Black LDS leader Darius Gray makes, contributes to Mormon history

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

Updated: Monday, June 16 2014 11:58 p.m. MDT

Gray experienced struggles, too. His marriage failed, the amount of racism he faced increased, and he became uneasy being the conspicuous "Negro Mormon" of the early 1970s. He also came to believe some of the folklore behind the priesthood restriction.

He was not an active member of the church on June 8, 1978, when LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball announced a revelation that extended the priesthood to all worthy men. That meant worthy black members also would have access to full temple blessings that Latter-day Saints consider necessary for exaltation: "I was as surprised as anyone when the revelation came," he said.

His firm foundation in the faith led to a return to full church activity in the early 1980s, and he was ordained to the priesthood. He told his colleague, Margaret Blair Young, with whom he has written books and made documentaries, that after he received the LDS temple endowment "he was hesitant to even touch anyone for fear that the power of the temple would shock them."

His experiences gave Gray added gravitas in counseling blacks throughout the church about their own concerns about the past priesthood restriction and the racism of some church members.

"There are kind, loving people in the church," Gray said, "but there are those who are less kind and those downright hostile to people of color, and even more so in those days."

As Gray aged, his looks added to his presence, with gray flecking his hair and beard, adding to the twinkle in his eye and framing a broad, generous smile.

Gray also has a deep, pleasant voice. He doesn't get it when people tell him that, though. To his own ears, his voice sounds high.

Terminal illness

Gray has bone cancer. It is slow-progressing, and it is incurable.

He doesn't want a big deal made of this: "The prognosis is I'm not going to be here one day shorter than or one day longer than God wants me to be," he said.

He's dealt with health issues for a couple of decades, at least, including a heart bypass, a new right hip and back surgery last year.

Of his body, he said, "It's been rode hard and put away wet, but it has a lot of miles on it."

Now he knows what it's like to have a doctor declare he has cancer.

"If what I profess to believe all these years is real in me, then what's the problem?" he said. "We are all going to get out of here some time. I just have an idea of what may be punching my card."

His major complaint is fatigue, and he deals with a "fair amount" of pain, but though retired he remains busy counseling people, doing research and contributing to Young's latest project, "Heart of Africa."

The beginning

Fifty years ago this month, Gray regularly walked through an alleyway in Colorado Springs, Colorado, through a backyard and up onto the porch of John and Barbara Felix, where the screen door was open.

He'd give it a quick rap and walk right in and watch the gospel being lived, he said.

The Felixes gave Gray a copy of the Book of Mormon.

"I think they cheated," he said. "They asked me questions pertaining to it. I didn't want to look stupid, so I felt I had to start reading. That began my journey. I've always been one with questions, and they told me I really needed to meet the missionaries."

The Felixes were genuine.

"Some people put on fronts, and appear to be," Gray said. "Others are real, and are."

What he was being taught fit his upbringing in interesting ways. The grandson of a slave born in Missouri just before the Civil War, Gray said his parents were "goodly" and introduced him to the community of Christ. They insisted he attend a black church on Sundays and a white Bible school in the summers.

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