Monday, October 27, 2014

Prince and Wright stumble over civil rights

Nine years ago, Gregory A. Prince and William Robert Wright co-authored a 512-page book titled David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (University of Utah Press, 2005). Seven years ago, and again four years ago, my blog accused Prince and Wright (here) of maligning Bruce R. McConkie in their book.

Today we will evaluate a section of the Prince and Wright book that discusses "McKay's Inner Circle" of advisers on civil rights (pp.63-66). According to Prince and Wright:

"Nearly all of the voices [McKay] heard on a regular basis were opposed to expanded civil rights for blacks." (p.63.)


Prince and Wright name eight of McKay's advisers who opposed civil rights. WARNING: Some of the opinions of these men, as described by Prince and Wright, have been deceptively misrepresented. For this reason, the names are here abbreviated.

1.  Brother C. consistently discouraged the expansion of civil rights, authorized local church leaders in Salt Lake City to join a civic organization whose purpose was to restrict and control negro settlement, and wanted to allow using LDS chapels for meetings to prevent Negroes from becoming neighbors.

2.  Brother M. openly opposed the deployment of troops to an army base near Salt Lake City because such a deployment would likely include two hundred or more Negro families, and spoke strongly against Kennedy's proposed civil rights legislation.

3.  Brother S. had been quoted in a national magazine as saying, "Darkies are wonderful people, and they have their place in our Church."

4.  Brother L. was an outspoken opponent of civil rights and was in favor of barring blacks entirely from Brigham Young University.

5.  Brother B. stated publicly that the civil rights movement in the South had been fomented almost entirely by the communists and that the whole civil rights movement was phony.

6.  Brother P. addressed the issue of civil rights in a CES talk and said, "I think the Lord segregated the Negro and who is man to change that segregation?"

7.  Brother W. said the Lord himself created the different races and urged in the Old Testament and other places that they be kept distinct and to themselves.

8.  Brother D. taught that Negroes had rejected the Priesthood in the pre-existence.


After naming eight advisers who opposed civil rights, Prince and Wright name one adviser who was...

"...the sole voice of moderation on the subject of civil rights within McKay's inner circle" (p.65).

This Brother, we are informed, urged the church to speak out in favor of civil rights.


The fifth man named above, Brother B., is Ezra Taft Benson. And according to Prince and Wright, he opposed civil rights. But quote that with caution.

In a paragraph on page 64 that references McKay's personal diary, Prince and Wright point out that Benson was authorized by David O. McKay to address the subject of civil rights in the October 1967 general conference. A few pages later, a quotation from the same diary affirms again that McKay authorized Benson's conference talk on civil rights (p70).

What Prince and Wright neglect to mention in their book is that Benson's talk included an important clarification about his position on civil rights:

"Now there is nothing wrong with civil rights; it is what's being done in the name of civil rights that is alarming.

"There is no doubt that the so-called civil rights movement as it exists today is used as a Communist program for revolution in America just as agrarian reform was used by the Communists to take over China and Cuba." (General Conference, Oct. 1967.)


In the same page 64 paragraph, Prince and Wright describe a 1963 Benson talk in such a way as to create the illusion that Benson said something the opposite of what he did in fact say:

"Speaking publicly against proposed federal civil rights legislation in 1963, Benson 'charged ... that the civil right's movement in the South had been "fomented almost entirely by the communists,"' and went on to say that 'the whole civil rights movement was "phony."'" (p.64.)

Here is what Ezra Taft Benson actually said in his talk:

"The whole slogan of 'civil rights' as used to make trouble in the South today, is an exact parallel to the slogan of 'Agrarian reform' which [the communists] used in China. The pending 'civil rights' legislation is, I am convinced, about 10% civil rights and about 90% a further extension of socialistic Federal controls. It is part of the pattern for the Communist takeover of America. 'The whole civil rights' program and slogan in America today is just as phony as were the 'Agrarian reform' program and slogan of the Communists in China 20 years ago."

This is from a speech delivered in the Logan Tabernacle on December 13, 1963. The speech is published on pages 42-60 of Ezra Taft Benson's book, Title of Liberty (Deseret Book, 1964) and the above paragraph is found on page 58 of that book.

Notice that, contrary to what we are led by Prince and Wright to believe, Ezra Taft Benson said he opposed that part of the legislation which was NOT civil rights but was, instead, an extension of socialistic Federal controls.

Now it does not matter whether we agree that the civil rights movement had been taken over by the communists. The important thing is that that is what Ezra Taft Benson believed and taught. He was opposed to the communists using the civil rights movement to take over the United States. He never said he was opposed to civil rights. On the contrary, he declared in general conference:

"There is nothing wrong with civil rights."


In 1963, President David O. McKay received an invitation from a former U.S. Congressman, asking that Ezra Taft Benson be authorized to give a patriotic speech at a testimonial dinner for Robert Welch, founder of the anti-Communist group, the John Birch Society.

President McKay carefully considered the ramifications of the invitation and then told Benson he should take the talk and that he (Benson) had his (McKay's) permission and blessing.

This talk was perhaps the most controversial speech of Benson's career. Newspapers all over the country expressed surprise that the former secretary of agriculture would call Robert Welch, founder and leader of the John Birch Society, "one of the greatest patriots in American history."

Some Church members and leaders complained that Benson, as a Church official, had no business speaking at the Welch dinner.

According to Prince and Wright, President McKay told his side of this story in a meeting of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. Quoting McKay's personal diary, Prince and Wright report that McKay told the Brethren he had given Benson permission to take the talk:

"I mentioned that some people had said that that was one activity wherein Brother Benson went contrary to the counsel of the Presidency and General Authorities. I said that Elder Benson had full permission to give that lecture and he gave a good talk." (pp.301-302.)

Prince and Wright report that Robert Welch contacted President McKay on three occasions, asking McKay to allow Benson to join the National Council of the John Birch Society, but that McKay had all three times denied Welch's request (pp. 294-295, 317-318).


With this background in mind, let us consider the following excerpt from the paragraph by Prince and Wright that describes Benson's opposition to civil rights:

"A friend and confidant of Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society, Benson tried unsuccessfully to obtain McKay's permission to serve on its board of directors. Undaunted by McKay's consistent refusals, he repeatedly endorsed in public settings the racist agenda of Welch." (p.65.)

These two short sentences contain three vilifications of Ezra Taft Benson:

1. It is astonishing that Prince and Wright would brazenly accuse Benson of endorsing racism. This charge is not substantiated anywhere in their book, nor has such a charge been substantiated anywhere else for that matter.

2. There is no evidence in the Prince and Wright book that Ezra Taft Benson, even once, tried to obtain McKay's permission to serve on the John Birch Society National Council. According to Prince and Wright, it was Robert Welch who made those requests.

3. Benson walked lockstep with McKay through the 1960s as they both promoted freedom and opposed Communism. Prince and Wright have provided no evidence of Benson doing anything that McKay had asked him not to do.


I had a personal interview with Ezra Taft Benson in 1967 when I was a missionary in Germany. I had a similar experience again in 1978 in his office at Church headquarters.

I began my collection of his general conference talks long before the days of home computers and I've spent hundreds of hours studying all 114 of them. I own copies of and have carefully studied the following books he authored:

So Shall Ye Reap (1960),
The Red Carpet (1962),
Title of Liberty (1964),
An Enemy Hath Done This (1969),
God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties (1974),
This Nation Shall Endure (1977),
Come unto Christ (1983),
The Constitution, a Heavenly Banner (1986), and
The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (1988).

I've also given careful attention to the authorized story of his life, written by Sheri L. Dew, Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography (1987).

I am convinced that anyone who studies Ezra Taft Benson the way I have will gain a profound testimony of his unwavering integrity and his prophetic calling, as I have.

Every prophet has critics. And I've decided that those who are the most critical of Ezra Taft Benson have paid less attention to his speeches and books, and more attention to the prejudices and opinions of his earlier critics.

This, I believe, is how it is with Gregory A. Prince and Wm. Robert Wright, who deceptively misrepresent Ezra Taft Benson's views on civil rights in their book, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism.

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