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Association honors Darius Gray for contributions to Mormon history

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS

At a time when faithful Latter-day Saints of African lineage were patiently waiting for the day when the priesthood would be granted to all worthy men without regard for race or color, Darius A. Gray and two other men knelt in prayer prior to approaching the leadership of the Church.

The result was the formation in 1971 of Genesis, a support group for black Latter-day Saints. Brother Gray and his two colleagues, Ruffin Bridgeforth and Eugene Orr, were set apart by Church apostles as the presidency of the group, with Brother Bridgeforth as president.

After the 1978 revelation on the priesthood (see Official Declaration 2 in the Doctrine and Covenants), Brother Bridgeforth was one of the first black men to receive the priesthood and the first to be ordained a high priest.

In 1997, after the death of Brother Bridgeforth, Brother Gray was set apart as Genesis president and held that position until 2003.

Now, Brother Gray has been honored by the Mormon History Association with a special citation for outstanding contributions to Mormon History.

Meeting in San Antonio for its 49th annual conference, the group presented the citation at its annual awards banquet on June 6.

“Contributions to history generally take one of two genres, writing history or being history,” said association executive director Ronald O. Barney in presenting the award. "Darius Aidan Gray is one of the very few personalities within the Latter-day Saint tradition who has achieved excellence in both genres.”

He recounted that Brother Gray joined the Church in 1964, “during a time when African American Church members were few and unappreciated.”

“In 2008, he co-produced and co-directed with Margaret Blair Young the groundbreaking documentary ‘Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons,’ which screened in a number of public television markets,” Brother Barney said.

With Sister Young as co-author, he created the award-winning trilogy of novels about early black Mormon pioneers, Standing on the Promises, Brother Barney added.

“[Brother Gray] participated in the highly acclaimed PBS family history series ‘Ancestors,’ produced by KBYU Television, and was involved in the KUED documentaries ‘Utah’s African American Voices’ and ‘Utah’s Freedom Riders,’ ” Brother Barney said.

He added that Brother Gray also recently co-hosted “Questions and Ancestors,” a nationally aired program on genealogy.

“Significantly, [Brother Gray] was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Award by the Utah NAACP, a recognition of his contribution to bridging the religious and racial divides in Utah,” he said.

“Unquestionably, his most important genealogical achievement was his co-direction of the Freedmen’s Bank Record Project, an 11-year effort that yielded a treasure trove of long-inaccessible documents covering four generations of African Americans, the descendants of whom number over 10 million.”

Brother Barney remarked, “It is difficult to overstate the influence of Darius Aidan Gray on countless individuals within and outside the LDS Church. Few, if any, in the history of Mormonism have had a more profound impact on its efforts to eliminate racism and bigotry.

After receiving the award before a standing ovation, Brother Gray responded, “It is something I will cherish, and I thank you. I thank you more, though, for your friendship, for your warmth. There aren’t words to convey how much that means.”

Two days later, as part of a post-conference tour, Brother Gray participated in a panel discussion on civil rights that took place at the President Lyndon B. Johnson Ranch. Coincidentally, that was 36 years to the day, June 8, 1978, when the revelation on the priesthood was announced.

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