By Elizabeth Basok
Brigham Young is the second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) who led Mormons to Salt Lake City, making the city the Mormon hub that it is today. Young opened an academy, which later became known as Brigham Young University (established in 1875), which still bears his name today. Brigham Young University (BYU) is affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from the beginning, as Young wanted a religious institution that could offer a “…good education unmixed with the pernicious atheistic influences that are found in so many of the higher schools of the country” (Bills 2003). While the aim to open a Mormon- centered school is admirable, it’s clear that through research of Young’s teachings that Young has proven himself to be a problematic person who held deeply racist views, views that he brought into politics and into the teachings of the of the LDS church. For these reasons, I believe that it is time to consider a new name for this LDS institution, a name that would better reflect the current beliefs and values of the church.
The founder of the LDS Church, Joseph Smith, died in 1844, which left Young to take over as president. Under Young’s leadership, Young “prohibited the ordination of blacks” (Bringhurst and Harris). If you don’t know what this means, it means that Black men could not hold the priesthood (cannot become bishops) and Black men and women could not partake in temple rituals (Green 2017). This ban happened in 1852, in a country that still enslaved people; however, this ban remained in effect until 1978. This means that the LDS Church upheld this racist policy through the Civil War and through the Civil Rights Movement.
While Young strongly supported slavery, as well as a “black priesthood ban” (Bringhurst and Harris), his racism does not stop there. He also stated “Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot” (Bringhurst and Harris). He went on to claim that individuals of mixed race would not be able to reproduce, comparing them to mules (Bringhurst and Harris). This implies that he believed that people of a different race were similar to another species. His belief in white supremacy is clear and undebatable.
You might be asking yourself, why are we holding Young to today’s moral standards? It seems clear that Young’s positions were even radical at that time. To excuse his discriminative views by chalking it up to “it was a different time,” ignores the real harm that he did to members of his church and community. It ignores that the abolitionist movement was so vocal at this time, the abolitionist views were so well known at this time, but he chose to hold his bigoted views. While we ought to remember our past prophets, if they advocated for hate and violence, we should not name institutions after them in the very least.