Historian reflects on Utah’s history with lynching and prejudice

Apr 1, 2022, 10:58 AM | Updated: 10:58 am
Emmett Louis Till, 14, with his mother, Mamie Bradley, at home in Chicago. Photo: CNN / TNS/ABACA v...
Emmett Louis Till, 14, with his mother, Mamie Bradley, at home in Chicago. Photo: CNN / TNS/ABACA via Reuters

SALT LAKE CITY — The history of lynching in Utah came into focus after President Biden signed the Emmet Till Anti-Lynching Act into law this week. 

Till was a 14-year-old Black teenager who was beaten and lynched by two white men in 1955, allegedly for flirting with a white woman days before he was killed.

A University of Utah historian says there are stories similar to Emmit Till’s that took place when Utah was a territory. He said these are examples of violence against those who did not conform to the social standard.

The violence included forms of intimidation, including death by lynching.

“I think we have three [examples of race-related violent deaths] in Utah that we can pinpoint,” said Paul Reeve, a Simmons Chair of Mormon Studies at the University of Utah. Robert Marshall, Sam Joe Harvey and Thomas Coleman were all African-American men.

Coleman, Harvey, and Marshall included in Utah’s history of lynching

According to Reeve, Coleman was a former slave who was a member of The Church of Jesus of Christ of Latter-day Saints. An 1886 newspaper clipping from The Daily Union Vedette said Coleman was killed for courting a white woman. Somebody slit his throat.

“His body was dumped on the ground of (the) current state capitol,” Reeve said. A placard was placed on Coleman that read, “NOTICE TO ALL N******! TAKE WARNING! LEAVE WHITE WOMEN ALONE!!!”

Sam Joe Harvey was accused of killing Salt Lake City Marshal Andrew H. Burt. Officials arrested and then released Harvey. Later, a mob lynched him  according to an article on the Utah Department of Heritage and Arts website. His skeletal remains were found outside a cemetery in Salt Lake City.

Officials accused coal worker Robert Marshall of killing a guard in Carbon County, Utah. A mob later hanged him, and eleven men were arrested. However, they were released after the grand jury said they found no evidence to convict them.

These were not the only acts of violence toward people who did not fit the “white Anglo-Saxon Protestant” ideal in Utah, according to Reeve. 

“The KKK burns a cross on the lawn of a Greek man who married a white woman,” he said. “They’re enforcing white Anglo-Saxon Protestantism, right? Those from southern and eastern Europe are Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Jewish, and they don’t fit the KKK’s understanding of what it means to be an American.”

Reflecting on Utah’s history can lead to greater understanding

Despite their violent nature, Reeve said reflecting on these instances can bring about a change of perspective for people today.

“If we understand history, it can help us to stand in places of empathy, to perhaps take a step back [and] recognize the lessons that history has for us to learn that can inform the present,” he said.

Reeve is part of a group that is commemorating the lynching of Sam Joe Harvey and Thomas Coleman through the Equal Justice Initiative’s Soil Collection Project.  The idea is to gather the soil from places where racial lynchings took place.

“There is an ongoing effort at trying to make sure that Utah lynching victims are remembered in the National Lynching Memorial,” Reeve said.


Today’s Top Stories


Utah County Sheriff's Office badge....
Mark Jones

As one blaze is nearly contained, new Soldier Fire starts up

The Soldier Fire started up Tuesday in Utah County. According to Utah Fire Info, the blaze is near Highway 68 at milepost 15.
19 hours ago
Cornelis Frederik Bogslag, the missing South Salt Lake man...
Samantha Herrera

Anonymous donor offers $50K to help find missing South Salt Lake man

The South Salt Lake Police Department announced an anonymous donor would offer $50K to anyone that provides information that helps locate a missing South Salt Lake man.
19 hours ago
The Great Salt Lake has reached a historic low level of water....
Waverly Golden

The Great Salt Lake water level reaches a historic low as Utah continues to face extreme drought

Utah is in an extreme drought, causing the Great Salt Lake to reach a historic low level. Over the past 128 years, 2022 has been the driest year to date in Utah.
19 hours ago
A sign with the Taylorsville Police Department logo reads "Police Department"...
Aimee Cobabe and Samantha Herrera

Man in custody after high-speed chase through Taylorsville

A high-speed chase through Taylorsville Monday afternoon led to the arrest of a 51-year-old man who police say violated his felony probation.
19 hours ago
Deuel Creek fire burns in the nighttime...
Samantha Herrera

Deuel Creek Fire continues to burn, officials hopeful for more containment

As of Tuesday morning, the Deuel Creek Fire was 10% contained and affected 129 acres near Centerville, Utah. Officials continue to work to contain it.
19 hours ago
The community built a small memorial in front of Macie Hill's family home. Hill passed away after a...
Amie Schaeffer

GoFundMe started to remember 8-year-old girl who died in Kaysville parade

The Kaysville City Fourth of July parade turned tragic when Macie Hill was hit by a vehicle. She reportedly died from her injuries.
19 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Joseph Smith Memorial Building...
Temple Square

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is an icon of Salt Lake City | Why hosting an event at this beautiful location will make you a hero this year

Here's why hosting an event at the iconic Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will make you a hero this year.
Historian reflects on Utah’s history with lynching and prejudice