Marlena Smith’s parents joined the Mormon church as black converts after the priesthood ban was lifted (1978). After her parents moved to Utah, Marlena was born in 1989 in Provo, Utah. Marlena was raised as a devout Mormon in Lindon and Pleasant Grove – as the only black family in her ward and stake. Later Marlena attended BYU and married in the Payson temple.

This is Marlena’s story of growing up as a black Mormon woman in Utah.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 1

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Part 2

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Part 3

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  1. Panhandle Rag September 19, 2019 at 6:45 pm - Reply

    I’ve only finished the first segment but it is very interesting. When Marlena mentioned people who may never have seen a black, I thought of my wife who, having grown up in central Washington around Indians and Mexicans, had never seen a Black person face to face. She seems a bit racist to me in that it bothers her to see so many Blacks in TV commercials. I continually confront her on that. I, on the other had moved from California’s southern San Juaquin Valley, in a small cotton-raising town. My family moved to an island in Washington when I just turned 9. In my elementary school, I had friends who were Black, Mexican, Italian. But growing up, my dad continued to use the “n” word and my mother as a school teacher was always talking about the cute little “N” babies. In those days Blacks were referred to as “colored people”. When we got to Washington in 1954, through to HS graduation in 1963, I never once heard of anyone talking about a Black person.

    I was the only one in my school from California and as this community was nearly all Scandanavian, my dark skin bothered my classmates. My family was naturally dark skinned though we were WASPS. My classmates were always talking about my mom finding a “N” behind a woodpile, and called me the “N” word a lot. It was hard and I hated elementary through 8th grade.

    Marlena, you mentioned your dad living in Linden which I think is north of Bellingham, close to the Canadian border. I spent high school west of Bellingham, 5 miles from the Canadian border.

    Am looking forward to the rest of your story.

  2. Panhandle Rag September 20, 2019 at 3:36 pm - Reply

    John, she meant Lynden, Washington, which is about 100 miles from Redmond. She talked about her dad working there.

    Since she was learning about Black history, I wanted to say something about America’s gun issue and how firearms are used by police to cause trouble with Blacks. Not too long ago, I came across a small book written by an historian , a book which is the history of the Second Amendment. I’ll just write down a few ideas from the book, something that was completely new to me, as a former follower of ETB and the John Birch Society. In the 1600’s Native Americans were killed by militias or slave patrols. Wiping out indigenous people was the goal. Virginia was a gun culture. By the early 1820’s, “slave patrols actually increased in Virginia, where the main commercial ‘crop’ of the plantations was the enslaved person’s body, as farms turned into breeding factories to produce slaves to be sold in the Cotton Kingdom”. Both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were slave owners. “It is estimated that in 1860 the total value of enslaved African bodies in the United States was $4 billion.” Slave patrols gradually became known as militias, like the KKK. So, in a nutshell, the Second Amendment, right-wing nationalism and Black and Native American hatred, and America’s love of guns is historically based on militias to wipe out the Indians and slave patrols evolving into militias to keep slaves under the control of wealthy corporate heads and politicians. I have tried to tell this to friends, but they think I’m a commie to dare show support to Blacks, Venezuelan migrants, Muslims or Native Americans.

    To many white Church members can’t understand why blacks feel discriminated against. They seem to have no idea and don’t care to learn. I’m surprised why more folks don’t comment. Marlena is a shining example of courage and Mormons should learn from her. Thanks, Marlena!

  3. HG September 20, 2019 at 9:17 pm - Reply

    There is a Lindon, Utah, which is close to Pleasant Grove, where she lived for a while.

  4. Panhandle Rag September 21, 2019 at 1:07 pm - Reply

    I can see why she loved living in Washington. I miss coastal Washington. The weather is milder and it doesn’t rain much is populated areas. It only rains around 35–40 inches a year in Seattle and only 15 inches in Sequim on the Peninsula. The Island I lived on, reached mostly by a big ferry, had precipitation of only 22 inches a year.

    Washington has lots of islands and coves and straits and ocean liners and freighters and sailboats. If Marlena lived in Redmond, she probably toured Pike Place Market, in Seattle,a multi-lever market with hundreds of shops and where you can see Blacks, Native Americans, Asians, Europeans, etc. A fascinating culture and quisine tour. Can take hours. to walk through. And she probably got a chance to go up in the Space Needle, or take a tour of the Seattle Harbor where she could look at 14,000-foot Mt. Rainier. Or if she took a drive north to the Canadian border, she might see 10,000-foot Mt. Baker, a volcano, or drive along the rocky coast south from Bellingham and see huge palm fossils on the rocks near the road. And living in Redmond she would be near beautiful and large Lake Washington, and Kirkland, the home of COSTCO and south is the Seattle Temple in Bellevue.

    I wish I would not have thought that HF told me to move from there to Idaho. Lots of people on the Coast, way more than in Utah. Population of Utah is 2.7 million while Washington has 6.7 million. It is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting states and maybe the most interesting. My wife and I both miss the ocean. Idaho big rivers and lakes and mountains and forests are good but nothing like the Ocean and Marlena, living in Redmond, would have been fewer than 20 miles from that ocean, Puget Sound.

    Last night and part of this morning I watched an online western movie, called “Children of the Dust”, starring Sydney Poiteau, a famous Black actor. The time period was in Oklahoma the time of the free-land homesteaders. It accurately showed how both Native Americans and Blacks were persecuted. It showed the KKK and the kind of people who with hate lynched 2 early teenagers. I have been learning a lot about Black and American Indians lately and this movie made me mad. Too realistic, but definitely one of the best movies I have ever seen.

    Thanks, Marlena for this interview. I hope I can be one small light when I tell people about news articles on the hatred of Blacks.

  5. Emily September 25, 2019 at 6:59 am - Reply

    Marlena, thank you so much for sharing your beautiful story. I laughed, I cried. Thank you for putting words to so many of the feelings that we people of color experience growing up in Utah. I can relate to so many of your stories about feeling ‘othered’. It’s not up to us to educate those that choose to be ignorant. It’s their loss missing out on someone as fabulous as you. Thank you for your courage and your honesty. Congrats on the move!

  6. Steve September 29, 2019 at 9:05 pm - Reply

    Thanks so much Marlena!! You are an inspiration and we wish you well! The gospel topics essay on race and the priesthood was my first big step in seeing the unraveling of the Church’s truth claims. There are alarming similarities between what the Church’s doctrines were regarding blacks and LGBT people. These toxic and easily documentable doctrines were: 1) It’s bad to be black, and it’s your fault that you’re black; and 2) It’s bad to be gay, and it’s you’re fault that you’re gay. The official nature of these doctrines can be found in, among other places, the Aug 1949 First Presidency message on race, and in pamphlets on homosexuality used throughout the Church written by Spencer Kimball and Boyd Packer.
    Although other Christian churches also discriminated against blacks, they don’t claim to have a living prophet that speaks for God. This claim is the fundamental self-declared reason for the existence of the LDS Church. God doesn’t lie, and a real living prophet wouldn’t have taught such nonsense, but rather would have stood up against societal norms as we are taught is the role of a prophet. Our faith has been destroyed by not just by the doctrinal contradictions, but by the immeasurable harm, and even deaths, stemming from these false and toxic previous official doctrines of the Church. The Church’s unwillingness to apologize and clarify what is falsehood allows further damage to continue, and is massively reckless, negligent, and irresponsible. And by the way, I am an active Church member—because of the people in it, not because of the leaders in Salt Lake.

  7. Jeremiah October 4, 2019 at 5:44 am - Reply

    I worked at heritage as well for a bit! Thank you for sharing your story 🙂

  8. Lisa Angel October 17, 2019 at 1:44 pm - Reply

    Thanks for sharing your experience Marlena. I think unfortunately there are so many ways to be marginalized by the Church. I could relate to your story completely. I grew up in small town Utah ( Lehi , when it was small) with a inactive family. We were treated like outsiders. My brothers and I were labeled the “bad kids” of the neighborhood. And of course we were constantly the missionary opportunity. We all assimilated eventually and I thought we finally fit in. So I understand that constant need to want to fit in. I was in for 30 something years and read the essays in 2013, and that was that. Now I try to be very thoughtful of anyone who feels marginalized, so again thank you for sharing your story.

  9. Emma gruffin October 20, 2019 at 7:52 am - Reply

    Well this was an incredible interview you have a very interesting and unique experience and perspective it would be very helpful if you could write a book I know that many many people would read it your life and your experience answers a lot of questions especially for the blacks people in Mormonism

    You are amazing and I’m so proud of your courage to do all the things you’ve done and to move forward with your life I live in the north west and I know what you’re talking about it’s a very loving and excepting culture of differences in diversity and it is celebrated there you will have a great experience

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