Darius Gray (right) meets with Frederick Douglas IV in Washington D.C.
On June 8, 1971, exactly seven years before President Spencer W. Kimball would receive a revelation extending the priesthood to “all worthy males,” modern Church history was made as Elders Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, and Boyd K. Packer (then junior Apostles) met with three Black Latter-day Saints-Ruffin Bridgeforth, Darius Gray, and Eugene Orr-to discuss how the Church might better support its members of African descent. These six men worked together weekly, until the Genesis Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was established on October 19, 1971, under the direction of President Joseph Fielding Smith. Nearly two hundred people attended that October meeting. Afterwards, Apostle Hinckley set apart Ruffin Bridgeforth as President of the Genesis Branch. Apostle Monson set apart Darius Gray as first counselor, and Apostle Packer set apart Eugene Orr as Second Counselor.
The goal was clear: The Church sought to meet the needs of Black members, many of whom were descendants of early pioneers. With the hope of reactivating those who had left the Church, and of supporting new converts of African descent, “Genesis” began holding monthly meetings. Sister Leitha Orr noted in her journal: “Our group is growing. We have had four baptisms already, and I know the Lord is pleased with our efforts, for His Kingdom is growing and if we all continue to work together in unity and love, we will not be able to count our blessings, for I know the Lord lives and answers prayers and He takes care of His own. Soon our men will have the priesthood and then we can progress spiritually and be able to go to the temple. I pray we will all endure to the end.”
President Bridgeforth died in March 1997. Elder Boyd K. Packer spoke for the Brethren, indicating that the group should continue with the same structure and mandate as in the past. Brother Darius Gray was called as the new Genesis president.
The group continues to grow. It once met in a Relief Society room, but now meets in a chapel, and often has to extend into the overflow area. Its newsletter goes out to over one thousand families across the United States and Canada. The organization is not segregated, but welcomes members of all races. Many who attend are Caucasian families who have adopted Black or bi-racial children. The meetings are uplifting, and always conclude with the bearing of testimonies. The Genesis Group also has an annual picnic and an annual Christmas party.
Recently, the group has sponsored a number of activities to heighten awareness and appreciation of Black pioneer heritage. In the July 1997 “Days of ’47” parade, “Genesis” sponsored a float in tribute to Elijah Abel, a Black man who joined the Church in 1832 and served three missions. On June 5th. 1999, the group dedicated a monument to Jane Manning James, who, with her family, walked eight hundred miles to join the Saints in Nauvoo, and then came across the plains, remaining a loyal Church member all of her life. At that dedication, Elder David B. Haight addressed the audience, telling them that Jane had been in his own ancestors’ pioneer company and had likely helped them out “because that’s the way she was constructed.” Elder Alexander Morrison also spoke, paying tribute to Jane as “a great and noble woman.” Elder John H. Groberg and archivist Henry Wolfinger were in attendance as well. On March 5 , 2000, members of Genesis debuted a play about Jane’s life called I am Jane. Again, Elders Haight and Groberg were in attendance, as was Elder Cecil O. Samuelson. I Am Jane will be shown again at the Bountiful [Utah] Regional Center as part of the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the priesthood revelation. Showtimes will be Friday June 6 at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday June 7 at 2:00 p.m. Saturday morning, members of Genesis will meet in the Salt Lake Temple at 9:00. That afternoon, from 4:00-7:00, there will be a picnic for all Genesis members. The highlight of the celebration will be the Genesis meeting on June 8 at 7:00 p.m. in the historic tabernacle on Temple Square, which will feature the Saints Unified Voices, conducted by Gladys Knight.
Normally “Genesis” meets at 7:00 p.m. the first Sunday of every month in the chapel at 6710 S. 1300 E. in Midvale, Utah. It is not a substitute for ward activity, but is intended to be a support to bishops, stake, mission, and branch presidents, and to individual members. For further information, email LDSGenesis@aol.com
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