Researchers Bringing to Light Legacy of Black Pioneers

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Jane Elizabeth Manning James was just one of the stalwart Black Mormon pioneers.
Jane Elizabeth Manning James was just one of the stalwart Black Mormon pioneers.

Peggy Fletcher Stack, with the Salt Lake Tribune brings us this article on Black Mormon pioneers and information on a new book by Russell Stevenson titled, “For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism, 1830-2013.”

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 Thursday’s Days of ’47 Parade as they glide down the streets of Utah’s capital.

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 LDS Church 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 being ordained 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,” says 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.”

To read the rest of the article and to learn more about Russell Stevenson’s  research on trailblazing black members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints go to sltrib.com. You can listen to Smith and Vranes interview Stevenson on their podcast here