The Genesis Branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints was established on October 19th, 1971.
Under the direction of Church President Joseph Fielding Smith, six men, three of them Apostles, three of them Black converts, met and discussed what actions could be taken to support Mormons of African descent. Many Negro members in the Salt Lake valley were descendants of early pioneers. They had joined the church when young only to become discouraged and inactive by 1971. Not wanting the same fate to befall new members and with the hope of reactivating some of the descendants of Black pioneers, Genesis was formed.
Special care was taken by all, that this effort not be seen as an attempt to segregate the races. The goal was to retain Negro members and to provide a mechanism for their growth. Although few leaders of the church today were involved with, or even aware of these efforts, in retrospect they might wonder if the events that followed seven years later, in June 1978, weren’t rooted in the decision to form the Genesis Group. The initial meeting which led to the Groups inception took place on June 8th, 1971; – preceding by seven years to the day the announcement that priesthood would be made available “to all worthy males.”
The presidency of Genesis reports directly to the Brethren. While unique, the structure of the organization was established by the presiding bodies of The Church. The night the Genesis Presidency was called and sustained other elements of this “Dependent Branch” were also launched. They included the relief society, the young men’s and young women’s organizations, music department (chorister and organist) etc.
The justification for support organizations like Genesis can be found in the various ethnic wards and branches of the Church, including the Norwegian and Danish Branches with which Genesis shared its first building. The goal for each such unit is to provide a safety net while people of different backgrounds and cultures adapt to their new church home and to one another. There are significant differences between the “Black Church” experience and a typical LDS service. It also helps to remember there is a distinction between “church culture” and the Gospel.
The Restored Gospel has always been for all people including African Americans, but within that group retention has been an ongoing problem. Frequently, Black Latter‑day Saints are a geographically scattered patchwork of individuals with little social support. In these circumstances it has proven beneficial to foster fellowships with other Black Saints on a periodic basis. By reaffirming the Gospel with those of similar background and experience, brothers and sisters who might otherwise suffer from a sense of isolation have found reassurance. However, Genesis has never been racially exclusive. The organization is home to Blacks and their many friends and families of various racial and ethnic backgrounds.
For many Latter‑day Saints, this is not a dispassionate organizational matter, but rather a very personal approach to remembering who we are, both spiritually and culturally. In certain cases the survival of testimonies have been at stake. We recognize there are differing views concerning ethnic units within the Church, but the tangible issues of retention and respect for various cultures are also to be remembered.
It should also be expected that not all members of color would elect to become involved with such a group. African‑Americans are no more a monolithic, homogeneous body than any other ethnicity. But for some there is absolute value in being able to glance over and see someone who looks like you.
Following the 25th anniversary celebration in 1996, President Ruffin Bridgeforth contacted Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles to indicate that sufficient desire existed to again start meeting as The Genesis Group. There had never been a dismantling — only a reduction of activities. President Bridgeforth asked if the Brethren would approve a resumption of full activities and they answered in the affirmative. He further inquired about the direction or mandate for the organization.
Elder Boyd K. Packer, speaking for the Brethren, replied that nothing had changed since the original directions had been given. Elder Packer added that President Bridgeforth had full authority to act, which authority was only bolstered by the priesthood which President Bridgeforth now held.
The charge given President Ruffin Bridgeforth was to reach out in support of Negro members – and their friends, to encourage their growth and activity within the church. He was to be a mentor, advocate and ally. From the beginning The Genesis Group hasn’t been a full ecclesiastical operating unit of the church. Genesis Group meetings are held once each month as a support to regular church attendance and not as a replacement for.