In the early ’70s, when Romney served as a leader of BYU’s sports booster organization, called the Cougar Club, opposing teams would throw tomatoes and worse at BYU players and their fans. According to Dane McBride, a member of the club and one of Romney’s closest friends, there was a pervasive sense in the club that BYU was “under siege” from the protests. Their retaliation, he said, was to “raise more money for the school.”
Furthermore, said McBride, the very notion of questioning the doctrinal ban was considered “unseemly as well as useless.”
But that was not a uniform view.
Gray, the black Mormon pioneer, saw the ban as more a product “of the racial attitudes of this nation.” While he understood that only a revelation from the top of the church could end the oppression, “We could advocate for it, lobby.”
Mormon boys join the priesthood at age 12, a sacred rite that Mormons believe was restored to them by John the Baptist through Joseph Smith in 1829 after millennia of apostasy. At age 18, Mormon men enter a higher-level priesthood that allows them to serve as missionaries, hold positions of church authority and bestow the priesthood on others.
At church functions, Gray said, he and other black Mormons suffered the assurances of their white brethren that “you will have the priesthood in the world to come,” or encouragements that if they lived worthy lives, “you will find your skin will become lighter and lighter.”
As Romney bristled against the protests in Provo, Gray and two other black Mormons in Salt Lake expressed their frustrations to the church hierarchy. The church president at the time, the conservative Joseph Fielding Smith, responded by assigning three junior apostles — Gordon B. Hinckley, who would become president of the church; Thomas S. Monson, the current president; and Boyd K. Packer, who is next in line to be president — to meet with the three men. In an acknowledgment of their travails, the church established the Genesis Group in October 1971, although they reiterated, according to Gray, that the doctrine was a “policy of God” and that it would “take a revelation to change it.”
The origins of the policy
The ground floor of the Joseph Smith building, which houses BYU’s religion department, showcases a likeness of the golden tablets from which Joseph Smith is said to have translated the Book of Mormon. Paintings upstairs depict the Lamanites, the tribe in Mormon scripture that bears dark skin as a sign of God’s curse.