{AUTHOR’S NOTE:  Recent efforts by the state government of Utah and the Church of Jesus Christ of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be more inclusive and conciliatory toward  marginalized communities have helped me to learn more about the truth of the state’s past, while also opening my perspectives to new opportunities for myself, Utahns, and the business ecosystem of the state of Silicon Slopes. This article explores some of my newest learnings.}


One-hundred-and-seventy-five years after the first pioneers arrived in the valley of the great Salt Lake, a ceremony was held on Friday morning at This Is The Place Heritage State Park to dedicate a new monument especially recognizing the contributions of Black pioneers to the settlement of Utah.

Known simply as Pioneers of 1847, the new monument is situated near the top center of the park as it rises above Sunnyside Avenue and features three bronze statues of both enslaved and free Black pioneers, along with corresponding 10-foot-tall engraved pillars that briefly delineate the history and roles of

  • Jane Elizabeth Manning (with two of her children),
  • Green Flake, and
  • Hark and Oscar Smith,

as some of the earliest pioneers to arrive in Utah.

The new Pioneers of 1847 monument at This Is The Place Heritage State Park moments after unveiling on 22 July 2022. Photo by the author.

Flake and the two Smith brothers noted above were members of the first wave of Latter-day Saints headed west to seek religious freedom in the Rocky Mountains, and under the direction of Apostle Orson Pratt, they were assigned to the small party sent by Brigham Young in advance of the full body of Saints in mid-1847.

In actual fact, 19 year old Flake was the driver of the first wagon that rolled into Emmigration Canyon and then into Salt Lake Valley, a feat he and his colleagues accomplished on July 22, two days before Brigham Young rose from his wagon sickbed to utter the now famous words, “This is the right place. Drive on.”

One of the few known photos of Green Flake. Downloaded from Wikipedia 25 July 2022.

Disabusing False Beliefs about Early Utah Pioneers

As a practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for six-plus decades, I have long believed that the Prophet Brigham Young helped lead the first vanguard of pioneers to arrive in the Salt Lake Valley, something he did on 24 July 1847.

Hence, the purpose of Pioneer Day, aka, July 24th, the state-sanctioned holiday in Utah.

Unfortunately, that’s not true, not really at least, as I now understand that Brother Brigham was preceded in his arrival into the Salt Lake Valley by two days, in part by an advance group containing the three enslaved Black men noted above: Flake and the two Smith brothers.

Why Pioneer Day is not celebrated today on July 22nd instead of July 24th is a matter for others to debate and perhaps consider.

Green Flake statue and engraved stone pillar at This Is The Place Heritage State Park. Photo by the author 22 July 2022.

The other pioneer-related belief that I had mistakenly held until this summer was that slavery was not part of the history of the Territory of Utah.

However, I now understand that the reality is that slavery was allowed/sanctioned in the earliest years of the Territory of Utah, this in spite of the fact LDS Church founder and prophet, Joseph Smith, Jr. became an abolitionist later in his life, and included an anti-slavery component within his 1844 campaign for the presidency of the United States.

Nevertheless, though the U.S. census of 1850 and 1860 counted the official number of enslaved Blacks in Utah at under 50 persons, the reality was that slavery was not abolished in Utah until mid-1862 when the U.S. Congress passed legislation prohibiting slavery.

{NOTE: The practice of capturing and enslaving members of local Native American tribes in Utah was legalized in 1852 and was fairly prevalent in certain portions of the territory, with many of the enslaved indigenous peoples sold to individuals and parties in Mexico until slavery was abolished in the Utah Territory in 1862.}


One Man’s Journey to Understanding and Peace about Slavery in Utah

Raised as a Latter-day Saint in Las Vegas, Nevada in a family of four girls and four boys, Mauli Junior Bonner was the third eldest, a son with music coursing through his veins.

Mauli Junior Bonner, an Emmy Award-winning vocal coach, songwriter, screenwriter, producer, and director. Photo downloaded from Bonner's website 26 July 2022.

Bonner left Nevada after graduating high school over 20 years ago and moved to southern California to pursue a career in music, one that saw him eventually become a vocal coach to such prominent entertainers as

  • Ariana Grande,
  • Boys II Men,
  • Katie Perry, and
  • Kei$ha, among others,

while he also worked with such prominent shows and networks as

  • American Idol,
  • Country Music Television,
  • MTV, and
  • Nickelodeon,

just to name a few.

Almost exactly four years ago, this Grammy award-winner learned for the first time about the role of some African-Americans in the earliest settling efforts of the Territory of Utah, including both enslaved and free Blacks.

Among these was the aforementioned Flake, a man born into slavery in January 1828, who converted to the Latter-day Saint faith when he was 16 (along with his owners), and became one of a handful of enslaved Black men in the advance pioneer party that arrived in the Salt Lake Valley two days before Brigham Young.

As he explained to me when we spoke on Monday, Bonner began writing music about what he was learning about Green Flake and other Black Latter-day Saint pioneers as a form of therapy.

“I was writing music as therapy to help me deal with the weight of what I was learning,” Bonner said. “I barely slept for 30 days.”

During that 30-day period, Bonner had not just written 10 songs, he had also penned roughly 200 pages about the story of Green Flake.

This writing experience, Bonner said,

“Made me have greater appreciation for my people; it didn’t break me down. This was what the younger people needed to hear, an educational experience, something that didn’t add to their confusion.”

Bonner shared that one morning he felt the spiritual presences of both Green Flake and Brigham Young, an experience he says prompted him to coalesce his 30-days-worth of writings into the eventual screenplay and soundtrack for what became his independent film, “His Name Is Green Flake.”  

Early poster artwork for His Name Is Green Flake film. Image provided by Mauli Studios 20 July 2022.

Bonner explained that the

  • Initial screenplay and the related 10 songs were completed in July 2018;
  • The first half of the movie was shot in December 2018;
  • The second half of the movie was shot in June 2019;
  • The film was edited through the balance of 2019;
  • The film was entered in multiple film festival award programs in 2020; with
  • Virtual release parties held in 2021; and
  • The first theatre releases occurring in 2022.

According to Amazon.com, His Name Is Green Flake has gone on to win 10 Best Picture Awards from numerous film festivals, including the LA Film Awards, the London Independent Film Awards, and the Venice Film Awards, among others.


From Filmmaker to a Driven Monument Coordinator

With his film made, gaining traction on the film awards circuit, and seeing it beginning to have its initial theatre releases, Bonner turned his focus to the potential for a permanent, Utah-based installation to help memorialize Utah’s early Black pioneers.

Such focus led to Ellis Ivory, chairman of the This Is The Place Heritage State Park for the past 15 years.

Unbeknownst to Bonner when he first met Ivory in May 2021, one of Ivory’s ancestors had served in the same advance party with Green Flake, something that created an instant bond between Bonner and Ivory, and eventually led to

  1. Recruited donations, including a significant donation by the Ivory family,
  2. The commissioning of sculptors, and
  3. The allocation of space within the park for the new monument.

Fast forward then to last Friday, July 22–exactly 175 years to the day when Green Flake, the Smith brothers, and the other members of that small advance party arrived in Salt Lake Valley– where a gathering of close to 1,000 joined together to celebrate the unveiling and dedication of the new Pioneers of 1847 monument.

Speakers at the ceremony included

Part of the near 1,000-person gathering on 22 July 2022 at This is the Place Heritage State Park to witness the dedication of the new Pioneers of 1847 monument celebrating the contributions of enslaved and free Black pioneers to the settling of Utah. Photo provided by the author.
“You all being here today, it’s beautiful,” Bonner said during his remarks. “You all know the saying, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone,’ right?
“‘If you want to go far, go together.’ They didn’t tell you if you want to go fast and far, go with Kem Gardner and Ellis Ivory, and they’ll get it done.”
Mauli Junior Bonner addressing the audience at the dedication ceremony of the new Pioneers of 1847 monument at the This Is The Place Heritage State Park on 22 July 2022. Photo taken by the author.

Gov. Cox began his remarks by stating,

“As we mark the 175th anniversary of the pioneers entering the Salt Lake Valley, we are here to celebrate a certain group of pioneers who have long been forgotten.”

He frankly admitted that as someone who grew-up in a small, rural town in central Utah he did not live in a diverse environment, nor was he aware of Utah’s African-American pioneers who came across the plains with the earliest Saints.

Gov. Cox explained that the missionary service of his father in three southern states in the early 1970s translated into his earliest learnings as a young man about the Civil Rights movement and the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr.

As he pushed himself to understand more about his ancestry, Gov. Cox said that he learned a few years ago that one of his ancestral lines did, in fact, trace back to a slave owner in Tennessee, something he had been previously been told was not true.

Utah Governor Spencer Cox addressing the audience at the dedication ceremony of the new Pioneers of 1847 monument at the This Is The Place Heritage State Park on 22 July 2022. Photo taken by the author.

These forebears of Gov. Cox joined the LDS church in 1842, then sold nearly all of their slaves instead of setting them free, something he said “broke his heart.”

However, this ancestral family decided to keep one young, enslaved Black orphan, a boy named Sammy Lamb who eventually migrated with them to Nauvoo, then later to Utah in 1848, before dying in a construction accident just two years later on the family homestead in Pleasant Grove, Utah.

In addressing the audience before offering the dedicatory prayer, Elder Ballard explained that this new monument would allow visitors to

“See the diversity and the reality that the state of Utah is a state where God’s children of all cultures, of all races, come and worship together–and the joy of ‘Love one another.’ And that’s what we have here in the great state of Utah.”
Elder M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of 12 Apostles, addressing the audience at the dedication ceremony of the new Pioneers of 1847 monument at the This Is The Place Heritage State Park on 22 July 2022 before offering the Dedicatory Prayer. Photo taken by the author.

{NOTE:  Individuals interested in watching a summary video of the dedication ceremony, including the full dedicatory prayer by Elder Ballard, may visit this link.}


My Recent Personal Journey

I admit that I was personally saddened to learn that instead of following the example set by Joseph Smith, Jr. later in his life, early Utah leadership chose to legalize slavery, something that is abhorent.

I am also humbly touched and grateful for the examples of true sainthood set by people like Green Flake, Oscar and Hark Smith, Jane Elizabeth Manning, and other Black pioneers portrayed in Bonner’s film.

And to be clear, I am also encouraged and positively moved by the recent inclusive efforts taken by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, especially its efforts to partner with the NAACP and Black communities across the globe, especially under the mantra that “we” often have more in common than not.

And last but certainly not least, I was touched by the artistic and inspired efforts of Bonner and all associated with the making of His Name Is Green Flake as a way to inform, engage, uplift, and bring together diverse communities, wherever they may live and whatever their pasts.


Limited Local Release Info about “Green Flake Is His Name” Film

My wife and I were privileged to receive an invitation to a reception and private screening of Green Flake Is His Name on Saturday evening at the Broadway Cinemas in Salt Lake City.

Emmy Award-winning Producer, Director, Screenwriter, and Songwriter Mauli Junior Bonner (left) shares a moment with David Politis, Vice President of Content" for Silicon Slopes, following the 23 July 2022 screening of "His Name Is Green Flake." 

Limited showings of the film are being held through the middle of this week at three Megaplex Cinemas in Utah, specifically at

“Official trailer of 'His Name Is Green Flake”downloaded from YouTube 25 July 2022.

Additionally, interested individuals may turn to this Church News writeup about the dedication ceremony of the Pioneers of 1847 monument for additional information.

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