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The “Negro Problem,” the “Mormon Problem,” and the Pursuit of “Usefulness” in the White American Republic

  • Max Perry Mueller


By examining Booker T. Washington's (little studied) relationship with Mormon elites, this article introduces the category of “usefulness” to scholars who investigate how racially and religiously marginalized Americans have sought acceptance in the “white American republic.” Washington's 1913 visit to Utah was the high point in a decade-long public campaign of mutual admiration. Washington and the Mormons’ high regard for each other—an aberration in much of black-Mormon relations—was based on similar histories of discrimination at the hands of white Protestant Americans. It was also based on similar beliefs that to overcome their status as “problem” people, Washington-led blacks and Mormons had to prove their “usefulness”—a form of respectability politics—to themselves and to the American republic. To do so, they pointed to the fruits of their own and each other's usefulness: economic productivity, educational advancement, and middle-class mores. While these fruits were similar, the roots were different, and racialized. For the Mormons, usefulness arose from a post-polygamy Mormon religion through which they asserted their whiteness. For Washington, usefulness arose not from the “Negro” church—the only independent black institution in American history—but from educational institutions like Tuskegee, which promoted black advancement under the control of white supremacy.



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Many colleagues over many years have helped make this essay better. I would like to thank Werner Sollors, John Stauffer, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, J. Spencer Fluhman, Paul Harvey, Judith Weisenfeld, Amanda Porterfield, Kathleen Flake, Curtis J. Evans, David Sehat, James Bennett, Dana Logan, David Grant Smith, Hillary Kaell, the anonymous reviewers, and the editors of Church History.



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1 “Eloquent Defense of ‘Colored Brother,’” Deseret News, 26 March 1913; and “Booker T. Washington Makes Five Addresses,” Salt Lake Herald-Republican, 28 March 1913. The Deseret News has served as the LDS Church's newspaper of record since the paper's founding in 1850. During its existence from 1870–1920, the Herald (or Herald-Republican, the paper's name fluctuated in this period) was edited and, save for the eleven years between 1898 and 1909 when it was owned by Montana Senator William A. Clark, it was owned by leading Mormons and financed by the LDS Church. Alexander, Thomas G., Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890–1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996), 28.

2 “Eloquent Defense of ‘Colored Brother.’”

3 Andrew Carnegie to William Henry Baldwin Jr., 17 April 1903, in The Booker T. Washington Papers (hereafter cited as BTWP), ed. Louis R. Harlan and Raymond Smock, 14 vols. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1972–1989), 7:120, 121. For numerous references to Booker T. Washington as a modern Moses, see BTWP, vol. 14, Cumulative Index, s.v. “Washington, Booker Taliaferro; called ‘Moses,’” 268.

4 “Booker T. Washington,” Salt Lake Herald-Republican, 29 March 1913.

5 For the first mention of an invitation to speak in Utah published in a Utah paper, see “Booker T. Washington and the West,” Salt Lake Herald, 11 May 1903.

6 The word “Negro” is, of course, a fraught identity—“a unique creation,” as James Baldwin famously put it, “he has no counterpart anywhere, and no predecessors.” Baldwin, James, The Fire Next Time (New York: Vintage International, 1993), 84. Frequently, if not most often in American history, “Negro” and other racialized and racist labels were imposed upon black people in order to instantiate and maintain white supremacy. As Judith Weisenfeld has recently chronicled, throughout the twentieth century, members of black religious movements, including the Nation of Islam, the Moorish Science Temple, Ethiopian Hebrew congregations, and Father Divine's Peace Mission Movement, refused to be labeled “Negro,” seeing it as “a false category created for the purposes of enslavement and subjugation.” Instead, on governmental documents as well as in everyday discourse, members of these movements insisted on self-applying what Weisenfeld calls “religio-racial identities” like “Ethiopian Hebrew” and “Asiatic Muslim,” among others. The deployment of these identities demonstrated that members of these movements “believed that understanding black people's true racial history and identity revealed their correct and divinely ordained religious orientation.” Weisenfeld, Judith, New World A-Coming: Black Religion and Racial Identity during the Great Migration (New York: New York University Press, 2016), 5. Yet other black political and intellectual leaders, including Du Bois, counseled black people to focus on the signified instead of the signifier. “Do not . . . make the all too common error of mistaking names for things,” Du Bois wrote in the NAACP's magazine the Crisis in 1928. “Names are only conventional signs for identifying things. Things are the reality that counts. . . . If men despise Negroes, they will not despise them less if Negroes are called ‘colored’ or ‘Afro-American.’” Crisis, March 1928, 96–97, quoted in Weisenfeld, New World A-Coming, 15. Likewise, as I have written elsewhere, “Mormon” is also a fraught label, one with both religious and racial connotations that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have grappled with—at times embracing, at times rejecting—from the founding of the church to the present-day. Mueller, Max Perry, “Religion (and Race) Problems on the Way to the White House: Mitt Romney and Barack Obama's ‘Faith’ Speeches,” in Religion in the Age of Obama, ed. Floyd-Thomas, Juan M. and Pinn, Anthony B. (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018), 1935. In part, this essay is a study of how Mormons and Washington-led blacks sought to reform the American public's imagination of what the signifiers “Negro” and “Mormon” signified. While acknowledging this, for the sake of readability and in order to bring the reader into closer contact with the racial assumptions of the period in question, hereafter, unless directly quoting from a source, I will eschew placing scare quotes around “Negro” and “Mormon.”

7 Booker T. Washington, “To the Editor of the New York Age,” New York Age, 17 April 1913, in BTWP, 12:149.

8 The relationship between Book T. Washington and the Mormons has garnered some scholarly attention. For the other treatments, see Evans, Curtis J., “Booker T. Washington and the Quest for an Industrialized and Civilized Religion for Black Southerners,” Journal of Southern Religion 10 (2007):; and Bennett, James B., “‘Until the Curse of Polygamy is Wiped out’: Black Methodists, White Mormons, and the Constructions of Racial Identity in the Late Nineteenth Century,” Religion and American Culture 21, no. 2 (Summer 2011): 167194.

9 In his 1844 presidential platform, Joseph Smith Jr. himself drew parallels between the Mormons’ and African Americans’ experiences of persecution. Smith, Joseph Jr., General Smith's Views of the Powers and Policy of Government of the United States (Nauvoo, Ill.: John Taylor, 1844).

10 In the only other major scholarly work to isolate the term “usefulness,” Dana Lee Robert explains that early nineteenth-century missionary women, including Ann Hassteltine Judson, tied a desire for “usefulness” to evangelical conversion, work as schoolteachers, and service as self-sacrificing wives of missionaries. Robert, Dana L., American Women in Mission: A Social History of Their Thought and Practice (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1997), 3336. Though Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham does not specifically take note of “usefulness” or “useful” in her seminal work on the politics of respectability, Righteous Discontent: The Women's Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880–1920, the terms show up frequently in the source materials from which she drew. For example, in 1902, Henry Morehouse praised the graduates of Spelman Seminary (Spelman College today) for exemplifying that institution's commitment not only to academic training but also to the inculcation of the “respect for authority, proper regard for the rights of others, correct deportment, self-control, habits of application to given tasks and the harnessing of life's energies to noble and useful ends.” Quoted in Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks, Righteous Discontent (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993), 40. Likewise, when one begins to look for them, the terms “useful” and “usefulness” show up everywhere in Washington's own writings as well as the contemporaneous writings of others about Washington's work to solve the Negro problem. For just one of the hundreds of examples found in the volumes of the BTWP, see Washington's October 3, 1912 article in the Continent. There Washington explained that, unlike African diasporic nations like Haiti and Cuba, “Negroes” in America had not led a “rebellion or insurrection” since emancipation because a handful of “wise” and “self-sacrificing” white Protestant Americans trained the first generation of post-slavery “negro leaders.” These leaders then became “sentinels in every negro community in the South . . . and went forth with a sincere desire to make the masses of the race a better and more useful people.” BTWP, 12:33–34.

11 As W. Paul Reeve has recently shown, Mormons were long dogged by accusations that polygamy was so unnatural that offspring produced from such unions were racially degraded: Reeve, W. Paul, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

12 Haws, J. B., The Mormon Image in the American Mind: Fifty Years of Public Perception, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); Flake, Kathleen, The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004); Fluhman, J. Spencer, “A Peculiar People”: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014); Reeve, Religion of a Different Color; Evans, Curtis J., The Burden of Black Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); and Savage, Barbara, Your Spirits Walk Beside Us: The Politics of Black Religion (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2008).

13 This article begins from a similar starting point as Matthew Grow's article on nineteenth-century Catholic and Mormon mutual perceptions which explores how two “groups outside the mainstream” and often considered threats to the American republic, “transformed the often highly charged discourse about the other group to reinforce crucial trends within their own religious community.” Yet, instead of the mutual antipathy that Grow explores, this article studies the publicly expressed mutual admiration between two marginalized groups. Grow, Matthew J., “The Whore of Babylon and the Abomination of Abominations: Nineteenth-Century Catholic and Mormon Mutual Perceptions and Religious Identity,” Church History 73, no. 1 (March 2004): 140, 141. Likewise, this article also takes as inspiration R. Laurence Moore's canonical Religious Outsiders and the Making of Americans (1986), which not only includes chapters on Mormons’ and African-Americans’ self-fashioning in relation to a white Protestant center but also looks to Joseph Smith and Booker T. Washington as exemplars of the insider-outsider paradigm. For the most part, Moore's book moves between two points at a time—one on the margins and the other in the middle. Yet this article works to study these three groups—the “outsider” Mormons and African Americans, and the “insider” white Protestants—in (almost) constant relation to one another. Moore, R. Laurence, Religious Outsiders and the Making of Americans (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).

14 By “white American republic,” I follow Sam Haselby, Tracy Fessenden, and Edward J. Blum in understanding the creation and perpetuation of the United States as, at once, a secular democratic republic, a race-based capitalistic enterprise, and a Protestant missionary-led colonial empire, all of which are inseparable from the reproduction of the dominance of a white Protestant nationalism and identity. Haselby, Sam, The Origins of American Religious Nationalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015); Fessenden, Tracy, Culture and Redemption: Religion, the Secular, and American Literature (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2007); and Blum, Edward J., Reforging the White Republic: Race, Religion, and American Nationalism, 1865–1898 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005). See also Blum, Edward J., Fessenden, Tracy, Kurien, Prema, and Weisenfeld, Judith, “Forum: American Religion and ‘Whiteness,’Religion and American Culture 19, no. 1 (Winter 2009): 136. On Washington's attempts to accommodate Southern black religion to white American Protestant power structures, see Sehat, David, “The Civilizing Mission of Booker T. Washington,” Journal of Southern History 73, no. 2 (May 2007): 360362.

15 Tracy Fessenden has written that, in the nineteenth century, “white Protestant middle class” stood “in for the whole” of America, especially as immigrant communities and emancipated African Americans aspired to achieve American identity and respectability. Fessenden, Culture and Redemption, 8–9.

16 This economic valence of “usefulness” is particularly important to highlight for labor and gender histories in America. As I mention in note 10, in terms of economic self-sufficiency, the category of “usefulness” was frequently invoked in the writings of Mary Lyons and other advocates for female missionary work. Despite the fact that in the early nineteenth century white women were shut out of market capitalism and the political arena, Lyons trained the women of Mount Holyoke to view their “domestic” labors as a key feature of their education as future missionaries. “An educated lady . . . expects to be useful,” Lyons wrote. Quoted in Porterfield, Amanda, Mary Lyon and the Mount Holyoke Missionaries (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 38. At the end of the nineteenth century, in pursuit of their own communities’ respectability, Catholic writers also encouraged their faithful to make their homes sites of rest as well as work. Homes should be places where “daughters” are taught “the useful art of making shirts and mending stockings and managing household affairs,” wrote one editorialist in the Baltimore Catholic Mirror in 1881. Quoted in McDannell, Colleen, The Christian Home in Victorian America, 1840–1900 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), 61.

17 On the pursuit of acceptance among marginalized religious and racial communities through the public denigration of other marginalized communities, see Grow, “The Whore of Babylon and the Abomination of Abominations”; Jacobson, Matthew Frye, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999); Goldstein, Eric L., The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2008); and Roediger, David. R., Working Toward Whiteness: How America's Immigrants Became White (New York: Basic, 2006).

18 “A Great Black Man,” Deseret News, 15 November 1915; and “Eloquent Defense of ‘Colored Brother.’”

19 Booker T. Washington, “The Religious Life of the Negro,” North American Review, July 1905, in BTWP,  8:333–337.

20 Walker, Clarence E. and Smithers, Gregory D., The Preacher and the Politician (Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 2012), 16; and Harvey, Paul, Bound of Their Habitation: Race and Religion in American History (New York: Rowen and Littlefield, 2017), 142.

21 “Booker T. Washington,” Salt Lake Herald-Republican; and Harlan, Louis R., Booker T. Washington: The Wizard of Tuskegee, 1901–1915 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 128142.

22 Booker T. Washington, “Atlanta Exposition Address,” in BTWP, 3:585.

23 Bowman, Matthew, The Urban Pulpit: New York City and the Fate of Liberal Evangelicalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 84193. For an analysis of Booker T. Washington's image of Jesus as a figure who “encouraged bank accounts, cotton cultivation, thrift, and slow political change,” see Blum, Edward J., “A Subversive Savior: Manhood and African American Images of Christ in the Early Twentieth-Century South,” in Southern Masculinity: Perspectives on Manhood in the South since Reconstruction, ed. Friend, Craig Thompson (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009), 150173.

24 Evans, Burden of Black Religion, 104, 5.

25 Carnegie, Andrew, The Negro in America: An Address Delivered before the Philosophical Institution of Edinburgh (Cheyney, Pa.: Committee of Twelve for the Advancement of the Interests of the Negro Race, 1907), 10.

26 Savage, Your Spirits Walk Beside Us, 6.

27 Norrell, Robert J., Up from History: The Life of Booker T. Washington, (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011), 108111.

28 Du Bois, W. E. B., The Souls of Black Folk (Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1903), 189207.

29 Booker T. Washington, “The Colored Ministry: Its Defects and Needs,” Christian Union, 14 August 1890, in BTWP, 3:70–74, esp. 72–73. Norrell, Up from History, 110–111; and Evans, Burden of Black Religion, 97. The Christian Union was later renamed The Outlook, for which Theodore Roosevelt, an ally of both the Mormons and Booker T. Washington, served as associate editor. Washington published Up from Slavery in serial form in The Outlook, where many Americans, including Mormons, were first exposed to Washington's life story. See, for example, Carlos A. Badger Papers, 1895–1911, MS 2056, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Church History Library, Salt Lake City.

30 Evans, Burden of Black Religion, 105–139.

31 Washington, “Religious Life of the Negro,” 8:333–337.

32 Booker T. Washington, “A Speech before the National Unitarian Association,” 26 September 1894, in BTWP, 3:478.

33 Booker T. Washington, “A Speech Delivered before the Women's New England Club,” 27 January 1889 [1890], in BTWP, 2:449. On Washington's use of dialect, especially before white audiences, see Norrell, Up from History, 139–140.

34 Booker T. Washington, “An Address before the Alabama State Teachers’ Association,” 8 June 8, 1892, in BTWP, 3:234–235.

35 Sehat, David, “Historicism, Understanding, and Judgment: A Response to Curtis J. Evans,” Journal of Southern Religion 10 (2007),; and Evans, “Booker T. Washington and the Quest for an Industrialized and Civilized Religion for Black Southerners.”

36 Evans, “Booker T. Washington and the Quest for an Industrialized and Civilized Religion for Black Southerners.”

37 First Presidency and Council of the Twelve, “Petition for Amnesty Sent to the President of the United States, December 19, 1891,” Contributor, February 1892.

38 Proceedings before the Committee on Privileges and Elections of the United States Senate (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1906), 4:400.

39 Flake, Politics of American Religious Identity.

40 Hicks, Michael, Mormonism and Music: A History (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003), 152172.

41 Arrington, Leonard J. and Bitton, Davis, The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints (New York: Random House, 1992), 253, 233.

42 Bowman, Matthew, The Mormon People: The Making of a Mormon Faith (New York: Random House, 2012), 154.

43 Bowman, Mormon People, 161–170.

44 “Booker T. Washington's Views of the Mormons,” Deseret News, 7 May 1913; and “Booker T. Washington's Views of the Mormons,” Improvement Era, June 1913.

45 Reeve, Religion of a Different Color, 14–51.

46 Mueller, Max Perry, Race and the Making of the Mormon People (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017), 9798.

47 The LDS Church leaders also developed racialized theologies unique to Mormonism. With what would become known as the “preexistence hypothesis,” church leaders located the origin of black accursedness in a premortal time. First articulated in the 1840s, by the 1880s, the Mormon leadership accepted the idea that blacks earned their dark skin because they were “astride a fence,” as church president Wilford Woodruff suggested in 1889, during the great war in heaven between God and Satan that preceded mortal history. Having neither the courage to join with the souls who would enter the world as white and defend their heavenly father, nor the audacity to join Satan's cause, these souls’ “indifference” meant that they entered the world through the cursed lineages of Cain and Ham. Through the 1960s, this preexistence thesis was articulated from the highest levels of the church hierarchy. Mauss, Armand L., All Abraham's Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003), 2931.

48 “Extract from George F. Richards’ Record of Decisions by Council of the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles,” 1907, George Albert Smith Papers, box 78, folder 7, Special Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City.

49 In his first dispatch from Salt Lake City, Washington reported that, in a city of some 100,000 residents, “about a thousand colored people” resided. Washington, “To the Editor of the New York Age,” 17 April 1913, 12:152. The reasons for the small size of Salt Lake City's African American population included its western geography, its relative youth, and its economy—built (mostly) not by slave labor but instead by white Mormon pioneers and immigrants. Yet, the LDS Church's racialized theologies and practices also played a role in discouraging African Americans from settling in Utah.

50 “A Colored Man's Work,” Deseret News, 17 May 1890.

51 “Speaks for Colored Race,” Deseret News, 23 January 1906.

52 Buchanan, Frederick S., Culture Clash and Accommodation: Public Schooling in Salt Lake City, 1890–1994 (San Francisco: Smith Research Associates in association with Signature, 1996), 79.

53 Washington, “To the Editor of the New York Age,” 17 April 1913, 12:149.

54 For a study of the “among the Mormons” travelogue genre, see Eliason, Eric A., “Curious Gentiles and Representational Authority in the City of the Saints,” in Religion and American Culture 11, no. 2 (Summer 2001): 155190. In Roughing It, Mark Twain described “Brigham Young's Harem” as so vast—“twenty or thirty wives”—that it was unmanageable. One woman who claimed to be a wife of Young, wrote Twain, confronted the Mormon prophet with a dark-complexioned child. And though the prophet could not remember marrying the woman, he did acknowledge that, setting aside its skin color, “‘the child looked like me . . . a common thing in the [Utah] Territory.’” Twain's account is satirical, but his Orientalist observation that Mormon polygamy led to racial denigration was typical of the image many Americans brought back from Utah. Twain, Mark, Roughing It (Hartford, Conn.: American, 1872), 119125. On Orientalist depictions of Mormons in the late nineteenth century, see Givens, Terryl, The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 130144.

55 Kinney, Bruce, Mormonism: The Islam of America (New York: H. Revell, 1912), 35, 136, 172, 152.

56 Washington, “To the Editor of the New York Age,” 17 April 1913, 12:149–150.

57 Evans, Burden of Black Religion, 105–139.

58 Washington, “To the Editor of the New York Age,” 17 April 1913, 12:150–151. See also, Evans, Curtis J., “W. E. B. Du Bois: Interpreting Religion and the Problem of the Negro Church,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 75 no. 2 (June 2007): 268297.

59 Quoted in Reeve, Religion of a Different Color, 18. On Mormons as a “new race,” see Reeve, Religion of a Different Color, 14–51.

60 Washington, “To the Editor of the New York Age,” 17 April 1913, 12:151.

61 Washington, “To the Editor of the New York Age,” 17 April 1913, 12:149. Washington here cites Isaiah 35:1, a biblical passage that, from early pioneering days in Utah, Mormons took as the biblical mandate to remake their desert kingdom into a fertile oasis. See, among many other references to Isaiah 35:1, Brigham Young, “Eternal Existence of Man—Foreknowledge and Predestination,” Journal of Discourses by President Brigham Young, His Two Counsellors, the Twelve Apostles, and Others (Liverpool: Daniel H. Wells), 10:6,

62 Washington, “To the Editor of the New York Age,” 17 April 1913, 12:151.

63 John Whitaker, daily journal, 27 March 1913, John Whitaker Papers, MS 2, box 4, folder 4, Special Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City.

64 Buchanan, Culture Clash and Accommodation, 79.

65 Booker T. Washington to Mabel Delano Clapp Lord, [Tuskegee, Ala.], 17 May 1913, in BTWP, 12:182. In his first dispatch from Salt Lake City, Washington reported on “one colored man” who came from Mississippi “in the early days who is now 82 years of age” who had made use of the Mormon religion to make himself a respected and useful citizen of Utah. “He is a staunch Mormon, and neither the Baptist church nor the Methodist church can get hold of him. . . . [He is] a kind of colored Brigham Young. He has a farm worth $25,000, and lives in the midst of a Mormon colored colony of which he is the leader.” Washington, “To the Editor of the New York Age,” 17 April 1913, 12:153.

66 Booker T. Washington, “Creed of Mormon Church,” New York Age, 24 April 1913.

67 Booker T. Washington to Alice B. Coleman, quoted in BTWP, 12:182n. Emphasis is mine.

68 Washington, “Creed of Mormon Church.”

69 Quoted in Sehat, “Civilizing Mission of Booker T. Washington,” 334. It is unclear how much Washington actually knew about Mormon understandings of work as related to salvation. However, Washington's faith in both individual and collective agency to overcome the steepest odds and most oppressive conditions matches well the Mormon conceptions of “moral agency” and “eternal progression.” As Terryl Givens recently explained, according to Mormons, with the help of the “Light of Christ” and their own “vestigial intimations of eternal realms,” humans deploy their agency to make moral decisions and overcome challenges. When rightfully deployed, this agency allows humans to “progress” as spiritual beings in the mortal realm and in the heavenly kingdoms to come, moving toward achieving their Heavenly Parents’ God-like qualities. Givens, Terryl, Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 311–314, 4547.

70 On the “one-drop rule” in Mormon racial theology, see Reeve, Religion of a Different Color, 158–160, 203–207.

71 “The Negro Problem,” Deseret News, 5 January 1889.

72 “The Negro Problem,” Deseret News, 9 June 1903.

73 “Work of Tuskegee,” Salt Lake Herald, 31 October 1903.

74 “Lynches Sentenced,” Deseret News, 29 August 1900.

75 “The Negro Problem,” Deseret News, 9 September 1903.

76 “Tuskegee Institute,” Deseret News, 7 November 1905.

77 A few months before the completion of the transcontinental railroad at Promontory Point in northern Utah, Brigham Young declared: “When this railroad is completed our friends can come and visit us and witness the peace, the order, the freedom from crime that possesses the cities of our Zion and they will compare them with the sinful depraved cities of our neighbors and we will lose nothing in the comparison.” “Mormonism Doomed,” Daily State Registrar (Des Moines, Iowa), 5 May 1868.

78 “New Books and Magazines,” Salt Lake Herald, 23 March 1901; “New Library Books,” Ogden Standard, 26 April 1906; “Books of the Public Library,” Mt. Pleasant Pyramid, 11 November 1912; and “Work of Women's Clubs,” Salt Lake Tribune, 13 October 1901. Ironically, the public library in Eureka, Utah announced the arrival of Up from Slavery the same day as The Leopard's Spots, the first novel in Thomas Dixon's Ku Klux Klan trilogy. “New Books for the Library,” Eureka Reporter, 4 September 1903.

79 See diary entries from 1900 and 1901 in Carlos A. Badger Papers, MS 2056.

80 “What is Success? A Symposium,” in Conditions of Success: Young Men's Mutual Improvement Associations; Manual for Senior Classes, 1915–16 (Salt Lake City: General Board of Y.M.M.I.A, 1915).

81 In Black Reconstruction, Du Bois hinted at the pernicious and powerful effects of universalizing whiteness when, in the late nineteenth century, “white” immigrant laborers identified themselves and the labor they produced with whiteness: “While they received a low wage . . . they were given public deference because they were white. . . . Their votes selected public officials and while this had small effect upon their economic situation, it had great effect upon their personal treatment.” In contrast, Du Bois lambasted Washington for advising black Southerners “to depend upon industrial education and work rather than politics” to the point that not voting among “the better class of Southern Negroes” signified their respectability. Du Bois, W. E. B., Black Reconstruction (New York: Free Press, 1998), 700, 694. See also, Montag, Warren, “Universalization of Whiteness,” in Whiteness: A Critical Reader, ed. Hill, Mike (New York: New York University Press, 1997), 281293. On “White Universalism” in Mormonism, see Mueller, Race and the Making of the Mormon People, 34–39.

82 “Bad Negro Ministers,” Salt Lake Herald, 19 November 1902.

83 “Growth of Tuskegee,” Salt Lake Herald, 7 April 1906.

84 Tillinghast, Joseph Alexander, The Negro in Africa and America (New York: American Economic Association, 1902), 136; and Evans, Burden of Black Religion, 115–119. Emphasis is mine.

85 The riot began after a young black man allegedly killed a white police officer outside a bar in Evansville, which precipitated a lynch mob driving what had been a thriving black community out of town. “The Race Question,” Salt Lake Herald, 14 July 1903. Emphasis is mine.

86 Norrell, Up from History, 320–322; Emmett Jay Scott to Richard W. Thompson, 18 July 1905, in BTWP, 8:331; and Washington, “To the Editor of the New York Age,” 7 September 1908, in BTWP, 9:619. See also, Booker T. Washington to Richard Carroll, 5 September 1906, in BTWP, 9:68–69; and Timothy Thomas Fortune to Jesse Max Barber, 5 April 1906, in BTWP, 8:568–569.

87 Washington, “Creed of Mormon Church.”

88 Whitaker, daily journal, 27 March 1913.

89 For example, in the first novel of his Klan trilogy, The Leopard's Spots (1902), Thomas Dixon dramatizes the dangers of giving mixed-race Americans the vote: A southern Baptist preacher explains that “one drop” not only kinks the hair and flattens the nose but also “puts out the light of intellect” found in the white portion of the Negro's blood. Allowing even such marginal Negros equality, the minister warns, might “make mulatto the whole Republic.” While Dixon and Whitaker held the same fears about black enfranchisement, the two differed in their views about the potential good that might come from industrializing Southern black labor. In direct reference to the efforts of Booker T. Washington, Dixon's Baptist preacher believed that allowing African Americans access to even industrial education was dangerous, as economic power would eventually lead to political power. Dixon, Thomas, The Leopard's Spots: A Romance of the White Man's Burden, 1865–1900 (New York: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1902), 244; and Norrell, Up from History, 236–237. For a discussion of the changing legal and cultural definition of a “Negro” in terms of the relative proportion of African ancestry, see Davis, F. James, Who is Black (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2011), 3157.

90 This hardening line on the question of black Mormon membership was the result of (internal) changes to racialized theologies as well as (external) ambitions to present themselves as the whitest of white Americans. Reeve, Religion of a Different Color, 118–214; and Mueller, Race and the Making of the Mormon People, 217–219.

91 Mason, Patrick Q., “God and the People: Theodemocracy in Nineteenth-Century Mormonism,” Journal of Church and State 53, no. 3 (Summer 2011): 349375.

92 “Booker T. Washington,” Salt Lake Herald-Republican.

93 See, among many other references to “useful” and “usefulness” in Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1901), 74, 85–86.

94 Washington, “Atlanta Exposition Address,” 3:585.

95 Booker T. Washington, “Extracts from Three Addresses Delivered in Louisiana,” 13–16 April 1913, in BTWP, 13:263–264.

96 “Bad Negro Ministers,” 4.

97 “Eloquent defense of ‘Colored Brother,’” 2.

98 Washington, “To the Editor of the New York Age,” 17 April 1913, 12:149.

99 Evans, Burden of Black Religion, 105–107.

100 Christensen did not pay for Washington's local transportation or dining expenses. Instead, the black waiters collected a pool to cover Washington's bill. “Washington is Given Surprise by Waiters,” Salt Lake Tribune, 31 March 1913. Washington gave a lecture at Calvary Baptist at ten o'clock at night so that “the colored waiters of the city could attend” after their shifts: “Colored Folks Plan to Entertain Notable,” Salt Lake Tribune, 25 March 1913. The Hotel Utah, now the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Temple Square, gave Opera Star Marian Anderson lodging when she came to Utah in 1948 to perform at the Mormon Tabernacle. However, she was not allowed to use the Hotel's grand entrance but was forced to ride in the hotel's freight elevator. May, Dean L., Utah: A People's History (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1987), 145.

101 Reeve, Religion of a Different Color, 27–31.

102 Carlos A. Badger Papers, MS 2056.

103 Mutual disdain was also the standard of black-Mormon political relationships before the Washington-Mormon encounter. In the late 1840s, Frederick Douglass, the nineteenth century's most powerful and persuasive champion of black freedom and equality, published sympathetic reports regarding the Mormons’ expulsion from Illinois in his newspaper, The North Star. Like Washington's own dispatches from Utah, Douglass's reports implied kinship between the Mormons and African Americans, forged through shared histories of unconstitutional persecution and “Judge Lynch” violence. However, Douglass's sympathies for the Mormons ended in the early 1850s when the all-Mormon legislature legalized “African” slavery in the Utah territory, a development that elicited from Douglass's paper, then renamed Frederick Douglass' Paper, standard anti-Mormon comparisons between Mormon polygamy and chattel slavery. “The Mormons in the Wilderness,” North Star, 3 March 1848; “The Mormons,” North Star, 17 March 1848; “The Mormon Temple in Ruins,” North Star, 10 November 1848; “Slavery in the Territories,” Frederick Douglass' Paper, 6 October 1854; and “The Mormon Iniquity,” Frederick Douglass' Paper, 26 January 1855.

104 In 1928, William Pickens, the Yale-educated Director of Branches for the NAACP and the author of two of his own uplift odysseys, visited Salt Lake City. Like Washington had done fifteen years earlier, Pickens printed his findings in a leading East Coast African American newspaper, this time in the New York Amsterdam News. Yet, unlike Washington, who all but failed to mention the marginalized status of African Americans within the LDS Church, Pickens focused his article on the ban against black men holding the Mormon priesthood. William Pickens, “Even the Mormons,” New York Amsterdam News, 29 February 1928. In 1959, the Utah Advisory Committee on Civil Rights published a scathing report on the widespread employment discrimination and social segregation that African Americans faced throughout Utah. The committee explicitly tied such discrimination to the LDS Church's view that “birth into any race other than the white race” resulted from “inferior performance in the pre-earth life.” Utah Advisory Committee, The National Conference and the Reports of the State Advisory Committees to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1960), 379–380.

105 “N.A.A.C.P. Presses Protests in Utah,” New York Times, 10 March 1965.

106 Benson, Ezra Taft, “Trust Not in the Arm of Flesh,” Improvement Era 70, no. 12 (December 1967): 5558.

107 Lee Siegel, “What's Race Got to Do with It,” Campaign Stops, New York Times, 14 January 2012,; and Obery M. Hendricks, “Mitt Romney and the Curse of Blackness,” Huffington Post, 12 January 2012, This particular politicization of Romney's religion was the result of his church's failure to directly address its own racist past. While it ended its ban on full black membership in 1978, only in 2013 did the church officially denounce its past practice of race-based exclusion. Mueller, Max Perry, “Twice-told Tale: Telling Two Histories of Mormon-Black Relations during the 2012 Presidential Election,” in Mormonism and American Politics, ed. Balmer, Randall and Reiss, Jana, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015) 155174. As part of its celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the revelation that lifted the so-called “priesthood ban,” the LDS Church has partnered with the NAACP on a new set of education and employment initiatives. Peggy Fletcher Stack, “How the NAACP Brass and Top Mormon Leaders Got on Friendly Terms—and Plan to Work Together in the Future,” Salt Lake Tribune, 17 May 2018,

108 This history is not to be confused with the complicated history of people of African descent seeking full membership within the LDS Church itself. See Reeve, Religion of a Different Color, 193–214; and Mueller, Race and the Making of the Mormon People, 119–152.

109 Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk, 204.

110 Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color; Goldstein, Price of Whiteness; and Roediger, Working Toward Whiteness.

111 By “white Protestantism,” I mean the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century vision of the world, which held that “Anglo-Saxon” Christian nations and institutions could solve the most vexing social perils—poverty, war, urbanization, immigration, and socialism, as well as the Catholic, Mormon, and Negro “problems”—and make the world safe for democracy and capitalism by propagating themselves through education, missionary work, colonization, and, on occasion, war. Lee, Daniel B., “A Great Racial Commission: Religion and the Construction of White America,” in Race, Nation, and Religion in the Americas, ed. Goldschmidt, Henry and McAlister, Elizabeth (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 85110.

112 “A Great Black Man.”

113 As de Tocqueville observed, “the negro” who is born on American soil is not born an American. Instead, “the negro enters upon slavery as soon as he is born; nay, he may have been purchased in the womb and have begun his slavery before he began his existence.” Tocqueville, Alexis de, Democracy in America (New York: J. and H. G. Langley, 1841), 363. On “tyranny of the majority,” see de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 208, 285–289.

Many colleagues over many years have helped make this essay better. I would like to thank Werner Sollors, John Stauffer, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, J. Spencer Fluhman, Paul Harvey, Judith Weisenfeld, Amanda Porterfield, Kathleen Flake, Curtis J. Evans, David Sehat, James Bennett, Dana Logan, David Grant Smith, Hillary Kaell, the anonymous reviewers, and the editors of Church History.

The “Negro Problem,” the “Mormon Problem,” and the Pursuit of “Usefulness” in the White American Republic

  • Max Perry Mueller


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