SALT LAKE CITY — Darius Gray spent the past eight months reviewing racist statements made in the past by LDS Church members and late church leaders in preparation for the major lecture he gave Friday night at the Salt Lake City Library.
The project of looking backward to talk about his 54 years as a black member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stirred up fresh pain he didn't expect. A month ago, Gray, looked up to by thousands of African-American Mormons for what one observer called his wise and measured voice, found himself unable to complete his talk, even as he helped organize the 40th-anniversary celebration of the revelation that ended the church's restriction on blacks holding the priesthood.
"The Negro is markedly inferior," one late leader had written. Another called the Negro race the "lowest in intelligence."
"The well of knowledge and attitudes within the body of the church was indeed poisoned," Gray said as he delivered the 27th annual Sterling M. McMurrin Lecture on Religion and Culture, "and we're suffering the consequences of that yet today."
His unexpected burden finally lifted on June 1 as he sat on the stand in the Conference Center with every member of the church's First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve during "Be One," the First Presidency's celebration of the revelation.
Gray characterized the event as marvelous.
"I harbor magnificent hopes for our future," he said.
He played video clips from statements made by the church's two senior leaders.
"That understanding (of the true Fatherhood of God) inspires us with passionate desire to build bridges of cooperation instead of walls of segregation," President Russell M. Nelson said.
"The reasons that had been given to try to explain the prior restrictions on members of African ancestry — even those previously voiced by revered church leaders — were promptly and publicly disavowed" after the 1978 revelation, said President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, in clips played by Gray during his lecture.
He added that the revelation was "a divine call to abandon attitudes of prejudice against any group of God’s children."
Gray said, "Those words spoken by President Dallin Oaks were words I never expected to hear come from any general authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is a new day, and we can't just look back."
The celebration lifted his months-long burden.
"It changed me," he added. "My takeaway, and the takeaway I offer to each of you, whatever the wound, however deep, whatever the source, however angry you are, and however much you might want to fight, it's a time to heal and it's the time to bury our weapons."
Gray earned standing ovations before his lecture, after it and after the question-and-answer session.
"This lecture reinforces that Darius has weathered the storms of racism and remains resilient," said Paul Reeve, the Simmons Mormon Studies Professor at the University of Utah. "He has given us wise counsel about healing from his depth of knowledge, wisdom and experience."
Princesse DesRose, 33, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a graduate student in health promotions and education at the University of Utah who has been mentored by Gray, was grateful to learn about Gray's experience of healing.
"All of us as black members of the church need healing, because it's painful," she said. "Burying our weapons is a great image of us moving forward with faith, and I can find that in myself, building a personal relationship with God."
Gray shared the most tender moment he experienced on June 9, 1978, when LDS leaders announced the revelation. He sought out his friend Heber Wolsey, the church's new director of public communications, in his office overlooking the Salt Lake Temple.46 comments on this story
"Heber and I stood there arm in arm in tears," Gray said, "realizing that the world had totally changed and would never be the same, and also in a flash understanding that that revelation changed not only that moment or the future, but also changed the past."
He said that he learned that for years prior to 1978, as LDS Church members prepared names for temple work, the names of those of African descent were set aside. After the revelation, "I became aware of that and was involved in making sure that those names would now go through the temple," he said.
"So that event, that revelation tied the past and the current to the future," he added. "It was a marvelous day."