How to Celebrate Black History Month in Utah

The Sweeney family of West Valley City pose for photos at the Black Pioneer Monument at This Is The Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City on July 22, 2022. Throughout its history, Utah has had a small but vibrant black community. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Approximate reading time: 7-8 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY – Black History in the Beehive State dating back even further to the Latter-day Saint history of the area, predating the arrival of the saints by almost 25 years.

In fact, African Americans such as James P. Beckworth and Jacob Dodson were part of fur trapping and exploratory expeditions into the Utah Territory. And three black slaves – Green Flake, Oscar Crosby and Hark Lay — were among the group that arrived in Utah with Brigham Young in 1847. Isaac James, Jane Manning and their sons arrived later that year; they were the first free black pioneers to settle in the state. By 1850, census lists 24 “free people of color” and 26 black slaves in Utah.

From these early days of settlement, Utah has had a small but vibrant black community whose contributions have included farming and settling the Millcreek area, military service at Fort Douglas and Fort Duchesne—including the nation’s first black general, Benjamin O. Davis Sr.—expansion of railroads and mines in the state and establishing numerous businesses, churches, and social groups, such as the Salt Lake and Ogden branches of the NAACP.

Today, over 50,000 Black Yutans live in the state, making up 1.5% of the population. Despite its small numbers, Utah’s black community continues to have a large impact on the state.

Below are a number of events and resources celebrating the triumphs and challenges of Black Utahns during Black History Month and beyond.

Poetic justice open mic

The Black Cultural Center, the Utah Black Artists Collective, and the Union Programming Council host the open mic night Thursday at 6pm at the Union Theater in Salt Lake City. The audience is invited to share their singing, poetry, comedy and other talents.

A film and panel about a community favorite project

the movie “Beloved Community Project” focuses on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of a “beloved community” where everyone is cared for and free of poverty, hunger and hatred. The panel will discuss where America is today and will include a reenactment of a 1963 discussion between civil rights leaders about the challenges facing African Americans.

The film and panel are from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm on February 13, followed by a reception on the Salt Lake Community College Redwood campus in the Technology Building Auditorium. Book a free ticket here.

An evening in Harlem

The Utah Black Chamber is hosting its annual gala honoring the Harlem Renaissance, the intellectual and cultural movement in the black community during the 1920s and 1930s. The gala is February 3rd, 7-10pm at the Ken Garff Scholarship Club in Salt Lake City. Attendees should come dressed in their best 1920s attire for an evening of food, fellowship, music, dancing and casino games. Tickets are available hereand proceeds benefit the Black Success Center.

African American Read-In

The African American Read-In is a national initiative that aims to make literature a significant part of Black History Month. Salt Lake Community College is hosting a local African American Read-In on February 14th from 12-2pm at its Taylorsville Redwood Campus. It will also be broadcast via Zoom.

Participants will select short pieces or excerpts from African-American authors and share them with the audience. Individuals can register to read here. Black writers associated with SLCC will also share their own creative works, which are featured in a special issue of SLCC’s literary and arts magazine, Folio.

Civil rights songs and spiritual concerts

The Salt Lake College Chamber Singers will be joined by award-winning baritone Robert Sims for a concert from 7:30 to 9 p.m. on February 15 at the college’s South City campus. The evening will feature African American spirituals, civil rights songs and other uplifting music. Book a free ticket here.

Black, bold and brilliant film series

The Utah Film Center’s Black, Bold & Brilliant series focuses on authentic and nuanced representation through film criticism and discussions led by Black Utahns. This month, the center will offer screenings of “Little Satchmo,” which explores the life and legacy of Louis Armstrong through his relationship with the daughter audiences never knew existed. Screenings are on February 15 at 7 p.m. and February 16 at 11 a.m. The public can book tickets for free here.

Sip and learn about black history

Cocktail Collective is hosting an event focused on cocktails created by America’s black bartenders. The event will include a hands-on cocktail lesson, take-home recipes, light refreshments and a brief historical dive into the cocktails and their creator. Registration is available here.

Utah: Black and open for business

The Utah Black Chamber and its partners are hosting a hospitality and art exhibit at the Zions Bank Eagle Emporium Building in Salt Lake, Feb. 16-17 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. NBA All-Star Weekend attendees are encouraged to network with Utah’s Black businesses community and enjoy an exhibit featuring works by New York native and Utah resident Diane Harris-Wright. The event will also offer hot drinks and other programming through chamber partners.

Mardi Gras at the Mountain Ball

On February 18, the Leonardo Museum will be transformed into a Mardi Gras ball fit for New Orleans. The event will cover all three floors of the museum and will include the crowning of the queen, regalia, live music and food from local black eateries. The event is a signature event of the Utah Black Chamber. Tickets are available here.

Afro-Mexican Photo Exhibition

The Mexican Consulate in Salt Lake City is hosting a photo exhibit titled “Beyond Signs” by photographer Marisela Figueroa Zamilpa, which documents everyday portraits showing Mexico’s cultural diversity since the 1990s. The exposition is dedicated to the Afro-Mexican peoples of the Mexican states of Guerrero and Oaxaca. The exhibition is available in English and Spanish and is open in the month of February.

BYU’s Perspectives show

Brigham Young University hosts Perspectives, a show that “celebrates and depicts the richness and diversity that exists among and within various black cultures in various forms such as music, dance, fashion, gospel music, poetry, and community life experiences of BYU .” The Free show is February 17th at 7pm in the Wilkinson Student Center Ballroom on the BYU campus. It will also be streamed live on the BYU website.

WSU Black History Month speaker

Weber State University hosts civil rights activist Fred Hampton Jr. for a free primary address on February 8, 12:30-2pm in the Shepherd Union Ballrooms on campus. Hampton is the son of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton, who was killed during the civil rights movement. Hampton Jr. is also the president and chairman of the Prisoners of Conscience Committee and the Black Panther Party.

One Night in Miami…” Movie Night.

The Black Cultural Center at the University of Utah is hosting a film night and discussion of “One night in Miami…” on February 22, 6-8pm. The R-rated film explores the friendship between Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown. Register to attend here.

Learn more about black history in Utah

There are a number of resources on black history in the Beehive State, such as:

Don’t see an event? Please send details of Black History Month events to [email protected].

The latest multicultural stories from Utah

Sydney Gonzalez is a multicultural reporter for KSL.com covering the diversity of people and communities in Utah. Se habla español. You can find Sydnee at @sydnee_gonzalez on Twitter.

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