A new monument honoring early Black Mormon Pioneers was dedicated today by President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at This Is The Place Heritage Park in the foothills above Salt Lake City at the mouth of Emigration Canyon.
The monument was the brainchild of Mauli Bonner, screenplay writer, producer, and director of the movie featuring the true story of one of the early Pioneers, Green Flake, a slave who drove the first wagon to arrive in the Salt Lake Valley in the Vanguard Company of Pioneers led by Brigham Young 175 years ago today. (One of my third great grandfathers, Robert Erwin Baird, was also in that first Pioneer company. Perhaps he and Green Flake were more than just acquaintances. Brigham Young, who was ill, arrived two days later, on July 24, 1847, which is now celebrated as a state holiday in Utah as Pioneer Day.)
A large crowd attended today’s monument dedication ceremony, including living descendants of those early honored Black Pioneers. I was thrilled to witness the dedication and be with my Bonner Family friends–including Debra Bonner, Harry Bonner, Mauli, Conlon Bonner, Yahosh Bonner, Oba Bonner, Nolong Bonner Bullock, Abele Abbey, along with others who were in Ghana last November for the premiere of “His Name Is Green Flake”– Tamu Thomas Smith, Tawni Lawrence, Joseph Vernon Reidhead, plus a number of other friends involved with the project or who, like me, despite the super hot temperature, simply didn’t want to miss this important historic event. Other dignitaries present included Utah Governor Spencer Cox (who also spoke) and Elder D. Todd Christofferson. Mauli’s remarks prior to the dedication were exceptional. I am so grateful for what he and others have done to highlight the lives of the early Black Pioneers and expand our collective appreciation for their tremendous sacrifices and contributions.
A personal highlight for me, in addition to just being there, was hearing the Bonners perform “Child of God” (don’t miss the video clip below!), which I have been privileged to hear performed live in Accra, Ghana and again most recently at the BYU Jerusalem Center Passover Seder event I helped host last April in Provo. Thanks to the Bonners for allowing me to document the event with my camera and for their friendship! Real camera photos will be posted later on my SmugMug site at brentjbelnap.smugmug.com. Meanwhile, here is a sampling of phone pics and video clips that give a small flavor of today’s historic event: