Colored Servants: The Meaning of the Pioneer Monument
In July 1897, Salt Lake City Utah was preparing for a gathering unlike any other that the state had seen. The Brigham Young Memorial Association had been working to gather as many pioneers as possible for the fiftieth anniversary of the entrance of Brigham Young and his wagon train into the Great Basin. The Pioneer Jubilee, as it was called, took place over four days and included speeches, parades, and boasted the biggest firework show ever witnessed in the West. The biggest attraction was the unveiling of the Pioneer Monument which had been under scrutiny for six years while the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints worked tirelessly to fund the project. The monument was draped in an American flag waiting to be unveiled on the opening day of the jubilee.
The crowd fell silent in awe as the flag was dropped and the thousands of people from around the region were able to gaze at the craftsmanship of the Brigham Young statue sculpted by Cyrus Dallin. The monument was constructed of granite and was topped with the ten foot figure. On the front of the monument was a plaque which read: “In Honor of Brigham Young and the Pioneers.” On the reverse side of the monument was another plaque that has garnered controversy since the 1970’s when the monument was made accessible to pedestrians. This plaque lists all the names of the pioneers who first made the trek with Brigham Young in 1847. On the bottom right hand side of the plaque are the names Green Flake, Hark Lay, and Oscar Crosby delineated by a bracket inscribed “colored servants.”
Mormon pioneers began traveling west in 1846. They were looking for a place where they could worship without the conflicts that they were enduring in Illinois, Missouri and previously Ohio and New York. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints had been persecuted for their beliefs since Joseph Smith had started the religion April 6, 1830. After the death of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young led a group of pioneers to Winter Quarters, Nebraska, and eventually to the Salt Lake Valley. The thousand-mile trek from the Midwest to the Utah territory was a difficult journey for the group and there were many hardships along the way. The party reached the Great Basin July 24, 1847 consisting of one hundred and forty-three men, three women, and two children. However, on July 21, three days earlier, an advance party entered the Salt Lake Valley carrying three African American slaves who had been given to Brigham Young in Winter Quarters. These three slaves were Green Flake, Hark Lay, and Oscar Crosby.
Fifty years after the initial party of Mormon pioneers made it to the Great Basin, Cyrus E. Dallin constructed a monument honoring the man who led the group and the pioneers who followed. Scholars have looked at this memorial, as well as other evidence of slaves in the Salt Lake Valley, as proof of racism and discrimination by a religion itself fleeing from persecution. Many people have seen the inscription to be a term of prejudice, however, by many accounts Green Flake was regarded as a prominent figure in Utah for being one of the first pioneers into the valley. The status of Green Flakes image in the West raises questions of why he was placed on a pedestal in the minds of Mormons when the rest of the country was fighting to keep African Americans in the shadows.
One reason that Green Flake’s memory has transcended race is because he was part of a band of pioneers who liberated a persecuted people and gave them salvation in the Great Basin. Green Flakes name on the plaque inscribed with the delineation proves that he was regarded as one of the great pioneers of 1847 and therefore became part of the pioneer myth surrounding that “noble band.” Very few African Americans have been remembered in the same way that Flake has. Other African American pioneers have not received recognition until after their deaths and well after the Civil Rights Movement. The comparison of Green Flake to other African Americans who left their mark on the West offers one example of an African American becoming part of the myth that surrounds that culture. The image of Green Flake has transcended the boundaries of race, more than any other African American pioneer, because he was a member of a culture that so revered their pioneer heritage that race became irrelevant.
The Brigham Young Memorial Association was created by the President of the LDS church, Wilford Woodruff, in 1891 to build a memorial to Brigham Young and the pioneers who settled in the Salt Lake Valley. According to the Contributor, an 1892 book created by The Mormon Church, “The desire to erect a monument in the memory of Brigham Young and the Pioneers has been in the hearts of the people of these valleys for many years.” The association started devising a plan to have the monument built and paid for. From the beginning there was an idea to include a plaque on the monument that would include “the names of the Pioneers and the date of their entrance into the valley” to honor the “illustrious band.” However the most important piece was getting an artist to sculpt a statue of Brigham Young so the plaques for the front and back were put on hold.
The association commissioned local artist Cyrus E. Dallin, who was not Mormon, to begin sculpting the monument which they had determined would be made of bronze. Dallin had recently been asked to sculpt the angel that sits atop LDS temples and was gaining an “enviable reputation as a sculptor” throughout the country. A report by Captain Willard Young and J. H. Moyle about the design states, “The general idea…is to make not simply a statue of Brigham Young but rather a monument to the pioneers, with President Young as the central, or crowning figure.” Dallin’s job was to create a monument that would honor all the pioneers with Brigham Young as the center piece. His model shows that a statue of Brigham Young would adorn the top of the monument with a trapper and Native American flanking each side. A pioneer family would be carved into the bas-relief on the front of the monument. There was no discussion of the plaque for the rear of the monument in correspondence between the association and Dallin. Dallin’s main concern was making sure that the monument that bore his name as artist was detailed properly as it would reflect on his reputation.
The Brigham Young Memorial Association did not discuss the creation of a plaque again until it was proposed in June 16, 1897. In the meeting E.A. Smith, the treasurer of the Brigham Young Memorial Association, suggests that “A copper plate be prepared with the names of the original band of pioneers of 143 men 3 women and 2 children engraven thereon to be placed in the base of the pioneer monument.” The motion carried and Spencer Clawson, another member of the association, suggests that the names of the pioneers come from the banner created by Thomas Bullock and should be the model that the association should follow to place the names on the monument. The Pioneer Banner lists all the members of the first party into the valley by name. Near the bottom of the banner is a bracket that carries the inscription colored servants and the titles of the three African Americans. Below are the names of the women and children of the company followed by the provisions.
Thomas Bullock had been a member of the original band of pioneers when they arrived in the valley in 1847. According to a Deseret News article, Thomas Bullock had been a clerk for Joseph Smith “and for many years a widely known and much esteemed citizen of this territory.” This article goes on to detail the banner Bullock had created for the first pioneer celebration in 1849. It had been on display at the Pioneer Day celebration and “is a valuable and interesting historical record.” This banner was the template used for creating the list of names and how they should be listed including the delineation of colored servants. The Brigham Young Memorial Association used the banner and because it delineated between colored servants and white pioneers, so did they.
It was the desire of the Brigham Young Association to have all living members of the pioneer company of 1847 in attendance at the Pioneer Jubilee in 1897. The association sent out letters inquiring about addresses for the living members of the pioneer group. A letter from an 1890 Deseret News article asks for biographical sketches of each member and then lists the members that they do not have sketches for. Among the list of ninety-one are Green Flake, Hark Lay and Oscar Crosby without any reference to race. By all accounts, the Association did not have a position towards African Americans or how they should be mentioned on the monument.
The three African American men listed on the plaque were a different race however they were pioneers and incorporating their names on the monument suggests that the status of “pioneer” took precedence over ethnicity. Pioneers are highly regarded in the Mormon culture because they are seen as liberators from the persecution that members of the faith were enduring in the East and mid-west. The image of the pioneers was elevated to mythological status within the culture due to the faith promoting stories that are shared in religious meetings. The LDS view of pioneers seems to be unique. The state of Utah has included Pioneer Day as a state holiday where the pioneers from 1847 are honored. Various works of fiction and nonfiction have been written about the first band of pioneers. Multiple monuments have been erected in honor of these men and women. The Mormon culture holds pioneers and their stories in high regard. All the men in that noble band were looked at as great figures of the Mormon faith that saved the others from impending doom. The three men listed on the plaque as colored servants were no different.
Discrimination of African Americans was not a new concept in the United States. The American South had been built on the backs of African American slaves. Southern plantation owners believed that slavery was the natural state of mankind and pointed to nature to demonstrate that all men were not created equal. According to William Jenkins, the issue of slavery had been under great debate since the country had been founded. Jenkins explains that in Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia he states, “negroes were by nature an inferior race of beings.” The ideology of discriminating against African Americans had been ingrained in the minds of the American people by leaders of the country and Jenkins proves that point by showing Jefferson’s bias.
The anti-slavery thought in the North was due in part to the fact that Northerners did not depend on slaves for their livelihood. The abolitionist movement could take hold in an area that did not fully grasp the implications of freeing slaves. However the movement still did not take root as deeply as abolitionist would have liked. C. Eric Lincoln writes “The situation in New England was dishearteningly similar in effect to that prevailing in the South.” Societies in the North showed signs of discrimination similar to the South and it originated with the acceptance that African Americans were inferior. Although Lincoln’s argument is regarding New England it indicates a broader scope of intolerance outside of the southern states. This philosophy explains why discrimination was prevalent across the country and not just the South.
The West was no better in its treatment of African Americans. Patricia Nelson Limerick suggests that although people in the West felt that the South had its “problem,” racism was flourishing in the West.People in the West were concerned about the migration of blacks even though there were few African Americans already.Limerick indicates that the West was not that innocent when she states, “The Western territories were deeply implicated in the national struggle over slavery.” The reason for racism in the West was to keep the peace as one Oregon leader explained, “The object is to keep clear of this most troublesome class of population. We are in a new world, under most favorable circumstances, and we wish to avoid most of these great evils that have so much afflicted the United States and other countries.” Leaders championed this ideal as “a clear victory for settlers who came to the Far West to escape the racial troubles of the East.”
The divide of black rights grew wider in the West over time. Patricia Limerick explains, “White Westerners saw in black rights the first link in a chain reaction. Permit blacks a place in American political and social life, and Indians, Asians, and Hispanics would be next.” According to Limericks idea, extending rights to African Americans would allow other ethnic minority groups rights and freedoms that the West was not ready to give. An Oregon newspaper from 1865 reads, “If we make the African a citizen, we cannot deny the same right to the Indian or the Mongolian. Then how long would we have peace and prosperity when four races separate, distinct and antagonistic should be at the polls and contend for the control of the government?” Westerners had to make sure that the integrity of the frontier stayed strong and the only way to do that was by not allowing free blacks to penetrate the West and start preaching civil rights to other minorities. Limerick explains it best when she states, “White Southerners could specialize, holding off one group; white Westerners fought in a multifront campaign.”
African Americans were seeing a casual discrimination in the West as they were banned from restaurants, hotels, and labor unions. Limerick tells of a story reported by Elizabeth McLagan stating, “In 1893, the citizens of Liberty, Oregon, requested that all black people leave town.” The city of Reno had a similar story while they were facing unemployment problems in 1904. To take care of the problem all unemployed African Americans were arrested and escorted out of town. The Reno police chief explained his actions saying, “There are too many worthless negroes in the city.” The problem of racism in the West shows that it persisted on every level in every facet of American life. Racism and discrimination lived from coast to coast and from north to south.
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints were not above this intolerance. The LDS Church decided in 1847 that members of African descent could not hold the priesthood. The first instance of this comes from Parley P. Pratt who was an apostle of the church. Speaking to a group of saints about William McCary (a “black Indian” who pretended to be an ancient prophet) Parley P. Pratt stated, “[McCary] got the blood of Ham in him which linege [sic] was cursed as regards [to] the priesthood.” In the fall of 1847 Brigham Young began alluding to the same idea, preaching that African Americans were a cursed people and were banned from holding the priesthood or entering LDS temples.
The banning of African Americans from the temple and holding the priesthood was the start of racial intolerance from white members of the faith. However the groundwork had been laid by teachings within the Mormon faith which ultimately showed African Americans as an inferior race. Joseph Smith taught that people of African descent were cursed with the mark of Cain which was the black skin. Smith also referred to African Americans as “negroes…the sons of Cain.” Mormon leaders began furthering these ideas after the death of Joseph Smith. Orson Hyde taught that some people had been predetermined to have black skin because they had not been valiant before coming to earth. These teachings prolonged the racist attitudes of faithful Latter Day Saints toward their African counterparts.
Slavery also became an issue in the Mormon religion as more Southerners joined the faith and began joining the saints in Illinois and Missouri. These Southern members transported slaves with them which they regarded as property. The ideology of slavery in the church had been ambivalent with leaders on either side of the issue. Joseph Smith ran for president as an abolitionist candidate and believed that no man should own another. Brigham Young believed that slavery was ordained by god and that the church shouldn’t get involved in matters between a master and his slave. The slavery issue in the LDS religion helped further the divide among African Americans and white members of the church.
Although there are instances of white members of the church treating African Americans with decency and respect, they are small instances with a larger problem of discrimination and intolerance towards the African race. However in one case African Americans were raised above the boundaries of race to gain equality among members of the church. By uniting saints under the banner of “pioneer” all members under that banner become a unified body that rises above racism and inequality. One instance in which this is true is the story of Green flake.
Abraham Green was born in North Carolina in 1828 and changed his name to Green Flake to show the ownership of his master James Flake. James Flake joined the LDS church and Green followed a few weeks later. James and his family decided that they were going to join the other saints in Nauvoo and allowed all their slaves to go free. Green opted to stay with the Flake family therefore retaining the status of a slave. The Salt Lake Tribune says that “He [Green Flake] joined the Mormons at Winter Quarters and came West with the first company to leave that camp.” Green drove Flake’s wagon to the Salt Lake Valley with instructions to build a home for the family, and shortly after the Flake family journeyed to the Great Basin. In 1848 James headed to California in search of gold and was killed in a mule accident there. James Flake’s wife gave Green to Brigham Young, allegedly, for back payment of tithing. Green worked for Brigham Young and the Church for two years before the church gave him his freedom. Green married Martha Crosby, the sister of Oscar Crosby, and set up a house in Union just outside of Salt Lake City.
Green Flake was a slave when he made the trek to Utah and was treated as such. Sometime after arriving in Utah he was lifted up, by a Mormon culture that honored pioneers, above the color of his skin to become a well known pioneer of 1847. People in Utah began to become interested in the history during the years after the initial band of pioneers moved into the valley. A Deseret News article states, “The magnitude of the task performed by those who pioneered the way across the Great Plains to these mountain vales forty-seven years ago is being more generally recognized than in former years, and interest increases in the history of the individuals who composed that noble band.” The article describes the trek as being a monumental accomplishment and explains that an increased interest in the history and the individuals was taking place. No individual is singled out in the article however the article does specify “individuals” in general, which would include Flake and his accomplishments. The renewed interest in the “noble band” is how the image of Green Flake was able to go beyond the boundary of racial discrimination and how he was able to become one of the most notable pioneers of 1847.
A small article from the Deseret News in 1888 details the festivities of a Utah Pioneer Day Celebration. The article explains that speeches and songs were part of a program honoring the pioneers. The only speaker named in the article is Green Flake when it states, “Among the speakers was Mr. Green Flake one of [the] Pioneers who gave a short account of the travels of the Pioneers across the plains.” Green Flake was able to recount his travels across the plains at this celebration, something that few other African Americans were doing in Utah or across the country at the time. In naming Green Flake and not the other speakers it implies that he was a notable pioneer that the Deseret News found important. It is also interesting to note that his race was not mentioned suggesting that readers knew who he was without adding “colored” to the article.
Green Flake is mentioned in a Deseret News article in 1894 after a pioneer celebration at which he was asked to speak. The article gives this account of the celebration: “Pioneer Green Flake, 66 years old, the only survivor of the three colored men who were numbered among the Pioneers of 1847, gave a short speech, in which he said that he had always felt proud of the distinction of being one of the Pioneers of Utah.” Flake sat on the stand with President Wilford Woodruff and fourteen other prominent pioneers. The Deseret News article mentions that Flake is one of the “colored men” rather than servant which had been used previously. Using the term colored men suggests that servant or slave was not the term they were using at the time. Although Flake was a slave when he came to the Great Basin, he was now a colored man who had made that famous trek into the valley.
The article goes on to share a story related by Wilford Woodruff, president of the LDS Church, in which he describes the pioneers going out to the Great Salt Lake to swim. “Green Flake, the colored man who had just spoke, was one of the party. After coming out of the briny waters his entire body being covered with salt, Mr. Flake was for once in his life a white man, and remained thus until by application of fresh water he regained his natural color.” The Ogden Standard offers a small account of the celebration and mentioned that Green Flake spoke and referred to him as the only surviving member of the three colored servants that made the trek. These accounts show that Green Flake had become an important part of the pioneer myth that was building in the church. The president of the church mentions him in a story and multiple accounts tell of Flake and his importance to the pioneer legend.
In anticipation of the jubilee, the Salt Lake Tribune created a series called “Fifty Years Ago Today.” The daily series would detail the journey from Winter Quarters to the Great Basin. The May 31, 1897 edition of the series shows a hand drawn picture of Green Flake and offers an excerpt of his life story.
Green Flake is one of the original pioneers of Utah. He is a colored man, born in the state of Mississippi [sic], and is still alive, being a respected citizen of Gray’s Lake, Bingham County, Ida. The date of his birth is not recorded, but he is said to be over 75 years of age. He had been a slave all of his life, but joining the Mormon church, he became a valued man in the pioneer company travelling in the fourteenth ten. of which Joseph Matthews was captain.
Mr. Flake is very well known in Salt Lake, having been a resident of Union ward for years prior to his moving to Idaho.
Green Flake had become a well known pioneer before the Pioneer Jubilee of 1897. The article describes him as “one of the original pioneers of Utah” which would have placed him in that illustrious band. The article also explains that he was a slave. In combining the two phrases it seems that although he was a different color he was an original pioneer of Utah. An African American slave that had made the journey with the original band, shared in their hardships, and had become part of the legend. Green Flake had given multiple speeches and accounts of his journey across the plains with Brigham Young. He told the story of President Young negotiating with Native Americans for passage across their land as well as a buffalo hunt that took place. He sat with President Wilford Woodruff at a Pioneer Day celebration that honored the first group of pioneers. Flake participated in all of the events surrounding the Pioneer Jubilee. He received a Jubilee pin that had his name engraved on it (as did all the pioneers). On July 26, 1897, the Salt Lake Tribune wrote a piece giving details about seven visitors who attended the Jubilee. The very first one in the article is Flake and it states: “Among the most interesting of the pioneers was Green Flake.” Green Flake was an original pioneer of 1847, he was looked at as one of the most interesting pioneers and he was renowned for his involvement.
October 22, 1903, Green Flake passed away in Idaho Falls, Idaho. On October 22 the Deseret News placed his obituary on the front page with the title, “Green Flake Passes Away” in bold letters at the top of the page. Flake had become more than a slave or colored servant, even more than an ordinary citizen, he had gained local recognition for being a pioneer of 1847. He had sat with the President of the LDS Church, he had given speeches about his travel to the Great Basin, and he had gained notoriety for being one of the African Americans who entered the Salt Lake Valley with the first band of pioneers. The act of placing his obituary on the front page shows a sign of respect and honor. This action suggests that Green Flake was significant to the culture so much so that his death deserved front page prominence.
In contrast to Green Flake, there was another African American that had a similar experience. The experience York had is parallel to Flake’s, however he was not exalted in status for his accomplishments. York was part of the westward expansion and the ground breaking Voyage of Discovery. When York returned to the East he was not heralded with the accolades that the rest of the band was given. In this way York had a similar experience in traveling west and blazing a new trail however his story offers a completely different result than Flake, and therefore demands further research and comparison.
York was the only African American on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. James J. Holmberg states that York is one of the most important and most overlooked African Americans of our time. York had been William Clark’s body servant since birth and by all accounts Clark and York were companions and spent much of their time together. York was a large man in stature and “black as a bear” according to Pierre Antoine Tabeau, a trader who met York in the Dakotas. The Arikara Indians called him “the big medicine” and were astonished at his black skin. Clark wrote in his journal, “the Indians much astonished at my Black Servent and Call him big medison, this nation never Saw a black man before.” York helped along the journey with gathering food, hunting, and cooking however his greatest contribution was allowing Lewis and Clark to form relationships with the Native Americans because they were so curious to see such a black individual. Tubbs agrees with this fact when she says, “York’s principal contribution to the expedition had more to do with the color of his skin than the quality of his character.” Tubbs suggestion is that York was more valuable to the expedition as an African American than anything else.
York journeyed with Lewis and Clark to the west where he encountered the same hardships as the rest of the team. Larry E. Morris explains that York was afforded equality on the voyage, something that he would not see when he returned home. Stephenie Tubbs explains that York was treated as another member of the expedition however he was ultimately a slave. Clark explains in his journal that he made York dance for the Mandan village saying, “I found them much pleased at the Dancing of our men, I ordered my black servent to Dance which amused the Croud verry much, and Some what astonished them, that So large a man should be active.” Tubbs explains that this experience shows that the relationship between Clark and York was one of master and slave instead of Clark as a commanding officer.
By all accounts York was a slave to William Clark and did not gain his independence when they returned home. Robert Betts explains that there have been false accounts of York being granted his freedom for his services along the journey. A false account of York gaining his freedom was first written by Elliott Coues in 1893 and it has persisted ever since. Other members of the voyage were given a reward when they returned home. However York did not receive any reward on his return. Meriwether Lewis sent a letter to Henry Dearborn with the names of the members who served on the expedition. Lewis writes:
With rispect to all those persons whose names are entered on this roll, I feel a peculiar pleasure in declaring, that the Ample support which they gave me under every difficulty: the manly firmness which they evinced on every necessary occasion; and the patience and fortitude with which the submitted to, and bore, the fatigues and painful sufferings incident to my late tour to the Pacific Ocean, entitles them to my warmest approbation and thanks; nor will I suppress the expression of a hope, that the recollection of services thus faithfully performed will meet a just reward in an ample remuneration on the part of the Government.
York however was left off the list of those on the expedition. It was as if he was not included in the recognition even though he had endured the hardships, performed his duties, and risked his life. Betts explains, “As far as the public record goes – and as far as most Americans now know – it is as though he had never been along, had never been one of those resourceful and determined few who led the way west across a largely unknown landscape.”
York was forgotten when the expedition returned and life resumed to normal. However York had felt a sense of freedom during the voyage and wanted to be set free for his accomplishments. In a letter to his brother, Clark writes about York trying to gain his freedom.
I wrote you in both of my last letters about York, I did wish to do well by him – but as he has got such a notion about freedom and his emence Services, that I do not expect he will be of much Service to me again; I do not think with him, that his Services has been So great.
According to the letter, York thought that his services on the expedition were enough to grant his freedom but Clark refused. Betts states, “Clark’s refusal to grant York his freedom on the basis of his past service is very enlightening. That service included journeying to the Pacific Ocean and back. Was that momentous trip not so momentous in William Clark’s mind?” Clark believed that York did not deserve his freedom for the service that he rendered and therefore would not grant it. From 1815 to 1832 there is no documentation regarding York.
In 1832 William Clark told Washington Irving that he had freed York and given him a large wagon and a team of six horses. Betts explains that there is no documentation to support this claim but suggests that York was probably gone from the household by the 1820’s. In Clark’s conversation with Irving he explained that York had gone to Tennessee to start a drayage business and had failed. York had tried to make it back to his master but along the way died of cholera.
The story of York is a discouraging one. He was able to make the journey to the Pacific Coast and back but was unable to gain the notoriety for being a member of the expedition. He was not rewarded with land or money like the other members of the expedition. He was not even rewarded his freedom for the services that he provided. York has been relatively erased from the history of the expedition and does not share in any of the lore. Betts explains, “It is, of course, too late to make amends to York for not having received a just reward within his lifetime and for not having been maligned for so long after his death.”
The story of York and Green Flake intersect under the banner of pioneer. They were pioneering African American men that journeyed west for the sake of a culture. They suffered hardships as well as performed duties with the rest of the members. They both endured being slaves to the white masters that they were property of. However their stories are different in how they are perceived when the journey was over.
York suffered the torment of William Clark for years after the expedition. He begged for his freedom for ten years after they returned home. Finally receiving his freedom he was unable to find success and was quoted by Clark as saying, “Damn this freedom, I have never had a happy day since I got it.” In his last days York was trying to find his way back to William Clark and died trying.
York’s death was not mentioned in any newspaper and was not revered as an important member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. He was relatively unknown until recently when several monuments have been erected to honor his memory. Although York was a contributing member of the Voyage of Discovery he has become virtually lost in history. In contrast, Flake became a legend for his part in the Mormon migration. He was given his freedom two years after the voyage. By multiple accounts Flake was considered one of the most important pioneers. In his death he was recognized for his accomplishments in the face of being a slave. One of the biggest differences between York and Flake is that Flake was included in the recognition whenever possible. Whether on the pioneer banner or the pioneer monument, Flake was recognized as a member of the first band of pioneers into the Great Basin. For his accomplishments York was given nothing and after gaining his freedom ten years after the voyage died penniless and forgotten.
Why the difference in the memory of these two noble African Americans? How did the image of one transcend the boundary of race while the other was pushed back into obscurity? The answer lies in the culture that they lived in. York was not seen as a valuable addition to the expedition but rather William Clark’s slave. This ideology made him unimportant to the story because he was not a contributing member. Flake on the other hand was a member of a culture that saw this migration as an important part of Mormon history. The trek to Utah was ordained by God and those men who accompanied Brigham Young were on Gods errand. That idea is what has advanced the image of pioneers to mythological prestige. The pioneer culture is what raised Green Flake’s image and allowed him the prominence that he enjoyed. York was not a part of a culture that regarded his service as divinely sanctioned and because of that he has been overlooked and ignored.
It would be difficult to say whether or not Flake’s image would have become legendary without the Mormon pioneer culture. However in comparing York’s experience it seems that Flake had an unusual acceptance in a western territory that was not ready to accept African Americans. The image of Flake has surpassed similar African Americans in the West and the reason seems to be the culture that he was a member of. The image of Green Flake overcame the racial attitudes of the late nineteenth century because he was a pioneer. His name on the plaque only furthers his legend and provides another way to honor his legacy. It is not possible to see if Hark Lay or Oscar Crosby would have had the same reception due to their deaths prior to the increased interest in the pioneers. However, it can be inferred because they are immortalized on the plaque memorializing their accomplishments. Without assuming that Hark Lay and Oscar Crosby would be treated the same, there is one case in which one African American was propelled above racial discrimination to leave a lasting legacy. That legacy continues to persist on the pioneer monument with the delineation between free whites and colored servants.
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