The Utahns featured in the documentary “The Wisdom of Our Years: Stories of African American Utahns” that premiered Sunday at the Calvary Baptist Church in Salt Lake City lived in a time when prejudice was common. Eva Sexton’s late husband worked as a waiter at a restaurant called the Coon Chicken Inn that featured a sign with a cartoonish black man with exaggerated lips. Her grandfather was a slave. Frank Satterwite spent a career in the U.S. military defending his country yet could not live in many places in Ogden. And James Green, 104-year-old Allan Jackson, Florence Lawrence, Anna Belle Mattson and the late Dovie Goodwin all experienced the kind of Utah racism that forced them to sit in the balconies of Utah movie theaters, refused them service at many restaurants, only opened a public swimming pool to blacks in Ogden on the day when the lifeguard was off duty, and forced them into taking jobs well below their education.
Yet, if the 40-minute movie that premiered before a multi-racial crowd of hundreds in the Calvary Baptist Church gymnasium Sunday conveyed one message, it was one of hope. Speaking as part of a panel of African American youth after the movie, University of Utah professor Lynette Danley said she found the faith of the Utahns in the movie humbling and admired their sense of community, respect for others and humility in the midst of many challenges. [Full article – Salt Lake Tribune]
I could say that I’m surprised, but I try not to lie. This is Utah we are talking about for God sake. Utah is 93.5% white. For a more contemporary view of the lives of blacks in Utah, check out “Desert Bayou”. It focuses on a group of 600 African-American survivors of Hurricane Katrina who were flown out of New Orleans and into Utah as part of a rescue mission. From the moment they get off the plane and for the entire time they are in Utah, they face unremitting suspicion and racial prejudice from the surrounding mostly Mormon community, as well as a deep sense of cultural alienation. It’s a Nominee for this year’s NAACP Image Awards.