A new monument honoring early Black pioneers will be dedicated soon in timing with the 175th anniversary of the first wagon company’s 1847 arrival in the Salt Lake Valley.
The public is invited to attend the monument dedication at This is the Place Heritage Park on July 22 at 10 a.m. Government and community leaders, special guests and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are expected to attend.
Mauli Junior Bonner, the monument’s main coordinator, is thrilled to see the project finally come to fruition and knows July 22 will be an emotional day.
“It’s been a labor of love four years in the making,” Bonner said. “It’s almost like this is the missing piece because there is more to the story, more pioneers that were part of the establishment of this valley. It will be a beautiful addition to the park.”
Bonner wrote, directed and produced a film telling the true story of Green Flake in 2021. Proceeds from the film were used to build the new monument. Learn more about the movie, “His Name is Green Flake,” at greenflakemovie.com.
Pioneer Day concert
The Bonner Family, Alex Boye, Truman Brothers, Calee Reed, the Debra Bonner Unity Gospel Choir and Dallyn Vail Bayles will perform in a concert scheduled for later same day at 8 p.m. Ticket information is available at deseretbookpresents.com.
The new monument
The new monument includes sculptures of early Black pioneers Green Flake, Jane Manning James with her two sons, Sylvester and Silas, as well as Hark Wales and Oscar Smith. Other Black pioneers were considered but the four all played instrumental roles in the settlement of Utah, Bonner said.
“Green Flake, for me, is the cornerstone,” he said. “He had to be recognized. People knew who he was and what he meant to the community. It’s good to have his memory back.”
Speaking of James, Bonner said: “She represents the faith and strength of all pioneers that followed on that trek. We also know what a significant role women have played in pioneer history and we did not want to leave our women out of this monument.”
Many descendants of these pioneers still live in Utah today, Bonner said.
“Many are so proud of their family lineage and heritage, and I know they are going to be there on that day to recognize their family,” he said. “It will be a real honor to meet the ones I haven’t met and for those who come to see those surviving descendants recognized that day.”
Bio information about the four is found at greenflakemovie.com.
- Green Flake: Born into slavery in 1828, Flake lived on the Jordan Flake plantation in Anson County, North Carolina, until he was separated from his mother and given to James and Agnes Flake at age 0. The Flakes moved to Mississippi, where the 16-year-old Flake listened to a Latter-day Saint missionary and was baptized. After joining the church, Brigham Young assigned Green to the vanguard company, a group of 44 men and 23 wagons, that led the pioneer trek west. Flake is known to have driven the first wagon into Emigration Canyon under the direction of Orson Pratt. Flake was a respected Latter-day Saint who spoke at many Pioneer Day celebrations alongside church leaders. He was laid to rest next to his wife Martha in the Union Pioneer Cemetery in Cottonwood Heights in 1903.
- Jane Manning James: Jane and her siblings were born free in Wilton, Connecticut. After joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they set out for Nauvoo in 1843 but were forced off a boat in Buffalo, New York, because of their race. They continued the journey of more than 800 miles on foot and survived many hardships. After arriving in Nauvoo, Jane was invited to live with Joseph and Emma Smith. She eventually married Isaac James and had two sons before traveling west to Utah in 1847. Jane remained a faithful Latter-day Saint until her death in 1908.
- Hark Wales and Oscar Smith: The brothers were born into bondage and lived on the John Crosby plantation in Mississippi. Hark was separated from his family and gifted to newly married Sytha Crosby and her husband, William Lay, when he was young. Oscar was inherited by William Crosby. They were known as Hark Lay and Oscar Crosby even though Hark chose Wales as his surname and Oscar chose Smith once freed. The enslaved brothers were also selected to be part of vanguard company and tasked with charting a course and improving the trail to Utah.