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Sun, 01.06.1828

Green Flake, Pioneer born

Green Flake

*Green Flake was born on this date in 1828.  He was a Black laborer and explorer. 

Green Flake was born a slave on the Jordan Flake Plantation in Anson County, North Carolina. At the age of ten, Green was given to Jordan Flake's son James as a wedding present. James and Agnes Flake, their three-year-old son William, and Green (along with their other slaves) moved from North Carolina to Mississippi a few years later.

In the winter of 1843–1844, a stranger knocked on the door of the Flake home. The visitor was Benjamin L. Clapp, a Christian missionary from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Although skeptical at first, the Flakes were baptized a few weeks later. Their baptism brought immediate changes to the James Flake plantation. James began sharing his beliefs with his friends, acquaintances, and slaves. Green came to believe the words of the man who enslaved him and was baptized in the Mississippi River on April 7, 1844, at sixteen.  Shortly after Green's baptism, the Flakes made the decision to leave their successful plantation and migrate North to Nauvoo, Illinois, in order to be closer to the main body of Latter-day Saints.

Before the family left, James freed all of his slaves.  Green, however, refused to leave the family. James in turn allowed him to remain with the Flakes, although he would keep his status as a slave. The Flake family, Green, and two other slaves moved from Mississippi to Nauvoo in 1844.  In Nauvoo, Green became very active in the church, assisted the Flakes in building a new brick home, and worked on various church projects. At the time, the church accepted Green's labor as the Flake family's tithing.  He was a part of the first group of Latter-day Saints to leave Nauvoo for the West and participated in the initial establishment of Winter Quarters, Nebraska.  

James M. Flake sent Green, with a pair of white Mississippi mules and a white-topped mountain carriage, to help the pioneer company to their destination.  Green had a personal desire to be an active member of the LDS faith and help fellow Latter-day Saints in any way he could. James Flake instructed Green to take the mules and carriage, cross the plains with the first company of Saints, send the carriage and mules back with some of those who would return to Nebraska, and remain out west himself to build a house for the Flake family in preparation for their arrival.  

Brigham Young's westward trek began on April 17, 1847.  Green Flake was assigned to the "fourteenth ten" of the pioneer company. Green was not the only Black in this first group. He was accompanied by Hark Lay and Oscar Crosby, both slaves. Flake, Lay, and Crosby were good friends and had much in common. All three were baptized members of the church and had come from Mississippi plantations. Green also had a particular task given to him- he was to be Brigham Young's driver on the westward trek.  On July 13, 1847, Green was chosen to accompany Orson Pratt on an assignment to find and follow a trail into Salt Lake.  This group reached the valley on July 22, 1847, and Flake rode in the first wagon to move through Emigration Canyon.  All rejoiced upon reaching the valley, many showing their gratitude and devotion to God. Green himself was re-baptized on August 8, 1847. 

He built a log cabin in Cottonwood, Utah, and planted crops. When the Flakes arrived in Utah in 1848, their home and farm were waiting for them; Green was only 20 years old.  Though Green had initially been offered his freedom in Mississippi, after his refusal to leave, he retained the same status and relationship with white settlers as a slave. As a result, sometimes, perhaps often, derogatory and demeaning statements were made. One white settler, William Crosby, wrote in a letter to Brigham Young that Green was a "boy who was mean, dirty, and saucy to his owner" and that Green needed a man "that would treat him right and make him work and behave himself." Blacks might be members of the church, but some still saw them as inferior. However, this was not the case in all circumstances. When difficulties between Green and Agnes Flake arose, Brigham Young became involved to ensure the conflict's peaceful resolution.

Between 1848 and 1850, Green Flake married Martha Crosby, Hark Lay's sister. They had two children: Lucinda Vilate, born December 2, 1854, who married George Stevenson in 1872, and Abe, born in 1857 and married to Mary Steele.  Martha (Crosby) Flake died on January 20, 1885. After her death, Green moved to Gray's Lake, Idaho.  Exactly how and when Green Flake was granted his freedom remains unclear. According to Flake's family tradition, before going to San Bernardino, Agnes Flake gave Green to the church as tithing, after which church leaders freed him.  There is no proof of this being the case. When the Flakes left for San Bernardino, Green remained in Utah. In 1854 Amasa Lyman, a church leader in California, wrote a letter to Brigham Young on behalf of Agnes Flake, asking for Young to send "the negro man she left" to help her, as her husband had died.  

Brigham Young responded that Green was in poor health and was needed in Utah to provide for his own family. Young freed Green soon after. Regardless, Green, Martha, and their children were listed as Union, Salt Lake County's free residents in the 1860 census.  After he was granted his freedom, Green lived in Fort Union, Salt Lake County.  Slavery was not officially banned in Utah until the spring of 1862.  Green Flake died in Idaho on October 20, 1903. He was buried in Salt Lake City next to his wife.  

According to many scholars, most early Black converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints "were strengthened by such compelling spiritual experiences that they overlooked prejudice and discrimination. Their children did not always share their parents' enthusiasm." However, Green Flake's descendants, at least some of them, proved to be the exception. Individuals like Mary Lucile Perkins Bankhead, a fourth-generation descendant of Green Flake, and other Black pioneers such as Jane Elizabeth Manning James chose to remain in the church despite discrimination such as the priesthood ban.

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