Jane Elizabeth Manning James, a black Mormon pioneer, was known to some Latter-day Saints historians in the latter part of the 20th century but was hardly a household name. Linda King Newell and Valerie Tippets Avery wrote the first well-researched article about Jane in LDS Church publication The Ensign. Subsequent Mormon authors focused on the early years of Jane’s life, particularly on founder Joseph Smith accepting her and her family into his home.
The musical The Book of Mormon portrays two naïve Mormon missionaries in Uganda proclaiming that “in 1978, God changed his mind about black people.” The joke isn’t mere whimsy; the LDS Church is widely perceived as racist. The irony is that had the church followed its initial trajectory, by now it likely would have become the most racially integrated and progressive church in America.
When people who don’t know a lot about American Christianity hear that I am Mennonite, they sometimes ask if it’s the same as being Mormon. No, I say, and add a stock reply: other than starting with the same letter of the alphabet and being inscrutable to outsiders, the groups are quite different.
After reading Joanna Brooks’s memoir The Book of Mormon Girl, I will no longer answer with such alacrity.
So a pro-Romney Super PAC planned to focus on Jeremiah Wright--you know, because those decontextualized clips of a black pastor sounding angry didn't get played on the news enough last time around--but quickly changed its tune based on Romney's unenthusiastic response. Then a pro-Obama Super PAC clarified that it won't be going after Mormonism, and David Axelrod agreed.
I'm certainly glad to be spared a barrage of prime-time crap about how black liberationists hate America (and even say "damn" about it!) on the one hand and about polygamy and special underwear on the other. But note this news story's assumptions.