SALT LAKE CITY — A University of Utah history professor is creating a database to try to record the history of black Mormons who joined the faith from 1830-1930.
W. Paul Reeve is attempting to fill in the gaps in the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by gathering information about its often forgotten black members, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Saturday.
Compiling the data for the "Century of Black Mormons " project has been a multiyear effort of painstaking, needle-in-a-haystack detective work, said Reeve, the first Simmons Mormon Studies Professor at the university's College of Humanities.
The idea for the project formed when Reeve was on a tour to publicize his book about the Mormon faith and race. People would inquire with him about their ancestry or black Mormons they had learned about, he said. It prompted him to wonder why a resource wasn't available to assemble the histories of these Mormons.
Reeve then began the database project in 2016 and has since enlisted dozens of researchers to comb through documents, letters, census data, Mormon journals and church records.
The database has collected information on more than 200 people. Some just have names and personal details, but 40 have full biographies with timelines, sources and photographs.
Reeve hopes the database will help historians tell a more complete narrative and disrupt the perception that the faith has always been white.
"We need to name the black Mormons and make their stories known," Reeve said.
The project aims to help scholars and the public know "what it means to be a member of a minority in a suspect minority religion" Reeve said.