(Though blacks always have been a small minority in Utah's population, some can trace their lineage back to the pioneer era. Mary Lucille Bankhead descended from Green Flake, a black who accompanied the first group of Latter-day Saint pioneers into Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Her first-person story of growing up in Salt Lake City at the turn of the century includes these recollections taken from the book "Missing Stories, an Oral History of Ethnic and Minority Groups in Utah," by Leslie G. Kelen and Eileen Hallet Stone and printed by University of Utah Press.)
I was born in 1912, Aug. 9, right here on this property (in mid-Salt Lake City.) It was homestead land given to a Mrs. Jones by President Ulysses S. Grant. She later sold it to my father. It's been in our family for over one hundred years. I farmed it until I couldn't keep up with it any more and my boys had pulled all the weeds they were going to pull . . .When we were growing up, this was a busy place. We had chickens, rabbits, pigs and other animals. We raised wheat and hay and corn. My father bred horses, and we always had a garden and an orchard and all kinds of fruit. But black currants and peaches were our main fruits. And I'll tell you, picking those currants was an important part of my life that I'd never care to repeat.Now, my father didn't do much talking. Mother done the talking. She was younger than Dad. She did the talking and you did not talk back. It seemed like if you did, she'd cry and once she cried so loud it just got next to me. So I said I'd never do anything to make her cry, and I didn't.
My family - and others in the area - always had their home health remedies. Some were terrible, like that asafetida which my mother would cut up in pieces and make us wear in little bags around our necks to ward off measles. It looked like some kind of hard gum, and it was the stinkiest stuff that ever was. It smelled like garlic. But we weren't the only kids who wore them. The white kids did, too. We all had to wear it to school, but I couldn't stand it, so I used to take mine off and put it under the culvert down here by Mrs. Peterson's house and pick it up when I was ready to come home.
My in-laws did everything possible to keep Roy from marrying me . . . They had the idea I was too black and my hair too nubbly. But I had a good marriage, an awfully good marriage, with a good husband. He worked hard and when his check came in, he'd lay it on the table for me. He knew I knew what to do with the money and how to pay bills. All he wanted was about four dollars to go fishing. He'd want me to go with him and I would, because he did the same thing for me. He never said no. So I wouldn't say no to him, even though I didn't like fishing.
Roy and I had eight children. We lost one child to pneumonia. We were rushing to get him to the county hospital when he died in my arms on Fifth East and Twenty-First South. I daren't say a word to Roy, because he was driving so fast I though he'd be too emotional to hear that. I was afraid he'd run off the road.
I remember best the time, in 1939, when the Legislature was in session and a Utah senator was suggesting that all blacks from where we were and from Seventh South form a black district elsewhere in the city. He even had a black man, dead now, helping him. Probably gave him a lot of money to do it. Well, at that time, I belonged to the Camilla Art and Craft Club, and when several other women and I discussed this, we thought it was a ridiculous idea. So I hitched up the horse and wagon and we rode up to the Capitol.
We sat up there in the Legislature all day. And of course we told them what we wanted and that we was not going to move - that what we really wanted was our land and we had no intention of selling. That was the first time we ever been up to the Legislature, but we just sat there waiting to be heard. Most of the ladies were dressed pretty good, but there was Mrs. Leggroan with her big, white apron on and wearing a white dust cap. And I was nursing my baby and had a basket for him to sleep in. We brought our lunch and ate it up there. The newspaper got on it and wrote quite a bit about it. And we stayed till we knew the Legislature realized what they had to do. Then we went home. I guess the people at the Legislature was glad to see us go. I have to laugh about it now.
I think highly of Martin Luther King. Yes, I do. I know that (racial) violence was a way of life in some parts of this country. I heard terrible stories and some that will always be on my mind. But the truth is, we didn't know about violence here - against blacks. We didn't have that kind of trouble here.
If I had problems and didn't like what someone was doing to me, and I thought I was right, I'd just open my mouth and talk about it. And somebody was going to hear. If they don't like it, why, that's just too bad. I'm like everybody else. I'm a woman. It don't make no difference what color my skin is. My blood is red like yours is, and I'm going to say what I want to say.
I did have an incident when I went to the Daughters of Utah Pioneers meeting once. I had been their secretary for four years and was going to make a speech. The doorman opened the door for my friends, but before I could get in, the door closed on me. He expected me to go around to the kitchen entrance. I wasn't about to go to no kitchen door. So that main door opened for me and I went in and gave my speech.
Sometimes I've had to correct people who say things that aren't right. There was a (white) woman and every time she'd go to Relief Society (Bankhead was a faithful member of the LDS Church,) some-body would ask her how she was doing. She'd say, "Oh, I'm so tired, I've been working like a nigger." I was determined to break her out of that saying. The next time I was at Relief Society and someone asked me how I was doing, I said, "I'm so tired, I've been working like a nigger." You could have heard a pin drop in the ward house. I just whipped her with her own stick. And I haven't heard that expression since.