Black History Month speaker encourages students to learn history


George Washington Carver, Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King, Jr. are icons learned about in grade school. While many students are taught about these significant individuals, a specific part of black history is not as well known.

In light of Black History Month, Margaret Blair Young,  an adjunct professor of English at BYU, spoke Wednesday about African-American pioneers and their lives.

Young spoke about a number of pioneers and thier struggles, filling her speech with quotes and statements from the historical individuals.

“When people tell their stories themselves, they don’t get framed in a certain way,” Young said.

She said sometimes slave owners would say the slaves wanted to remain in slavery, when, in fact, they wanted to be free.

The first individual Young spoke about was Elijah Able, who was a carpenter in Nauvoo. He traveled across the plains and helped settle the Salt Lake Valley. While not permitted to receive temple blessings, he remained faithful to his death.

Another individual Young spoke about was, Jane Elizabeth Manning James, who was also a faithful Latter-day Saint. Young said she was a direct and forward woman.

“She walked to the house of John Taylor to ask for temple blessings,” Young said.

While she was not permitted to receiver her endowment, James was allowed to do baptisms.

James was poor and walked across the plains barefoot, leaving bloody footprints in the snow. While struggling herself, she is known for giving half of her flour to another struggling family, ultimately saving their lives.

“This was an absolutely charitable woman,” Young said.

Finally, Young spoke about Darius Gray, a man who joined the church in 1964 and attended BYU in 1965. Young and Gray have authored books together and have a newly released documentary “Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons”.

“Darius’s grandfather was born a slave,” she said. “It’s that close.”

Like other African Americans around the U.S., Gray faced some opposition while attending BYU. Mothers students  called the school angry because Gray had talked to their daughters.

“He was given instruction to not talk to white women,” Young said.

Gray followed the instruction. He remained faithful, even through the opposition. In 1978, he was given the priesthood and blessings of the temple.

Young said there are race-related issues still faced today.

“There is a total lack of empathy,” she said.

Young quoted President Gordon B. Hinkley by saying, “One cannot have racist feelings and be a faithful member of the church.”

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