Darius Gray was one of the few black members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the day the priesthood was opened to all worthy male members of the church.
When a co-worker first broke the news to him on June 8, 1978, Gray thought it was a cruel joke. He didn't believe it until it was personally confirmed to him by President Spencer W. Kimball's secretary.A church member since 1964, Gray said he never expected to live to see that day. Sunday night, he and several hundred other members and friends of the Genesis Group celebrated the 20th anniversary of that watershed event in church history.
Established by the church in 1971 as support organization for black members, Genesis marked the occasion with high-energy renditions of "O Happy Day" and other joyous songs and recollections.
"Work of the church goes forward today that could not have gone forward but for that day," Gray said, citing the growth in the black membership of the church and in temple ordinances associated with that growth.
Betty Bridgeforth said that like Gray, her late husband, Ruffin, never thought he would see blacks given the priesthood. It wasn't long after the change that Ruffin Bridgeforth became the first black high priest in the LDS Church.
"Sisters, we have the priesthood in our homes; let us be grateful for that," Bridgeforth told women of the Genesis Group.
Elder Alexander B. Morrison of the First Quorum of the Seventy and president of the Utah North Area said the revelation on the priesthood "brought the dawn of a new day to a part of the world I've dearly loved for so long."
In his address, Elder Morrison offered a historical and scriptural overview, saying President Kim-ball's announcement was greeted with joy and thanksgiving throughout the church.
Quoting LDS scripture, Elder Morrison said that to God, all of his children are alike. Simply put, barriers of race, ethnicity and status have no meaning to God, he said.
Elder Morrison said church leaders who were familiar with the details of the revelation have declined to speak extensively about it because of a "godly reluctance to speak too freely of sacred things."
However, he said, the historical record, including the public comments of President Kimball, shows the revelation involved a "searching and reaching and striving to understand the will of the Lord."
"Another factor was also involved," Elder Morrison added. "God clearly has a divine timetable according to which nations and peoples and races are to be offered the saving, exalting truths of the gospel. It has always been so."
President Kimball's supplication undoubtedly came "at that moment in history when God of heaven in his wisdom knew the time had come to offer the fullness of the glorious gospel, with all of its blessings and obligations, to his African children," Elder Morrison said.
"The revelation certainly forced us to look again at the teachings and practices of some church members and to reconsider them under the lens of new light and knowledge."
On that point, he quoted the published remarks of the late Elder Bruce R. McConkie, who noted that he and other church leaders had made statements suggesting that blacks would never receive the priesthood:
"It doesn't make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June 1978. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that shed light out into the world on the subject."