In another thread came the following inquiry:
"Question for Steve Benson: I just picked up Sheri Dew's biography on your grandfather at a yard sale. I wanted to know before reading what you thought of it. How accurate is it? Were you impressed with the research?"
(posted by Roger "Question for Steve Benson," on "Recovery from Mormonism" discussion board, 14 August 2015)
Roger, I hope you didn't spend too much on the book at that yard sale, given that it misses the mark by yards and yards and yards.
--Some Background on How the Book Came to Be
It was "researched," sanitized and written by Sheri Dew, with assistance from Flora Parker (my first cousin and offspring of Beverly Parker, daughter of Ezra Taft Benson).
Attempts by Reed Benson (my uncle and oldest child of ETB0 to assist in the writing of his father's biography were effectively rebuffed. Reed was an enthusiastic, committed, rabid-beyond-any-stretch-of-reason Bircher who never met a Commie conspiracy theory he didn't like. He was also a close political confidant of my grandfather and, in fact, helped compose his sermon, "Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet." (see: http://exmormon.org/phorum/read.php?2,287920,287920#msg-287920
I have been reliably informed that Reed became royally upset when Dew--rather than himself--was tapped out to put together ETB's Mormon Church-approved life story. In other words, the "fix-it" fix for the faithful was in.
Reed being cut out of the writing loop largely explains, in my opinion, why Dew's puff production on the life and times on Ezra Taft Benson lacks in any meaningful or honest detail about his over-the-edge political views--as well helps explain why the book is noticeably short in specifics as to ETB's open and deep sympathies for the John Birch Society, Which ETB told me was second only to the Mormon Church in stemming the spread of Communism worldwide. (see http://www.exmormon.org/mormon/mormon419.htm
If Reed had actually been involved in spinning ETB's biogrpahical tale, you can bet your bottom Bircher buck that it would have been filled with much more right-wing reactionary richness.
Below are some examples from Dew's final and highly-selective production.
A. Dew's Downplaying of the Racist Elements of Ezra Taft Benson's Dealing with Mormon Blacks
In 1940, my grandfather was appointed the first president of the newly-organized Washington [D.C.] stake. According to Dew's Church-published biography on ETB, he proved to be "forward-thinking" as he dealt with the "many and complex" problems facing the stake. (Sheri L. Dew, "Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography" [Salt Lake City, Utah: Desert Book Company, 1987], pp.157-58).
Dew failed to mention that one of those "problems" had to do with Black women sitting too close to White women during Relief Society lessons.
In a letter to "President Ezra T. Benson, Washington [D.C.] Stake," dated 23 June 1942, the First Presidency issued him a directive to segregate the races during Mormon class time:
"Dear President Benson:
"Through the General Board of the Relief Society, who reported to the Presiding Bishopric, and they to us, it comes to us that you have in the Capitol Reef Ward in Washington two colored sisters who apparently are faithful members of the Church.
"The report comes to us that prior to a meeting which was to be held between the Relief Societies of the Washington Ward and the Capitol Ward, Bishop Brossard of the Washington Ward called up the President of the Relief Society of the Capitol Ward and told her that these two colored sisters should [not] be permitted to attend because the President of the Capitol Ward Relief Society failed to carry out the request made of her by the Bishop of the other ward.
"We can appreciate that the situation may present a problem in Washington, but President Clark recalls that in the Catholic churches in Washington at the time he lived there, colored and white communicants used the same church at the same time. He never entered the church to see how the matter was carried out, but he knew that the facts were as stated.
"From this fact we are assuming that there is not in Washington any such feeling as exists in the South where the colored people are apparently not permitted by their white brethren and sisters to come into the meeting houses and worship with them. We feel that we cannot refuse baptism to a colored person who is otherwise worthy, and we feel that we cannot refuses to permit these people to come into our meeting houses and worship once we baptize them.
"It seems to us that it ought to be possible to work this situation out without causing any feelings on the part of anybody. If the white sisters feel that they may not sit with them or near them, we fell very sure that if the colored sisters were discreetly approached, they would be happy to sit at one side in the rear or somewhere where they would not wound the sensibilities of the complaining sisters. We will rely upon your tact and discretion to work this out so as not to hurt the feelings on the part of anyone.
"Of course, probably each one of the sisters who can afford it, has a colored maid in her house to do the work and to do the cooking for her, and it would seem that under these circumstances they should be willing to let them sit in Church and worship with them.
"Faithfully your brethren,
"Heber J. Grant
J. Reuben Clark, Jr.
David O. McKay"
The First Presidency was apparently impressed with my grandfather’s willingness to do as he was told, however.
A year later, he was called into the Quorum of Twelve Apostles (Lester E. Bush, Jr., compilation of "scattered" and incomplete "notes" on the "history of the Negro in the LDS Church," pp. 241-42; see also, Bush, "Mormonism's Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview" [Arlington, Virginia: Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought], reprint of original article in "Dialogue," Vol. 8, No. 1, Spring 1973, p. 43)
B. Dew's Minimalistic Reporting on the U.S. Presidential Draft Ticket of White and Delightseom Ezra Taft Benson and White Supremacist Strom Thurmond
In 1966, an organization spearheaded primarily by John Birchers and known as the "1976 Committee," nominated my grandfather as its choice for President of the United States, with avowed racist and South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond as his running mate.
At the time of the announcement, I remember the excitement among the Benson clan at the prospect that the grand patriarch of our family might become the president of the country. I recall buttons and bumper stickers being passed around and my grandfather smiling proudly amid all the buzz.
Thurmond was the prominent White supremacist who had himself run for president in 1948 on the platform of the States' Rights Party, commonly known as the "Dixiecrats." The primary goal of Thurmond's earlier presidential bid was to preserve racial segregation. As he declared at the time, "All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negroes into our homes, our schools, our churches." (Jeff Jacoby, "The Death of American Racism")
Thurmond later became a strident opponent of civil rights, famously filibustering a 1957 civil rights bill for a record 24 hours and 18 minutes. (Robert Tanner, "Dixiecrats fueled by racial politics, Civil rights spurred Thurmond's 1948 bid for presidency," Arizona Republic, 14 December 2002, sec. A., p. 9)
In an effort to understand the nature of the group that had hand-picked its Benson-Thurmond ticket, I retrieved from my father's personal office files a news article announcing the formation of this "1976 Committee." Across the top of the article was handwritten the note, "for your memory book."
According to the article, the "1976 Committee" had derived its name from the belief of its members that it was "necessary to head off some sort of conspiratorial one-world, socialist take-over of the United States by 1976."
This fear was rooted in its claim that "the U.S. Communist party's recently professed plan [is] to promote the establishment of state socialism in this country in its next ten-year plan by 1976." (Neil Munro, "Benson-Thurmond Team Pushed by Holland Group, "1976 Committee" Limited, undated)
The Committee's motto was "Stand Up for Freedom . . . No Matter What the Cost." Its stated goal was to launch "a ten-year course to restore the American Republic."
In its campaign literature (copies of which littered my home during that time) my grandfather and Thurmond were billed as "the best team of 68" and "the team you can trust to guide America."
Invoking the powers of heaven, the "1976 Committee" described Ezra Taft Benson not only as "unquestionably . . . a scholar and patriot [but] . . . primarily a man of God." He was heralded as "one of the Twelve Apostles of the worldwide Mormon Church," "a kind and compassionate man," one who "does not impose his standards on others" and "an outspoken and thoughtful critic of liberalism, socialism, and Communism."
The "1976 Committee" touted Thurmond was as a popular and renowned public servant, a decorated WWII combat veteran who was dedicated to "military preparedness" and a person determined to formulate "an effective policy to eradicate Communism from the Western Hemisphere."
Among the priorities of the "1976 Committee" were:
--opposition to "international Communist activities;"
--support for pulling the U.S. out of the United Nations;
--warnings about Communist control of the civil rights movement;
--accusations that the U.S. Supreme Court of "waging war" against America;
--advocacy for U.S. retention of the Panama Canal;
--complaints of liberal bias in the media;
--inveighings against Communist "infiltration" of the nation's churches;
--calls for a return to economic the gold standard; and
--resistance to nuclear disarmament treaties with the Russians.
Not coincidentally, much of the "1978 Committee's" recommended literature was published by the John Birch Society. ("The Team You Can Trust to Guide America," campaign brochure published by "The 1976 Committee," 222 River Avenue, Holland Michigan 49423, undated; and "The 1976 Committee," campaign brochure, undated)
Historian D. Michael Quinn adds a Benson-Bircher connection that Dew fails to mention, where, at one point " . . . Benson wrote to his 'Dear Friends' at the Birch national headquarters.” [Quinn notes in footnote 355, p. 469, that this ETB letter to the Birch national headquarters “was in response to a get-well card with messages from each Birch staff member”]. (D. Michael Quinn, “The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power,” Chapter 3. “Ezra Taft Benson: A Study in Inter-Quorum Conflict” [Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, in association with Smith Research Associates, 1997]. pp. 110-11; and p. 469, fn 349-355)
Not everyone in the leadership of the Mormon Church was thrilled as either the Benson family or Birchers at the prospects of Ezra Taft Benson running for President of the United States--especially amid claims that my grandfather had won the support of then-LDS president, David O. McKay.
According to First Presidency counselor Hugh B. Brown, Ezra Taft Benson had "a letter from President McKay endorsing his candidacy" and feared "it would rip the Church apart" if my grandfather released it publicly as part of a presidential bid. (Hugh B. Brown, interview with BYU professors Ray Hillam and Richard Wirthlin, 9 August 1966, transcribed "from Rough Draft Notes," fd 6, Hillam papers, and box 34, Buerger papers, and quoted in Quinn, "The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power," pp. 96-97, 461)
My grandfather's official biographer Dew offered a benign, sparse and misleading account of the controversy, claiming that McKay merely advised Ezra Taft Benson to neither encourage or discourage efforts by the "1976 Committee" to draft him.
Grassroots momentum for the Benson-Thurmond ticket began building in early 1967, but eventually died out when it became apparent that Richard Nixon was the Republican front-runner. (Dew, "Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography," pp. 383, 392, 394; see also, Francis M. Gibbons, "Ezra Taft Benson: Statesman, Patriot, Prophet of God" [Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1996], pp. 244, 247-48)
C. Dew's Whitewashing of a Promoted White House Ticket of Racist Ezra Taft Benson and Segregationst George Wallace
As a preface to this section, see a three-part account of my grandfather's racist views:http://exmormon.org/phorum/read.php?2,761567,761570#msg-761570http://exmormon.org/phorum/read.php?2,761567,761572#msg-761572http://exmormon.org/phorum/read.php?2,761567,761575#msg-761575
In 1968, my grandfather gave me a copy of the platform of George Wallace's American Independent Party. I remember that it was adorned with a broad-winged eagle across the top and printed in red, white and blue. He told me that the principles of Wallace's party were "closer to those of the Founding Fathers than either the Republicans or the Democrats."
Dew's book contains little in terms of deep or detailed disclosure concerning the following:
As it turned out, George Wallace himself had made serious attempts to generate Ezra Taft Benson's interest in joining his third-party presidential ticket as Wallace's running mate.
This was the same George Wallace who, when running for Alabama's gubernatorial seat in 1962, defiantly declared, "I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say, segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."
The same Wallace who, in defiance of a federal court order, infamously stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama, flanked by armed state troopers, in an unsuccessful attempt to block two African-American students from registering for class.
The same Wallace who, faced with another federal court order to integrate his state's schools, commanded police to prevent their opening but was thwarted when President Kennedy again nationalized the Guard to enforce the decree.
The same Wallace who was governor when state troopers unleashed dogs, tear gas and whips on African-Americans marching from Selma to Montgomery. (Richard Pearson, "Former Ala. Gov. George C. Wallace Dies," in "Washington Post," 14 September 1998, sec. A, p. 1)
The same Wallace whose presidential platform my grandfather described as being closest to the hearts and minds of our Elohim-inspired Founding Fathers.
Actually, Wallace and the 1968 platform of his party was more accurately described as follows:
"The American Independent Party was a [white supremacist . . . ultra-conservative] . . . organization founded in reaction to the 1960's civil rights movement and the Supreme Court's overturning of 'separate, but equal' (Plessy v. Ferguson) statute that forced integration." (see Daniel A. Mazmanian, "The Effect of Parties in Presidential Elections" [New York: Franklin Watts, 1974], p. 130).
Candidate Wallace was described as "a pronounced racist who . . . ran his campaign on a platform of state's rights and increased defense spending and gained a large following of voters in Southern states.
"The political purpose of Wallace's campaign was to force one or both of the major party candidates, Nixon and Humphrey, to a more conservative position on the issue of state's rights. Wallace wanted the federal government to give the states the power to decide whether of not to desegregate." (ibid.) Elections")
Wallace strongly requested that my grandfather join him in that fight--and, in response, my grandfather gave serious consideration to the offer.
After support of efforts by the "1976 Committee" to draft him and Strom Thurmond on a presidential ticket had fizzled, my grandfather began jockeying into position to be offered the spot as Wallace's vice-presidential mate.
In February 1968, he and my Uncle Reed met behind closed doors at Wallace's governor's mansion in Montgomery to examine the possibilities. After the meeting, Wallace sent a letter to President McKay requesting his "permission and blessings," coupled with "a leave of absence" for Ezra Taft Benson, so that my grandfather could join Wallace in their bid for the Oval Office.
Later that year, Wallace approached my grandfather again hoping to convince him to join him on the ticket. Wallace was steered a second time to McKay in his efforts to get my grandfather's boss to change his mind.
McKay held firm. (George C. Wallace, letter to David O. McKay, 12 February 1968, and McKay to Wallace, 14 February 1968, cited in Quinn, "Extensions of Power," pp. 99, 102, 463; and Dew, "Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography," pp. 398-99)
D. Dew's Porcelain-Prophet Presentation of the Mormon Church Hierarchy's Negative Response to ETB's "Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet" Sermon
A veritable firestorm erupted behind the scenes in the wake of ETB's incendiary sermon--a controversy which pulled the First Presidency into the fray via an officially-attempted skinback, and which ultimately resulted in ETB being required to explain himself before a meeting of all the General Authorities.
It is a matter of record that ETB's “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet” sermon was not well received by the Mormon Church's highest levels of hierarchy.
As Quinn writes:
“. . . [A]t BYU [in February 1980] he [Benson] delivered a 'devotional talk' which proclaimed that right of the LDS prophet to speak and act politically. The First Presidency immediately issued a statement that Benson was misquoted. However, it was difficult to finesse his words for the capacity BYU audience in the 25,000-seat Marriott Center or for the thousands of other Utahns who listened to the broadcast on radio and television of Benson's 'Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophets.' To most observers, Benson's 1980 talk at BYU was an announcement of his own future intentions as Church president.
“On 5 March the First Presidency released a statement 'reaffirm[ing] that we take no partisan stand as to candidates or political parties and exercise no constraint on the freedom of individuals to make their own choices in these matters.' The Church's spokesperson claimed that 'there is not connection between this [First Presidency] letter and a speech by Apostle Ezra Taft Benson to Brigham Young University' a few days before. Those connected with LDS Church headquarters knew otherwise.
“Kimball's son [Edward L. Kimball] affirms that the Church president [Spencer W. Kimball] bore no will feeling toward his long-time associate but 'was concerned about Elder Benson's February 1980 talk at BYU.' The president wanted 'to protect the Church against being misunderstood as espousing ultra-conservative politics or--in this case--espousing an unthinking 'follow the leader' mentality.
“A General Authority revealed that although President Kimball asked Benson to apologize to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, they 'were dissatisfied with his response.' Kimball required him to explain himself to a combined meeting of all General Authorities the following week.” [Quinn writes in footnote 353, p. 469, that “[i]n 1980 a General Authority reported to George T. Boyd the apologies which Kimball required of Benson. Boyd's letter to me (Quinn), 24 September 1992, requested that I not identify his source. Boyd--an in-law of Spencer and Camilla Kimball--also reported this conversation to BYU professor Duane Jeffery early in 1980”].
Quinn reports further on the ETB-caused furor:
“The entire Benson family felt anxious about the outcome of this meeting [the one where President Kimball was requiring ETB to explain himself in front of all the Mormon Church's General Authorities). They [the Benson family] apparently feared the possibility of a formal rebuke. Benson's son [and my father] Mark (the Freemen Institute's 'Vice President in Charge of Development') wrote him a note that morning: 'All will be well--we're praying for you and KNOW all will be well The Lord knows our heart.' [original emphasis]
"The meeting went well for Benson who 'explained that the had meant only to reaffirm the divine nature of the prophetic call.' Benson's biographer [Dew] indicates that the most effusively supportive General Authority in attendance was Apostle Boyd K. Packer: 'How I admire, respect and love you. How could anyone hesitate to follow a leader, an example such as you? What a privilege!'
Dew, however, conveniently leaves out critical elements of the controversy which led to the negative reaction of the First Presidency to ETB's BYU sermon. Instead, she attempts to explain it away by writing that “[w]hile the talk generated a great deal of publicity, for his part President Benson had intended it to simply underscore President' Kimball's prophetic call."
Dew goes on to faithfully report:
"During the April 1980 monthly meeting of the General Authorities, President Benson explained that he meant only to reaffirm the divine nature of the prophetic call. It was a faith-building, emotional experience. His family was aware of his concerns and had been praying for him. When he returned to his office that day, he found a phone message from Reed and a brief letter from Mark: 'All will be well—we're praying for you and KNOW all will be well. The Lord knows your heart. There was also a brief message from Elder Packer: 'How I admire, respect and love you. How could anyone hesitate to follow a leader, an example such as you? What a privilege!'" (Quinn, "The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power,” Chapter 3, “Ezra Taft Benson: A Study in Inter-Quorum Conflict," pp. 110-11; and p. 469, fn 349-355; and Dew, “”Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography," Chapter 22, "The Expanding Church" p. 469, original emphasis)
Conclusion: The Dews and Don'ts of Honest Biography Writing
The devil is in Dew's details (or, better yet, in the lack thereof).
As now-dead LDS Apostle Boyd K. Packer declared in his infamous 1981 sermon to a gathering of Mormon Church educaters, entitled, "The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect":
"Some things that are true are not very useful."
Thank you, Sister Dew, for doing what you were told to Dew.