The Opening Up of Africa

An editorial by this title appeared in the Deseret News late in 1877. Following a few paragraphs about growing European awareness of African geography through the work of explorers like Henry M. Stanley, the editor (probably George Q. Cannon) wrote:

A fresh field is opened to missionary labor. The benighted tribes of the wilds of Africa will not long be left without a knowledge of the world’s Redeemer. The societies among the various sects for the proselyting of the heathen will vie with each other in being first on the ground, and adventurous spirits will be found, who, for the love of mankind, and a good round salary, will be ready to march into the strongholds of heathendom and brave the dangers of savage life in the country revealed by “the man who found Livingstone.”

In this, as in all the events which transpire on the earth, we recognize the finger of Providence. The curse pronounced on Ham thousands of years ago has been heavy upon his posterity. But in these latter days the signs of the times portend the coming of sweet Mercy to lift from the dark-skinned descendants of Noah’s froward son the bondage and darkness of centuries. The emancipation of the colored race in the United States and the opening up of the long-hidden regions of interior Africa, are indications of the workings of the Almighty towards the lifting up and final redemption of this branch of the human family.

The fullness of the gospel may not reach them for years. Nor are they at present prepared to receive the plenitude of its benefits. But the angel which restored it to earth proclaimed the glad tidings that it should be preached “to every nation, and kindred, and tongue and people;” and the promise of the Almighty concerning the latter-day Zion is, “unto it shall come of every nation under heaven.” These sayings will be fulfilled to the letter, and the Great Father of the race is directing and controlling all things, and moving upon men and nations for the accomplishment of His purposes designed from the beginning.

This is the great and last dispensation, in which all that is hidden shall be disclosed, and all nations and lands, with their history and relationship to each other, will be made manifest. Discovery will follow discovery, and events will follow each other in rapid succession, accelerated by every invention and development of art and science, until the Divine plan is accomplished in is entirety for the redemption and exaltation of God’s children who belong to this planet. Happy is he who has eyes to see and a soul to understand the purposes of the Almighty and their manifestations throughout the world from day to day.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this.

There is the obvious problem of the now-disavowed “curse” reference. There is mixed praise and disparagement of Christian missionaries who risked their lives in the best service they knew to offer, including the translation of the Bible into so many languages which even now lack a translation of the Book of Mormon. It would be a full century before we could (or would, or did) begin to embrace the promises and accept a role in fulfilling the prophecies outlined here.

Yet there is also a candid acknowledgement of the claim of all races to the Atonement and a place in the family of God, and of our inevitable responsibility of carrying the message everywhere, without exception. We knew this from the opening of this dispensation, of course, through the “every nation, kindred, tongue and people” language — but seldom had there been a statement so explicitly acknowledging the inclusion of Africa and Africans in that promise. And overall the language is cheerful and upbeat, not begruding the eventual and inevitable inclusion of black faces in the choir, but greeting the prospect with approval and acceptance.

Not bad for 1877.

15 comments for “The Opening Up of Africa

  1. This sounds pretty positive to me. I’m surprised, both at the cheerful and upbeat acceptance of the redemption of the colored race and that at some time later than the present they could recieve the plenitude. But I’m actually a little more surprised at the generally positive view of sectarian missionary work. There’s the dig at salaries, of course, but otherwise the their efforts are portrayed as an almost-unalloyed good and the will of the Almighty (though, of course, the missionaries aren’t bringing the fulness of the gospel)

    Maybe President Hinckley’s ecumenical turn is not as large a departure from the historic faith as is sometimes claimed.

  2. Ardis,

    Fascinating editorial. I had no idea it even existed. Thanks for posting it. It’s almost as if the seeds of the June 1978 revelation reversing the priesthood ban were present even at this early stage of the Restored Church. I find it interesting to compare some of the thoughts in this editorial and then contrast them with some of the otherwise unenlightened racial comments and thoughts of some of the highest Church leadership preceding, during, and after the McKay Church Presidency, as chronicled in the McKay biography. The editorial speaks with approval (at least that’s my reading of it) of the “emancipation of the colored race” yet, many of The Brethren openly and vigorously opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act at the time.

    Interesting stuff.

  3. This is an amazing piece, Ardis. One cannot understand it fully without its specific cultural and historical context. Indeed, this is 1877 ! Stanley had found Livingstone only six years before and the tales in the papers of the further discovery of Africa, with its “savage tribes”, were among the most exciting stories of the time.

    We should look beyond the few items in that piece which would disturb us now, in our time, and acknowledge the width of the vision and the all-embracing rhetoric that speaks from the core of the message.

    Adam, if you read the text again, the dig at the “good round salary” seems not geared towards the missionaries, but at “adventurous spirits” who enter Africa. That seems a clear reference at the substantial financial rewards that daily papers then paid to explorers who “brave the dangers of savage life” and bring back their stories of the dark continent for a public eager to read them. As a matter of fact, in 1877 Stanley was at the end of a huge expedition in Africa, with 356 men, which lasted from 1874 till 1877, profusely financed by the New York Herald and the London Daily Telegraph. His fascinating reports, which fed the whole imagery of tribal Africa, had an immense impact on the public at the time (and on the sales of the papers).

    It all makes this Deseret News editorial not only very interesting in the framework of the time, but amazing for its grand vision, encompassing all “in the Divine plan in its entirety for the redemption and exaltation of God’s children who belong to this planet. ”

  4. Wilfried, I had read the first paragraph just as Adam did, with the salaries referring to Christian missionaries, but we could read it as you did just as well, as two items in a list: missionaries rushing to teach, and adventurous spirits hastening to explore.

    And Guy, that’s what fascinates me, reading this in light of what we know came after, both good and bad. I wonder how its readers understood it in 1877 without the benefit of our hindsight? I wonder how it will be read by someone another century along, who will know what happens between today and that future day? I wonder if the writer’s personal vision of “the coming of sweet Mercy” at all matched up to the course of events so far?

  5. This is a very familiar editorial to me, Ardis–and I’m so pleased to see it here. I used portions of it in the second book of the trilody Darius Gray and I authored. I was researching what was happening in the world at the time Elijah Abel’s wife, Mary Ann, died. I was also looking into reasons why Elijah Abel had renewed his petition for his endowment and sealing to his wife. (He had been washed and anointed in the Kirtland Temple but had left Nauvoo before the endowment was given, and was denied it (and the sealing) after arriving in SLC around 1852.) The most obvious reason Abel would’ve renewed his request was that Brigham Young had died. But maybe even more important to him was the fact that his wife was also dying. She died around Thanksgiving time (Nov. 27th). The editorial Ardis quotes above was published on Dec. 5, just a week after Mary Ann’s death. So I took literary license and used portions of it in a sermon given at her funeral. If I knew how to do one of those fancy “here” links which would then open the text (chapter 36 of _Bound for Canaan_), I’d do it now. I have the text on my computer. But I am older than Ardis and not nearly as advanced in technology as most of you youngsters.
    Thanks for this, Ardis. It does come with some special significance for me. I haven’t read it since turning in the book for publication.
    Oh btw, Elijah Abel’s renewed request eventually precipitated the famous 1879 meeting of John Taylor, Abraham Smoot, and Zebedee Coltrin. They wanted to know what Joseph Smith had said about Blacks and priesthood. I won’t detail that most important meeting, but you can read about it in Lester Bush’s famous _Dialogue_ article, or in chapter 37 of _Bound for Canaan_.

  6. Historians can be just as wonky as politicians, so I get a little tickle out of detecting that Margaret uses the weekly edition of the Deseret News.

    Margaret, the weekly edition reprinted the editorial which first appeared in the daily issue of November 26, the day before Mary Ann died. Is it wishing for too much to hope that this was brought to the Abels’ attention in time for Mary Ann to have benefited from seeing such a public expression?

    (And Margaret is SO not older than me — I fortunately had extraordinary access to an extraordinary teacher during the two years I fought to tame this computer beast — hat tip to Rick Bickmore if he should ever find his way here.)

  7. Wonderful, Ardis! Then I wasn’t taking as much liberty as I had thought.
    Mary Ann died of tuberculosis, as I recall. (It’s been so long since I wrote those books!) I doubt she was in much of a condition to hear the editorial. But it is conceivable that she did. She was in the 13th ward, so Rachel Ivins Grant was her RS president, and was such a magnanimous woman. It’s certainly possible that Sister Grant paid a visit to read her the editorial. We know that Elijah Abel was illiterate when he was in Nauvoo (I have a copy of a document signed with his X), but he did gain some level of literacy. Probably not enough to subscribe to a newspaper, but you never know. And his children would’ve been literate. Maybe one of them saw the article. They certainly would not have been surprised to see Africans described with all of the assumptions about race the writer uses.

  8. Again from an evangelical standpoint, missions is booming south of the equator. I spent a summer in Africa and loved it all.

    Would this be an extreme prediction?

    America will go the way of Europe. Someday, the passionate Christian strongholds in the south will be sending missionaries in mass to America.

    Wouldn’t that be the triumph of God’s mercy and grace?

  9. Pastor Wood, one of our bloggers, Wilfried Decoo, has blogged beautifully about his own service in Africa. You might enjoy exploring his stories through the “posts by author” link at the top of the page to compare his experiences with yours.

  10. Would this be an extreme prediction?

    America will go the way of Europe. Someday, the passionate Christian strongholds in the south will be sending missionaries in mass to America.

    Not extreme in the least. The Anglicans are already doing it. The notion puts a somewhat different spin on Jacob 5 than Mormons usually do, but a useful one nevertheless.

  11. Todd,

    I think its extreme. There will be some parts of the country that will eventually need to be re-christianized like the Northeast and Northwest and pockets in University towns around the country.

    But on the whole the US is far more religious then the secular Europeans I see no reason based on a study of church attendance rates and other indicators to think the US will slouch as far as Europe.

    Currently there are some US Denominations that do need to be re-converted to Christianity. They reside mainly in the Mainline Protestant world.

  12. The reason I responded to Pastor Wood as I did was to acknowledge his friendly note and welcome presence without allowing him to set the agenda on yet another Mormon blog. Please cooperate, brethren.

  13. On the original post–the idea of Africa opening up to Christ…without a sense of century now…

    It should be impossible to maintain prejudice against anyone we are serving. If we are merely performing duties in a patronizing sense rather than in the way Christ taught, then of course prejudice can continue. I knew an American in another country (Third World) who was in charge of important educational development, but continually said things like, “This is a culture of laziness. This is a culture of thieves. This is a culture of selfishness.”
    I never saw what this American saw. Yes, of course I was aware that my comparative wealth tempted people to take some material thing from me, but that was certaily not the core of their culture. Nor was laziness. (I think you need the internet and television sets to facilitate real laziness.) I felt strongly about learning not just the common language, but the little dialects. Thus tooled, I was able to listen to their life stories, to weep with them, to laugh with them, to walk to the cemetery with them, to embrace them fully.

    President Hinckley has said many times, “We are your servants.” It is true. No true disciple of Jesus Christ can be anything less–or attempt to be anything more. Any calling in the Church is a call to be a servant.

    In our documentary (which I will be ceaselessly plugging), Armand Mauss says, “The world has given the LDS church the gift of its people.” As we at the MTC send your sons and daughters into Africa, or into Europe where they will often teach Africans, we know that they will fall in love with those they serve. They may find a need to pray themselves past little hurdles of preconception, but the God’s cleansing gift of love is everpresent, an unchanging oasis where all may freely drink.

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