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Posted by: steve benson ( )
Date: July 05, 2013 05:14AM

Indeed, call it the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Lynching.

Excommunicated Mormon historian D. Michael Quinn writes on the particularly gruesome, bigot-based Utah lynching of an African-American by a crazed mob of Salt Lake City Mormons--one that, even by standards of the wild American West, was shocking:

"After years of publishing endorsements of Mormon attacks on their enemies, the 'Deseret News' recoiled in horror in August 1883 when Mormons of Salt Lake City engaged in what a historian called 'one of the most extraordinary episodes of mob violence in the annals of the American West.'

"The incident began when Salt Lake City's police chief Andrew Burt attempted to arrest Sam Joe Harvey, an African-American, who then shot and killed Burt, who was also bishop of an LDS congregation. The other Mormon policemen disarmed Harvey and severely beat him with brass knuckles and billy clubs. Then the police simply handed the murderer over to a screaming mob which lynched him. Joined by hundreds of men, women and children who had learned of Burt's death, a crowd of at least 2,000 cheered those who dragged Harvey's corpse through the streets.

"Of this incident, Apostle Heber J. Grant wrote:

"'Learned that Bishop Andrew Burt of the 21st Ward was shot and killed yesterday by a negro and that the n***** that did the shooting had been hung by the citizens.'"

Some defenders of Mormonism have countered that racial lynchings in Utah were an anomaly uncharacteristic of LDS life and, besides, were not as frequent as seen in other states. However, the Mormon Church in Utah had an historic tendency to look the other way when it came to religiously-justified killings and, in fact, established its own system of revenge-based justice outside the accepted norms of secular legal proceedings--a system that, in the name of the Mormon God, encouraged theocratic murder and abuse.

In this regard, while Quinn acknowledges "that despite an environment which promised blood atonement and retribution, 'the level of violence of Mormonism's frontier sanctuary was much lower than in other western states,'" he also notes that Mormons "[n]evertheless . . . created a different dimension for the violence in early Utah. . . . LDS leaders publicly and privately encouraged Mormons to consider it their religious right to kill antagonistic outsiders, common criminals, LDS apostates and even faithful Mormons who committed sins 'worthy of death.'

"Mormon theocracy created such a unique context for Utah violence that it will always be impossible to determine how many violent deaths occurred for theocratic reasons and how many merely reflected the American West's pattern of violence. As late as 1880-89, LDS leaders in San Juan County, Utah, were conducting 'a church vigilance committee' that acted independently of civil officials.'"

Quinn further reports that "[w]hen religiously-motivated executions were too well known to ignore judicially, pioneer Mormon judges typically dismissed the charges or LDS juries acquitted LDS defendants. From the arrival of federal troops in Utah in 1858 until 1889, non-Mormons initiated the few investigations and court cases that provided enduring evidence of such theocratic killings. LDS leaders and the Church's newspaper typically condemned these murder investigations as anti-Mormon in motivation and conduct. Despite their well-earned reputation for keeping detailed records of community li fe and personal experiences, Mormon diarists rarely wrote about these events and perpetrators. That silence engulfed the diaries of the entire southern Utah community involved in the Mountains Meadows Massacre."

(D. Michael Quinn, "The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power" (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1997], pp. 259-60)

For those interested in what has been accurately described as "juicy" realities about Utah's lynching history that have not received the attention they deserve, Stanford J. Layton. former managing editor of the "Utah Historical Quarterly" (UHQ) and himself a respected historian, has published a book entitled, "Utah's Lawless Fringe: Stories of True Crime" (Signature Books, 2001). It offers an anthology of extra-legal examples wherein revenge-driven Utahans engaged in (among other criminal acts) race-based murders and hangings. That these violent crimes occurred in the Mormon Church-state of Utah is no accident.

In a UHQ review of Layton's compilation, Kay Gillespie notes that "institutional morality and values" (i.e., Mormon Church ones) influenced the face of crime during the state's early history. "Utah," Gillespie politely observes, "has a unique history—socially, legally, and religiously." The essays in the book, Gillespie writes, "provide insight into the workings of the [legal] system [of Utah] as well as into the social/cultural conditions and attitudes common among the people of Utah at that time [toward law, crime and criminals]." Gillespie also notes that the essays provide insight into not only "these conditions, specifically," but into "the history of the state in general."

Gillespie further reports that Layton's anthology includes examples of "the failures [of the legal system] when lynchings represented the frustration of the citizens and pointed to the racial/ethnic suspicion and bias inherent within the state." One of the featured essays deals with the lynching of a Robert Marshall, an African-American, in Price, Utah. Another details the lynching of a Japanese man, George Segal, in Ogden (both written by Larry R. Gerlach).

("Reviews--'Utah's Lawless Fringe,'" at:

Gerlach (Professor of History Emeritus, University of Utah), along with co-author Kimberly Mangun (Assistant Professor in Communication, University of Utah), note in a separate assessment of the role of the Mormon Church in Utah lynchings titled, "Making Utah History: Press Coverage of the Robert Marshall Lynching, June 1925," that race-tainted lynchings occurred in Utah both before and after achieving statehood and that these murders were--not coincidentally--being committed in a climate of violence between the Mormon Church and federal officials, as well as between Mormons and non-Mormons, over a variety of issues relating to bedrock LDS desires and doctrines.

Gerlach Mangun and lay out the larger context in which these Mormon-Utah lynchings took place:

"Lynching claimed thousands of victims across the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries. Many of these, as graphically depicted in 'Without Sanctuary," were African American men who lived in southern states. . . . But the American West . . . also experienced an epidemic of summary collective murder in the latter half of the 19th century.

"Violence occurred in Utah Territory, as well. Conflict in the territory, created in 1850, was originally between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and federal officials over political dominance, and between followers and non-Mormons who challenged the Church's social and cultural mores.

"Later, hostilities were directed at ethnic and racial minorities. At least 11 men were hanged between 1860 and 1886, including a Chinese man, a Japanese man and two African Americans. The first Black lynching victim, identified only as 'a damn n*****,' was hanged, circumstances unknown, at a remote railroad camp in 1869. The second, an itinerant laborer named Sam Joe Harvey, was arrested in 1883 after shooting and killing a police officer. Jailers turned him over to a vengeful mob who hanged him and then dragged his corpse down a Salt Lake City street for several blocks.

"With the advent of statehood in 1896, and the institutional modernization of the early 20th century, lynching came to be regarded as a peculiar historical relic of Utah's rowdy frontier days."

Gerlach and Mangun maintain that Utah attitudes toward lynching and its victims were clearly informed by the Mormon Church's doctrines and practices pertaining to race and class. This was particularly important if the lynching victim was Black.

In the case of Robert Marshall, a Black coal miner who was lynched in Price, Utah, in 1925 for killing a Mormon police officer, LDS teachings on race and class were evident in the media reporting of Marshall's murder.

Gerlach and Mangun write:

" . . . [J]ournalists helped readers make sense of the black-on-white violence disruptions to the social order [in terms that related to Mormon societal attitudes regarding] such things as power, status, race, class and religion. These concepts were particularly important when viewed against the backdrop of 'blackness vs. whiteness' in Mormon culture in the early 20th century.

"In 1920, 60% of Utah's total population of 449,396 belonged to the Mormon Church. [LDS writers] Newell K. Bringhurst and Darron T. Smith argue that 'Blackness in the Book of Mormon is presented as a sign of punishment for not obeying God's law.' As the religion developed, the LDS Church 'incorporated many . . . highly negative cultural connotations associated with blackness into its own moral vocabulary.'

"One could argue that that vocabulary also was evident in newspaper coverage of [Marshall's] lynching, which from the outset framed Marshall as a condemned man due to his color and crime. . . .

"One cannot ignore the fact that the slain man was Mormon. Given the [LDS] religion's complicated historical stance on Black Americans and its early constuction of blackness as Other, dangerous and evil, it could be argued that deeply-held sentiments affected press coverage of all the events that transpired in 1925 and that the hanging was--at least for some members of the mob--motivated by racism that may have been shaped by religious tenets."

("Making Utah History: Press Coverage of the Robert Marshall Lynching, June 1925," Kimberly Mangun and Larry R. Gerlach, in "Lynching Beyond Dixie: American Mob Violence Outside the South," Michael J. Pfiefer, ed. [University of Illinois Press, 2013] pp. 132-33, 143-44, at:

Fueled by the inherent bigotry of its doctrines (which, of course, served to poison the attitudes of its members toward people of color), the Mormon Church not only historically engaged in racial hostilities against Blacks (including its official endorsement of slavery; see:,946649), it well into the 20th century threatened those seeking to publicly expose proof of its institutional racism.

Richard Abanes, in his book "One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church," provides examples of the LDS Church's efforts at squashing evidence of its official anti-Black prejudice:

". . . [I]n 1954 [Apostle Mark E. Petersen declared]: 'If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can enter the Celestial Kingdom. He will go there as a servant.' Mormons, realizing the controversial nature of such a doctrine, for many years sought to keep its existence quiet. Although discussed among long-time members and LDS leaders, it certainly was not to be shared with potential converts, unbelievers or Mormon critics. Apostle Petersen, for instance, tried to suppress from public release the lecture in which he made the previous statement.. . .

"Wallace Turner gives the following account of what happened when Petersen found out his speech was being circulated:

"'This speech was delivered in a closed meeting. A copy of it came into the hands of James D. Wardle, the Salt Lake City barber who is a member of the Reorganized LDS Church. Wardle had enjoyed many years of baiting his Utah Mormon townsmen and made his copy available to Jerald Tanner, the LDS apostate who specializes in circulating anti-LDS materials. Tanner went to the LDS library, found a copy of the speech and assured himself that it was the same speech he had received from Wardle. But the Church would not give him a copy he could take away with him. Using the Wardle copy as his source, Tanner began to circulate the address. At that time Apostle Petersen was in England leading the mission there. In early 1965 he wrote to Tanner threatening to sue him if he did not stop publication and recall the previously issued copies of the speech. Tanner gleefully reproduced and circulated the letter. Since then Petersen has returned to Salt Lake City and no suit has been filed.'"

Abanes continues:

"And during a missionary conference in Oslo, Norway, LDS European Mission president Alvin R. Dyer warned his listeners to not reveal what he to say about Blacks:

"'I want to talk to you a little bit now about something that is not missionary work and what I say is NOT to be given to your investigators [i.e., potential converts] by any matter of means. . . . Why is it that you are White and not Colored? . . . [Remember that'] God is not unjust to cause a righteous spirit to be born as a cursed member of the Black race.'"

(Richard Abanes, "One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church" [New York, New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2001], pp. 359-60, 600n21; for further information on Petersen's anti-Black remarks, including a speech he gave at Brigham Young University, 12 August 1954, entitled "Race Problems--As They Affect the Church," see Jerald and Sandra Tanner, "The Changing World of Mormonism: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Changes in Mormon Doctrine and Practice" [Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1980-81), p. 305)

How can such toxic racist Mormon attitudes have not encouraged actual acts of violence against African-Americans?

The truth of the matter is that racism engulfed early Mormon Utah, thanks to the bigoted doctrines and practices of the early Mormon Church. Those racist teachings remain embedded in canonized Mormon scripture to this day. Those who may wish to minimize or, worse, deny the role and influence of racist Mormon Church doctrine and practice in meting out vicious vigilante punishment in early Utah against "sinfully"-colored minorities need to think again.

If they happen to be Mormon apologists, this may be the first thinking they've ever done.


for a related RfM thread, see "The KKK, a Lynching and a Curious Lack of Witnesses in 20th-Century Utah," at:,944390

Edited 35 time(s). Last edit at 07/05/2013 05:38PM by steve benson.

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Posted by: steve benson ( )
Date: July 05, 2013 09:40PM

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Posted by: Goofy1 ( )
Date: July 06, 2013 08:18AM

My ex-FIL attended a lynching as a child in the 1930s in Carbon County, Utah.

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