Joseph Freeman Jr., the first man of black African descent to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will speak at a fireside this Sunday in Tooele.
The 5 p.m. fireside is at the Tooele West LDS Stake Center, 220 W. 2200 North.
Freeman, 65, said the priesthood announcement was made on Friday, June 8, 1978, and his bishop invited him that evening to interview to be ordained an elder in the church.
“The very next Sunday morning, I met with the stake president for an interview,” Freeman said. “We were having a general priesthood meeting that weekend, and at first I hadn’t been invited to that meeting.”
He ended up attending the meeting and his name was presented to become an elder and receive the Melchizedek Priesthood.
In addition to a 30-45 minute talk by Freeman this Sunday, the Unity Gospel Choir will perform. The choir is directed by Debra Bonner and has performed with The Piano Guys, Alex Boye and has sung at the Stadium of Fire and at the Salt Lake Tabernacle.
Freeman said his talking points during a speaking engagement often vary.
“I generally kind of go according by the Spirit,” he said. “People like to know my feelings about receiving the priesthood. I like to go back and talk about some of the things in my childhood.”
Freeman grew up in North Carolina, and during his talks, provides detailed insights into race relations in the South during the ‘50s and ‘60s. His mother was a minister.
Freeman was baptized a member of the LDS Church on Sept. 30, 1973, while stationed in Hawaii with the U.S. Army. Previously, he was associated with the Holiness Church, the faith his father’s family had supported for about three generations.
Freeman said that before male black African descendants could hold the priesthood, he had talked about the situation with an LDS bishop in Hawaii.
“He said there was no real reason why men of black African descent could not hold the Priesthood, so I shouldn’t listen to anybody who tried to explain it — even General Authorities didn’t know,” Freeman said.
The bishop told him not to pay any attention to the explanations from people because they were just theories.
“That made me feel good. He told me that I was just as good as anybody else and that I didn’t have to look at myself as being unworthy,” Freeman said. “At that point I just stopped listening to what people were saying.”
Freeman has served in numerous LDS Church callings, including bishop. He has also worked in building maintenance for the church in Hawaii, Colorado and New Mexico.
He currently lives in Salt Lake City and works in maintenance at East Hollywood High School in West Valley.
Overlake First Ward Bishop Robb Smith asked Freeman to speak on Sunday. Smith became acquainted with Freeman several years ago through the Genesis Group of the LDS Church.
The Genesis Group was established in October 1971 by the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a dependent branch to serve the needs of African-American Latter-day Saints.
Smith said the Genesis Group still meets once a month in Sandy.