Celebrate Black History Month in Utah at these events

Feb 1, 2023, 12:59 PM

The Sweeney family from West Valley City poses for photos at the Black Pioneer Monument at This Is ...

The Sweeney family from West Valley City poses for photos at the Black Pioneer Monument at This Is The Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City on July 22, 2022. Utah has had a small but vibrant Black community throughout its history. During Black History Month, we honor the community's triumphs and challenges. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Black history in the Beehive State dates back even longer than Latter-day Saint history in the area, predating the Saints’ arrival by almost 25 years.

In fact, African Americans like James P. Beckworth and Jacob Dodson were a part of fur trapping and exploratory expeditions in 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. Issac James, Jane Manning and their sons arrived later that year; they were the first free Black pioneers to settle in the state. By 1850, the census listed 24 “free persons of color” and 26 Black slaves in Utah.

Since those early days of settlement, Utah has had a small but vibrant Black community whose contributions have included farming and settling the Millcreek area, serving in the military at Fort Douglas and Fort Duchesne — including the country’s first Black general, Benjamin O. Davis Sr. — expanding railroads and mines in the state and establishing numerous businesses, churches and social groups like the Salt Lake and Ogden branches of the NAACP.

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

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

Poetic justice open mic

The Black Cultural Center, UBLAC (Utah Black Artist Collective) and the Union Programming Council are hosting an open mic night Thursday at 6 p.m. at Union Theatre in Salt Lake City. The public is invited to share their singing, poetry, comedy and other talents.

Beloved Community Project film and panel

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

The film and panel are from 2-4 p.m. on Feb. 13, followed by a reception at the Salt Lake Community College Redwood Campus in the Technology Building Auditorium. Reserve a free ticket here.

An evening in Harlem

The Utah Black Chamber is hosting its annual gala celebrating the Harlem Renaissance — the intellectual and cultural movement within the Black community during the 1920s and ’30s. The gala is Feb. 3, 7-10 p.m. at the Ken Garff Scholarship Club in Salt Lake City. Attendees should come dressed in their best 1920s attire for an evening of food, socializing, music, dancing and casino games. Tickets are available here, and the proceeds benefit the Black Success Center.

Civil rights songs and spirituals concert

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

Black, Bold & Brilliant film series

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

Sip and learn about Black History

The 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, a light snack and a brief historical deep 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 suite 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 business community and enjoy an exhibit featuring work from New York native and Utah resident Diann Harris-Wright. The event will also offer warm drinks and other programs through the chamber’s partners.

Mardi Gras in the Mountains Ball

On Feb. 18, the Leonardo Museum will transform into a Mardi Gras ball fit for New Orleans. The event will span all three floors of the museum and will include a 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 exhibit

The Mexican Consulate in Salt Lake City is hosting a photo exhibit titled “Beyond the Signs” by photographer Maricela Figueroa Zamilpa, who has been documenting daily life portraits showcasing Mexico’s cultural diversity since the ’90s. The exhibit is dedicated to the Afro-Mexican peoples of the Mexican states Guerrero and Oaxaca. The exhibit is available in English and Spanish and is open during the month of February.

BYU ‘Perspectives’ show

Brigham Young University is hosting “Perspectives,” a show that “celebrates and portrays the richness and diversity that exists among and within various Black cultures in different forms such as music, dance, fashion, gospel music, poetry and life experiences with the BYU community.” The free show is Feb. 17 at 7 p.m. in the Wilkinson Student Center Ballroom on BYU’s Campus. It will also be livestreamed on BYU’s website.

WSU Black History Month speaker

Weber State University is hosting civil rights activist Fred Hampton Jr. for a free keynote address on Feb. 8, 12:30-2 p.m. at the Shepherd Union Ballrooms on campus. Hampton is the son of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton, who was assassinated during the civil rights movement. Hampton Jr. is also the president and chairman of the Prisoners of Conscience Committee and the Black Panther Party Cubs.

‘One Night in Miami…’ movie night

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

Learn more about Black history in Utah

There are a number of resources about Black history in the Beehive state, such as:


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Celebrate Black History Month in Utah at these events