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Millcreek honors Black pioneers, pays tribute to family with new street sign

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Kellen Perkins holds a replica Chambers Avenue street sign as he stands with Mary Renfro following a ceremony in which the street at 3205 South and 1300 East in Millcreek was named in honor of their ancestors, Black pioneers Samuel and Amanda Chambers, on Monday, July 20, 2020. The couple, who were kept as slaves until the Civil War came to a close, came to Utah in 1870 and became successful farmers.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

MILLCREEK — With Pioneer Day on the horizon, Millcreek officials are paying tribute to Black pioneers by unveiling a new street sign named after the Chambers family, highly successful farmers who settled in the area around 1870.

“While many eventually moved elsewhere, Samuel and Amanda grew a prosperous farm in Millcreek that covered 30 acres,” said Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini. “For over half a century they were stalwart settlers in this area and well-respected in the community.”

On Monday morning the sun beat down on a crowd of people assembled in a small parking lot beside the newly minted “Chambers Avenue.” The crowd, including Samuel and Amanda Chambers’ descendants, cheered as speakers pulled a sheet off the green sign revealing the new name for 3205 South Street for all to see.

Silvestrini told the Deseret News that a number of constituents have approached him saying 3205 South — the only unnamed avenue in the area surrounding Millcreek’s new city center project — should be named after George Floyd, a Black man who died in May after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly eight minutes. His death has sparked protests nationwide ever since.

Silvestrini said the city decided to name the street after the Chambers instead because as a Black pioneer family who settled in the area early on, “it’s more meaningful to our community.”

“We thought that it was important to send a message that this is a community that believes in inclusivity and tearing down the barriers of racism,” he said.

Samuel Chambers was born in Alabama in 1831 and was separated from his mother as a boy when he was taken to Mississippi and kept as a slave until the Civil War ended, according to a press release. He and his wife, Amanda Leggroan Chambers, came to Utah around 1870 as converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Today was a day of celebration to honor the Chambers,” said Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake branch of the NAACP. “They worked hard, they had a farm and they made a difference in Utah especially, living here for so many years.”

She said the NAACP appreciates the city’s recognition of the Chambers particularly with Pioneer Day approaching and with the current civil unrest in the country.

“I can imagine all of the sacrifices that they had to make living in a place like Utah,” Williams said. “Especially back in those days there were just very few numbers. People think it’s few numbers now, but when you look at maybe 50 people living here or even less of African Americans, that’s a huge difference from what it is today.”

Samuel and Amanda Chambers died in 1929 and are buried in Elysian Burial Gardens in Millcreek, according to the press release.

“We look at the Chambers and say thank you for making the sacrifices that you did, thank you for the endurance that you did, and then thank you for paving the way for so many folks that are living here today that are African Americans and other people of color,” Williams said.

Silvestrini said it’s been quite meaningful to connect with the descendants of the Chambers family.

“They have roots here just like a lot of other people,” he said. “That’s the thing that I think is the most exciting part of it — to find out their heritage is not something that we just discovered. We rediscovered it, but they knew about it all along.”