Lynn, ArLene Ables
ArLene Ables Lynn was the great-granddaughter of Elijah Able, an early Mormon pioneer and the first black priesthood holder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. ArLene’s baptism in 1930 marked almost one hundred years of membership in the church for the Able family and her death in 2007 stretched the Able family’s legacy into the twenty-first century.
Even though ArLene is a direct descendant of a well-known black Latter-day Saint, she was always considered white by census enumerators and Latter-day Saint ward clerks. However, it is an oversimplification to say that ArLene passed as white. Rather, ArLene and her immediate family represent how racial identity was malleable over time through interracial marriage and fading community memory. ArLene’s great-grand parents, Elijah and Mary Ann Adams Able, were both of mixed racial ancestry. Her grandfather Enoch married Mary Jordi, a white immigrant from Switzerland and her own mother, Catherine Williams, was the daughter of white Welsh immigrants. ArLene’s father, Elijah R. Ables, was listed as black in the 1900 census and “mulatto” in the 1910 census, however, all later records identified him as white. Her father moved away from his hometown when he was in his early twenties, further distancing himself from community memory surrounding his race. While records identified ArLene's father Elijah as black in the first part of his life, he began passing as white by 1920. In contrast, when ArLene was born in 1922, she was considered white and did not need to pass.
This shift in racial identity also illustrates the fraught nature of “one drop” policies meant to police racial identity. The LDS Church adopted such a policy in 1907, which was intended to prevent anyone with “one drop” of black-African ancestry from being ordained to the LDS priesthood or admitted to LDS temples. There is no indication that ArLene received temple ordinances before 1978. However, her assumed whiteness would not have prevented such ceremonies from taking place, even though she had black ancestry. ArLene is one example of the impossibility of determining racial status based on self-identification or appearance.
ArLene was a life-long member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Gottfried Jaggi blessed her on 25 July 1925, in the Logan, Utah, Ninth Ward, when she was three years old. One day after her eighth birthday William L. Winn baptized her and Estus N. Hammond confirmed her a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Logan Tenth Ward.
As early as 1937, ArLene began to use the last name Van Able (even though the family appeared in the 1940 U.S. Census as the “Ables”). It is unclear what precipitated this change, but her mother and sister also adopted the modified last name and her father appeared in one city directory under that last name as well. This change could have been an effort to further distance themselves from their black ancestry. ArLene’s mother continued to use Van Able for the rest of her life while her father used “Ables.”
ArLene’s parents either separated or divorced at some point after 1940 and both identified themselves as widowed by the late 1950s (Catherine in an Ogden City Directory in 1958 and Elijah on his marriage certificate to Melanie Urbin Behrsin in 1956).
Sometime between 1955 and 1960, ArLene married Kestler J. Lynn, a civilian Army inspector at Fort Douglas. They lived in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City and the couple had one child together, a daughter born in 1962. Kestler was not a member of the LDS Church, but ArLene apparently continued to attend church regularly and fulfilled callings as a teacher in the Primary and Relief Society. Her obituary in fact called her a “proud member of the LDS Church.” At some point, the marriage between ArLene and Kestler ended, and she did not remarry.
Arlene graduated from Logan High School in 1940 and then attended Utah State University, Weber State College, and eventually graduated from Stephens Henegar Business College. In the 1960s she began a career as a service adviser with a telephone company, a job she held for 27 years. She also belonged to the Telephone Pioneers Organization, which focused on volunteerism and the community engagement of telecommunication industry employees. ArLene was also a member of the American Business Women’s Association whose mission it is to support the personal and professional growth of women through “leadership, education, networking support and national recognition.”
ArLene died 5 June 2007, in Portland, Oregon. She is buried in Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park in Salt Lake City, Utah.
By Julia Huddleston
“ArLene Lynn.” Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City, Utah). 10 June 2007.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Record of Members Collection. Logan Ninth Ward. Microfilm 26093. Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Record of Members Collection. Logan Tenth Ward. CR 375 8, box 3765, folder 1, image 233 and folder 2, image 550. Church History Library. Salt Lake City, Utah.
“Large Class Graduating from Logan Junior Hi.” Cache American (Logan, Utah). 21 May 1937, 8.
“Lynn.” Presiding Bishopric stake and mission census, 1950-1960. 1960, CR 4 316. Church History Library. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah.
Montana. Marriage Records, 1943-1986. Powell County. Elijah Ables and Melanie Behrsin. Marriage License No. 2963. Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. Helena, Montana.
United States. 1900 Census, Utah, Cache County, Logan.
United States. 1910 Census. Idaho, Oneida County, Malad.
United States. 1910 Census. Utah, Cache County, Logan.
United States. 1930 Census. Utah, Cache County, Logan.
United States. 1940 Census. Utah, Cache County, Logan.
“Van Able.” R. L. Polk and Company. Polk’s Ogden City Directory. Kansas City, MO, 1958.
“About Us.” American Business Women’s Association.
ArLene Ables (KWZF-46R), ordinance records on FamilySearch.org, accessed 24 August 2019.
Reeve, W. Paul. Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.
"Wreck Injures Woman's Nose," Ogden Standard Examiner (Ogden, Utah), 18 September 1950, 5A.
 United States, 1910 Census, Idaho, Oneida County, Malad.
 United States, 1900 Census, Utah, Cache County, Logan; United States, 1910 Census, Utah, Cache County, Logan.
 United States, 1930 Census, Utah, Cache County, Logan; United States, 1940 Census, Utah, Cache County, Logan.
 For further context on the “one drop” policy in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, see W. Paul Reeve, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), chapter 7.
 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, Logan Ninth Ward, Microfilm 26093, Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, Logan Tenth Ward, CR 375 8, box 3765, folder 1, image 233 and folder 2, image 550, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
 “Large Class Graduating from Logan Junior Hi,” Cache American (Logan, Utah), 21 May 1937, 8.
 “Van Able,” R. L. Polk and Company, Polk’s Ogden City Directory (Kansas City, MO, 1958); Montana, Marriage Records, 1943-1986, Powell County, Elijah Ables and Melanie Behrsin, Marriage License No. 2963, Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, Helena, Montana.
 “Lynn,” Presiding Bishopric stake and mission census, 1950-1960; 1962, CR 4 316, Church History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.
 “ArLene Lynn,” Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City, Utah), 10 June 2007.
 “ArLene Lynn,” Deseret Morning News, 10 June 2007.
 “ArLene Lynn,” Deseret Morning News, 10 June 2007.
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