Utah's African-American Voices

Original Airdate: 
January 1999

Utah's African-American voices, although few in number, profoundly influenced the course of Utah history since the early 1800s. Now, some 200 years later, as Utah prepares for its millennial milestone, a celebration of its immigrant people moves to the forefront. Utah's richly woven growing cultural diversity is densely layered: from its oppressive past to contributions of the present and opportunities for the future.

Utah's African-American Voices was written and produced by Kathleen Weiler, with Dr. Ronald Coleman, University of Utah Associate Vice President for Diversity and Faculty Development; and Reverend France Davis, Calvary Baptist Church, as advisors to the program.

The African-American presence in Utah extends far beyond Jazz basketball players and other sports icons. African-American fur trappers were in the area nearly a quarter of a century before the arrival of Brigham Young. Three African- Americans, Green Flake, Hark Lay and Oscar Crosby, accompanied Brigham Young's advance party as slaves.

Over time, African-Americans have come to Utah for three primary reasons: to serve at military posts in Utah, to seek employment opportunities with the railroad, and, later, to work at military installations including Hill Air Force Base and Dugway Proving Grounds. Today, African-Americans generally come to Utah for professional employment opportunities.

The program captures the African-American experience in Utah through interviews with historians, educators, community leaders, and the personal stories of both long-time residents and those new to the area.

Producer Kathy Weiler hopes viewers will learn racial sensitivity from the program. "These people went through such racial injustice and hatred. They're the only race in the world that has been denied the basic freedoms at birth. It was not fair. It was not right."

While producing the documentary, Weiler, a native of Utah, discovered a segment of history seldom discussed in school. "I've lived here all my life, but working on Utah's African-American Voices was an eye opener for me. It gave me a chance to learn about and appreciate a significant community in Utah."

Reverend France Davis believes Utah's African-American Voices will educate audiences about the history and the presence of African-Americans in Utah. "The documentary is a way to continue to familiarize this community with the role, the participation, and the activities of African-Americans in Utah."

Adds Coleman, "The documentary fills the vacuum that exists in telling the stories of people of color in the Intermountain West in general, and Utah in particular. Audiences will hopefully gain a greater awareness and understanding of the breadth as well as the depth of the African-American experience in Utah."

Utah's African-American Voices is made possible by the George S. and Dolores Eccles Foundation, the R. Harold Burton Foundation, the Lawrence T. and Janet T. Dee Foundation, and the Herbert I. and Elsa B. Michael Foundation.

1 hour