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Filmmaker seeks monuments at Temple Square and This Is the Place honoring early Black Latter-day Saints

New movie highlights Green Flake, one of those African American trailblazers.

(Photo courtesy of Joseph Reidhead) Writer-director Mauli Junior Bonner, right, helps Yahosh Bonner, playing Green Flake, with his costume on the set in Ogden for the film "His Name Is Green Flake." Mauli Bonner wants monuments placed at Temple Square and This Is the Place Heritage Park to honor Green Flake, an early Black Latter-day Saint.

Green Flake, an enslaved worker and Latter-day Saint from North Carolina, arrived in the Salt Lake Valley with two other Black pioneers July 22, 1847 — two days before Mormon prophet Brigham Young supposedly declared, “This is the place.”

Flake, Hark Lay and Oscar Crosby Smith scouted the valley, tilled the ground, planted crops, and laid down a trail for their enslavers and vanguard wagons that soon would arrive.

The three are memorialized at This Is the Place Heritage Park, near the mouth of Emigration Canyon in the eastern foothills, as well as downtown, on the Main Street Plaza’s larger-than-life Brigham Young statue, where they are listed as “colored servants.”

They were, in fact, slaves.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Brigham Young statue in downtown Salt Lake City on Friday, May 14, 2021.

Now Latter-day Saint filmmaker and music promoter Mauli Junior Bonner has launched an effort to build new monuments to Flake and other early Black members to be installed in the same two revered locations.

“There needs to be a monument honoring those Black pioneers, enslaved and free,” Bonner says, “who helped with the restoration of the gospel.”

(Tribune file photo) A reproduction of an 1897 Tribune woodcut of Green Flake, an early Black Latter-day Saint.

Without such visual recognition, he says, it is difficult to see that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “is a church for all, diverse and inclusive.”

University of Utah historian W. Paul Reeve seconds Bonner’s idea.

“A monument to Black pioneers would be a fantastic addition to Temple Square,” says Reeve, author of “Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness.” Monuments are “physical reminders of public memory.”

Because Black Latter-day Saints — and especially enslaved members — have been “erased from the collective LDS memory,” he says, “a public monument in their honor would help to restore what was lost.”

Such a memorial would become “part of Latter-day Saint consciousness, as it should,” he says. “The enslaved Latter-day Saint story is part of the Latter-day Saint story.”

Reeve taped a video message as part of a free virtual concert that Bonner is hosting Saturday at 6 p.m. MDT to raise funds for the monuments.

The online event will feature music by The Bonner Family singers (which include him), The Piano Guys, Casey Elliott, Alex Boyé, Aaliyah Rose, Michael McLean and others.

It was at the 2018 “Be One” celebration in the church’s Conference Center that Bonner first awoke to the role of Black people in the faith’s history.

The musician was moved by the gala and narratives celebrating the 40th anniversary of the end of the Utah-based faith’s centurylong ban on Black members holding the priesthood and entering temples.

“I realized I should know more about Blacks in the church’s history, so I began reading nonstop and meeting with historians,” says Bonner, stunned to discover that they were there from its founding.

Within the next couple of months, the Los Angeles promoter had more than 100 pages of songs and scenes for a movie about Flake.

He felt an inexplicable urgency to make it.

So, in the fall of 2018, Bonner began shooting the film in Ogden and wrapped up in mid-2019 after a Kickstarter campaign helped raise the necessary money.

(Photo courtesy of Joseph Reidhead) Writer-director Mauli Junior Bonner, left, talks with Yahosh Bonner (in the role of Green Flake) and Katec Ruiz (a Nauvoo townsperson) in the film "His Name Is Green Flake."

His Name Is Green Flake” will premiere virtually June 8, the 43rd anniversary of the lifting of the priesthood-temple prohibition, and then play to watch parties every Friday and Saturday thereafter.

At the same time, Bonner is moving forward on the monument proposals as he witnesses Temple Square’s continuing renovation.

“Now I realize,” he says, “why I was so driven to get the film done.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) The grave for Green Flake, who was an African American member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during their first years in Utah, is seen at Union Pioneer Memorial Cemetery in Cottonwood Heights on Thursday, May 23, 2019.

There is a headstone on Flake’s grave in Union Fort Pioneer Cemetery at 1484 E. 7830 South (Creek Road) in Cottonwood Heights, but Bonner wants to memorialize him and others in the heart of the church.

And he is confident that his church somehow will find room for these monuments at Temple Square and This Is the Place.

Bonner looks forward, he says, “to seeing how the Lord is going to orchestrate it.”

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