QUINCY, Ill. — The Mormon Tabernacle Choir gave a rare benefit concert here tonight to say thank you for kindness extended 163 years ago by the citizens of Quincy to Latter-day Saints fleeing religious persecution during the winter of 1839. $75,000 in concert proceeds will benefit the Quincy Area Community Foundation.
President Gordon B. Hinckley, world leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, personally announced to the concert audience that proceeds had been conveyed to Mayor Charles W. Scholz.
"We shall always be grateful for the kindness, the hospitality, the civility with which your people met our people who were exiles from the state of Missouri," President Hinckley said. "I express my gratitude to those who are successors of those who were here long ago and say thank you with all of our hearts."
Mayor Scholz acknowledged the donation: "Thank you, President Hinckley for your leadership and for this very generous gift which will help people for many generations to come. Thanks also for this magnificent choir."
The choir’s gift of music and a charitable endowment was well received not only by Quincy city officials but also by the sellout crowd of 2,200 that filled the Morrison Theater at Quincy Junior High School. After several standing ovations, the choir concluded with its signature rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."
While participating in dedication services for the Church’s newly reconstructed temple in nearby Nauvoo, Ill., the 360-member choir wanted also to use their talents to express gratitude to Quincy. Choir music director Craig Jessop explained: "We remembered how the people of Quincy protected and helped the saints when they were driven out of Missouri and into Illinois. They gave them refuge. They didn't turn their backs on them."
Near the conclusion of the performance that featured sacred and popular songs as well as choral masterworks, choir announcer Lloyd Newell read a moving tribute to the generosity of early Quincy citizens. In part, it said, "Quincy bears a legacy of mercy that ripples down the centuries, reminding us that the milk of human kindness is always more powerful than force or fury."
In 1839, persecution in Missouri forced the departure of nearly 10,000 Latter-day Saints into neighboring states and communities. Large groups began leaving in February of that year, headed for various locations in Illinois and Iowa.
Many came to western Illinois. With a population of about 1,500, Quincy was the region’s principal town at the time. In an extraordinary act of humanitarian service, Quincy’s 1,500 residents sheltered and assisted more than 5,000 Latter-day Saint refugees.
Notable among those helped was Emma Smith. Her husband, Church founder Joseph Smith, was imprisoned at the time in Liberty, Missouri. After walking across the frozen Mississippi River with her four children, Emma settled on the outskirts of Quincy.
Arriving refugees needed accommodations and jobs. Quincy citizenry provided both. Despite snowstorms, Quincy citizens repeatedly rescued Latter-day Saints stranded without adequate food or clothing on the Missouri side of the river. One observer at the time noted that the citizens "donated liberally, the merchants vying with each other as to which could be the most liberal."
Local groups in Quincy interacted with Church leaders and representatives to carry out successful philanthropic activities. They provided jobs and donations of cash, clothing and provisions to needy Latter-day Saint refugees. They raised money locally and signed endorsements authorizing fundraisers in St. Louis and New York City.
A Latter-day Saint historian has described Quincy’s aid to the beleaguered Latter-day Saints as "a lasting example of benevolent people extending help to those in need.."