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African Americans in Utah

historical photo

An African American child in Utah. Her age and the date are unknown.

Fur trappers

Utah's black African American heritage dates back to the 19th century, when fur traders and adventurers James P. Beckworth and Jacob Dodson explored the mountain meadows in search of beaver pelts.

Settlers

Then, in 1847, Utah's first black settlers arrived as slaves of the Mormon pioneers and established a small but lasting presence. In the last half of the 1800s, railroad, mining, and the military provided employment. Utah's black population grew.

Churches and culture

Various African American protestant church congregations helped Utah's religious diversity grow. Today, churches still provide social, cultural, political and spiritual support. They also nurture gospel music, with choirs that perform both in church and in the community.

Other African American arts include jazz, soul, and rhythm and blues music and a style of quilting that is colorful and vibrant like jazz.

Utahns celebrate Black History Month each February with several events. Juneteenth is a summertime celebration of black culture, which commemorates the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln (officially ending slavery in the United States).

Refugees

The turn of the new century brought a new wave of settlement by refugees directly from Africa. These new immigrants bring to Utah tribal traditions, languages, and lifestyles that are very different from their black predecessors in the state--once again bringing a new richness of cultures to Utah.

For more information, see "Utah in the 40s: An African American Perspective," by France A. Davis, in Beehive History 25.

Information courtesy of the Utah Folk Arts Program