7 stories to read in honor of Black History Month

In honor of Black History Month, the Church News has compiled a list of stories honoring Black members of the Church

On July 22, 2022 — the 175th anniversary of the day Green Flake drove the first wagon into Emigration Canyon — a monument was unveiled at This Is the Place Heritage Park honoring Black pioneers.

Three bronze statues — one of Jane Manning James and her sons Silas and Sylvester, another of Flake, and the third, of the brothers Wales and Smith — and accompanying stone pillars inscribed with highlights of their personal histories comprise the newest historical monument simply named Pioneers of 1847.

President M. Russell Ballard, the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a direct descendant of and proponent for early pioneers, dedicated the monument before a crowd of several hundred.

“When you’re on the stand and you’re looking at the audience of different races and cultures, it says, ‘This is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ — internationally and multiculturally,” President Ballard said afterward of the diverse gathering of attendees. “It was just a wonderful thing to be a part of and to be able to honor the early pioneers, particularly early Black pioneers.”

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In honor of Black History Month, the Church News has compiled a list of stories honoring Black members of the Church. Find six more stories below.

Who is Green Flake?

In Episode 34 of the Church News podcast, Mauli Junior Bonner speaks about the importance of early Black pioneers of the Church. | Screenshot from YouTube

Mauli Junior Bonner stood backstage after performing with his family during the Church’s “Be One” celebration on June 1, 2018. The 90-minute event at the Conference Center marked, through song, dance and the spoken word, the 40th anniversary of Church’s June 1978 revelation that extended the blessings of the priesthood and the temple to all of God’s children. The name of the event — “Be One” — referenced the Savior’s teaching, “Be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:27).

The moment became of the “greatest experiences of his life” as he felt united with Church leaders and members. As an African-American Latter-day Saint, it made him want to learn more about his own history and about early Church history — including the experiences of early Church members who were enslaved African Americans.

He began to study the life of Green Flake — who was born into slavery in the mid 1820s and was in the first company of pioneering Latter-day Saints to reach the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.

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Theater vignette about Jane Manning James

Jerri A. Harwell presents a one-woman theater vignette about Jane Manning James at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City on Feb. 23, 2017. | R. Scott Lloyd, Church News

Jane Manning James embraced the gospel as a free Black woman living in Connecticut in 1841, having been born in Wilton in the early 1820s. With her family, she walked more than 800 miles to join the Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo, Illinois. She lived with and worked for Joseph and Emma Smith at the Mansion House. In 1847, she participated in the Latter-day Saints’ exodus from Nauvoo, and her family was the first African American family to arrive in the Salt Lake Valley.

This article from 2017 shares excerpts from a one-woman theater vignette about her life at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City.

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Jane Manning James, a free Black woman who embraced gospel in 1841, portrayed in museum theater vignette

Pioneers in every land: Rudá Tourinho de Assis Martins

Sister Rudá Tourinho de Assis Martins smiles while attending a Brazil Fortaleza Mission reunion in Holladay on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Martins was the mission president’s wife in Brazil.  | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

One fast Sunday in 2021 in the Watford City Ward in North Dakota, a woman of African descent in her late 80s made her way to the podium, helped along by her daughter. In Portuguese and English, and with her daughter acting as translator, she began bearing her testimony.

Shari Buck recalled feeling the power of the Spirit fill the chapel. Listening to her testimony was a “soul-touching experience,” she said. The experience had her wondering, “Who is this woman?”

Sister Rudá Tourinho de Assis Martins, wife of the late Elder Helvécio Martins — the first Black general authority in the Church — had just moved to the prairies and oil fields of North Dakota to live with her daughter Marisa Helena Knudson. With her, she brought a lifetime of faithful service and an unshakeable testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

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A Black Latter-day Saint’s reflections on Black history in the Church

Clareena and Hugo Lindsay and their children. Born in the U.K., Clareena is a Black Latter-day Saint who moved to Canada with her family as a teenager. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Clareena Lindsay, a member of the Church in Montreal, Quebec, recently reflected on a presentation at a Black History Month event held in the Montreal Quebec Mount Royal Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in February 2020. 

“It’s great to focus on Black history in February,” Lindsay told the Church’s Canada Newsroom, “but Black history should be learned any time of the year.”

As she learned in Church meetings about pioneers, she felt that she could not fully relate to the stories of the mostly white pioneers and early Saints. “By researching Black pioneers, it helped me connect more,” she said. “What motivated me to research this topic was wanting to explain the circumstances at that time and share all the information in a way that would uplift. I wanted my presentation to be balanced and informative.” 

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Family history: Reclaim your African roots

Learn more about your African roots with FamilySearch’s resources for Black History Month. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Black History Month has been observed in the United States each February since 1976. The annual celebration honors achievements by African Americans and their central role in U.S. history. 

It is also a time to learn more about and celebrate African American heritage. 

FamilySearch offers a handout titled “10 Steps to Reclaiming Your African Roots: A Guide to Navigating African American Genealogy” as a place to start.

The Church’s ‘Be One’ celebration

Choir members sing during a rehearsal for the Church’s worldwide “Be One” event, held Friday, June 1, 2018, at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

‘Sound a trumpet’ and ‘Praise the Lord’: two simple, three-word phrases aptly capturing the spirit that lifted the Conference Center on Friday, June 1, 2018.

In the waning moments of the historic “Be One” event, President Russell M. Nelson’s eyes twinkled as he stood on the Conference Center stage and saluted the many performers. Perhaps he was also envisioning people across the globe clasping hands, literally and metaphorically, commemorating a latter-day priesthood revelation that continues to bless legions.

“On every continent and across the isles of the sea, faithful people are being gathered into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” he said at the conclusion of the “Be One” — the First Presidency-sponsored celebration marking the 40th anniversary of the 1978 revelation on the priesthood.

“Differences in culture, language, gender, race, and nationality,” he said, “fade into insignificance as the faithful enter the covenant path and come unto our Beloved Redeemer.”

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