18 January 2021

An Attack on Thelma Steward and Wallace Thurman led to the Formation of the Salt Lake Chapter of the NAACP

Calvary Baptist Church Aug 1910, 679 E 300 South,
road construction in foreground. From UDSH
On April 9 1918, 2 Black teenagers were assaulted by about 6 White Soldiers from Ft Douglas at the intersection of 200 South and Main St SLC.

This incident and the lack of any accountability helped spur the creation of the Salt Lake Branch of the NAACP.

The two teenagers were Thelma Steward, age 19, and Wallace Thurman, age 15.

Thelma was the daughter of Samuel Steward- the longtime caretaker of one of SLC’s underground Comfort Stations (previous posts). Wallace went on to be a part of the Harlem Renaissance. Both teenagers were members of the Calvary Baptist Church, at the time located at 679 E 300 South (and now located at 1090 S State).

The two groups physically bumped into each other on Main Street and name calling started. Then Soldiers knocked Wallace down several times and badly beat him. The Soldiers also beat Thelma, then seized her and drove off with her in their automobile letting her out a short time later. Wallace reported that the Soldiers appeared to be drunk.

This incident outraged the Black Community of SLC, especially the membership of the Cavalry Baptist Church and a meeting was held on April 15 1918.

As a result of that meeting Pastor George W. Hart filed a protest with the SL City Council on April 18 1918 in which he stated the SLC Police deliberately stalled any investigation and allowed the Soldiers to escape in their anonymity.

It was this incident that prompted Pastor Hart and many members of the Calvary Baptist Church to organize the Salt Lake Branch of the NAACP in Feb 1919.

Pastor Hart served as the first president and Thelma served as the first secretary.

Sources: Oral History Interviews: James E. Dooley, Albert Fitz 1, Clarence Beridon 4-5, All from Marriott Library; SL Telegram 1918-04-18; Des News 1918-04-18

News clipping headline from Deseret News 1918-04-18

The only image of Thelma I could find, from her obit, SL Trib 1980-05-13

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