Monumental day for black pioneers: applause rings out as their part in Utah’s history is carved in stone – Salt Lake Tribune | WHs Answers

This Is the Place Heritage Park, which honors the arrival of Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley 175 years ago, now tells a more complete story of their epic journey.

Memorials celebrating the significant contributions of black pioneers, some of whom were slaves, were unveiled at the state park in the eastern reaches on Friday.

Green Flake, Hark Wales, and Oscar Smith—all three enslaved—entered the valley on July 22, 1847, two days before Brigham Young, the leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, reportedly declared, “This is the right place . ”

On their historic arrival, Flake, Wales and Smith reconnoitred the area, tilled the soil, planted crops and laid a trail for their enslavers and vanguard who would soon follow.

Flake’s memorial reads, “Green is known to have driven the first wagon into Emigration Canyon…on July 22…Brother Flake and many others like him trusted in God’s promise of a reunited family after this life.”

A joint memorial honored both Wales and Smith, saying: “As enslaved men, Hark and Oscar were acutely aware of what it felt like to strive for freedom, even if the freedom the saints sought was that of religious worship. “

A third memorial honors Jane Manning James, a free black woman convert to the young faith who worked in the household of church founder Joseph Smith.

James, perhaps the best-known black Latter-day Saint this side of Gladys Knight, was eventually “sealed” as a “servant” to Smith.

Her stone notes that the “foundations laid by Flake, Wales, and Smith … helped families like Jane’s survive the rigors of the journey.”

Hundreds gave a standing ovation on Friday as Flake’s descendants pulled the covers off the stones and statues that sat in a plaza behind the towering monument on which Young was enthroned.

These offspring then pulled together in a group hug.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Descendants of Green Flake, an enslaved pioneer who entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, are interviewed following the unveiling of memorials to Flake and other black pioneers at This Is the Place Heritage Park on Friday, July 22nd, 2022.

“That was amazing,” said Black Latter-day Saint Tamu Smith, of Sistas in Zion, afterwards. “It was not planned.”

As Friday’s ceremony began under muggy skies not dissimilar to that July day 175 years ago, Betty Sawyer, president of the Ogden branch of the NAACP, looked down at the crowd and said, “You look great,” then quipped : “Is OK. You can clap.”

Offering the invocation for the ceremony, she addressed the “god of our past, present and future” who recognizes the “weary years and silent tears” of these pioneers, urging the deity to help all who come to this memorial to “think and remember” what these pioneers meant to the Beehive State.

Ellis Ivory, director of the This Is the Place Foundation, described a meeting last year with Mauli Junior Bonner, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker who championed the monuments, and Tamu Smith.

After the revelation, a visibly shaken Bonner threw out most of his prepared remarks and asked: “Now am I supposed to talk in tears? It’s more beautiful than I could have imagined – not just the statues, you’re all here. It is wonderful. … I didn’t think we would ever see so much diversity in Utah.”

Bonner — writer, producer, and director of the film His Name Is Green Flake — praised the example of these enslaved pioneers for “enduring something incredible for their faith.”

“We don’t tell these stories of enslavement to invoke guilt, pain or shame,” Bonner said. “We tell them because they are true. … Can we not draw strength from them?”

If Black Utahns “don’t know where we’ve come from,” he added, “then how do we know how far we’ve come?”

At this moment, “we’re not being divided,” Bonner said. “In this moment we can be who we hope to be.”

Utah Governor Spencer Cox made a few remarks and mentioned his lack of awareness of racial issues growing up in rural Utah and then discovering that his own pioneer ancestor had owned slaves.

“I hope this memorial inspires my children,” said Cox, “and that we can learn from each other.”

This was followed by a rousing rendition of a song Bonner had composed for his talented family—except that “I Am a Child of God” was an original piece, not the classic Latter-day Saint children’s tune.

After several verses, the singers urged the audience to get up and join in, and many did, raising their arms and swaying.

“I enjoy listening to black singers,” Senior Latter-day Saint Apostle M. Russell Ballard said after they sat down. “You can sing.”

He, too, pointed to the apparent mix of faces in the crowd and said, “Utah is a state where God’s children of all cultures, of all races, can come together and rejoice and love one another.”

Ballard, 93, a great-great-grandnephew of Joseph Smith, offered a short dedicatory prayer, reiterating “how precious and important every child of God is,” and encouraging all present to “walk arm in arm to… to help each other on this stay.”

He asked God “to bless everyone here today and their descendants to feel the blessings of these black pioneers.”

In a private interview after the ceremony, Fellow Apostle D. Todd Christofferson said he was moved by the stories of these pioneers.

“If they could make the journey as slaves,” Christofferson said, “we can do our best in whatever we’re asked to do.”

Eldon Udell of Clovis, California, a great-grandson of Flake and the eldest of his descendants at the dedication, was speechless as he listened to the ceremony he dreamed about but never expected.

“It was overwhelming,” Udell said. “I never thought something like this would even be possible, let alone become a reality.”

It’s hard for him to fully grasp the tragedy of slavery, Udell said, but he feels humiliated at having to be descended from an enslaved man. “I’m proud of the person he was.”

For Tamu Smith, Friday’s memorial service was the culmination of years of seeking recognition since 2017, when she discovered she too was one of Flake’s descendants.

“The disclosure for me was to tell a truth and have it confirmed by me [church] leader and the governor rather than getting a backlash,” Smith said. “It felt like being rediscovered by your family, adopted, and then finding your true family. “

What’s next for Bonner and Smith?

Bonner is working on a project about Elijah Able, a black Latter-day Saint who was ordained in the early years of the faith, Smith said, and Smith himself is traveling to Ghana with a group of Latter-day Saints to teach workshops on these developments – part of the church’s partnership with the national NAACP.

It’s all, she said, part of the journey.

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