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Utah researchers put spotlight on Black Army veteran's lynching

Life can take a drastic turn within a few short weeks of relocating to a new city. (Photo: KUTV)
Life can take a drastic turn within a few short weeks of relocating to a new city. (Photo: KUTV)
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Life can take a drastic turn within a few short weeks of relocating to a new city.

Dr. Jim Tabery, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Utah explained that’s exactly what happened back in August of 1883.

Tabery found old newspapers indicating William Sam Joe Harvey, a Black man, in his mid-30’s was lynched.

“We have to keep in mind they were very much written from a white perspective,” said Tabery.

Harvey was an Army Veteran who moved to Salt Lake City from Pueblo, Colorado.

MORE: Sema Hadithi educates, explores history of lynching in Utah

According to newspapers, Harvey’s violent death happened in downtown Salt Lake City, specifically at the site of what is now the Wallace F. Bennett federal building near the corner of State Street and 100 South.

Any information found about lynching happening in Utah doesn’t surprise some people, who are familiar with the history of the violent act across the United States.

Robert Burch, genealogist, and founder of the Sema Hadithi Foundation said Utah was not immune to lynching’s.

“Lynching wasn’t done just for the sake of killing someone. Lynching was done as a demonstration,” said Burch.

One aspect of Utah’s history Burch points out, is who the settlers were that moved to the Beehive state.

“But what we forget though is that many of the settlers who came here were from Mississippi. And so those Mississippi families came out here with their slaves,” said Burch.

The negative views of people of color were brought from the east coast to the new settlements of the west.

“With that kind of mentality, especially when you already have the disposition towards people of African descent, of course something like that could happen in a place like this,” said Burch.

Before the lynching documents found show William Sam Joe Harvey, set up a shoe shining stand on Main Street in downtown Salt Lake City.

ALSO: Ogden resident continues work of sharing history of Black-owned jazz club and hotel

The army veteran was known to be irritable, and some people worried about his mental health.

On August 25, 1883 Harvey got in an argument with a Black restaurant owner and allegedly pulled out gun, but he ran off not shooting anyone.

Following that incident police were called and the chief and another officer responded.

After a search, Harvey was found and there was confrontation and at some point where Harvey allegedly fired shots.

He was accused of killing the police chief.

“We don’t know much because there was no trial. There was no investigation. Harvey was never given the opportunity to stand trial and tell his defense,” said Tabery.

Roughly 30 minutes from the time of the alleged shooting death of the police chief, authorities turned Harvey over to a violent mob demanding his blood.

Harvey was hung from a rafter of the jail house stable, adjacent to city hall.

Documents that recorded the lynching said Harvey’s body was cut down then dragged down State Street for several blocks.

“The only thing that finally stopped it was the mayor at the time, William Jennings got wind of it. He raced to the scene and essentially took control of Harvey’s body and the rope. Threatening anybody who would challenge him and that’s how it finally ended,” said Tabery.

The story of Harvey’s death serves as a reminder that parts of Utah’s history reflects a form of racism what the United States has dealt with for many years.

MORE: Foundation puts spotlight on historic Black neighborhood in Salt Lake City

“When you can get a thousand people here in this little spot, in this little area to lynch one person. That is a community statement. And that type of community statement has been happening since 1619,” said Burch.

Burch explained, that those community statements continue today but are revealed in different forms that negatively impact African Americans.

Some of those forms include the criminal justice system, where a disproportionate number of Black men and women are behind bars.

Robert Burch and Sema Hadithi are collaborating with a non-profit out of Montgomery, Alabama called the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI).

They’re working to get historical markers placed at sites where recorded lynching’s happened.

One of the first steps will be by participating in The Community Soil Collection Project.

Organizers say a special Memorial Ceremony will take place June 11th, 2022 to remember the life of William Sam Joe Harvey (1883) at the Wallace F. Bennett Federal building in Salt Lake City.

There will also be a ceremony to remember Thomas Coleman (1866) who was a lynching victim near the grounds of the Utah State Capitol.

Soil will be collected from both lynching sites in Utah. One will happen at State Capitol and another at the Wallace F. Bennett Federal building.

For more information click here.

A number of African American leaders and Utah elected officials are planning to participate.

That soil will be placed in special jars and sent to the Equal Justice Initiative that will be on display showing in a tangible way the legacy of racial violence towards African Americans.

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The victims of lynching will also be memorialized.

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