Date: November 25, 2019 (S1 E3 - Part 1: 23 min. & 44 seconds). For the entire show notes and additional resources for this episode, click here. Are you interested in other episodes of Speak Your Piece? Click Here. This episode was co-produced by Brad Westwood and Chelsey Zamir, with help (sound engineering and post-production editing) from Jason Powers from the Utah State Library Recording Studio.
This SYP episode is an interview with W. Paul Reeve, University of Utah professor of History, with SYP host Brad Westwood about his public history project, Century of Black Mormons database, hosted by the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah, where he serves as the site’s general editor. In this database, Reeve highlights the Mormon African American experience in Utah from 1830-1930, which brings to light the stories of people that have been largely erased from public memory. The project aims to recover those stories and to ensure they will not be forgotten.
Why is the Century of Black Mormons database so important to Utah history? Reeve states that, at heart, he’s a social historian and thus attempts to understand history from the bottom up, as opposed to the top down – a perspective that allows for historians, such as himself, to understand the average person and, too often, those written off the historical narratives. Reeve also adds that he wanted a digital public history project that would engage the public in a different way and allow access to sources, names, numbers, and the identities of people of Black-African descent baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (hereafter LDS Church) between 1830-1930.
Reeve and Westwood conclude Part 1 of this episode in discussing why this project is of value today with such a large community of African Americans as current members of the LDS Church. Reeve states that there are approximately one million people in the faith who are of Black-African descent. It matters, Reeve continues, to give people a pioneer past they may not have been aware of. It demonstrates that they didn’t show up to this faith only after 1978, even though sometimes that’s how it has been portrayed only because it’s too uncomfortable to speak about Mormon African Americans prior to 1978, as that would mean recognizing the racism that barred them from certain rituals within the faith. The database seeks to address those issues and allow the lives of those African Americans named in the site to speak their own stories.
Bio: W. Paul Reeve was raised in Hurricane (Washington County) Utah. Since 2008, Reeve has been professor of American, Western, Mormon and Utah history at the University of Utah. Reeve is the first-ever Simmons Professor of Mormon Studies at the University of Utah, and has written a number of books, including: Making Space on the Western Frontier: Mormons, Miners, and Southern Paiutes (2007), Between Pulpit and Pew: The Supernatural World in Mormon History and Folklore (with Michael Scott Van Wagenen, 2011), and Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (2015).
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