In 1973, a recently baptized African-American man from Selma, Alabama, taught by a fellow soldier in the military, took the unlikely step of attending Ricks College and then transferring to BYU. While there, Robert Lee Stevenson became student body vice president—the first black student at BYU to do so. The news made headlines, and Robert was asked by a <em>New York Times</em> reporter what it was like to be a black man at a white university. He responded: “I don’t know, because I’m not a black person at a white university. I’m a Mormon at a Mormon university.”
That pioneering courage, and a life-long commitment to the gospel, followed Robert from his days as a military policeman to becoming the owner of herbal company Nature’s Sunshine. He passed away on 2 February 2016. Jon Anderson, now president of the Powder Springs Georgia Stake, came to know Robert 17 years ago in a congregation in Carrollton, Georgia. Says Anderson, “He had a tremendous influence on the growth of the Church in this area, and especially among African-Americans. He was a courageous, faithful Latter-day Saint.”
Read more about the life and conversion of Robert Lee Stevenson at <a href=”https://www.lds.org/ensign/1992/02/four-who-serve?lang=eng”>https://www.lds.org/ensign/1992/02/four-who-serve?lang=eng</a>
Nearly 500 people recently gathered for the inaugural Canadian Black History Summit held in a meetinghouse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The free conference, held April 16, 2016, was co-hosted by the nonprofit FamilySearch International (the genealogical arm of the Church) and the Ontario Black History Society.
The inaugural event provided an opportunity for participants to connect with experts on black genealogy and history, specifically the Freedmen’s Bureau Project.
For the full article see:
Hundreds Gather at First Canadian Black History Summit
Regarding 2 Nephi 30:6, this article notes:
The Prophet Joseph Smith made an important textual emendation to this passage in the 1840 edition of the Book of Mormon, where the phrase “a white and a delightsome people” was changed to “a pure and a delightsome people.” According to Royal Skousen, “The 1840 change of white to pure seems to be a conscious one and was probably made by Joseph Smith as part of his editing of the 1840 edition. The change does not appear to be an accidental error based on any visual or phonetic resemblance between the two words.”
… and the article also notes:
Why might Joseph Smith have made this textual change in 2 Nephi 30? Skousen elaborated that “the editing change to pure may represent a conscious attempt at avoiding what was perceived as a difficult reading (the Nephites were supposed to be light skinned), which therefore explains why the change from white to pure was made here—and only here—in 2 Nephi 30:6.”9 In other words, Joseph Smith may very well have recognized the possible racial undertones in this passage if interpreted that way and ultimately wished to avoid them.
While it is certainly possible that this change reflected the racial attitudes of early members of the Church, who assumed many of the views of their 19th century environment,10 Tvedtnes argued convincingly that the change may have occurred to emphasize that the text is speaking of a spiritual, not biological, condition.
See the link for the full article. This photo in the article of people dressed in robes for baptisms conveys the spiritual meaning of purity and the visual white of the clothing along with the warmth and vibrancy of faces in different shades of brown.
Photo provided via
John Fretwell by Bertha Udell
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth post in a series telling the stories of significant black Mormons in history. Read earlier posts:
A father of an anorexic daughter said that she, caught in the bondage of her disease, was the least able to tell her own story. She would distort it just as she distorted the image she saw in the mirror. Who, then, would be able to tell her story truthfully? Her counselor? Her family? Her boyfriend? Nobody?
The answer is that each of us is a unique mystery. At some point in our eternal maturing, we realize that we can never really know another person, even those with whom we are most closely associated. Though we may be close enough to them to have similar thoughts and even matching days, we cannot enter their minds, we cannot capture their pasts, we cannot define or possess them. We ourselves are constantly progressing in understanding our own reactions to the world around us, our relationships, our impulses, our inner conflicts and yearnings.
This is particularly important when someone who thinks they possess another person presumes to speak for them. In the case of Green Flake, given at age ten as a wedding gift to James Madison and Agnes Love Flake (along with another slave, Liz) in 1838, we find various versions of his story, depending on who’s telling it. The white Flakes tend to tell Green’s story starting with his baptism (April 7, 1844), claiming that Green and all the Flake slaves were freed when the Flakes joined the LDS Church—though Green and two other Blacks, Oscar Crosby and Hark Lay, are listed as “colored servants” on the monument to the vanguard pioneers. The use of the word “servant” rather than “slave” is significant. It provided a semantic way to avoid acknowledging that there were slaves in Utah. Brigham Young’s important talk to the legislature in 1852 is titled “An Act in Relation to Service”—though it mentions slavery outright.
Green’s own descendants start his biography early in his life. His granddaughter, Bertha Udell, told family historian John Fretwell:
Green said that the reason why they kept him from his mother or family was because if they love one another too much, if one was sold they could pine and worry so much . . . they could run away and search for each other. The masters didn’t want to lose a valuable slave, so he would set mean dogs after them and whipped [them] when they were caught. That is why Green Flake was kept away from his mother and told he was an orphan. . . . As a child, he grew up with other colored children about his own age and he was cared for by different women in the Negro Quarters. . . . He learned early that he was a slave.
Lucile Perkins Bankhead, a great-granddaughter of Green Flake, says in her oral history (recorded for BYU’s Charles Redd Center by Alan Cherry) that Green never was freed. Other members of the black side of the Flake family claim that Brigham Young emancipated their ancestor in 1854. That seems a reasonable claim. Clearly, Green was considered a slave when Brigham Young received a letter from Amasa Lyman, speaking for the widow Agnes Love Flake. Her husband had been killed in California by a mule kick. Agnes had followed him to San Bernardino, but found only poverty there. Lyman wrote:
Sister Agnes Flake wishes me to inquire of you if there is any chance for her to receive any help by way of the negro man she left when she came here. She has a family on her hands for which to provide. Her health is also very delicate health and if she could realize something from this quarter it would be a benefit to her. Thomas I. Williams told me if he could, he would purchase the negro and pay for him. A word from you on this subject would be received a favor.
To be clear, this assumed that Green Flake was still a slave and asked that he be sold and his price sent to Agnes. Brigham Young replied that he didn’t know where Green Flake was. In fact, Young had given the former slave several acres of land in the Cottonwood area. Green was married by this time, though his wife, Martha Crosby, was also considered a slave. Both Green Flake and Martha worked for the Crosby family until Martha’s master decided they had paid “a fair price for a colored girl” (Ronald Coleman’s “History of Blacks in Utah,” 39). Soon after Brigham Young discreetly declined Lyman’s request, Green and Martha conceived their first child, Abraham, who would soon be followed by a daughter, Lucinda.
Years later, after Martha’s 1885 death, Green was invited to speak at a Pioneer Appreciation Day in Willow Creek, Idaho. He told about the pioneer trek, and then asked if there were any questions. A young woman shouted, “Mr. Flake, what was it like to be a slave?” Bishop Simmons stood and stated, “You don’t have to answer that question, Brother. Flake.” Green wanted to answer, however. Now, at last, he was free to speak for himself. Does his account represent the entire truth about his bondage, especially given that he was speaking years after his emancipation? Certainly not, but it represents his perception of it, which deserves more careful consideration than anyone else’s account. As recorded by Bishop Simmons’s daughter, Green said:
Being a slave is all right—if you just want to be a slave, that is. But many of the colored folks wanted a better life, if they could find one. . . . I was raised a slave and had a master to tell me what to do. He gave me a place to sleep, fed and clothed me, worked me, and told me what to do each day. Sometimes I got whipped, and my master would give me a big kick in the pants if I sluffed off or made a mistake or if I was lazy . . . Slavery has been around a long time, and the colored folks got sold like they was a horse, a cow, or some other animal. They become the owner’s property, and they work long and hard for the massa. Most everyone don’t want to be a slave and be in bondage to another, because you cain’t have even your own thoughts and dreams. You can’t plan for the future when all decisions get made by someone else.(Green’s description of slave life is from Fretwell’s interview with Udell-Miscellaneous Family Papers, 9, citing notes from the Pioneer Appreciation Day. More of Flake’s descriptions are included in the updated second volume of Standing on the Promises, to be released in October by Zarahemla Press.)
|Bishop Simmons and Family|
Though Green had been called “saucy” as a young man (an insult for a slave who was expected to be meek and servile), his generosity and energy were clear by the time he reached full manhood. Oz Call, who had been assigned to see to the needs of the Black Mormons in Idaho, identified Flake as “the best damned missionary we have.” Even more telling is Flake’s reaction to the news that his master, James Madison Flake, had died. When asked if perhaps his master had been punished by the mule’s kicks because he had kicked Green so often, Green replied, “I would hate to think so. Let it pass. No good can come of it. Let it pass!” (Fretwell’s interview with Udell, 11).
In 1897, Green Flake was invited to participate in the jubilee celebration of the pioneers’ arrival in Utah. Evidence supports the Flake family lore that he was the driver of the wagon carrying Brigham Young, and that it was to him that Young said the words, “This is the right place. Drive on.” Therefore, he would certainly be an honored guest. Flake wrote his own acceptance letter—misspelled, but a clear declaration of independence from one who had not received education in his youth: “Dere Frind: I reseved you most kind and wellcom leter an ticket an was glad to reseved it at an I will bee down to the Julile. Yours truly, Friend Green Flake” (Joel Flake Jr.’s “Green Flake” 25).
As he aged, Green Flake carved his chosen epitaph into his gravestone: “In my Father’s House are many mansions.” He died on October 20, 1903.
|Gravestone for Green and Martha Flake, Union Cemetery|
Where is Green’s true story amidst the memories of his descendants and the descendants of those who considered him their property? All historians know that they will never tell an objectively true story. The story we must listen to most carefully comes from the one who personally experienced the events. Even if a few details are not quite right when compared to historical data, even if their version of events changes with retelling, the personal perception is the best starting place. We will never completely “capture” Green Flake’s story. We wouldn’t want to. Even if it were possible, it would violate his freedom to dream, because we would also capture his dreams. But we can honor his story, and him. One of the best tributes comes from Lucy May Brady Green, who knew him in her youth:
He was educated enough so that he was never doing anything wrong. He was very good to the children, and all children liked him. He was also willing to help if needed . . . I think most everybody liked him. I don’t think he had an enemy . . . He used to come to Dad’s home once in a while. If Dad needed help, he helped Dad-not as a hired man. (Quoted in Steven Madsen’s Fort Union, 51)
Margaret Blair Young teaches creative writing at Brigham Young University. Her best known novels include the Standing on the Promises trilogy, co-authored with Darius Gray. These three books give the history, with some fictional liberties taken, of Black Mormon pioneers. The updated and revised versions will soon be available through Zarahemla Press and at Amazon.com. Gray and Young also made the documentary Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons, now available wherever LDS books are sold, and shown monthly on the Documentary Channel. Young is currently working on a film about Mormon missionaries in Africa, titled Heart of Africa.
Article on LDS.org 6 Jan 2016:
“June 14, 1989, the government of Ghana announced a ban on all meetings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Meetinghouses were locked, and foreign missionaries were given one week to leave the country. Church leaders authorized members in Ghana to hold sacrament meetings in their homes. The “freeze,” as this ban came to be called, tested the resolve of Latter-day Saints in Ghana. Many Church members were criticized by their friends for persisting in their faith, and a few were arrested for questioning.”
For the rest of the story and videos on related topics, see:
The following is taken from the “This Is The Place” monument website. It provides a version of the story which depicts Brother Brigham’s entrance into the valley.
The statuary which was later created and erected at the historical location shows the principles whose name have been immortalized. The “This is the Place” story indicates that the wagon was owned by Elder Willard Richards (not a Flake) who is also listed as the driver on that occasion. While those mentioned were no doubt there and involved so too were individuals of lessor social status, such at the three “colored servants” (slaves) whose names appear on the Brigham Young Monument located on South Temple between the Joseph Smith Memorial Building and Temple Square. Seldom are ‘servants’ immortalized in statuary regardless of their actual contributions.
Further research should shed light on Green Flake’s role – if any – during that historic moment.
“Meanwhile, Brigham Young, who had been seriously ill with Mountain Fever, entered the valley on July 24 with the remaining fifteen wagons. Of this historic occasion, Wilford Woodruff, in whose carriage Brigham Young rode, says: “When we came out of the canyon in full view of the valley, I turned the side of my carriage around, open to the west, and President Young arose from his bed and took a survey of the country. While gazing on the scene he was enwrapped in vision for several minutes. When the vision had passed he said, ‘This is the right place, drive on!'””
“The lower group: Orson Pratt (on horse), Apostle, scientist, mathmatician, explorer, journalist: Erastus Snow (standing), Apostle, explorer, colonizer: The two wagon trains: (north wing) first wagon train (July 22), led by Willard Richards (on second horse), noted physician, Apostle, religious leader, second counselor to Brigham Young (1847-1854), secretary of the Provisional State of Deseret: second wagon train (July 24). Brigham Young, sitting in carriage, Wilford Woodruff driving, Heber C. Kimball and Lorenzo Dow Young walking beside carriage.”
We have no solid documentation, but we do have a recording of a Flake descendant claiming that it was indeed the family’s belief. I don’t think we have anything outside the Flake family itself.
Is there something in the published historical record which indicates Green Flake was the driver at that special moment in time? Seems it was a newspaper article or a statement possibly at the Jubilee Celebration 50 years later.
Patron Submitted on 2012/04/05
James Flake is my great, great, great grandfather. Does anyone know if its true that the wagon Brigham Young made his famous statement from (This is the Place), belonged to James Flake, and that Green was in the wagon with him. I have a family history book that states he was, but I cannot find another reliable source.
By PEGGY FLETCHER STACK | The Salt Lake Tribune
First Published Dec 09 2014 04:32PM • Last Updated Dec 11 2014 01:11 pm
Religion » Amid nationwide tensions, they see the LDS gospel as a cure for racism, but the issue rarely arises at services.
A year after the LDS Church published a landmark essay about its past priesthood ban and amid a nationwide uproar over police shootings of African-Americans, many black Mormons yearn to discuss, debate and defuse racial tensions.
They do so in school, at work, on the Internet.
One place, it seems, they don’t come near the topic: in church.
And that, some say, needs to change.
“We have to use the gospel to fight against how blacks are treated in America and in the church,” says Kevin Mosley, a longtime black Mormon convert in Pittsburgh. “God expects it.”
For rank-and-file Mormons, though, conversations inside the church about race seem off-limits. Many members refuse to wade into that debate because it is so inescapably entwined with their faith’s own painful past, an embarrassing chapter that many feel is better left alone.
That’s where the groundbreaking essay comes in.
One year ago Tuesday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints quietly acknowledged that its former prohibition on blacks entering the faith’s all-male priesthood resulted more from racism than revelation.
This recognition was posted on the faith’s official website in an essay titled “Race and the Priesthood,” which traces the ban from its 19th-century beginnings to its 1978 conclusion.
The policy apparently was not established by church founder Joseph Smith, who ordained several blacks to the priesthood, but came into being under his successor, Brigham Young, who was influenced by racial attitudes of the day.
None of the notions given to defend the exclusion came from deity or doctrine, the piece declares. “Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”
Black Mormons cheered the essay, and many hoped it would prompt wide-ranging and candid conversations among Latter-day Saints about their faith’s tortuous racial history.
That hasn’t happened.
Since the article’s release, however, seething tensions have erupted across the United States, triggered by the killing of an unarmed black man, Michael Brown, by a white cop in a St. Louis suburb. As other cases surfaced — including in Utah with the shooting of a biracial Darrien Hunt by two white Saratoga Springs police officers — many U.S. religious leaders have joined protests, expressing outrage and solidarity with black Americans.
The LDS essay captured headlines in major media outlets but made little splash inside the 15 million-member LDS Church.
That’s partly due to the way church leaders released it, along with a general reluctance inside the faith to tackle tough topics that might spur contention. Mormons tend to be conflict-averse.
“We can’t talk at church about Michael Brown and other unarmed black men being shot by police,” says Mosley, a retired Pennsylvania trooper, “because it’s so hard for members to talk about race at all.”
But Mosley and other Latter-day Saints see discussion of race — even when it is uncomfortable — as healthy.
A fun and insightful article in the Deseret News …
Please read this powerful story of Yeah Samake, a Mormon leader in Mali who is working with the moral majority of Muslims to secure a democracy. They are fighting against Al Qaeda and others who strive to kidnap Islam.
See also his comments of the importance of President Obama’s 2008 election and ongoing opportunities; and the role that Mitt Romney has taken and could yet take in helping his country and ours.