Eugene Orr

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Eugene Orr is an African American activist. He served in the first Genesis Group presidency (formed in 1971) with Ruffin Bridgeforth and Darius Gray. Among this group, Orr was known as the “firebrand,” pressing for priesthood ordination for Black members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[1]

Orr was born on March 16, 1946, to David Orr and Martha Wilder Orr in Ashburn, Georgia. The family was deeply religious and planned for young Orr to become a minister. As a child, Orr would sometimes put corn silk into bottle tops to form his congregation and would preach to his imaginary listeners.

His participation in the Job Corps program at Thiokol Hill Air Force Base in Clearfield, Utah, brought him to the state in 1968. He became acquainted with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Leitha Marintha Derricott being the most influential in his life. They married on November 23, 1968. Orr had two children and Leitha had five children, each from prior marriages.

He was baptized on August 24, 1968, in the Salt Lake Tabernacle.

In meetings preparing for and establishing the Genesis Group, Orr, Gray, and Bridgeforth met frequently with church leaders Thomas Monson, Boyd Packer, and Gordon B. Hinckley, who invited them to participate in the October General Priesthood session of 1971 when the priesthood was still restricted from black men. When Eugene Orr arrived at the session, an usher grabbed the chain between the stanchion posts and fastened it, blocking Orr’s entrance. The usher said, “This meeting is for priesthood bearers only.” Orr contemplated his situation and then unfastened the chain and entered, going directly to the stand to sit beside Boyd Packer, who said, “Glad you could come, Brother Orr.”

Orr had difficult experiences in Utah with Latter-day Saints who struggled with racial bias. He and his family moved to Barrhead, Alberta, Canada, where he became a naturopathic health counselor.

Leitha Orr died on August 4, 2013, and Orr married Anne Irwin in 2015. He and one of his sons remain active in the Church of Jesus Christ and still live in Alberta, Canada.