Church to host 50th anniversary celebration for Genesis, a group for Black Latter-day Saints

LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson speaks at the
"Be One” event at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on June 1, 2018. The event celebrated the 40th anniversary of
the 1978 revelation ending the church’s racial restriction.

LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson speaks at the "Be One” event at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on June 1, 2018. The event celebrated the 40th anniversary of the 1978 revelation ending the church’s racial restriction. (Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will host a 50th-anniversary celebration on Saturday night for the Genesis Group, its organization for Black Latter-day Saints in northern Utah.

The event will begin at 6 p.m. in the Tabernacle on Temple Square and be broadcast live on the church's website.

The devotional will include speeches by Genesis founders and current leaders as well as musical performances, including prelude music provided by the Debra Bonner Unity Gospel Choir beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Many of the organizers and founders of Genesis have passed away.

The first president of Genesis, Ruffin Bridgeforth, died in 1997. The three Latter-day Saint apostles who created Genesis in October 1971 to serve the needs of African-American Latter-day Saints also have died — Presidents Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson and Boyd K. Packer.

Genesis has functioned in various formats across five decades and now operates as a multi-stake activities group in the Utah Area and hosts meetings on the first Sunday of every month.

Genesis was formed more than six years before the church lifted its restriction on priesthood and temple blessings for Blacks. Past Genesis president Darius Gray, one of the counselors in the group's original presidency, has described what it was like for Black church members before 1978. Genesis was designed to help.

"I remember an evening in 1971, Oct. 19 to be exact ... when three junior apostles of the Lord set apart the first Genesis presidency with a small group in attendance," Gray said in 2018. "To see where it has come and where God has brought it, I recognize his hand every step of the way."

Darius Gray speaking at the first meeting of Genesis in
1971. Gray was a counselor in the original presidency of the group
for Black Latter-day Saints and later served as
president.
Darius Gray speaking at the first meeting of Genesis in 1971. Gray was a counselor in the original presidency of the group for Black Latter-day Saints and later served as president. (Photo: Provided by Darius Gray)

President Monson wrote in his journal in March 1972 that, "I am very impressed with these three black brethren who comprise the presidency of this group. Certainly they have been subjected to a lot of injustice and long for the day when they may be able to hold the priesthood."

In 1978, he attended the first Genesis Group meeting where the sacrament was served, administered and passed by black members with the priesthood.

In 2018, the church's entire First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles attended the "Be One" celebration of the 40th anniversary of the 1978 revelation that lifted the restrictions.

Performers talk about early black LDS Church members
during the "Be One” program in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 1,
2018. The event celebrates the 40th anniversary of the church’s
1978 revelation on the priesthood.
Performers talk about early black LDS Church members during the "Be One” program in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 1, 2018. The event celebrates the 40th anniversary of the church’s 1978 revelation on the priesthood. (Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Church President Russell M. Nelson spoke and said, "Ultimately, we realize that only the comprehension of the true Fatherhood of God can bring full appreciation of the true brotherhood of men and the true sisterhood of women. That understanding inspires us with passionate desire to build bridges of cooperation instead of walls of segregation. It is my prayer and blessing that I leave upon all who are listening, that we may overcome any burdens of prejudice and walk uprightly with God — and with one another — in perfect 'peace and equity.'"

Since then, the Church of Jesus Christ has launched new relationships with the NAACP and the United Negro College Fund, including pledging donations worth $9.25 million.

"The door is open now," another founding member of Genesis, Eugene Orr, said last year. "I applaud the NAACP leaders and President Nelson for their comments. I'm excited for what's happening throughout the world. It's well past time to rise above the division sewn by Satan."

The 50th-anniversary event likely will include a mention of tribute for Don Harwell, who led Genesis for 14 years and spent more than 22 years in the group's presidency. Harwell died in May at age 75.

Harwell and his counselors oversaw a period of growth that approximately quadrupled the size of Genesis, improved missionary outreach and established a renowned choir.

When Harwell was released as Genesis president in 2018, Elder David Warner, an Area Authority Seventy, said the group has blessed many Black Latter-day Saints and others who have attended Genesis meetings over half a century.

"Thousands have come seeking and have found refreshment, rejuvenation and renewal and reason for hope in the redemption of our Savior," he said.

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Tad Walch

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