“The Angel Moroni, Multiple Perspective” contemporary figurative painting
The Angel Moroni gave Joseph Smith the golden plates from which he translated The Book of Mormon. There is a golden statue of the Angel Moroni blowing a trumpet on the central spire of the Salt Lake City temple.
When desegregation began to be enforced, private schools sprang up all across the South, particularly in places like the Mississippi Delta, which is about 98% African American. While many private schools in the South cite religious “standards” as their primary reason for existing, in the Delta there was an appeal to higher culture, and the schools claimed to be heirs to the better aspects of the old planter culture. These schools were to be academies or college preparatory schools with a strong emphasis on language, literature and history. Bigotry or even religious fundamentalism wasn’t the idea. In theory, the private schools existed not so much to exclude, but to promote excellence. (I’m not sure if my sister and I would have gone to college on National Merit scholarships had we not gone to one of these schools, but I’ve often wondered what Greenville and the rest of the US would have been like had white people not abandoned public schools and other institutions at one of the most important points in American history.)
I started school just a few years after the public schools of Greenville were desegregated. My parents had grown up “across the tracks” in one of the most class-conscious small towns in the US, and they were determined that my sister and I would not be left behind. So instead of finishing the house we lived in, they spent the money on tuition for private school, and we had a few concrete floors and two-by-four walls for a few more years.
The first five or six years of private school were pure hell. Essentially, I was going to elementary school with the children of people that had snubbed and humiliated and ignored my mother and father their entire lives. I remember learning that people bathed more than once a week when the other kids made fun of how I smelled. I think people in general are pretty mean spirited at the core, but I suspect a private school in Greenville of the 1970’s may have been a particularly snotty place. After all, the town was just emerging from apartheid, and I was an outsider in what was arguably the last enclave of the old regime.
Then there was the South’s increasing reaction to the counter culture of the 60’s and 70’s. When I was in the fifth grade, we had a series of films about drug abuse. This was before the “just say no” approach to drug prevention, and the films had all sorts of content that I don’t think would pass inspection these days for a variety of reasons. Some were so objective and open minded, that they seemed like an introduction to interesting hallucinogens you might want to try one day. Others were pure scare-tactic with no regard to fact whatsoever. This latter group of films was hilarious. Poorly filmed with bad 1970’s special effects, these movies were clearly made by people whose only knowledge of drugs was that they were all the product of Satan. Whole families would commit suicide after smoking half a joint. Loud Hendrix-esque guitar would be playing over a montage of funeral scenes mixed with images of flashing psychedelic colors. Absolutely hilarious.
The anti-drug films were then followed by a series of films about the other burning social issue of the 1970’s, and that was cults. There were films about the Moonies and Harry Krishnas, etc., but most of the films were about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). Although there is much to criticize about The Church, as there is with most any church or organization, I don’t know where to begin in describing the wild claims and complete disregard to fact in these films. Satanic rituals in the temples, human sacrifice, you name it, all asserted as proven fact. No claim was too outlandish, yet the makers of most of these films didn’t even bother to get the names, dates and places right when discussing early church origins. (Sadly, these films weren’t unique. In the 1970’s, you could go into almost any library and find similar books. You could probably still find them in some libraries.)
These films were quite a blow to me at the time. I was the only Mormon in the school because the rest of the recently-converted families were scattered all over the Delta. I remember my face and ears burning after the films. I didn’t know what to say, so I remained silent, even though I felt like I was not standing up for what I believed in. I remember being haunted by the story of Peter denying Christ three times before the cock crowed.
All of this was particularly unfortunate because The Church was becoming an increasingly important source of stability in my life at this time. My father’s alcoholism and my mother’s emotional instability fed off each other in a vicious cycle. The supper table was an insane asylum each and every night. At school I sat beside the same girl that told me in the first grade “My mommy says I’m not supposed to play with you.” Everything was oppressive and unendurable. Everything was against me.
Thankfully, the Lord was watching over me. After all, this was nothing compared to what Prophet Joseph Smith and the early Saints had endured. At Sunday school, we had learned all about the persecution before they went out west to Zion and about the other prophet Joseph, the one in the Bible. He had been sold into slavery in Egypt by his own brothers and then cast into prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The Lord didn’t forget him no matter how bad it got but spoke to him in his dreams. Nothing bad that could happen could change the fact that the Lord had plans for me.