Ezra Taft Benson and MLK


January 19, 2009 by Jason Brown


It is a strange legacy that we inherit from a Church leader who denounced the Civil Rights Movement. Can somebody please post some quotes to cheer me up?

“LOGAN, UTAH-Former Agriculture Secretary Ezra Taft Benson charged Friday night that the civil-rights movement in the South had been ‘formatted almost entirely by the Communists.’ Elder Benson, a member of the Council of the Twelve of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in a public meeting here that the whole civil-rights movement was ‘phony.'” (Deseret News, Dec. 14, 1963)

“The Communist program for revolution in America has been in progress for many years and is far advanced. While it can be thwarted in a fairly short period of time merely by sufficient exposure, the evil effects of what has already been accomplished cannot be removed overnight. The animosities, the hatred, the extension of government control into our daily lives–all this will take time to repair. The already-inflicted wounds will be slow to heal. First of all, we must not place blame on the Negroes. They are merely the unfortunate group that has been selected by professional Communist agitators to be used as the primary source of cannon fodder. Not one in a thousand Americans–black or white–really understands the full implications of today’s civil-rights agitation. The planning, direction, and leadership come from the Communists, and most of those are white men who fully intend to destroy America by spilling Negro blood, rather than their own.
Next, we must not participate in any so-called ‘blacklash’ activity which might tend to further intensify inter-racial friction. Anti-Negro vigilante action, or mob action, of any kind fits perfectly into the Communist plan. This is one of the best ways to force the decent Negro into cooperating with militant Negro groups. The Communists are just as anxious to spearhead such anti-Negro actions as they are to organize demonstrations that are calculated to irritate white people.
We must insist that duly authorized legislative investigating committess launch an even more exhaustive study and expose the degree to which secret Communists have penetrated into the civil rights movement. The same needs to be done with militant anti-Negro groups. This is an effective way for the American people of both races to find out who are the false leaders among them” (Ezra Taft Benson, General Conference Report, Oct. 1967).

29 thoughts on “Ezra Taft Benson and MLK

  1. Grégoire says:

    Sorry, but this brings back memories.

    In June of 1987 (I had just turned seventeen) I decided to be honest with my parents and leaders, and informed them all at that time that I was not planning on going on a mission. As you might imagine, this did not go over well and I was repeatedly thrown out of the house until my 18th birthday.

    My home-teaching partner (is that what they’re called? or is it companion? whatever) was the bishop of our ward, and he asked me to speak in Sacrament meeting. It was the July 4th weekend when I was scheduled. I guess he thought it would strengthen my testimony.

    I quoted this exact address, and had found others warning of the “Negro Communist conspiracy to wreck America” which I also quoted from the then Prophet Benson.

    While a few people were somewhat mortified, it was interesting to note that most were either not paying attention or in agreement with the sentiments. I got a fairly hearty “amen” from the crowd when I was finished.

    Maybe not so surprising, considering what had happened in the same community ten years before…

    My bishop was not very amused, but my talk served the purpose of getting me out of being invited to lecture from the pulpit in the future.

    Anyway, I think the LDS church has a way to go yet before it sheds the trappings of the past, but we have to give credit where it’s due. Most of the worst anti-Black racism which started with Brigham Young is history at this point. In 100 years, I think our descendants will look back and wonder what my grandparents were thinking…

  2. Chris H. says:

    This is why I denounce Benson’s political views at any chance. It is sad to see how tolerated they are today.

  3. Grégoire says:

    This is why I denounce Benson’s political views at any chance. It is sad to see how tolerated they are today.

    The reverse is also true. There’s a character named N. Eldon Tanner who sat in Alberta’s provincial parliament as a member of the Social Credit party. I didn’t know this before I emigrated north, but that’s the Canadian equivalent of the Nazi party. In the late 30s (while he was in attendance) members of his party read sections of Mein Kampf into the record and called for anti-Jewish exclusion laws.

    This guy tried to clean it up after WWII with limited success.

    Of course I believe that everyone should express himself/herself freely, even if s/he’s a kook anti-Semite, but why is Dr. King condemned while these apostles are held above reproach for even worse associations? No matter. I’m only sorry I didn’t know Canadian history as a teenager. I could have given a real doozy of a speech quoting President Tanner too…

  4. Chris H. says:

    While Tanner did belong to the Social Credit Party, it was more of a socialist/social democratic (with a weird religious-rural tint) party in his day. The difference is that Benson represented and advocated the very worst aspect of American Right Wing movement, including opposition to Civil Rights up until becoming President of the Church. Tanner, along with Hugh B. Brown, were considered liberals on civil rights and welfare.

  5. Grégoire says:

    it was more of a socialist/social democratic (with a weird religious-rural tint) party in his day

    The Social Credit party was the Nazi party of Alberta. Their members read _Protocols of Zion_ and _Mein Kampf_ into the record of parliament. Tanner was, for all practical purposes, a Nazi.

    The party grew out of local lodges called ‘swastika clubs’ in rural towns on the prairie. Sorta like our grange halls today, only committed to things like deporting all Canada’s Jews to the Hudson Bay and exposing various conspiracies.

    In Quebec and New Brunswick you had this guy:

    He started Parti National Chrétien, which was the only comparable movement anywhere in the country, and his was not nearly as successful. In the U.S. you had something called German-American Bund, which was similar also.

    Alberta was a very strange place, and remains so today. I’m glad I don’t live there any longer.

  6. Chris H. says:

    Your understanding of the Social Credit party is a limited one (wikipedia references are not impressive citiations). Calling Tanner a Nazi is like saying the all Democrats prior to the 1960’s were segregationists because Strom Thurmond and George Wallace were racists. This would also make all Mormons prior to 1978 racists (and many were) because we excluded blacks from the priesthood-a racist practice. Do you have any record of Tanner making statements as vile as Benson. His statements and actions on politics and civil rights stand on there own. So do Benson’s.

  7. In a recent biography of David O Mckay there is a good account of the civil rights struggle from the perspective of the church leadership. As mentioned above Benson and harold b lee were adamantly opposed, while hugh b brown was a strong supporter of the civil rights movement. Brown would give a general conference speech or newspaper interview expressing his support for civil rights, and intimating that the church policy of excluding blacks from the priesthood maybe on its way to being over, after which Benson and lee would give conference talks advocating the opposite. it was kind of a tit for tat battle between the two sides. Anyway we should be happy that the anti-racist wing of the church eventually won, thanks Brown and President Kimball. MLK day is a time to look back on that victory with pride. There is still racism in the church but it isn’t coming from the top as it used to. More progress will be made with time.

  8. Chris H. says:


    I think it would be fun if we still had these more public disagreements. I agree that the anti-racist wing won. We see this in the Church’s approach to illegal immigration.

    Where did McKay fall on these issues? He was conservative but he also kept Benson in line to a certain extent.

  9. Grégoire says:

    Do you have any record of Tanner making statements as vile as Benson.

    I never asserted that he did. Tanner is a perfect counterpart to M.L. King, who had friends on the com-left, and who was vilified for it by the Prophet Benson.

    It doesn’t matter anyway. Not all members of the NSDAP in Germany made vile statements or hated Jews either. (Martin Heidegger and Herbert von Karajan are two such examples). They’re still judged by association with people who did.

    The fact is that Tanner was sitting in the assembly in Edmonton while members of his party were talking about deporting Jews and reading conspiracy tracts like Protocols of Zion. He never complained nor spoke out about this. That isn’t Wikipedia, it’s a historical fact.

  10. Chris H. says:

    I am so screwed. I sit through meetings filled with racist imperialist speeches on a regular basis. These meetings are called sacrament meeting. I too must be an imperialist racist since I do not storm out an remove my name from the records. Your logic baffles me. I will leave it alone. If I wanted this kind of madness, I would read Millenial Star.

  11. J. Madson says:

    I think its clear that some LDS leaders have made mistakes in the past. However, I also see shining examples in men like Hugh B. Brown, Spencer W. Kimball, and others. Most religions at that time in history had elements of racism. As for Tanner, Im less concerned about him than some of the racist attitudes that were widespread. It is a testament to the church that we are integrated today. There are many churches in the south that are still segregated even if by choice. There is a ways to go but I am hopeful we are on the right path.

    Chris H.

    I agree on the disagreements. I think its a healthy thing. David O’McKay was quite amazing to me. Conservative in some regard but look at the way he held Elders Lee and Smith at bay from excommunicating intellectuals, criticized McKonkie’s dogmatic theology, his strong pacifist leanings, and his major steps towards racial equality in the church. He was a very intelligent and charitable man.

  12. Ron Madson says:

    Chris H.
    I am curious what you mean by: “if I wanted this madness, I would read the Millenial Star”?? I inherited a couple volumes (1846 and 1865) from my father but have only read a few articles.

    Also, whatever you do—do not “storm out” of the church. Your voice is needed. However, I must say that the racist imperialist rhetoric has pretty much disappeared in my ward publicly. I only hear it privately on occasion.

  13. Grégoire says:

    I am so screwed. I sit through meetings filled with racist imperialist speeches on a regular basis. These meetings are called sacrament meeting. I too must be an imperialist racist since I do not storm out an remove my name from the records. Your logic baffles me. I will leave it alone. If I wanted this kind of madness, I would read Millenial Star.

    I think you’ve missed my main point re: Tanner completely. If you read the original article, and my response, I’m trying to address the guilt-by-association aspect with which Dr. King was lambasted by Benson and other church leaders.

    I live in an area where Mormonism is considered one step below the Church of Elvis Presley or the Raelians. Mormons in my area are known for financial scams, pyramid schemes, bishops preying on children, and various other displays of criminal behavior. The *best* thing people say about Mormons in my area is to curse them for interrupting their dinners; yet, I have friends here who know I was raised a Mormon. I wonder if my friends will someday be condemned for refusing to denounce me publicly, the way Dr. King was condemned simply for having his photograph taken while sitting next to some people in a room someplace.

    E.T. Benson never denounced the racialist nutters and survivalist kooks who he rubbed shoulders with in the John Birch meeting. Tanner never denounced the anti-Semites who wrote vicious screeds into the public record as members of his party. Somehow, the standard is applied unequally.

    Do you see what I’m getting at now?

    Look at us, here, having a conversation on a web page with *anarchy* in the headers. My goodness… I wonder if it’ll be held against our grandchildren…

  14. Forest Simmons says:

    Ezra Taft Benson was overly suspicious of the possible communist influence in the civil rights movement. So was I at the time, because my natural anarchist leanings supported states rights over federal intervention, i.e. if we must have government, let’s keep it as local as possible.

    This feeling was common to Utah and Idaho Mormons at the time because they resented the federal government’s historical instances of interference in the internal affairs of the Church and the Utah territory. We felt that the way to change was persuading people to abandon their prejudices.

    Since it was long before June 1978, I still had a lot of prejudice against blacks, even though I did not then know it. Only when I received my confirmation of the June 1978 revelation and felt the prejudice flowing out of me did I realize how prejudiced I had been.

    With the benefit of hindsight, I can see the greatness of MLK, Jr. and appreciate him for the courage he had in addressing class warfare issues and the evils of the war profiteers and other war mongers. But back then I was a soldier in the US Army, and bought the military propaganda hook, line, and sinker. Alll we knew about “saving Vietnam from communism” was what we read in the Stars and Stripes Newspaper and heard on Armed Forces Radio, not to mention official indoctrination meetings From that point of view, anybody speaking out against the war was at least a “pinko” if not a full blown “commie.”

    I’m sure that (in the spirit world) Ezra Taft Benson takes a lot of ribbing from Hugh B. Brown and others who weren’t as paranoid as the rest of us about the spread of godless Soviet “communism.”

    Now I’m much more worried about the spread of godful (or goddawfull) American capitalism, because the god of capitalism is Mammon, and its holy ghost is the invisible hand of the market, which really knows how to mess up an economy, and keep those with the highest UQ (unscrupulousness quotient) in power.

  15. J. Madson says:


    I believe Chris H was talking about the blog millennial star and was not suggesting he should storm out of the church but that he shouldnt be labeled as racist simply because he has been in meetings any more than Tanner should be labeled so quickly based upon guilt by association.

  16. Chris H. says:


    J. is correct. I live in Rexburg, Idaho. The racism is not as blatant by more symbolic, though such is racism in our day. By imperialism, we have had a number of talks about the gospel being spread through the current U.S. wars. No worries, I am not leaving. There would be no fun in that.


    We are larger talking past each other at this point. I appreciate what you are trying to say. We will just have to disagree.

  17. Joseph says:

    I don’t believe Benson to be as evil as I once thought, and i once thought him to be pretty wack (after reading McKay’s bio and then too much D. Michael Quinn). I believe Benson interpreted terms differently than we do today. I’ve been doing a lot of reading from http://www.fee.org, an organization that espouses liberty as much as any I’ve come across. Benson was on the board back in the day, as was J. Reuben Clark. Rereading Benson’s stuff recently, I’m convinced I’ve been misinterpreting him.

  18. Chris H. says:


    Benson, like FEE, only seem(ed) to be worried about the freedom of capitalist markets, not people. I do not think that Benson was evil. I just think he was wrong.

  19. Joseph says:

    I see we have differing opinions, as usual.

    I’m still not sure what I think about the John Birch Society, but any website that espouses Frederic Bastiat’s THE LAW has something to offer the majorities, even if that book is the extent of it. I would love to hear the opinion of various Mormon Worker contributors on his work.

  20. Chris H. says:

    While I do not agree with Frederic Bastiat’s THE LAW in anyway, my main problem with it is that it is a rip off of John Lockes ideas in the Second Treatise. The worst part is that he uses Lockes argument to justify the liberty of contract that dominated economics and politics from the industrial revolution and into the great depression. To use Lockes ideas to justify social darwinism is a travesty (and I do not agree with Locke). I do not know if your were asking me, but there you go.

  21. Grégoire says:

    …any website that espouses Frederic Bastiat’s THE LAW has something to offer the majorities, even if that book is the extent of it…

    There’s a book by one ‘Ragnar Redbeard’ entitled _Might Is Right_ which is somewhat amusing. Its premise is almost precisely similar to Bastiat’s, but it proceeds from a different direction.

  22. J. Madson says:

    I’ve had a number of friends praise Bastiat lately. Where can I get a good critique of him. Or maybe someone here can outline his basic argument. From the sections I’ve skimmed it seems he is following Locke and frankly sounds a lot like Benson’s An Enemy hath Done it book or I should say Benson sounds like Bastiat.

  23. Chris H. says:

    I should correct something from my last comment: Bastiat does not justify the liberty of contract idea, but others use him to do so.

  24. J. Madson says:

    Thats good to know. I’ve been having a very spirited debate for most of the day over the issue of “plunder” and whether governments can take money to alleviate social ills.

  25. Chris H. says:


    That we still have those arguments in the United States is a sign of what a morally depraved society we live in.

  26. Grégoire says:

    Where can I get a good critique of him.

    Bastiat was a contemporary of Etienne Cabet, the proto-communist who tried to occupy Nauvoo after we (ethnic Mormons) skipped town. I don’t know if Cabet wrote about La Loi, but I am confident they exchanged opinions.


    There might be something in there.

    Bastiat’s pamphlet is contradictory by nature. He talks about the “right to property”, but doesn’t define the term property. Of course everyone has the right to his shaving kit, and the money in his savings account, but does anyone have the right to a plot of land?

    He calls socialism theft but fails to take into account the ridiculous notion that we are deluded into roping off land and charging others “rent” and “interest” and things like this, for their work which improves the land our tenants don’t own. To Bastiat, this land might be “ours” to defend…

    That’d be one argument off the top of my head.

  27. J. Madson says:


    I argued the same point. I personally am a bigger fan of something like usufruct property.


    I followed your post on this at FPR last year and wonder if you can point me to your underlying philosophy on why it is proper to use people’s money for the benefit of others even absent their consent. I personally think there are higher values, like helping out those in need that trump any “value” of not spreading the wealth so to speak. I think there are always competing values and im not ready to make the right to own things supersede other values at all costs.

  28. Chris H. says:


    That post get to the heart of the matter. Some of my other posts (including the discussion in the comments) address this issues as well.




    Both are former FPR posts (feel free to leave questions of comments).

    The philosopher John Rawls (I use his picture as my avatar) gives the best moral defense of the redistribution of wealth as a matter of social justice. A good place to start on Rawls is here:


    I also agree with Rousseau’s alternative to Hobbes and Locke (both of whom have an odd and unfortunate heavily influence on American political and economic thougth),


  29. Zachary Lytle says:

    So thrilled to have read this exchange. Thanks. I’m coming back.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 261 other followers



Recent Comments

fwsimmons on Evicting God!
jkotab on Sparrows Matter
Korance on Trading a Cross for a Fla…
Korance on Trading a Cross for a Fla…
Ron Madson on Where is Jeremiah Today?
Stephanie Steffen on Where is Jeremiah Today?
Forest on Evicting God!
Ron Madson on Evicting God!
%d bloggers like this: