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Nelson Holder Ritchie, a Black Mormon pioneer


smac97

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https://kjzz.com/news/one-familys-history-highlights-complexities-of-race-religion-in-utah-century-of-black-mormons

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SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — A person’s family tree can be beautiful, surprising and complex, especially when talking about racial identity.

The life of Nelson Holder Ritchie, a Black Mormon pioneer, proves it.

He settled in the Sugar House community in Salt Lake City with his family for many years.

Dr. Paul Reeve is a researcher and history department chair at the University of Utah, as well as Simmons Chair of Mormon Studies. He’s spent countless hours learning about the life of Ritchie and his youngest daughter Elsie.

“Just imagine that, the daughter of a slave, dying in 1976, in Utah, as a temple worker and daughter of a former slave,” Reeve said.

Poignant, and yet also painful.

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He wrote up their biographies for the Century of Black Mormons database. It’s a digital resource he created to help people discover their Black Mormon ancestry.

Limited information and circumstantial analysis revealed Elsie’s father, Nelson, was born into slavery Aug. 24, 1840, in Turnback, Missouri, and likely the product of his enslaved young mother being raped by an older white man.

Ultimately, Ritchie escaped slavery as a young man and found freedom and safety in Kansas. He created a new life, successfully running his own horse-drawn carriage business and a hotel.

Documents reveal in late December of 1876, Ritchie married Annie Cowan Russell, a white woman, after his first wife and child died. Nelson and Annie had 12 children together.

While Nelson didn’t pass as white, his children did.

In 1892, after moving to Utah from Kansas with his family, he was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

According to documents of that time, Nelson applied for temple admission in 1909 but was denied because he was Black. It was during this time that the "one drop policy" was considered the racial standard during the years of segregation.

Yep.  There it is.  The pain.

This next bit is interesting:

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This was also enforced in the Church when banning Blacks from the priesthood and temple rituals.

This is the point in the Ritchie's family history where the topic of race, religion and the Church gets complicated.

His children found a way around the restrictions.

“All of his children, however, passed as white and received priesthood ordination and temple admission before June of 1978, when the LDS church lifted its racial restrictions,” Reeve said.

There is speculation about whether his children knew about their father’s racial identity.

Documents show he identified with Native American, but other documents point to his Black heritage.

It is possible that Nelson hid his true identity to protect himself and his family after moving from Kansas to Utah.

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
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44 minutes ago, smac97 said:

This next bit is interesting:

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His children found a way around the restrictions.

“All of his children, however, passed as white and received priesthood ordination and temple admission before June of 1978, when the LDS church lifted its racial restrictions,” Reeve said.

There is speculation about whether his children knew about their father’s racial identity.

Documents show he identified with Native American, but other documents point to his Black heritage.

It is possible that Nelson hid his true identity to protect himself and his family after moving from Kansas to Utah.

Thanks,

-Smac

This is interesting.

If the priesthood ban was valid those ordinances would be considered invalid.  If the priesthood ban was invalid would that mean the ordinances were valid?

I know we reject all prior racist teachings (we know what Brigham would have said about those ordinances).  But with the belief in the 1978 revelation as God authorizing priesthood to all races do we believe that automatically makes these prior ones unauthorized by God?

 

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Interesting story and the ‘policy’ makes me sad. With the advent of DNA ancestry, I don’t think many would qualify for the Priesthood. My husbands entire line would all contain non approved ordinations and ordinances. 

I think just like ordinances performed by truly unworthy people still stand, these too would would stand…especially if the ban was not a ‘revelation’ at all. 

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1 hour ago, smac97 said:

I am reasonably confident that all sorts of people with black African ancestry received temple blessings prior to 1978.  

I don't think the priesthood ban was "valid" (although I have not totally foreclosed the contrary proposition).  I think what really counts is whether the ordinance is ratified and "sealed" by the Holy Spirit of Promise.

I think the Lord will sort out all such things.

But . . . yes, I think so.

I'm not sure we are called upon to profess "belief" in, or otherwise render judgment on, the validity of ordinances of this or that person.  We can leave such things to God.

Thanks,

-Smac

Well stated, Smac

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3 hours ago, smac97 said:

I am reasonably confident that all sorts of people with black African ancestry received temple blessings prior to 1978.  

I don't think the priesthood ban was "valid" (although I have not totally foreclosed the contrary proposition).  I think what really counts is whether the ordinance is ratified and "sealed" by the Holy Spirit of Promise.

I think the Lord will sort out all such things.

But . . . yes, I think so.

I'm not sure we are called upon to profess "belief" in, or otherwise render judgment on, the validity of ordinances of this or that person.  We can leave such things to God.

Thanks,

-Smac

I think this is stated very well.

But it occurs to me that perhaps we don't really understand what the Lord told Pres. Kimball at all if your suppositions about this situation prove correct.

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8 hours ago, JLHPROF said:

I think this is stated very well.

But it occurs to me that perhaps we don't really understand what the Lord told Pres. Kimball at all if your suppositions about this situation prove correct.

What makes you say that? 
 

with luv, 

BD 

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13 hours ago, smac97 said:

https://kjzz.com/news/one-familys-history-highlights-complexities-of-race-religion-in-utah-century-of-black-mormons

Poignant, and yet also painful.

Yep.  There it is.  The pain.

This next bit is interesting:

Thanks,

-Smac

And so we still have the Lord sorting things out in the end. What a blessing! More significantly to me is the peace and comfort He brings to the faithful even in the face of the "infuriating unfairness" we are born into -- either as perpetrators, enablers, ineffectual or half-hearted interceders or casualties.

https://abn.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2021/04/25renlund?lang=eng&adobe_mc_ref=https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2021/04/25renlund?lang=eng&adobe_mc_sdid=SDID=7379171EAC20E3F8-45BE37B436282557|MCORGID=66C5485451E56AAE0A490D45%40AdobeOrg|TS=1662822850

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https://kutv.com/news/belonging-in-utah/genealogy-of-black-mormon-pioneer-reveals-past-challenges-with-religion-in-utah

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SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — When soaking up the scenes of nature, one might recall an old saying, the taller the tree, the deeper its roots.

As it turns out a family’s history tree can be just like that.

Elsie Virginia Ritchie was the youngest of 12 children, born in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1903.

When she passed away in 1976, records indicate she had multiple last names due to marriages. Her full name when she died was Elsie Virginia Ritchie Olson Langston.

Elsie had mixed racial ancestry, the daughter of a Black man, Nelson Ritchie, a former slave, and a white mother Annie Cowan Russell.

Dr. Paul Reeve, history department chair at the University of Utah and Simmons chair of Mormon studies, pieced together the stories just like the Ritchie family. Information can be found on a website he created called, Century of Black Mormons.

The website is a historical database honoring the legacy of Black Mormons during the early years of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

His work has drawn a lot of attention particularly from members of the white community.

“These are white descendants in the 21st Century who have done DNA studies and then reached out to me and said we have African ancestry in our DNA,” said Reeve.

Many who reach out to Dr. Reeve are also sending documents and pictures to help build the database and honor their Black ancestors.

In 1892, Nelson Ritchie, his wife Annie, and their children left Kansas after their businesses faced financial hardships. They pursued a new life in Salt Lake City, Utah and to strengthen ties with the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Documents indicate Nelson had darker skin and was ultimately denied temple admission due to the Bishop’s suspicion that he had Black ancestry.

However, Nelson’s oldest daughters passed as white.

They moved away from home when they married leaving no indication they were connected in any way to their father.

“They are also the product of at least two generations of interracial relationships and were light enough to pass as white,” said Reeve.

Analysis and old documents point to the possibility that the Ritchie children may not have ever known their father Nelson’s true racial identity before or after he died.

“And his white wife is the only person left and so the memory of his racial identity fades over time,” said Reeve.

It is likely Nelson’s widow kept his identity quiet.

As for Elsie, life happens, and in time she gets married twice.

This after her first husband passed away.

“And by 1950 she is married in the Salt Lake Temple to her second husband and sealed for eternity in a temple ritual, the very ceremony that was denied her parents in 1909,” said Reeve.

Dr. Reeve explains her son from her first marriage, didn’t have any immediate physical features that would spark suspicion of his racial ties to his grandfather Nelson. He attends Brigham Young University and becomes to quarterback for the BYU football team.

But years later around 2015, the game changed, when Deena Hill of Mount Pleasant, Utah started asking questions.

“I’ve always had this fascination with my 3rd great grandfather, Nelson Holder Ritchie, because he was a mystery. Nobody knows where he came from.”

Hill went to great lengths to find that information from traveling to different parts of the country to meeting relatives.

It took roughly 7 years for her to make discoveries and ultimately help to bridge the gaps in her family tree.

Per Dr. Reeve's article, the son who played QB at BYU was Rex Olson (see also here and here).  Here's a photo:

d01a892debf395f17f35a43069c1ffc3.jpeg

And another in his older years:

aaa-Olson-Rex-A-mature-300x452portrait.j

From the above link:

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Rex was born in Salt Lake City, Utah to Angus Leroy and Elsie Ritchie Olson. When he was 14 years old, his father died. He grew up in poverty while his Mom worked diligently outside the home to support the family.

Sports became his salvation. He often told about how he nailed a peach basket to the kitchen wall so he could play basketball at home. He was active in sports in junior high, high school, and college.

Rex graduated from Granite High School in Salt Lake City where he was a star athlete in basketball, football, and baseball.

He earned his Bachelor's of Science and Master's Degree from Brigham Young University.

He married Barbara Hansen on February 14, 1947 (Valentine's Day) in Richfield, Utah. Their marriage was later solemnized in the LDS Temple on February 16, 1961.

Rex served three years in the United States Army Air Corps during World War II.

He played on the Air Corps basketball and football teams, and loved playing sports to entertain the troops.

Ed Scott, now of Rancho Mirage, California, says of him: "Gentle, kind-hearted and calm, but what a fierce competitor on the athletic field. Rex and I were teammates both pre- and post-war on a State Championship softball team where he excelled as our shortstop. He was held in high regard by all who played with, against and for him!! What a great man!"

After the war he returned to Brigham Young University and he received the All-Around Athlete award in Provo, Utah. He was the quarterback on the first postwar club and ranked 10th in the nation among college passers. The following year Rex led the nation in pass completions and total yardage for half of the season, and finished the year in third place. He was named to the All Conference Team in 1946. He graduated from BYU in 1948 and compiled a number of athletics records.

Following graduation, Rex began work as a coach at Brigham Young High School in Provo in 1948-1949. The job ahead of him was daunting; the 1947-1948 BYH basketball team had won the State Championship, and he had the big shoes of Coach David M. Crowton to fill.

In his first year, 1948-49, the tiny school won the Basketball Championship for Class B Schools for the second year in a row, and finished third the following year.

"I played on the 1949 BY High championship basketball team with Rex as coach," says Kent Broadhead of Taylorsville, Utah. "He was an outstanding coach and an athlete of the same caliber himself."

Rex returned to his alma mater Granite High School in Salt Lake City as a teacher and basketball, baseball, and football coach. He loved teaching his teams the fundamentals of sports, and did it with passion and patience.

One of his players, Eldon Fortie, now of Escondido, California, who went on to become one of the first quarterback superstars at BYU, says this: "I was also one of the many who played for Coach Olson and have many fond memories of his coaching efforts. He taught me the 'correct' way to pass a football and his competitive spirit was always evident."

"I graduated from Granite High in 1952," says Douglas McGregor of Salt Lake City. "Yes, Rex Olson was my coach. Our basketball team did not help Coach Olson's win-loss record, but what I learned from Coach Olson has been a win for me throughout my life."

His obituary:

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Rex A. Olson

"Coach" Rex A. Olson, 86 years old, died of old age July 7, 2008 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Born in Salt Lake City, Utah to Angus Leroy and Elsie Ritchie Olson. When he was 14 years old, Rex's Dad died. He grew up in poverty while his Mom worked diligently outside the home to support the family. Sports became his salvation and he used to talk about how he nailed a peach basket to the kitchen wall so he could play basketball at home. He married Barbara Hansen on Feb. 14, 1947 in Richfield, Utah. The marriage was later solemnized in the LDS Temple on Feb. 16, 1961. Rex was a graduate of Granite High School in Salt Lake City, Utah where he was a star athlete in basketball, football, and baseball. He later earned his Bachelor's of Science and Master's Degree from Brigham Young University. He was active in sports in junior high, high school, and college. He served three years in the United States Army Air Corps during World War II. He played on the Air Corps basketball and football teams, and loved playing sports to entertain the troops. After the war he returned to Brigham Young University and he received the All-Around Athlete award in Provo, Utah. He was the quarterback on the first postwar club and ranked 10th in the nation among college passers. The following year Rex led the nation in pass completions and total yardage for half of the season, and finished the year in third place. He was named to the All Conference Team in 1946. He graduated from BYU in 1948 and compiled a number of athletics records. Rex worked as a coach at B.Y. High School in Provo, Utah for two years. The first year, 1948-49, the tiny school won the Basketball Championship for Class B Schools and finished third the following year. He then worked at Granite High School in Salt Lake City as a teacher and basketball, baseball, and football coach. He loved teaching his teams the fundamentals of sports, and did it with passion and patience. He retired from the educational system in 1978 after 30 years of teaching and coaching. He loved all sports, and began golfing at 40 years old. He rarely missed a day of golf until he was 84 years old, and shot his age when he was 81! He taught golf for BYU and community school for years. He was also a huge Utah Jazz fan. He was a High Priest in the LDS Church, serving in various capacities during his lifetime. He also was the ward clerk for 15 years. Rex is survived by his children Karen Johnson (Brian), Kathy Hoggan (Lynn), and Ken (Jill). He leaves six grandchildren whom he really enjoyed: Eric Johnson, Ryan (Erin) and Jason Hoggan, and Tyler (Ashlee), Trent, and McKinzie Olson. Rex is also survived by one sister, Jo Schultz, three brothers Floyd, Gordon, and Richard. Richard preceded him in death. Funeral Services will be held July 11, 2008 at 11:00 a.m. at Jenkins Soffe Mortuary 4760 South State Street in Murray. Friends may call one hour prior to services (10:00-11:00 a.m.). Friends may visit the evening of July 10th from 7:00-8:00 p.m. at the mortuary. Interment, Murray City Cemetery.

He played quarterback at a university, and later coached at a high school, both of which were named after the man who instituted the priesthood restriction.

He was apparently born in 1922, so he would have been 39 or so in 1961 when he was sealed in the Salt Lake Temple, and 56 or so in 1978 when the ban was removed.

The effects of the priesthood ban are will us, and will likely continue reverberate in the future.  It is stories and circumstances like this that help me trust that the Lord will take care of things in the long run.

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
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I have been perusing Dr. Reeve's website: Century of Black Mormons

A few notes:

1. I am glad to have access to such a well-researched and documented compendium of Black Latter-day Saints.

2. Dr. Reeve has also helpfully indexed the website into various categories, including "Enslaved at Baptism," "Ordained to the Priesthood before June 1978," "Ordained to the Priesthood before June 1978, Passing," and "Received Living Temple Rituals before June 1978."

3. The "Ordained to the Priesthood before June 1978" list:

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Of these, three (Russell Ritchie, Elijah R. Ables and Joseph Ball) are listed as those who "were ordained to the LDS priesthood before June 1978, but who likely passed as white at the time of their ordination."

Of the remaining three (Quack Walker Lewis, Moroni Able and Elijah Able), I had not previously known much about Quack Walker Lewis.  The site's biography of his life is very informative.

Thanks,

-Smac

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