Utah city renames street in honor of Mormon Black pioneer couple

(Photo courtesy of Utah State Historical Society) Amanda Leggroan Chambers and Samuel D. Chambers.

Two former slaves who rose to prominence in early Utah and in their adopted faith now have a Salt Lake Valley street dedicated to them.

Millcreek has renamed 3205 South in the heart of the east-side city “Chambers Avenue” to honor Samuel and Amanda Chambers — and the impact the husband and wife had on their community during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Samuel, born in Alabama in 1831 and enslaved in Mississippi, joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a young teenager in 1844, historian Ronald Coleman writes on the BlackPast website. After his first wife died, he married Amanda, who also was enslaved in Mississippi, in 1858.

The couple traveled to the Utah Territory in 1870, five years after gaining their freedom and five years before Amanda converted to Mormonism.

“Samuel remained illiterate,” Coleman notes, “but Amanda utilized a Guffey speller to teach herself how to read and write.”

Relocating to the Millcreek area, they began farming. “By World War I,” Coleman writes, “they had acquired a 30-acre plot of land” and won praise and prizes throughout the region for their grapes, currants and other produce.

In 1874, Samuel cast a ballot for the first time, feeling “proud that he had voted for Latter-day Saint office seekers who were ‘servants of God,’” according to a biography on the faith’s website. Reluctant at first to pay his church tithes and fearing he could not afford to do so, he nonetheless decided “all things are possible with God” and “never questioned” the practice afterward.

“Samuel willingly paid all church assessments such as fast offerings and building funds,” the biography adds. “When subscriptions were taken out for the Wilford Ward building fund in 1901–1902, for example, few members contributed more than the $200 Samuel paid in cash.”

Because of the Utah-based faith’s then-ban on black males entering its priesthood, Samuel served as an assistant deacon in his congregation, Coleman reports, while Amanda was made a “deaconess” in the women’s Relief Society.

Although denied full privileges in the church because of his skin, Samuel defended the religion throughout his life.

“[The gospel] is not only to the Gentiles but also to the Africans, for I am one of that race,” the church bio quotes him as saying. “The knowledge I received is from my God.”

Samuel and Amanda became so well known in the valley that the celebration for their 66th wedding anniversary in 1924 drew a large crowd, including Latter-day Saint general authorities.

Amanda died a year later at age 85. Samuel died in 1929 at age 98. The two are buried in the Elysian Gardens cemetery in Millcreek.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A Millcreek street has been renamed for Samuel and Amanda Chambers, a Black pioneering farm couple in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Monday, July 20, 2020.

The street now bearing their name runs through Millcreek’s developing city center. Rita Lund, Millcreek’s director of communications, said the city decided to name the street after the couple to recognize Black pioneers amid the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Millcreek is trying to rise to the challenge,” Lund said, “trying to make sure that we acknowledge the Black community and the things that they have brought to our community over the years.”

The city unveiled the street sign during a ceremony Monday. The event included remarks from Robert Burch Jr., president of the Utah chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, and Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake Branch of the NAACP.

Kellen Perkins, a Chambers descendant and current Millcreek resident, joined Burch and Williams in thanking the city for acknowledging these Black trailblazers.

Lund said other Black pioneers were considered for the honor, but the Chambers couple ultimately were chosen because of their influence.

“They had such a strong history,” she said. “We figured it was a good, appropriate name for the street and a good family to recognize.”

The Chamberses may not be the last Black residents Millcreek honors. Lund said the city hopes to continue to take steps to recognize the accomplishments of the Black community.