Joseph Freeman, Jr: First Black Mormon Priesthood Holder
Joseph Freeman Jr., a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was born 24 July 1952 in Vanceboro, North Carolina, to Joseph Freeman Sr. and Rosa Lee Smith Freeman. His paternal great-grandparents, William and Ellen Freeman, were slaves in Craven County, North Carolina. During the Civil War, they were able to gain their freedom by escaping to Brushton, North Carolina. It was there that they received help from Union soldiers until they eventually found land whereon they could settle.
His father's family were strong supporters of the Holiness Church for several generations, and at the age of ten, Freeman was baptized and became a member of the Holiness Church. His childhood dream was to become a lay minister in the church, and after graduating from high school he obtained an evangelist's license.
He enlisted in the United States Army in 1972 at the age of 19 and was stationed in Hawaii. While in Hawaii, he soon became dissatisfied with the Holiness congregations where he attended church services and began studying and searching out other Christian denominations. During this time he met several people, including a sergeant in his unit, who were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On 30 September 1973, after several months of studying with Mormon missionaries, reading and studying the Book of Mormon (Another Testament of Jesus Christ), and being fully informed of the restriction for men of African descent to be ordained to the priesthood, Freeman resigned from his role in the Holiness Church, and was baptized and confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Prior to his baptism he met Isapela Toe Leituala, a Samoan convert to the Church of six years. They were married on 15 June 1974. Freeman left the military in 1975 and the couple eventually moved to Salt Lake City, Utah.
On 8 June 1978 the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ announced that President Spencer W. Kimball, then President of the Church, had received a revelation extending priesthood and temple blessings to all worthy male members of the Church. At the 148th Semiannual General Conference of the Church, on 30 September 1978, President N. Eldon Tanner, then First Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church, presented the letter dated 8 June 1978 (which later became known as Official Declaration - 2), written by the First Presidency, to the congregation. The letter reads in part:
- He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood, with power to exercise its divine authority, and enjoy with his loved ones every blessing that flows therefrom, including the blessings of the temple. Accordingly, all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color.
On 10 June 1978, during a Stake Priesthood meeting, Freeman's name was presented and received unanimous approval for ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood, and on 11 June 1978, just three days after the announcement of the revelation, Joseph Freeman Jr. was ordained to the office of Elder in the Melchizedek priesthood by Bishop Karl H. Glover.
Worthy men are typically ordained to the office of Priest in the Aaronic Priesthood approximately one year before being ordained an Elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood. However, due to his faithfulness and spiritual aptitude, ecclesiastical leaders felt that it was more appropriate to ordain Freeman to the office of Elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood without prior ordination to the Aaronic Priesthood. It is for this reason, even though there were many men of Black African descent who were ordained to the office of Priest in the Aaronic Priesthood that same day, Joseph Freeman Jr. is recognized as the first man of Black African descent to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and be ordained an Elder in the Church of Jesus Christ following the announcement of the 1978 Revelation.
On 23 July 1978, Freeman was sealed to his wife and their two sons, Alexander and Zechariah, in the Salt Lake Temple, thus becoming one of the first men of Black African descent to receive this sacred ordinance. Thomas S. Monson, then an Elder and member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was the officiator.
In 1986 Freeman moved to Denver, Colorado, where for 15 years he was employed as the overseer of the maintenance of the Denver Colorado Temple. In 1993 he adopted his grandson (his daughter's son) J.J. Freeman who lived with the family for 7 years. In 2001 he moved back to Salt Lake City, Utah, and later moved to the Salt lake Valley where he served for a time as a Bishop.
Towards the close of his book which is appropriately titled In the Lord’s Due Time, Freeman makes these remarks concerning his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
- The Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints is that bright illuminating star, and is the beacon I look to for guidance. Jesus is the Christ! He died for my sins and he stands at the head of his church today. Never have I felt greater peace of mind and joy or had closer communion with the Father than I have since joining the Church.
- When I left for Hawaii back in 1972 as an enlisted man in the army, one of my goals was to become rich. At that time I had no idea of the riches I would receive. I feel wealthy beyond measure now, for my membership in the Lord’s church, the Holy Melchizedek Priesthood which I hold, and my family whom I love with the purest degree of unconditional love that I have thus far learned to master, have given me the greatest wealth a man could ever hope for. (Joseph Freeman; In the Lord’s Due Time; Bookcraft, Inc.; 1979; page 115).