What do you think it was like to enter the Salt Lake Valley with the first group of Mormon pioneers? Pretty exciting, huh?
But then, what do you think it would be like if, when you came into the valley, you were a slave? Three people were slaves! The best known of these African Americans is a man named Green Flake. Fortunately, Flake received his freedom and lived a full life of participation in the Salt Lake Valley.
Somebody owned Green Flake from the time he was born!
Around 1828, a little baby was born on a plantation in South Carolina. That baby grew and became a slave working on the plantation of a family named Flake. When the Flakes joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) in 1944, Green Flake joined the church as well.
The Flakes decided to migrate to Utah with the rest of the Latter-day Saints. They sent Green Flake along with Brigham Young’s first company to help out with the hard work.
Flake and his fellow slaves worked alongside the other pioneers as they traveled west. Shortly before the group crossed into Emigration Canyon, Brigham Young became ill. He sent the three slaves with an advance party to pick the best route down the canyon. The slaves, Green Flake, Hark Lay, and Oscar Crosby, helped clear brush, trees, and rocks to make a "road" for the wagons.
Settling into Salt Lake Valley.
When he got to the valley, Green Flake helped plant and irrigate fields. He also built a house for the Flake family, who would be coming to Utah later. But in 1850, Madison Flake was killed in a farming accident. His widow decided to go to California with her son. She left Green Flake behind as a tithing offering to the church.
He was still somebody’s property.
A free man, with his own family, house, and land.
Green Flake worked for Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball for two years. Then they granted him his freedom.
Fort Union in about 1854. As you can see, it really was a fort. The rock walls helped the settlers feel safe from possible American Indian attacks.
Happy, he settled down in the community of Union, which is around 7200 S. and 900 East now. He married a former slave named Martha.
Martha and Green settled down into a full life of farming and growing fruit. Green Flake actively contributed to his community and church. His neighbors liked him. That area of Union had a small community of African-American families, and Green Flake became a leader among them.
This story ends well.
Green Flake’s story is one of opportunity, tolerance, and celebration. There are so many stories of prejudice and people struggling to get by. It’s nice to know that there were good stories as well. Green Flake gained his freedom and the ability to build a life among friends and neighbors who liked and valued him.