Darius Gray is an African-American historian, and pioneer, speaker, and leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which he is a member.
Darius Aidan Gray was born in December 1945 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is the grandson of a slave born in Missouri just before the Civil War. He grew up attending a black church on Sundays and a white Bible school in the summers. He joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on December 26, 1964. He learned the night before his scheduled baptism that he would not be able to be ordained to the priesthood. He decided not to join the Church, but he said that during his prayer that evening he received a spiritual witness that he should join the Church, so the next day he did.
He moved to Provo, Utah, in June 1965 and attended Brigham Young University for one year. He then transferred to the University of Utah. He earned a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism and mass communication. He later completed a graduate program in Columbia University’s School of Journalism. He worked for a time as a reporter for KSL in Salt Lake City, Utah.
In 1971, he was one of two counselors in the founding presidency of Genesis, a support group for black members of The Church of Jesus Christ. From 1997 to 2003 he served as the group’s president.
Due to struggles he experienced, including racism, a failed marriage, and believing some of the folklore behind the priesthood restriction, he was not an active member of the Church when Church president Spencer W. Kimball announced on June 8, 1978, a revelation that extended the priesthood to all worthy men. His firm testimony in the gospel helped him to return to full activity in the early 1980s and he was ordained to the priesthood.
Throughout the United States, Gray has presented and spoken on African-American genealogy, blacks in the Bible, and blacks in The Church of Jesus Christ. In 2007, he appeared in the PBS documentary The Mormons. In February 2008, he made an invitation-only presentation at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History in Detroit. He is featured in the BYU Television series Questions and Ancestors and he participated in KUED’s documentary Utah’s African-American Voices.
Collaborating with Margaret Blair Young, he wrote a trilogy of historical novels (Standing on the Promises series) and co-produced and directed two documentaries, “Blacks in the Bible” and “Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons.”
Gray contributed significantly to LDS church history through his research and papers on the impact black railroad porters had on leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ. Before air travel, church leaders traveled by train. Long trips offered opportunities for meaningful conversations between church leaders and black porters. Some of those porters joined the Church; Ruffin Bridgeforth, a porter, joined The Church of Jesus Christ and was the first president of Genesis.
Gray noted that “These conversations in a relaxed travel setting afforded an opportunity for church leaders to get to know and become comfortable with some of these early black converts.”
One of Gray’s most important contributions to The Church of Jesus Christ is his work with Marie Taylor on creating a database of records from the Freedman’s Bank, which was chartered in 1865 for former slaves. The bank had 70,000 customers during its nine-year existence. More than 10 million African-Americans living today have ancestors who deposited money in the Freedman’s Bank. Those bank records, available through FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com, are a valuable collection for African-American genealogy.
During 2013, Gray consulted on an essay about race and the priesthood that the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ published on LDS.org. The essay is highly regarded for its honesty about church history and its clear-cut refute of past teachings and theories about blacks that had been used to deny priesthood and temple blessings to male members of the Church.
In 2008, the Utah NAACP honored Gray with its Martin Luther King Jr. award, and the Iota Iota chapter of Omega Psi Phi fraternity honored him as “Citizen of the Year” in 2011. The Times and Seasons blog named him its 2013 Mormon of the Year and on June 6, 2014, the Mormon History Association gave Gray a special citation for outstanding contributions to Mormon history.
Gray married Leslee Maack in 1977. He is the father of one son, Darius Aidan Gray II. He was diagnosed with incurable bone cancer. He continues to contribute to Young’s project, “Heart of Africa.”