ABC4 recognizes some of the prominent Black figures in Utah’s present and history

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) — Meligha Garfield was finishing up his Master’s Degree at New Mexico State University when he came across the job posting for Director of the Black Cultural Center at The University of Utah.

Having worked as a coordinator in programs aimed at working with Black students for a couple years at New Mexico State, the New York native researched and found that the University of Utah was making some very progressive changes on campus.

“The Center was one of those, and I was like “Okay, they’re actually doing something, and I want to be a part of that,”” Garfield said.

The Black Cultural Center opened in February 2019, and Garfield became the Center’s director in June 2019. He said he was tasked with directing and strategically planning for where the center was headed over the next few years and modeling what similar centers could look like across the state.

“I would say in the most honest respect, it’s challenging, but rewarding and fun. Being tasked to just build something from scratch, it can be daunting. It can be scary, but it’s just extremely fun,” he said. “The main part of that is just gathering different populations to come here and kind of pushing out, like, hey, we’re here!”

According to Garfield, the center’s goal is to counteract racism and provide a safe place for faculty and students.

“To put it in simplest terms, we’re here to counteract anti-Blackness here on the college campus, but also in the state. And with that, just making sure that faculty, staff, students and the community just kind of feel like its a place where they can be themselves and feel a sense of belonging here on campus,” he said. “So we’re a cultural/ resource center to make sure that those populations are best served, but also that they stay here and they feel welcomed here at the University of Utah.”

Garfield said his favorite part of the job is seeing a new generation of bright minds come to the college and progress every Fall.

“Their understanding of the world is maybe a little bit different than other people who have been in college for a while. But constantly just seeing the next generation of people is uplifting, and the world is not all bad,” he said.

Garfield said he also loves the event planning portion of the job, whether the event be for faculty, students, or the general Salt Lake community. When asked what unique opportunities he has working here in Utah, Garfield said that being one of the first Black Cultural Centers in the state provides the opportunity to be an information hub of why the center is there.

“We’re trying to progress, and in progressing, we’ve been doing amazing things. Just kind of highlighting that, and then also bringing attention that,” he said.

Garfield said another opportunity is helping minority college students to stay in college and succeed. He said they are coming to college, but not always staying.

His message to the community?

“Please come by, anyone, to the center. We are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day Monday through Friday. Anyone’s welcome to come in the center,” he said.

For more information about the Black Cultural Center, please visit diversity.utah.edu.

We’ve highlighted a Black Utahn who is currently strengthening the community. Now, take a look at some of the Black Americans who have helped shape Utah’s history.

UTAH (ABC4 News) – February is Black History Month. To celebrate we have compiled a list of some of the Black Americans throughout Utah history. 

James P. Beckworth was a fur trapper in Utah, employed with the American Fur Trading Company.

James P. Beckworth
Green Flake

Green Flake, Oscar Crosby, and Hark Lay were slaves who traveled to Utah with the Brigham Young party that arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847.

Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., was America’s first black general. He briefly served at Fort Duchesne following the Spanish American War.

The James family, which included Isaac, his wife Jane, and their sons Sylvester and Silas, were the first free blacks and Black Mormon pioneers to settle in Utah in Fall 1847. Isaac James and Jane Manning met and married in Nauvoo, Illinois, before they were forced out of the area in the Mormon Evacuation. 

Jane Elizabeth Manning

Jane Elizabeth Manning, fondly known as “Aunt Jane”  lead a group of nine black converts to Nauvoo in 1843. She went on to work in the home of Joseph Smith. The family arrived in Utah in the fall of 1847. The Elijah Abel and Frederic Sion families are two additional black families who settled in Utah around the same time.

In 1886, the United States army sent two companies of the Ninth Cavalry “buffalo soldiers” to help establish a post on the Uinta frontier. Lieutenants John Alexander and Charles Young, two of only three African Americans to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point in the nineteenth century, both served at Fort Duchesne. 

In 1972, Donald Cope was appointed to serve as the state’s first black ombudsman. In the same year, Civil Rights Activist France Davis moved to Salt Lake where he encountered racial prejudice. Davis taught Communications classes at The University of Utah and became pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church. 

France Davis Credit: UNews

In 1976, the Reverend Robert Harris, a Democrat from Ogden, became the first black Utah state legislator. Terry Williams, a Democrat from Salt Lake City, was elected to the Utah House of Representatives in 1980, where he served from 1981 to 1982. Williams was the first African American to serve in the Utah Senate, representing Senate District One from 1983 to 1986. Judge Tyrone Medley was appointed to the Third Circuit Court in 1984.

Terry Williams

Joseph Freeman Jr. was the first black member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to receive the priesthood following the announcement that any male regardless of race could be ordained to the priesthood. 

Wynetta Willis Martin Calrk Credit: USU

After joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Wynetta Willis Martin Clark moved to Salt Lake City and auditioned for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. She became one of the first black members of the choir and toured with the group for two years. In 1970, Brigham Young University hired Clark as the first black faculty member at Brigham Young University, where she trained nurses. While there, Clark also served as a research consultant on black culture.

Mia Love was the first black female Republican to be elected to Congress. Love was a member of the U.S. House, representing Utah’s 4th Congressional District. She left office on January 3, 2019.

Alex Boye is a musician, actor, and performer. He performed as the guest artist with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square in the 2017 Pioneer Day Celebration. Alvin B. Jackson is a former Republican member of the Utah State Senate, representing District 14 from 2014 to July 1, 2016.

If we’ve left out any Black Utahns that you would like to see remembered, please email us at news@abc4.com.

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