Until 34 years ago, African Americans were forbidden to serve as priests in the Church of Latter Day Saints. Before 1978, blacks were largely treated as second-class citizens in the Mormon Church. That's because Brigham Young, leader of the church after founder Joseph Smith, believed that blacks were cursed. "Any man having one drop of the seed of Cane in him cannot hold the priesthood," Young stated in 1852. Not only did some Mormons implicate blacks in Cain's murder of brother Abel, others believe blacks sided with Satan when he rebelled against God. Due to these beliefs, blacks were forbidden from serving as priests in the church, which meant they couldn't participate in ceremonies that Mormons believe help followers get into heaven.
The Mormon Church reversed its stance on African Americans in 1978, pointing out that "all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color." However, the church never apologized for excluding blacks in the past, a move that George Washington University Professor John G. Turner argues in a New York Times opinion piece that the church should make.
Turner says that Mormon leaders could explain that "their predecessors had confused their own racist views with God's will and that the priesthood ban resulted from human error and limitations rather than a divine curse." He says an apology would change the perceptions that the Mormon Church is racist and make people of color feel more comfortable with the church. An apology, however, would mean the current leadership of the church would be forced to publicly challenge the insight of previous leaders. While that would mark a huge controversy for the church, Turner says, "the abiding love and veneration most Latter-day Saints have for their leaders would readily survive a fuller reckoning with their human frailties and flaws. The Mormon people need not believe they have perfect prophets, either past or present."
Mormons may be able to forgive early leaders for their racist views, but it's doubtful African Americans would suddenly flock to the Church of Latter Day Saints if the leadership apologized for past racism. This isn't to say that Mormons should not apologize, but they should do so knowing that the past will not be forgotten.