Utah Historical Quarterly is the official journal of Utah history, published on behalf of the Utah State Historical Society since 1928. UHQ’s mission, from its earliest issues to the present, is to publish articles on all aspects of Utah history and to present Utah in the larger context of the West. UHQ’s editorial style emphasizes scholarly credibility, accessible language, and variety. The quarterly is filled with articles, book reviews, and photographs, as well field notes about documents, artifacts, historiography, oral history, and public history. Online supplements—including documents, galleries, and interviews—accompany each issue.
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At present staff of the Utah State Historical Society are teleworking, due to COVID-19 and the recent earthquake, which did some damage to the Rio Grande Depot.
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UHQ winter 2020
Volume 88, Number 1
Joyful young faces appear on the cover of this Utah Historical Quarterly, portraits of African Americans attending World War II–era dances in Salt Lake City. They are glimpses of a state on the threshold of change. As with the rest of the United States, Utah has grappled with race relations since its founding in the nineteenth century; well into the twentieth century, both custom and law made the state a difficult environment for African Americans and other people of color. The social and structural shifts set in motion by the war, the civil rights movement, and the upheavals of the 1960s and beyond, however, opened the door for some improvement. This issue of UHQ explores race and agency in interracial relationships, public life, and athletics during those tumultuous years.
In our first article, Matthew Harris and Madison Harris ask why Utah took so long to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. by naming a holiday for him. Ronald Reagan first created the federal King holiday in 1983, and, by 1999, every state but Utah had followed suit. The Harrises argue that the notion that King was a communist—which was promulgated by such national figures as J. Edgar Hoover and Robert Welch and repeated by Ezra Taft Bensen and Cleon Skousen, prominent Latter-day Saints—created an atmosphere in which many state legislators were loath to acknowledge the civil rights leader by name. After years of debate, much unfavorable attention, and the efforts of Jeanetta Williams, Gordon B. Hinckley, Robert Sykes, and others, the state finally designated a King holiday in 2000.
Jessica Nelson, in our second article, analyzes a particularly turbulent time at Utah State University, the 1960–1961 school year. In January 1961, university president Daryl Chase called the school’s few black athletes together to caution them against interracial romances. Around the same time, professor John J. Stewart published his Mormonism and the Negro, an apologia for the policies that restricted the full participation of blacks in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The meeting and the book touched off an intense and wide-ranging conversation at USU, especially within the pages of the campus newspaper, much of it focused on “local issues in which Mormonism was the fulcrum.”
Finally, Christine Cooper-Rompato examines race relations by looking to the Green Book, a state-by-state directory of businesses that opened their doors to African Americans. Her study of Utah’s hospitality industry finds that from at least 1939 until the mid-1960s, very few restaurants and hotels would do so. The handful of welcoming businesses were almost entirely owned and managed by African Americans, many of them women. That could lead to some financial success, and it could also invite racially motivated violence. After the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Green Book eventually ceased publication, but that did not spell the end of difficulties for black travelers.
Altogether, these three articles deepen our understanding of subject that hasn’t seen enough published work: the black experience in twentieth-century Utah, which included cold shoulders, uneven justice, and limited public acceptance. LDS policies, as well as Utah’s relatively insular setting, surely played a role in this environment. At the same time, as these articles show, personal agency and striving made a positive difference in the state, as did influxes of soldiers, students, defense workers, railroad employees, and others. And as the range of years covered in this issue—from roughly 1939 to 2000—demonstrates, overcoming racial prejudice and creating the beloved community, as Dr. King put it, is not a subject buried in the past.