For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism, 1830-2013


by Russell W. Stevenson
“Breaks new ground with its mix of international scope, comprehensive chronology, and theoretical vision.” — Philip Barlow
“Brings together a wealth of sources to create this ambitious and quick-moving but detailed overview of the intersection of Latter-day Saint and black history.” — The Journal of Mormon History
“Scholars will for many years refer to and build upon Stevenson's insights.” — BYU Studies Quarterly

2015 Best Book Award,
Mormon History Association

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Book Description:

This book broaches one of the most sensitive topics in the history of Mormonism: the story of the LDS community’s turbulent relationship with the black population. For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism, 1830-2013 promises to tell a story of how an American religious community could wander through the rocky landscape of American racial politics, all while hoping to hold onto its institutional integrity in the face of attacks from both within and without. Drawing on a rich array of archival documents and oral testimonies, For the Cause of Righteousness suggests that understanding race and Mormonism requires far more than watching the movements of well-dressed men on North Temple; it calls for understanding the dynamics of global Mormon communities ranging from Mowbray to Accra, from Berkeley to Rio Di Janeiro.

But as any historian will say, primary sources matter. Thus, For the Cause of Righteousness offers up not only a narrative history of the global black Mormon community but also an anthology of primary source transcripts: letters, newspaper articles, and speech transcripts, all in hopes that readers might take one more step toward understanding a story that simultaneously inspires, troubles, and urges Latter-day Saints into understanding a provincial religion that has reached global proportions.

Listen to an interview with Russell W. Stevenson

Praise for For the Cause of Righteousness:

“In Russell Stevenson's For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism, he extends the story of Mormonism’s long-standing priesthood ban to the broader history of the Church’s interaction with blacks. In so doing he introduces both relevant atmospherics and important new context. These should inform all future discussions of this surprisingly enduring subject.” — Lester E. Bush, author of “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview”

“Russell Stevenson has produced a terrific compilation. Invaluable as a historical resource, and as a troubling morality tale. The array of documents compellingly reveals the tragedy and inconsistency of racial attitudes, policies, and doctrines in the LDS tradition, and the need for eternal vigilance in negotiating a faith that must never be unmoored from humaneness.” — Terryl L. Givens, author of Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism and By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion

“The story of Mormons and blacks shares much with the history of race in America. The Mormon tale is further laden with entanglements peculiar to itself––often fraught, sometimes inspiring. For the Cause of Righteousness breaks new ground with its mix of international scope, comprehensive chronology, and theoretical vision. It recognizes that notions of race are not merely dictated from the pinnacles of hierarchy, and it offers a complement of narrative analysis and illuminating primary documents. This is a notable study.” — Philip Barlow, author of Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion

“In this book Russell Stevenson has given us a collection of essential documents for understanding the relationship between Mormonism and race. Most critically, he works to broaden our view beyond the conventional American narrative of Mormon history, helping us to understand how the faith’s complex relationship toward race has affected its growth in and outside the United States.” — Matthew Bowman, author of The Mormon People

“This deeply-researched volume attending to race in the broad sweep of Mormon history—both in the United States and internationally—performs a singular scholarly service.  Attuned to the complexities in this sweeping, dynamic story, Stevenson shows the ongoing negotiations between church leaders and ordinary members, as well as an ever-changing spectrum of opinion amongst those leaders.  His choice of documents allows him to tell a story at once of continuities, glacial change, and dramatic turning points that will provoke discussion as well as enlighten readers.” — Matthew Mason, Associate Professor of History, Brigham Young University

“Global in scope and local in detail, this deeply-researched history is relevant for all seeking to understand the complicated interactions between doctrine and culture, and leader and congregant, as Mormonism moves into the 21st century. Told through the voices of women and men in the United States, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Brazil, and beyond as they attempted to understand the role of race in the LDS Church and its teachings, this work is a crucial reminder for all of us that whatever our differences, ‘all are alike unto God.’ The stories Stevenson brings out of archival obscurity are going to be with us for a long time. As they should be.” — Robert Tabor, National Director of Mormons for Obama

“Russell Stevenson has provided an impeccable collection of research to shed light on the historical space where two nineteenth-century minorities—Mormons and Blacks—converged and co-existed. This documentary reader reveals the struggle of the fledgling church to navigate the difficult territory between its vision, its emerging doctrine, and the widely-held social and cultural prejudices of its day. The documents show that the Church’s maturation process subsumed pain, progress, shame, yearning, and increased clarity over time. For the Cause of Righteousness offers a balanced and thorough compilation of the available research. The text begs the reader to acknowledge, reflect, and reconcile the sometimes disappointing tendencies of human nature.” — Stephanie Sorenson, author of Covenant Motherhood: Reflecting the Role of Christ in Our Lives

For The Cause of Righteousness is an honest look at an often misunderstood subject within the LDS Church. Russell Stevenson creates an easy to understand narrative that takes the reader from casual observer of the Church's past to well-rounded historian. Bold and thought provoking, it approaches a difficult subject with the sensitivity and respect it deserves.” — Richie T. Steadman, founder of The Cultural Hall Podcast

“You might wonder what a White man could possibly say to two Black women about Black Mormon history. Surprisingly a whole lot! As people who consider ourselves well informed in African-American Mormon History, we found a wealth of new information in For the Cause of Righteousness. Russell Stevenson’s well-researched exploration of Blacks and Mormonism is an informative read, not just for those interested in Black history, but American history as well.” — Tamu Smith and Zandra Vranes (a.k.a. Sistas in Zion), authors, Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons.

“As I teach on this subject around the world, the most common and consistent question coming out of the significant shift in paradigm is ‘How could this have happened?’ Russell has done a wonderful job pulling together an incredible amount of historical accounts sufficient for every reader to clearly understand how this could have and indeed did happen. I applaud this great effort and attention to this much needed topic and history. This work will become a resource for many to come and find a wealth of stories and history upon which they can expand both their knowledge and research efforts” — Marvin Perkins, co-author of the Blacks in the Scriptures

“Russell Stevenson brings together a wealth of sources to create this ambitious and quick-moving but detailed overview of the intersection of Latter-day Saint and black history.” — Amy Tanner Thiriot, The Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 42, No. 1.

“For the Cause of Righteousness is a valuable and welcome addition to our understanding of the rich, diverse, and complex history of Mormonism. Scholars will for many years refer to and build upon Stevenson's insights.” — Patrick Mason, BYU Studies Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 1

About the Author: 

Russell Stevenson is an independent historian and author of Black Mormon: The Story of Elijah Ables. He has also been published in the Journal of Mormon History, Dialogue, and Oxford University Press's American National Biography Series. He currently resides in East Lansing, Michigan.

More Information: 

437 pages
ISBN 978-1-58958-529-4 (paperback); 978-1-58958-530-0 (hardcover)

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