Jul 25, 2022 - News

New Salt Lake monuments honor Utah's Black pioneers

Statues of two Black pioneers.

A statue of brothers Hark Wales and Oscar Smith. Photo: Kim Bojórquez/Axios

New monuments were unveiled Friday at This is the Place Heritage Park honoring the first African American pioneers that joined Latter-day Saints during their trek to the Salt Lake Valley nearly two centuries ago.

Driving the news: The uncovering of the new monuments came two days before Pioneer Day, a state holiday that marks the day Utah pioneers first arrived in 1847.

Why it matters: The monuments highlight the overlooked contributions of early Black Latter-day Saints, including some who arrived in Utah as slaves.

Details: They feature the statues of Green Flake, Hark Wales, Oscar Smith and Jane Manning James and their biographies.

  • Flake, who was born into slavery, was the first person to drive a wagon into Emigration Canyon, according to the monument's text.
  • He, along with brothers Wales and Smith, who were also born as slaves, helped scout and pave the trail into the Salt Lake Valley and got to their destination on July 22, 1847 — two days before Brigham Young arrived.
  • Manning, who was born free, worked for church founder Joseph Smith's household.
Statues of Black pioneers in Salt Lake City.
New Black pioneers monument. Photo: Kim Bojórquez/Axios

What they said: "As we mark the 175th anniversary of the pioneers entering the Salt Lake Valley, we are here to celebrate a certain group of pioneers that have long been forgotten," Gov. Spencer Cox said at the monument unveiling.

  • Growing up, Cox said he learned about the Civil Rights Movement, but lacked awareness of Black Utah trailblazers.
  • When researching his own family history, Cox said he learned that one of his ancestors from North Carolina was a slave owner.
  • "Utah is a state where God's children of all cultures, of all races can worship together and enjoy and love one another," said Latter-day Saint Apostle M. Russell Ballard.

State of play: Mauli Junior Bonner and Tamu Smith pitched the monuments to Ellis Ivory, board chairman of the park, last year after they each produced movies about Black pioneers, according to Church News. The idea quickly received Ivory's blessing and support.

  • Of note: The statues were designed by sculpturists Stefanie and Roger Hunt.

Between the lines: Bonner, the monuments' coordinators, on Friday said it was important for Utahns and their children to learn about the state's history with slavery and for Black LDS members to see how far they've come in their journey.

  • "We have to learn it and never forget it," he said. "Then what do we do with that knowledge? We teach our children. We allow them to come up in a world where they're not going to be blindsided by history … so that we can truly be the inclusive community that we want to be."

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