‘Mormon Land’: After a history of blackface and a racist LDS policy, BYU reaches an ‘important fork in the road’

The school’s first Black graduate, who was not LDS, earned a degree in 1939.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) This week's "Mormon Land" podcast explores BYU's racist past.

Even in the 19th century, Brigham Young Academy (later Brigham Young University) welcomed students of both sexes, all nationalities, religions, races and colors.

Nearly from the start, it included women, which made it distinctive among other American higher-education institutions. And the school — owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — had a small but consistent nonwhite student population.

That included the school’s first Black graduate, Norman Wilson (not a Latter-day Saint), who earned his degree in 1939.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Grace Soelberg poses for a photograph in Salt Lake City, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.

Grace Ann Soelberg curated a BYU exhibit honoring Wilson. She also explored how Black students were treated at the school, and how they were depicted, including examples of blackface, in its yearbooks from 1911 to 1985.

On this week’s show, Soelberg, now a graduate student at the University of Utah, discusses her findings, saying BYU stands at an “important fork in the road.”

Listen here: