24 June 2022

Soil Collection Ceremony From the 2 Lynching Sites in Salt Lake City

Jars full of soil from the lynch sites of Thomas Coleman and William Harvey.

On Saturday, June 11, 2022, I participated in the Soil Collection Ceremony for the 2 lynchings that occurred in Salt Lake City's past. 

Soil from the lynching sites were collected, placed in labeled jars, and then sent to the Equal Justice Initiative’s (EJI) Legacy Museum in Alabama to join the other jars of soil from lynching sites around the country.

The two Black men lynched in SLC are Thomas Coleman and William Harvey.

Mr. Thomas Coleman
Thomas Coleman arrived in SLC in the early 1850’s as a slave with a party of Southern LDS slave-owners who were traveling to and settling in Utah. He subsequently worked for Brigham Young at the Salt Lake House hotel in downtown SLC and is believed to have joined the LDS faith.

The exact circumstances surrounding Coleman’s murder remain a mystery. What is known is that on Dec 11, 1866 several boys playing on Arsenal Hill (now Capitol Hill) overlooking SLC found his body. With his own knife, Coleman was stabbed in the chest twice and his throat was cut so deep that he was nearly decapitated. A sign was also left on his body that read, “Notice to all N*****s. Take warning. Leave white women alone.” He was 35 when he died.

The soil collection ceremony started at the steps of the Utah State Capitol, within view of the site of Thomas Colemans's murder (now the southwest lawn of the Capitol building).  

Ceremony at the Utah State Capitol. The lynching site of Thomas Coleman is on the southwest side of Capitol Hill.

Soil collection spoons for Thomas Coleman.

My spoon with soil at the flag marking the lynching site of Thomas Coleman on Capitol Hill.

Literature from the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). This report of Lynching in America is on the EJI website

We then marched from the Utah State Capitol Building to the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building at 125 S State Street, the location of the Old City Hall building (which was moved to Capitol Hill and now serves as the Utah Office of Tourism).  

Mr. William "Sam Joe" Harvey
William Harvey (sometimes “Sam” or “Sam Joe” because he served "Uncle Sam" in the US Army) arrived in SLC in early August 1883. Little is known about his life prior to that point. He came from Pueblo, Colorado. He was an Army veteran about 35 years old and tall with an athletic build. Harvey set up a bootblack stand on Main Street. He was described as irritable and some worried about his mental health.

On August 25, 1883, just weeks after his arrival, Harvey got into an argument with F. H. Grice, a local Black restaurant owner; Harvey allegedly pulled a gun on Grice but then fled the scene without harming anyone. Harvey was soon confronted by the SLC Police, whereupon Harvey is alleged to have shot 2 police officers, of which one died. Harvey was tackled, taken into custody, and led two blocks away to City Hall (now the location of the Wallace F Bennet federal building).

A crowd quickly devolved into a mob demanding blood for the slain officer. Other police officers, after beating Harvey, turned him over to the mob that grew to an estimated 2,000 who then secured a rope around Harvey’s neck and hung him from a rafter of the jailhouse stable, adjacent to City Hall, where he died slowly and fighting for his life. After Harvey died, the crowd then drug his body down State Street for several blocks.

 Lynch site of William Harvey, previously the site of the Old City Hall and Jail and now the site of the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building. The lynching site is near the SW portion of the building.

The story of William Harvey’s lynching told by @blackmenaces

Me, adding soil to William Harvey’s jar.

I also took the suggestion to use my hands to feel the soil when filling the jar. 

My hands with soil from the site of William Harvey’s lynching. 

The courtyard at the Wallace F Bennett federal building is near the lynching site of William Harvey. 

A small rose garden grows along the edges of the courtyard. This is a relatively quiet reflection spot. I think I will write to someone (GSA?) to recommend more roses be planted. 

Save Utah's Black History. And Tell the Story. Sema Hadithi Foundation.

I am part of the Sema Hadithi Foundation, and I hope you will read about them, sign up for the newsletter, and share some of the many storieshttps://www.semahadithi.org/

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