4 - African-Americans in Salt Lake City: A Historical and Social Overview  pp. 51-58

African-Americans in Salt Lake City: A Historical and Social Overview

By Wendy L. Haight

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In this chapter, I place children's religious experiences at First Baptist Church within the broader historical and social context of Salt Lake City, Utah. As Ronald Coleman (1981) observed:

For Black Utahns, the African-American church has historically been the single most important institution in the state. It has served as a place of refuge in the most difficult times and many of the Black religious leaders have been ambassadors of good will for the African-American, and larger, community. (p. 2)


African-Americans have played a role in the development of Utah since the early nineteenth century. James Beckwourth, for example, trapped, hunted, and explored in Utah in the early nineteenth century (1824–26). He fought in the Seminole and Mexican wars, joined the California gold rush, and lived with the Crow Indians. His published dramatic accounts of his experiences have provided valuable historical information (Coleman, 1981).

Permanent African-American settlements were established in Utah with the immigration of the first Mormon pioneers in the midnineteenth century. Indeed, three African-American men accompanied Brigham Young on his journey to Utah in 1847. Both enslaved and free blacks continued to accompany the Mormon pioneers to Utah. The 1860 census counted 59 African-Americans in Utah, 29 of whom were enslaved (Mathews & Wright, 1994). Yet, relatively little is known about the African-Americans who helped to settle and develop Utah.