Black LDS leader Darius Gray makes, contributes to Mormon history

Published: Monday, June 16 2014 9:35 a.m. MDT

The foreman insisted, and he confronted the owner, asked him when he would pay Gray. "I'm not going to pay him," said the owner, who used a derogatory term.

The foreman and his friends immediately walked off the job, two cars full of 20-something men driving away after taking a stand against a bigoted businessman. They insisted on driving Gray north to Salt Lake City where he filed a claim. He eventually received back pay.

"That's when I first really understood — the negative side was bad," he said. "And the positive side was really good. The owner was representative of one mindset, and all of those men who walked off the job and supported me were representative of another mindset."

Gray had been staying in the Hotel Roberts on University Avenue. The now ex-foreman helped him find a space in a family's storage loft. It was unfurnished. He went to Albertsons and returned with cardboard boxes. He wrapped a blanket around one for his bedding.

Leader in making

In hindsight it's clear Gray was plowing an uncommon path as soon as he joined the LDS Church the day after Christmas in 1964. It was the middle of the Civil Rights era, and the church had a priesthood restriction — black men could not receive the priesthood, and black men and women could not enjoy the full blessings Latter-day Saints receive in the faith's temples.

Gray had many questions, but his testimony of his new faith was not in doubt. What Gray had received, the night before his baptism, was a spiritual witness that he was to join the church: "This is the restored gospel, and you are to join," he was told.

No mention was made of the priesthood restriction, he said, so he set out in search of answers.

"The question all along," he said, "since Dec. 26, 1964, was what is this priesthood restriction all about? Is it of God? Is it of man? Is there a way to find out?"

The research was painstaking. There was no Internet. A pack rat, Gray still has most of the documents he collected.

"I gathered enough information to suspect the priesthood restriction was likely of man and not of God, but it was a moving target. Some would say a revelation is coming (that would give black men the priesthood). Others said it wouldn't come until after the Second Coming. Others said it wouldn't be until the end of the Millennial period. No one had a firm grasp on it."

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Gray was moving in elevated circles in Salt Lake City. KSL president Arch Madsen offered Gray a job as a cub reporter in 1966, became a mentor and later asked Gray to commit to return to BYU and finish a degree.

Madsen also sent Gray and his wife as stand-ins to dinners and other events around town. Soon, the Grays were rubbing elbows with civic leaders and LDS Church leaders.

"Arch opened the world for me," Gray said. "I am and will be grateful."

In 1970, LDS Church President Joseph Fielding Smith and his counselor in the church's First Presidency, President Harold B. Lee, approached Gray at an event and asked him to convey personal greetings from them to any Latter-day Saints he met on his upcoming trip to Africa.

Gray found the idea ridiculous. Latter-day Saints in Africa?

Three things stand out about his first minutes in Ethiopia, his first stop. Each happened before he left the airport. One, he took malaria pills. Two, he scooped up the first African soil he stepped on and put it in a jar he still has today, and three, he met Mormons: "That taught me not to be so arrogant," Gray said, "and to have faith in the brethren."

Firm foundation

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