New monument honors life, legacy of African American pioneers

Jul 22, 2022, 6:33 PM | Updated: 6:45 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — History was made Friday as hundreds gathered for the dedication of the Pioneers of 1847 Monument.

The monument is the first of its kind, memorializing the role African American pioneers had in settling Utah.

Three separate statues honor Green Flake, Hark Wales, Oscar Smith and Jane Manning James.

Their stories were engraved locally with stone from the Brown’s Canyon Quarry and placed behind the statues.

Some of the pioneer descendants attended the monument’s dedication, surrounded by religious and community leaders.

Mauli Junior Bonner and his family have been working to memorialize their ancestor — Green Flake — for years.

Flake was born into slavery in North Carolina but found himself in Mississippi at the age of sixteen, where he was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Brigham Young assigned Flake to go West with the Vanguard Company, a group of 42 men, including Oscar Smith and Hark Wales.

The company was sent ahead of Young into the Salt Lake Valley, and according to Bonner, Flake was the first to drive his wagon through Emigration Canyon on July 22, 1847 — two days before Young arrived.

One-hundred-and-seventy-five years later, This Is the Place Heritage Park memorializes the collective pioneer history that formed the Beehive State.

At the genesis site and where his ancestor once drove his wagon through, Bonner spoke about the efforts to remember histories such as Flake.

“Many suffered. Many died. We don’t tell their stories to make those who forced them on to this trek feel bad or shame them,” Bonner said. “We tell it because these pioneers endured something incredible.”

Bonner’s remarks focused on bringing the stories of suffering to light to show how far society has come since darker days.

“We don’t tell the stories of enslavement to create shame, we tell them because they are true,” Bonner said. “If we don’t know where we came from, how in the world are we going to know how far we’ve come?”

It is not the 1,300 miles pioneer ancestors trekked across that Bonner referred to, rather the miles made by hearts to set slaves free, and more.

As the monument was unveiled, the moment was filled with emotion, followed by a standing ovation.

Crying, Bonner looked at the crowd and said, “It’s more beautiful than I could’ve imagined.”

Following Bonner’s speech, Gov. Spencer Cox spoke briefly about his own pioneer ancestry.

“I found out that one of my family lines moved to Tennessee and they were slave owners,” Cox said. “They sold their slaves, which broke my heart.”

Yet, Cox said the monument provides a reason to celebrate “how far we’ve come,” while admitting there is still a journey to go.

All 10 members of the Bonner Family sang “Child of God” before the dedicatory prayer.

President M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was the final speaker and provided a dedicatory prayer over the monument.

“We’re grateful for our Black pioneers and those in the Black community,” Ballard said in his prayer.

Ballard also mentioned in his prayer twice the relationship between God and mankind.

“This is here in the remembrance of how precious every child of God is,” he said.

Elder D. Todd Christoffersen also attended the dedication.

The presence of two Latter-day Saint apostles meant a lot to Bonner, who said, “I needed you here.”

Betty Sawyer, NAACP president in Ogden, offered the opening prayer for the services, and Ellis Ivory, chair for This Is The Place Foundation, conducted the dedication.

Click here to watch the full dedicatory service.

The Bonner Family stands all together with the monuments they worked so hard for.

The Days of ’47 Parade kicks off Saturday morning at 9, which means major road closures and delays in downtown Salt Lake.

It begins on State Street and South Temple and ends on 600 East at Liberty Park.

Also keep in mind there are a couple of races happening, including a full-length marathon.

So if you’re heading to these events, pack plenty of patience along with those umbrellas and chairs.

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New monument honors life, legacy of African American pioneers