SAN ANTONIO — Seven years before President Spencer W. Kimball received a revelation allowing black men to be ordained to the priesthood in the LDS Church, Darius Gray knelt in prayer with two other black male Latter-day Saints. That soon led to the founding of what would be the Genesis group, a support organization for African-American church members formed with general leaders of the church — including Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — as advisers.
In the years following the 1978 revelation, Gray has been president of the group and has done much to tell the story of the black Mormon experience.
Now, the Mormon History Association has honored Gray with a special citation for outstanding contributions to Mormon history.
Meeting in San Antonio for its 49th annual conference, the association presented the citation Friday night at its annual awards banquet.
“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.”
Barney recounted that Gray joined the church in 1964, 14 years before the June 1978 revelation would allow him to receive the priesthood, “and during a time when African-American church members were few and unappreciated.”
After co-founding Genesis in 1971 with Ruffin Bridgforth and Eugene Orr, Gray served as the president of the group from 1997 to 2003.
“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 national public television markets,” Barney said. With Young as co-author, he created the award-winning trilogy of novels about early black Mormon pioneers, “Standing on the Promises,” published by Bookcraft, Barney added.
“Darius 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,’ ” Barney said.
He added that Gray also recently co-hosted “Questions and Ancestors,” a nationally aired program on genealogy.
“Significantly, Darius 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.”
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, 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.”
The award came two days before Gray is scheduled to participate in a panel discussion on civil rights, part of a Mormon History Association post-conference tour, that will take place at the Lyndon B. Johnson Ranch. That will coincide with the 36th anniversary of when the revelation on the priesthood was received.
The award was given at the association’s annual awards banquet, in which several authors were honored for outstanding work on Mormon history.
Ronald E. Romig, former archivist for the Community of Christ, received the Leonard J. Arrington Award, the association’s highest honor.
The Best Book Award went to J.B. Haws for “The Mormon Image in the American Mind: Fifty years of Public Perception.”
Other award recipients are as follows:
Best First Book Award: Elizabeth O. Anderson for “Cowboy Apostle: The Diaries of Anthony W. Ivins 1875-1932.”
Best Biography Award: Todd M. Compton for “A Frontier Life: Jacob Hamblin, Explorer and Indian Missionary.”
Best Documentary Editing/Bibliography Award: staff members of the LDS Church History Department for Volumes 1 and 2 in the Documents series of the Joseph Smith Papers Project.
Best International Book Award: Craig Livingston for “From Above and Below: The Mormon Embrace of Revolution, 1840-1940.”
Best Family/Community History Award: Matthew Kester for “Remembering Iosepa: History, Place and Religion and the American West.”
Best Article Award: Ryan G. Tobler for “Saviors on Mount Zion: Mormon Sacramentalism, Mortality and the Baptism for the Dead."
Awards of excellence: Mathew L. Harris for “Mormonism’s Problematic Racial Past and the Evolution of the Divine-Curse Doctrine” and Max Perry Mueller for “Playing Jane: Representing Black Mormon Memory through Reenacting the Black Mormon Past.”
Best International Article Award: Richard L. Jensen for “Mr. Samuelsen Goes to Copenhagen: The First Mormon Member of a National Parliament.”
Best Women’s History Article Award: Lisa Olsen Tait for “The 1890s Mormon Culture of Letters and the Post-Manifesto Crisis: A New Approach to Literature.”
Best Dissertation Award: Brent Rogers for “Managing Popular Sovereignty: Federalism and Empire in Utah Territory, 1847-1963.”
Best Thesis Award: Blair Hodges, “Intellectual Disability in Mormon Thought and History, 1830-1900.”
Best Graduate Paper: Christopher James Blythe for “Emma’s Willow: Mormon Pilgrimage and Nauvoo’s Mater Dolorosa.”
Best Undergraduate Paper: Bradley Kime for “Exhibiting Theology: James E. Talmage and Mormon Public Relations, 1915-20.”
Student Research Paper Awards of Merit: Jillian Clare, Hanah Eckhardt, Bradley Kime, Mykle Law, Jeremy Lofthouse, Matthew Pitts and Bridger Talbot.