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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Cottonwood Heights proclaims June 19 as Juneteenth

Jul 15, 2021 10:48AM ● By Cassie Goff

As Cottonwood Heights formally recognized Juneteenth, former Historic Committee member Jerri Hartwell shared the stories of the black pioneers within the area. (Cassie Goff/City Journals)

By Cassie Goff | [email protected]

The City of Cottonwood Heights formally recognized and celebrated Juneteenth this year with their Juneteenth Proclamation presented during the City Council business session on June 15. Former member of the Cottonwood Heights Historic Committee Jerri Hartwell shared some of the history of black pioneers within the valley before she presented the proclamation. 

“The history of the black Mormon pioneers mentions three black pioneers who came here with Brigham Young,” Hartwell said. 

At the time Utah was a slave territory so the black pioneers arrived in (what is now) Utah as colored servants. Hark Lay Wales and Green Flake were among those pioneers. 

Hark Wales scouted, guarded, worked and served the Brigham Young Vanguard Company and arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847. 

“Some say Green Flake drove the wagon of Brigham Young. Some say Brigham Young said, ‘It is enough. This is the right place. Dive on’ to Green Flake,” Hartwell said. 

Eventually, Flake was given as human tithing to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “We don’t know if he was the only individual who had that distinction,” Hartwell said.

Flake and his wife, Martha Flake, were buried in the Union Pioneer Cemetery (1533 Creek Road) and it’s believed he lived in the area where Trader Joe’s stands now (6989 S. 1300 East). 

“I moved to Cottonwood Heights in 1987 and the city has come a long way in racial equality and social justice,” Hartwell said. “This is a huge step in the right direction.” 

Mayor Mike Peterson presented the formal signed copy of the Juneteenth Proclamation to Hartwell for her keeping. 

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas to inform enslaved African Americans that they had been freed. The Emancipation Proclamation had been signed by Abraham Lincoln two years earlier in 1863. June 19, 1865 was the day the last 250,000 enslaved people learned of their freedom. 

The Cottonwood Heights proclamation read, in part: “Juneteenth, a combination of the words ‘June’ and ‘Nineteenth,’ commemorates those events of June 19, 1865 in the state of Texas, and in 1866 Texans began the celebration of Juneteenth with community events such as parades, cookouts, prayer gatherings, musical performances and historical cultural readings.”

Later that same week on June 17, Utah Governor Spencer Cox signed a declaration recognizing June 19 as Juneteenth within the State of Utah. The declaration recognizes cultural celebration but does not designate Juneteenth as a state holiday. Cox will need the State Legislature approval for that.  

Cox’s declaration came after the United States Senate unanimously approved H.R. 1320 on June 15 to establish Juneteenth (National Independence Day Act) as a federal holiday. The House of Representatives had previously passed the bill, which President Joe Biden signed into law on June 17, and Juneteenth became the 12th federal holiday.