United States

Black Members of the Church Research Guide

Mary Lucille Perkins Bankhead (1902–1994)

Biographical Sketch

Lucille Perkins, a descendant of Green Flake and Jane Manning James, was a faithful member of the Church who spent all her life in the Salt Lake Valley. Lucille’s father was a cowboy and farmer who grew peaches and black currants on land that he received through the Homestead Act. Lucille helped her parents work on the farm, do housework, and take care of her younger siblings.

In 1922 Lucille married Thomas LeRoy “Roy” Bankhead, a descendent of Nathaniel Bankhead, a slave who traveled across the plains with Church members. During his lifetime, Roy was not active in the Church, but he supported his wife by driving her to Church meetings and activities. The Bankheads had eight children. Along with being a wife and a mother, Bankhead served as a secretary for the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, fulfilled her Church duties, and fought for civil rights in Utah. In 1939 a Utah state senator proposed a bill that would force blacks in Salt Lake City to give up their land and move into one district. Bankhead and members of her craft club held a sit-in at the Utah state capitol building. Bankhead recalled, “We had no intention of moving.” Their protest was successful, and the bill did not pass.

When the Genesis Group formed in October 1971, Bankhead was called to be its first Relief Society president. Bankhead often remarked that she found her calling challenging and recalled crying a lot. When asked what she thought of the priesthood ban, Bankhead said during in an interview, “There is one verse in the Bible that the Lord is no respecter of persons and I’ve always believed that.” After the revelation on the priesthood in 1978, Bankhead served as proxy for the temple endowment of her ancestor Jane Manning James. In 1987 Bankhead was honored for her strength and leadership at the first annual Ebony Rose Black History Conference held in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she was a featured speaker. Bankhead passed away in 1994 and was buried in the Elysian Gardens Cemetery next to her husband.

Sources: Eileen Hallet Stone, Historic Tales of Utah (Charleston, South Carolina: History Press, 2016); “Interviews with African Americans in Utah, Lucille Bankhead, Interview 1, 1983,” 17, J. Willard Marriott Library Special Collections, University of Utah, Salt Lake City; Michael Aguirre, “Bankhead, Mary Lucille Perkins (1902–1994),” blackpast.org.

In Our Collections
Primary Sources

Oral History Interview
Discusses her life in Salt Lake City, her community and Church service, and her feelings about the civil rights movement and the priesthood ban (MS 10176).

Selected Additional Sources

Nathan Bankhead,” Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database.

Wynetta Willis Martin Clark (1938–2000)

Biographical Sketch

Wynetta Clark was born to religious parents in the Los Angeles area. She grew up singing in local churches and on the radio with her siblings and cousin in the Willis and Johnson Quartet. During her twenties, Clark found herself searching for something more, joining one church group after another in her search. Clark began to struggle after her quartet stopped performing and she divorced her husband, making her a single mother to her two daughters. During this time, her friend Barbara Weston introduced her to the Church, and she was baptized in 1966. Clark recalled, “My life from the moment of my baptism, to state a gross understatement, was changed. I attended Church faithfully, I restored a lost ego, I became a better mother, a better daughter, and I learned to truly love my neighbor.”

After joining the Church, Clark moved to Salt Lake City and auditioned for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. She became one of the first black members of the choir and toured with the group for two years. In 1970 Brigham Young University hired Clark to train nurses, making her the first black faculty member at the university. While there she also served as a research consultant on black culture.

Sources: Wynetta Willis Martin, Black Mormon Tells Her Story (Salt Lake City: Hawkes Publications, 1972), 56.

In Our Collections
Primary Sources

Wynetta Willis Martin, Black Mormon Tells Her Story (Salt Lake City: Hawkes Publications, 1972).

The Genesis Group


In 1971 African American Church members, including Ruffin Bridgeforth, Eugene Orr, and Darius Gray, met with Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, and Boyd K. Packer to discuss the challenges facing black Latter-day Saints. On October 19, 1971, the First Presidency created the Genesis Group, a support group for blacks in the Church. Bridgeforth, Orr, and Gray were called to serve in the group’s presidency. Darius Gray described the importance of the group as follows:

“We are like no other Church organization but our existence was brought into being by the direct actions of the First Presidency and The Quorum of the Twelve. We are not an auxiliary like the Relief Society but we are more than a 'fireside' while less than a ward. What fireside has a presidency set apart to a specific purpose? What fireside has its own auxiliaries? . . . Genesis is by design not like any other unit of the Church but there is beauty in that special calling. There is also responsibility. We exist and serve at the pleasure of the leadership of the Lord’s Church. Our purpose is the Lord’s purpose—we help to bring souls to the Restored Gospel.”3

After the revelation on the priesthood was given in 1978, attendance at Genesis group meetings declined. In 1987, the original Genesis Group unofficially disbanded. However, during this same time, Marva Collins established another Genesis Group in Oakland, California. There was also a short-lived Genesis Group created in Washington D.C. in 1986, but it ended in 1987. In 1996 the original Genesis Group was reorganized.

The group continues to operate today under the direction of a member of the Seventy and welcomes participation from individuals of all backgrounds. The group celebrates black Church culture through uplifting gospel music sung by Debra Bonner’s Unity Gospel Choir (formerly the Genesis Choir).

Sources: Margaret Blair Young, “The Genesis Group of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1971– ),” blackpast.org; Jessie L. Embry, “Separate but Equal? Black Branches, Genesis Groups, or Integrated Wards?” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 23, no. 1 (Spring 1990), 13–19.

In Our Collections
Primary Sources

Manuscript History
Compiled by Berniece Elaine Goebel and Helen Zelpha Garrett, “In the Beginning 1987” (MS 9691) contains a transcription of the Genesis conference on June 25, 1978, memorabilia, photographs, and testimonies of group members. Closed to research by request of the donors until persons named are deceased.

Manuscript History and Historical Report, 1975 (LR 14957 2)

Oral Histories with Participants
Interviews with Ruffin Bridgeforth (AV 3696); with Eugene Orr, conducted in 2013 (OH 6052); with Donald L. and Jerri H. Harwell, conducted in 2013 (OH 6460); with Thomas Reed III, conducted in 2016 (OH 9084); with LaMar S. Williams, conducted 1981 (OH 692); for a 1996 KSL documentary with Ruffin Bridgeforth, Florence Lawrence, Betty Stewart Moore, Nelson Styles, Billy Mason, and Ronald C. Coleman (AV 2046).

[3] “Organization,” The Genesis Group of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, accessed June 5, 2018, ldsgenesisgroup.org.