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Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness
W. Paul Reeve
New York: Oxford University Press, 2015

The Protestant white majority in nineteenth-century United States was convinced that Mormonism represented a racial – not merely religious – departure from the mainstream and they spent considerable effort attempting to deny Mormon whiteness. Being white equaled access to political, social, and economic power, all aspects of citizenship in which outsiders sought to limit or prevent Mormon participation. At least a part of those efforts came through persistent attacks on the collective Mormon body, ways in which outsiders suggested that Mormons were physically different, racially more similar to marginalized groups than they were white. Medical doctors went so far as to suggest that Mormon polygamy was spawning a new race. Mormons responded with aspirations toward whiteness. It was a back and forth struggle between what outsiders imagined and what Mormons believed. Mormons ultimately emerged triumphant, but not unscathed. A portion of the cost of their struggle came at the expense of their own black converts. Mormon leaders moved away from universalistic ideals toward segregated priesthood and temples, policies held firmly in place by the early twentieth century. So successful were they at claiming whiteness for themselves, that by the time Mormon Mitt Romney sought the Presidency in 2012, he was labelled “The whitest white man to run for office in recent memory.” Mormons once again found themselves on the wrong side of white.

W. Paul Reeve is Associate Professor, History, The University of Utah.