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Mormon history group honors Darius Gray

Published: Saturday, June 7 2014 10:45 a.m. MDT

Darius Gray, center, displays the special citation given to him by Ronald O. Barney, right, executive director of the Mormon History Association. Richard E. Bennett, left, this year's association president, applauds.

R. Scott Lloyd

SAN ANTONIO — Seven years before President Spencer W. Kimball received a revelation allowing black men to be ordained to the priesthood in the LDS Church, Darius Gray knelt in prayer with two other black male Latter-day Saints. That soon led to the founding of what would be the Genesis group, a support organization for African-American church members formed with general leaders of the church — including Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — as advisers.

In the years following the 1978 revelation, Gray has been president of the group and has done much to tell the story of the black Mormon experience.

Now, the Mormon History Association has honored Gray with a special citation for outstanding contributions to Mormon history.

Meeting in San Antonio for its 49th annual conference, the association presented the citation Friday night at its annual awards banquet.

“Contributions to history generally take one of two genres: writing history or being history,” said association executive director Ronald O. Barney in presenting the award. “Darius Aidan Gray is one of the very few personalities within the Latter-day Saint tradition who has achieved excellence in both genres.”

Barney recounted that Gray joined the church in 1964, 14 years before the June 1978 revelation would allow him to receive the priesthood, “and during a time when African-American church members were few and unappreciated.”

After co-founding Genesis in 1971 with Ruffin Bridgforth and Eugene Orr, Gray served as the president of the group from 1997 to 2003.

“In 2008, he co-produced and co-directed with Margaret Blair Young the groundbreaking documentary ‘Nobody Knows: the Untold Story of Black Mormons,’ which screened in a number of national public television markets,” Barney said. With Young as co-author, he created the award-winning trilogy of novels about early black Mormon pioneers, “Standing on the Promises,” published by Bookcraft, Barney added.

“Darius participated in the highly acclaimed PBS family history series ‘Ancestors,’ produced by KBYU Television, and was involved in the KUED documentaries, ‘Utah’s African American Voices’ and ‘Utah’s Freedom Riders,’ ” Barney said.

He added that Gray also recently co-hosted “Questions and Ancestors,” a nationally aired program on genealogy.

“Significantly, Darius was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Award by the Utah NAACP, a recognition of his contribution to bridging the religious and racial divides in Utah,” he said.

“Unquestionably his most important genealogical achievement was his co-direction of the Freedmen’s Bank Record Project, an 11-year effort that yielded a treasure-trove of long-inaccessible documents covering four generations of African-Americans, the descendants of whom number over 10 million.”

Barney remarked, “It is difficult to overstate the influence of Darius Aidan Gray on countless individuals within and outside the LDS Church. Few if any in the history of Mormonism have had a more profound impact on its efforts to eliminate racism and bigotry.”

After receiving the award before a standing ovation, Gray responded, “It is something I will cherish, and I thank you. I thank you more, though, for your friendship, for your warmth. There aren’t words to convey how much that means.”

The award came two days before Gray is scheduled to participate in a panel discussion on civil rights, part of a Mormon History Association post-conference tour, that will take place at the Lyndon B. Johnson Ranch. That will coincide with the 36th anniversary of when the revelation on the priesthood was received.

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