Martin Luther King, Civil Rights, and Perceptions of of a "Communist Conspiracy"
Harris, Matthew L.
Thunder from the Right: Ezra Taft Benson in Mormonism and Politics
University of Illinois Press
"In the early 1990s members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints performed sacred rituals for acclaimed civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. It occurred during the LDS church presidency of Ezra Taft Benson--a remarkable irony considering Benson's decades-long opposition to Dr. King. Dead for nearly twenty-four years at the time of the ritual, the famed civil rights spokesman became the recipient of an important Mormon ordinance allowing for persons to accept or reject the Mormon gospel in an afterlife if they did not encounter while they lived. There is no evidence that King, a southern Baptist minister, had exposure to Mormonism because for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the Mormon Church did not proselytize among black people. In addition, from 1852 to 1978, LDS leaders prohibited persons of African descent from holding the priesthood or participating in sacred temple rituals, bluntly proclaiming they were under a divine curse for sinful conduct in a premortal life. Mormonism's restrictive racial practices occurred during much of Benson's adult life, which affected how he viewed people of color. Like his fellow apostles, he referred to black people as the 'seed of Cain' and actively opposed civil rights during the turbulent decades after World War II. Benson and his colleagues feared that civil rights legislation would break down racial barriers, making it easier for blacks and whites to integrate and thereby marry. But Benson went further than his fellow general authorities in opposing civil rights. Radicalized by right-wing extremism, the apostle came to believe in the 1960s that communists had infiltrated the civil rights movement. He alleged that Dr. King and his allies collaborated with Soviet agents in a secret plot to destroy American democracy and capitalism. For more than a quarter century Benson's antiblack views influenced how some Latter-day Saints viewed Dr. King and the civil rights movement. This essay examines how Benson developed such views and more importantly, how they polarized the LDS church." [from author]