Blacks in LDS History


Many of other faiths are surprised to learn that African Americans have been a part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since it’s beginnings in the early 1800’s.  Many Latter-day Saints are equally surprised.  The mention of these brothers and sisters are not included in the manuals that teach church history.  So this section of the website is dedicated to those valiant souls, true pioneers.  Through our collective efforts, their stories will be told and their legacies will live on.

A Special Destiny: by Nathleen Albright, “A Special Destiny” is an inspired Stage Play originally written, arranged and Directed by Deborah Gantt. Excerpts of her work in Title, arrangement and songs are included in this work.
Stories of the Black Pioneers compiled from stories in the booklet ‘The Story of the Negro Pioneer’
By Kate B. Carter, Daughters of Utah Pioneers


The Chapter End Notes in Standing on The Promises: A Trilogy of historical novels about Black Mormon pioneers
By Margaret Blair Young and Darius Aidan Gray

A Readers Theater complied by Nathleen Jackson-Albright
El Dorado Ward, East Lancaster CA Stake

Cast of Characters
(In Order of Appearance)
Soloist – ‘Deep River’
Green Flake – Black LDS pioneer
Soloist – ‘Plenty Good Room’
Jane Manning James – Black LDS pioneer
Soloist – ‘Every Time I Feel the Spirit’
Isaac Lewis Manning – Black LDS pioneer
Soloist – ‘Balm in Gilead’
Elijah Abel – Black LDS pioneer
Soloist – ‘Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen’
Ida & Ella Grice – Black LDS pioneers
Soloist – ‘Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel’
Missionary to South Africa
Jane Harris Dykes – Black LDS pioneer
Soloist – ‘Sinner, Please Don’t Let this Harvest Pass’
Missionary to Mississippi
Samuel Chambers – Black LDS pioneer
Patriarch Smith
Soloist – ‘Give Me Jesus’
Cast humming: ‘We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet’
Cast sings one verse: ‘We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet’

Deep River (Tack 1) Solo

NARRATOR: The people we will represent here this evening shared with the first prophets of the restoration, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, the task of laying the foundations for the true church and kingdom of God in this dispensation. Although they are not our direct ancestors, we bask in the light of their shared legacy. And we catch their pioneer spirit as we create legacies of our own. As LDS author Carol Lynn Pearson wrote:


“If heritage is Nauvoo-cradled kin,
Handcarted hopes, or crickets in your grain,
Born-in-the-covenant splendor shimmering down
Grandsires to sire in awesome golden chain,
Great-great-aunt’s faith that helped the Church begin,
Then we bequeath but bareness, child, for we’ve
No relatives in Utah, heirloom quilts,
Cousins who camped with Brigham ‘cross the plains,
Long scriptless missions, temples Grandpa built,
No cherished Saints to crown our family tree.
For us, my daughter, “mormon” starts with me
And Daddy – knees new-trained in pleading prayer –
Lord-led through aching, questing toward belief,
Forsaking well-worn rituals to dare
Be pioneers for all our pedigree.”

With the opening of missions by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the southern states in the late 1830’s and early 40’s, and with the eventual emigration of many Southerners to Nauvoo and later to Utah, it was inevitable that some slaves would be brought along by their masters. In the winter of 1843-44 the Gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was brought to the James Madison Flake family by missionaries, and they were baptized. To avoid persecution, the Flakes joined the Saints in Nauvoo. Three of the Flake Negroes remained with the family, while Mr. Flake gave the others their freedom.


I was born on January 6, 1828 in Anson County, North Carolina, on the plantation of James Madison and Agnes Flake. I took my master’s name and was known thereafter as Green Flake.

When I was 16, I was baptized a member of the Latter-day Saint Church in the Mississippi River. My master joined the Church also, and offered freedom to all of us slaves when he prepared to go to Nauvoo to join with the Saints. However, I did not choose freedom, but rather chose to follow my master to Nauvoo. I and two other slaves, named Liz and Edie, accompanied the Flakes to Nauvoo to avoid persecution in Mississippi. We arrived in Nauvoo shortly before the Prophet was martyred. It was there that I built the family a brick house.

During the winter when Brigham Young commenced preparing for the first of the pioneers to cross the plains, Mr. Flake sent me with mules and carriage to help the company to their destination. I was instructed to send the outfit back by some of the brethren who would be returning, and remain in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake to build a house for the family to use upon their arrival. I wasn’t the only Black in the company, however. Two other slaves from the ‘Mississippi Company’, as it was called, traveled with Brother Brigham in the lead pioneer company. Their names were Hark Lay and his older brother, Oscar Crosby. Hark and I loved to sing, and would pass many hours of that arduous trek with the singing of songs.

As our company neared the Salt Lake Valley, President Young fell very ill with a high fever. It was decided that he would stay in camp on the east side of the Bear River for another day with his brother Lorenzo and a few others. The balance of the company pushed on a few miles toward Echo Canyon. During the day, brethren from Brother Brigham’s camp counseled with some of the brethren in our camp and decided that Orson Pratt should take part of the men and wagons and travel ahead, and endeavor to follow the Donner or Hastings Trail into the Salt Lake {GUITAR/PIANO BEGINS STRAINS OF “COME, COME YE SAINTS”} Valley. Among those selected to go with Elder Pratt were myself and Oscar Crosby. On July 21, 1847, we were in the first wagon through Emigration Canyon.

When the Flake family joined me in 1848, I had a log house waiting for them. I had built it on the Amasa Survey in Cottonwood, the first town settled in Utah outside of Salt Lake City.

NARRATOR: Brother Flake married Oscar’s daughter, Martha, and lived in the Salt Lake area until she died in January 1885. He then moved to Idaho Falls, Idaho where he died at the home of his son, Abraham, in 1903. His body was returned to Salt Lake County for burial. A monument of blue limestone marking the memory of Green Flake and his wife Martha has been placed over their graves. On one side of the stone, sand-blasted in still-readable letters, is the inscription: ‘In My Father’s House are Many Mansions’.


NARRATOR: When Elder Charles Wandell preached the message of the restored gospel in Connecticut, a black servant girl named Jane Elizabeth Manning embraced it and acquainted her relatives with it. As preparations were made for the Saints in the area to immigrate to Nauvoo, Jane and eight members of her family joined the larger group.

In October 1843, the new Mormons traveled together from Wilton, Conn. to Buffalo, N.Y. Jane recorded that the Manning family became separated from the main group when boat authorities refused them passage. As the other members of the Wandell party boarded the vessel, {PIANO/GUITAR BEGINS STRAINS OF “COME, COME YE SAINTS”} Jane’s little group began walking the 800 miles to Nauvoo. Jane recalls:

JANE MANNING : “We walked until our shoes were worn out, and our feet became sure and cracked open and bled until you could see the whole print of our feet with blood on the ground. We stopped and united in prayer to the Lord. We asked God, the Eternal Father, to heal our feet and our prayers were answered and our feet were healed forthwith. When we arrived at Periora, Ill., the sheriff threatened to put us in jail to get our free papers. We didn’t know at first what he meant, for we had never been slaves; but he concluded to let us go.”

NARRATOR: They could not know, however, that Nauvoo would be a temporary stop. The respite there would be broken when Jane and her new husband, Isaac James, with the body of the Church, would be driven from Illinois. They would endure the hardships of pioneer life to become the first free Black household in the Salt Lake Valley. Jane recalls . . . . .


When I was a child of only 6 years old, my mother sent me to live with a family of white people to be their servant. Their names were Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Fitch. They were aged people and quite wealthy; I was raised by their daughter. When about 14 years of age, I joined the Presbyterian Church, yet I did not feel satisfied. It seemed to me there was something more that I was looking for. I had been a member for about 18 months when Mormon Elder Charles Wandell traveled through our country and preached there. The pastor of my church forbade my going to hear him (as he had heard I had expressed a desire to do so); but nevertheless I went on a Sunday, and was fully convinced that it was the true Gospel the Elder presented and that I must embrace it.

The following Sunday I was baptized and confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. About 3 weeks later, while kneeling at prayer, the Gift of Tongues came upon me, and frightened the whole family who were in the next room.

One year after I was baptized, I started for Nauvoo with my mother, Eliza Manning, my brothers Isaac Lewis and Peter, my sisters Sara Stebbings and Angeline Manning, my brother-in-law Anthony Stebbings, Lucinda Manning (a sister-in-law), and myself in the fall of 1840. When we reached Nauvoo we met the Prophet, Joseph Smith. He seemed impressed with my courage in surmounting obstacles and took me to his wife Emma and said, “Sister Emma, here is a girl that says she has no home. Haven’t you a home for her?”

“Why yes, if she wants one,” replied Emma. Brother Joseph said, “She does, “and then he left us.

I lived with the Prophet’s family until 6 months before his death.

One morning I met Brother Joseph coming out of his mother’s room. He said good morning and shook hands with me. I went into his mother’s room and she said to me, “Bring me that bundle from my bureau and sit down here.” I did as she told me. She placed the bundle in my hands and said, “Handle this and then put it in the top drawer of my bureau and lock it up.” After I had done it, she said, “Sit down. Do you remember that I told you about the Urim and Thumim when I told you about the Book of Mormon?” I answered, “Yes, ma’m.” She then told me I had just handled it. “You are not permitted to see it,” she said, “but you have been permitted to handle it. You will live long after I am dead and gone and you can tell the Latter-day Saints that you were permitted to handle the Urim and Thumim.”

Then, several months later, with the rest of the Saints, I journeyed west to the Salt Lake Valley, where I spent the rest of my days. My brother Isaac and I enjoyed reserved seats near the front and center of the Tabernacle for Sunday Services.


NARRATOR: Born in Fairfield County, Connecticut in May of 1815, Jane’s brother Isaac Lewis Manning was baptized in 1835 by Elder Albert Merrill. He came to Nauvoo with his family and went to work for the Prophet Joseph Smith as cook for the prophet’s family at the Mansion House until it closed. Isaac also worked in the stone quarry, getting out rock for the Nauvoo temple. He also taught dancing school at the Masonic Hall. Isaac recalls . . . . .:


I am Jane’s brother, Isaac Manning. I lived for several years in Prophet Joseph’s household as cook and servant, along with my sister Jane. When the prophet and his brother, Hyrum, were martyred in Carthage Jail, I was a member of the party that accompanied the bodies back to Nauvoo. Because I also worked for William Huntington, the sexton, I dug 2 graves in the cemetery for the bodies of the martyred Prophet and Patriarch to deceive the mob. Then I dug 2 graves in the cellar of the Prophet Joseph’s dwelling house, on the banks near the river. These graves were dug in the center of the cellar and the bodies were buried there. The graves in the cemetery had 2 coffins buried in them, filled with something heavy and a guard was kept over the graves. I stood guard for half of each night, watching the mob.

When the Mormons were driven out of Illinois, I did not go to Utah as did my sister, but settled in Missouri where I married and had a child. After the death of both my wife and child, I moved to Salt Lake in 1893 and lived with and cared for Jane until her death.

NARRATOR: Brother Manning bore a strong testimony concerning the Prophet. He said he knew Brother Joseph was a man of God, and he would have laid down his life for the Prophet if he could have done so. He hoped to live so that he could meet the Prophet and be with him on the other side.

The other side . . . . .
A place of contentment and peace
A place of happiness and rest
A place where one will not be troubled any longer
With the troubles of this world.


NARRATOR: Elijah Abel was the first man with Black blood who is known to have been ordained to the Priesthood. He was born in Washington County, Maryland on July 25, 1810 and was baptized in September 1832 by Elder Ezekiel Roberts.


After my conversion to the Church, I was ordained an Elder by the Prophet Joseph himself on March 3rd, 1836, and ordained a member of the Nauvoo Seventies Quorum on April 4th , 1841 by Brother Zebedee Coltrain. While in Nauvoo, I lived in the home of the Prophet Joseph, used my carpenter skills to help build the Nauvoo Temple, and became, at his request, the town’s first mortician.

Little did I know that one of the Saints who would require my services as mortician would be Patriarch Smith, the Prophet Joseph’s father. The summer of 1840 was not kind to the Saints of Nauvoo. The undrained swampland combined with the mosquitoes and claimed many lives during the malaria outbreak. Father Smith, as I called him, had laid hands on my head and blessed me beyond what any black in this nation had ever received. This was the man who had joked with me, fed me, prayed with me, hauled temple rocks with me. This was the man who had looked at the woodwork I had given the Kirtland Temple and called it ‘consecrated.’ Tears dripped down my cheeks as I gave my own blessing to his body and noted its dimensions for the coffin. This was the first time I had ever wept so hard doing my duty.

Because of my loyalty to Brother Joseph, I joined six other men to rescue him from the jail in Quincy, Ill. As it turned out, we arrived in Quincy only to find out that Joseph already had been returned to Nauvoo.
After the martyrdom of the Prophet, I moved to Salt Lake City in 1851 with my wife, Mary Ann. Once there, I contributed my skills in the building of the Salt Lake Temple. My wife and I also managed the Farnham Hotel (later called the Denver House) and raised our four children.


In 1883, as a member of the Third Quorum of Seventy, I was called on a mission to Canada. After leaving Canada, I journeyed to Ohio for further missionary labors. At the time, I was 74 years of age, and the rigors of travel and harsh climate proved to be a fatal combination for me.

NARRATOR: Two weeks after his return to Salt Lake City, Elder Abel died. His obituary, which was published on Dec. 26, 1884 in the Deseret News, attributed his death to “old age and debility consequent upon exposure while laboring in the ministry in Ohio . . . He died in full faith of the Gospel.


NARRATOR: Free Blacks who were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to Utah from Missouri in 1848. Among these was the Grice family.


IDA: Francis and Martha Grice lived in Butlerville in the early days of Utah. To this couple was born two sons, Wallace and Albert. They later adopted us: I’m Ida and this is my sister, Ella.

ELLA: Our home was a large building of granite stones, about as big as your head, set together with sand and lime mortar. We were law-abiding neighbors, but an unfortunate incident occurred.

IDA: A neighbor, Charles Colbrook, had nine head of fine colts. They all died of poisoning. Daddy was accused and public sentiment built up against him and the rest of us. We finally moved away.

ELLA: Mr. Colbrook later learned that Daddy was innocent, but we had gone from the home we had built and had located in the vicinity of Boise, Idaho. It was here that Mother died in 1912 and was buried.

NARRATOR: The Grice house in Butlerville stood vacant for many years; finally it was torn down. Their descendants located homes in Idaho and California.


NARRATOR: On August 28, 1852, Leonard I. Smith and William Walker were the first elders called to perform a mission to South Africa. They arrived in Capetown on April 19, 1853, and at once began proselyting. Their reception was not cordial. One of the elders recorded in his diary:

MISSIONARY: “When we landed at the Cape 2 years ago, many of the people said to us, ‘Poor deluded souls, you will not get one in this Colony to believe your doctrine.’ ”

NARRATOR: Instead, the mission prospered. A branch of the Church was organized at Mowbray on August 16, 1853, and in September another branch was established at Newlands. By this time, 50 people had been baptized members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The third branch was organized on January 23, 1854, at Beaufort. These branches were known as the Cape Conference. Opponents might pelt them with abuse, but men and women increasingly asked for baptism – some 176 since the Elders’ arrival.


Local hostility grew with each baptism and peaked when the missionaries tried to secure passage to Zion for their converts. For months the Saints found no way to emigrate. Finally, they decided to purchase their own ship. On November 27, 1855, Elders Walker and Smith left their mission, embarking on the ship UNITY, accompanied by 15 emigrating converts in route to Utah.


My name is Jane Malinda Harris Dykes. I was born on Saint Helena Island, off the coast of southern Africa on the 2nd of September, 1821. Elders William H. Walker and Leonard I. Smith taught me the Gospel of Jesus Christ and I was baptized at the Cape of Goodhope by Elder Walker. I later arrived in America in 1861 at the age of 40.

When I arrived in Erda, Toole County, Utah, where Elder Smith owned a farm, I noticed that there were no Colored people there. I thought I would be happier in Montana, as I had heard there were more Colored people there – so I left!

While in Montana I met William Walter Dykes. He was born in Culpepper, Virginia on the 4th of July 1832. We fell in love and were married. We decided to move back to Utah and make our home in Erda, where we adopted a daughter, Cora (a little white girl), and raised her.

We, along with Elder Leonard I. Smith’s family, were among the first 22 families entering Erda during the homesteading period. During this time there was a terrible tragedy. Elder Smith was fatally shot by an unknown man named Wells. This man was convicted and incarcerated, but escaped and was never heard from again. Elder Smith’s death was a great loss for us.

My husband was a wonderful man. He had many trials and afflictions during his life. The Lord blessed him with great faith and he stayed true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. On the 3rd of May 1900, he passed away from this life.

My life was not always easy, but I was always happy to help people when I could. I love the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and would not trade it for anything in this world. I left this world on the 27th of July 1905.


NARRATOR: After the Civil War, several Black families who had joined the Church migrated to Utah in 1870. Among this group of Latter-day Saint converts were the Edward Leggroan and the Samuel Chambers families. Samuel Chambers, a large mulatto with straight white hair, was affectionately remembered in the old L.D.S. Wilford Ward area as Brother Chambers, or Sam. His conversion to the Church occurred several decades earlier. One of his missionaries recalls:

MISSIONARY: When we, as Mormon missionaries, were proselyting in Mississippi in 1844, our message was not widely received. However, one 13-year-old slave boy, Samuel Davidson Chambers, showed unusual interest in our street meeting discussions, and a night-time baptism and confirmation soon followed. He retained his testimony for a quarter of a century without any contact with the Church. Then, as a freedman after the Civil War, he migrated on his own to Utah, and for the next 6 decades he was a faithful Latter-day Saint.


I was born in 1831 in Alabama. My mother, Hester Gilespie, was a slave, and my father was Danish. Slave traders took Mama away when I was a small boy and I grew up as an orphan in Mississippi. Thus I embraced the LDS faith, despite not having kind parents to encourage me. Nevertheless, the spirit of God remained with me. I had known the Gospel to be true ever since I was confirmed and after my conversion I greatly longed to gather with the Saints, but being a slave I could never see how it would be brought about. I was cut off from any contact with the Church; but tho’ lacking age and experience, yet God kept the seeds of life alive in me.


When the Civil War brought the collapse of the Confederacy, I became a Freedman and turned to shoemaking and then to sharecropping in order to support my wife Amanda and my son, Peter. It had been 21 years since my baptism. I then commenced to save means to gather to Utah, and this took me 4 years. Finally, in 1870, we left Mississippi on an ox-drawn wagon and arrived in Salt Lake City on April 27, 1870.


NARRATOR: After having worked as a stable hand at a sawmill in Big Cottonwood Canyon, Brother Chambers’ family moved into Eighth Ward in 1872. Here Samuel commenced his successful career as a Utah farmer and fruit grower.

Then, early in May of 1873, Church leaders sought to counter the inactivity and carelessness spreading among Church members. To improve the work of the deacons, regular stake meetings were commenced. Though he was never ordained to the priesthood, Samuel was asked by ward leaders to assist the adult deacons in many of their responsibilities for the next four years. One time, Samuel told his associates in the quorum:

SAMUEL: The Gospel is not only to the Gentiles, but also to the Africans, for I am one of that race. The knowledge I received is from my God. It is a high and holy calling. Without the testimony of God we are nothing.

I know we are the people of God; we have been led to these peaceful valleys of the mountains, and we enjoy life and many other blessings. I don’t get tired of being with the Latter-day Saints, or of being one of them. I’ve a good woman, and that is a great blessing. I thank God, for my soul burns with love for the many blessings I enjoy. I’ve been blessed from youth up; although in bondage for 20 years after receiving the Gospel, yet I kept the faith. I thank God that I ever gathered with the Saints. May the Lord bless us and help us to be faithful is my prayer. May I share something with you? This is a blessing given to me by Patriarch Smith:



“Brother Chambers, according to thy desire, I place my hands upon thy head and pronounce and seal a blessing upon thee which shall be as the spirit may desire. And I ask God, the Eternal Father, for His spirit on this occasion and that you may realize thy position and comprehend the keeping in store for thee. And I say just to thee: be firm in thy integrity, put thy trust in the Lord for He has heard thy petitions and knoweth the secrets of thy heart and will give unto thee as thou shall merit. Therefore, be upon thy guard, for He has witnessed thy trials and thou shall verily receive thy reward. He has delivered thee out of the hands of thine enemies, preserved thy life, delivered thee from bondage, and directed thy course westward that ye may partake of the blessings in Zion and know for a surety that there is a God in Israel who will hear and answer the prayers of the honest in heart.



CAST BEGINS HUMMING “We Thank Thee, O God, For A Prophet”

NARRATOR: When the new religion was born, brought about by divine power, its members suffered mob violence, lynching and pillaging; and then this stalwart band of converts sought a home in the west. The Black brothers and sisters in this group also worked, pushed handcarts, their children drove the cattle, and yes, some died on the trail. Yet most of those who survived remained staunch members of this faith. They knew that every man had to help himself with the talents God had given him. They learned to work, and their children were not forgotten, for they were given farms and land chosen by Brigham Young himself; and through his kindness, Black families were able to stay together.

Lawrence Flake, a BYU professor, stated in his talk ‘Of Pioneers and Prophets’, “. . . the percentage of members who are literal descendants of the pioneers decreases, but I believe that those who bind themselves to this great work that the pioneers began are somehow spiritually adopted and become descendants of those noble forebears.” We who are members of this great Church have much to live up to. We must continue to believe in God, live clean lives and have faith in ourselves and in others. Our Heavenly Father, in His loving way of doing good, will bless us all if we believe in and keep His commandments.



NARRATOR: To every man his chance
To every man, regardless of his birth,
His shining, golden opportunity.
To every man the right to live, to work,
To be himself, and to become whatever his
Manhood and his vision can combine to make him.
This . . . . , is the promise of the Gospel.

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