’t look at a vast collection of documents then termed the Manuscript History of the Church but let me photocopy an annotated index to this collection, which included much substantive detail. …
He described in multiple letters Boyd K. Packer’s disposition towards the public availability of difficult documents:
To a large extent, they were sorry the material [Bennion papers] was available—but this already had been verified for them by the Historical Dept., so that was not primarily directed at me. [Packer did, however, ask again who at BYU gave me the Bennion papers. I told him that my brother originally had come onto the Bennion papers while doing research at BYU. I was asked if my brother worked there at the time, which he didn’t, and the subject was again dropped. As part of this discussion I again mentioned that almost identical materials were available in the George Albert Smith Papers at the University of Utah. To this Packer responded with visible disdain that this was not the result of a charitable interest in scholarship on the part of the Smith family, but rather they had sold (as in, “their birthright”) these sensitive materials to the university.] My notes apparently were not evaluated for substantive questions, but rather from the perspective of what material had gotten out, and how.
… When I pressed for some specifics as to problems with my paper, they explained that the material I had included on President Joseph F. Smith showed him reversing his opinion on a crucial point regarding Elijah Abel, an early black priesthood holder. This information, they said, could undermine faith in his role as a prophet, so was inappropriate.
Bush also reports notes from Robert A. Rees, the editor for Dialogue (the journal that was planning to publish Bush’s research), in a conversation with the Academic Vice President at BYU Robert K. Thomas, conveying pressure from general authorities to discourage publication:
Brother Thomas began … by saying that he had heard some disturbing things about an article which Dialogue was going to be publishing on Mormonism and the Negro and that even though he had not seen the article the indications of the conversations that he had had made him feel that this was a Rubicon river for Dialogue. The initial inquiry or at least one of the inquiries came to [then BYU president] Dallin Oaks in regard to the quotation of the material from the Bennion papers which are at Brigham Young University and Bob said that because… materials from those papers were used in the Dialogue article, that Brigham Young University was going to be in big trouble, He said that he had gotten several calls… from several highly placed sources asking explicit questions about BYU and … in terms of his experience … over a long period of time the original source of those inquiries was unmistakenly from the General Authorities. He said that if Dialogue prints Bush’s article the brethren will think that Dialogue is hostile. He said that to this point that Dialogue has not been considered hostile but that the brethren will clearly think that if we publish this article…
He describes a conversation with Leonard Arrington regarding the Bennion Papers:
… A few months later I heard from the special collections staffer at BYU that “Some time after your statement that you used the Bennion papers at the University, the Library was contacted in behalf of the First Presidency stating that we should not have copies of the councils’ minutes and requested [that the library] send them up…” …
There were also attempts by Apostle Mark E. Petersen to have Lester Bush disciplined:
[J. Willard Marriot Jr., Bush’s stake president] said he had received a telephone call from Apostle Mark E. Petersen, who had spoken “very harshly” about me over my publications on the “Negro Doctrine” and instructed Marriott to call me in and take some appropriate action.