Did You Know There Were Some Black Mormons Who Went to Utah with Brigham Young?

Green Flake was born around 1828 and was one of the pioneers that migrated from the east coast to Utah with Brigham Young’s first company. | Utah Department of Heritage & Arts / RNS
Green Flake was born around 1828 and was one of the pioneers that migrated from the east coast to Utah with Brigham Young’s first company. | Utah Department of Heritage & Arts / RNS

Green Flake was in the vanguard company of Mormon pioneers in 1847, driving a wagon into the Salt Lake Valley with LDS prophet Brigham Young, who famously declared Utah to be the right place to build Zion.

But you won’t likely see a figure of Flake atop any floats in the Days of ’47 Parade down the streets of Utah’s capital this Thursday (July 24).

That could be because Flake’s story is unfamiliar to the vast majority of Mormons. Or because the South Carolina-born convert’s narrative is, well, a tad more difficult than the typical pioneer tale: He was black and a slave, who was once donated to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as “tithing” after his owner couldn’t find a buyer.

Mention of these black members brings up a painful part of the Mormon past — for more than a century blacks were barred from ordination to the faith’s all-male priesthood, and black women were denied access to temple rituals as well. That didn’t end until 1978.

Omitting Flake and more than 50 other black pioneers from the heroic recounting of the massive LDS trek across the Plains is not just an oversight, say Mormon historians and members, it is a travesty.

“If we don’t celebrate our full history, we are actually celebrating a lie,” said Tamu Smith, co-author with Zandra Vranes of “Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons.” “We know that we were there, so when people leave us out on purpose, they are not celebrating their own history.”

Accounts of black pioneers, argued Smith and Vranes, should be as well-known inside the 15 million-member LDS church as yarns of Young, Mary Fielding Smith (a widow who reportedly healed her dying oxen) and the Willie and Martin handcart companies (many members of which lost their lives along the way).

“Our stories need to be told over and over and over just like the other ones,” Vranes said. “When we tell people that Green Flake was right there when Brigham Young said, ‘This is the place,’ they don’t believe us.”

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Source: Huffington Post |  By Peggy Fletcher Stack

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