Ruffin Bridgeforth

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Ruffin Bridgeforth, center, with first Genesis Group presidency

Ruffin Bridgeforth was the first black Latter-day Saint to be ordained a high priest and one of the first to receive the priesthood.

He was born on March 18, 1923, in Melville, Louisiana. He moved to Utah in 1944 and worked for the U.S. Army and later as a conductor with the Union Pacific Railroad. He converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1953. He was one of a few hundred black members of the Church of Jesus Christ worldwide.

Bridgeforth formed a partnership with two other black Mormons, Darius Gray and Eugene Orr, in Salt Lake City. They discussed the LDS Church’s position on blacks in their religion. In 1971 they communicated with LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith their concerns about the ban on priesthood for black males and other rites (ordinances) that were reserved for white Mormons. President Smith sent three white high-ranking church officials (two of whom were future LDS presidents, Gordon B. Hinckley and Thomas S. Monson) to begin a dialogue with black Mormons in June of 1971. Later in October, President Smith authorized the establishment of the Genesis Group, an auxiliary body within the Church that focused on black Mormons.[1]

Bridgeforth envisioned the Genesis Group as not only to retain black members of the Church, but also to preach the Latter-day Saint faith to non-member blacks.

Membership in the Genesis Group dwindled after all worthy males were allowed to be ordained to the priesthood because of the June 8, 1978, revelation. Black Latter-day Saint men now had Church duties in their wards and stakes that required their time.[2]

Bridgeforth married Helena Romero in 1946 and after her death he married Betty Johnson in 1981.

He died on March 21, 1997, and was eulogized by President Gordon B. Hinckley at his funeral service.

In 1996, he was honored for 25 years of service as the president of the Genesis Group, an organization of black Latter-day Saints formed to support and fellowship one another in the gospel. He and two counselors were called by the First Presidency to preside over the group in 1971, seven years before the revelation extending priesthood ordination to all worthy male Church members without regard for race or color. After the revelation was announced, Brother Bridgeforth was ordained a high priest, then, during his life, served on two high councils, in two bishoprics and as a high priests group leader.

Attending the funeral with President Hinckley were his counselors in the First Presidency, President Thomas S. Monson and President James E. Faust. Also attending were President Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who spoke; Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve; Elder Loren C. Dunn of the Seventy; and Elder Douglas H. Smith, formerly of the Seventy.