Historian reflects on Utah’s history with lynching and prejudice

Apr 1, 2022, 10:58 AM | Updated: Dec 30, 2022, 11:20 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.


We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Crime, Police + Courts

A green SUV on its roof in the front yard of a house after crashing into two parked cars and rollin...

Waverly Golden

SLCPD investigates rollover crash, gives reminder to practice safe driving

The SLCPD is reminding the community to practice safe driving after an SUV rolled over after crashing into to vehicles.

3 hours ago

The Draper City Fire Battalion Chief's vehicle is parked outside Draper City Hall in Draper. a Carb...

Eric Cabrera

Carbon monoxide scare at Draper school

The American Preparatory Academy in Draper City had a carbon monoxide scare Wednesday. No one needed extensive treatment.

19 hours ago

The TikTok logo is displayed on signage outside TikTok social media app company offices in Culver C...

By Samantha Delouya, CNN

Judge blocks Montana’s TikTok ban from taking effect on January 1

(CNN) — A federal judge on Thursday halted Montana’s TikTok ban, which was set to go into effect at the start of 2024. In a filing, US District Judge Donald Molloy said that despite the state government’s attempt to defend the law, “the current record leaves little doubt that Montana’s legislature and Attorney General were […]

23 hours ago

lori vallow daybell pictured, she faces murder charges in arizona...

Sam Herrera

Lori Vallow Daybell extradited to Arizona to face murder charges

Lori Vallow Daybell faces charges in Arizona that allege she killed her fourth husband, Charles Vallow, and tried to kill her niece's ex-husband.

1 day ago

Kevin Franke court hearing...

Pat Reavy,

Husband of YouTube vlogger Ruby Franke files for divorce

The divorce filing comes nearly three months after Ruby Franke, 41, was charged in 5th District Court with six counts of aggravated child abuse.

1 day ago

9/11 flag at salt lake 2002 opening ceremony. Winter Games...

Curt Gresseth

As SLC steps closer to hosting 2034 Winter Games, a security expert looks back at 2002

Salt Lake City steps closer to hosting its second Winter Olympics in 2034. A security expert reflects on the lessons learned from the SLC's 2002 Winter Games.

2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

Human hand holding a protest banner stop vaping message over a crowded street background....

Prosperous Utah Communities

Utah’s Battle to Protect Youth from Vaping Epidemic Faces New Threat as Proposed Rule Threatens Progress

Utah's strict standards of nicotine levels in vaping products are at risk, increasing health hazards associated with use. Read more about how you can advocate for a better future for Utah's youth.

Aerial photo of Bear Lake shoreline with canopies and people camped out on the beach...

Visit Bear Lake

Last-Minute Summer Vacation Planning? Check Out Bear Lake!

Bear Lake is the perfect getaway if you are last-minute summer vacation planning. Enjoy activities with your whole family at this iconic lake.

Historian reflects on Utah’s history with lynching and prejudice