Speak Your Piece: a podcast about Utah's history

Season 4, Ep. 9, The New Juneteenth Holiday & Utah's Laws on Interracial Marriage (1888-1963)

June 20, 2022 Brad Westwood, Senior Public Historian, Utah Dept. of Heritage & Arts
Speak Your Piece: a podcast about Utah's history
Season 4, Ep. 9, The New Juneteenth Holiday & Utah's Laws on Interracial Marriage (1888-1963)
Show Notes

June 2, 2022 (Season 4, Episode 9, episode length: 61 minutes) Click here to read the larger Speak Your Piece shownotes.

Women, Race and Marriage: This Speak Your Piece episode involves: (a) Women’s history–this is the 2nd in a series about Utah Women’s History, (b) Utah’s new Juneteenth holiday, and (c) a seminar-like discussion on Patrick Mason’s Utah Historical Quarterly article, entitled: “The Prohibition of Interracial Marriage in Utah, 1888-1963 (V. 76, No. 2). This excellent UHQ article, offers much insights into the law, politics and culture surrounding race in Utah, during the late 19th and 20th c.   If you want to understand what historical headwinds are pushing up against Juneteenth in Utah, here's your episode.

Dr. Cassandra Clark, Utah's Women’s History Initiative coordinator, draws out in this discussion not only the issues about race in Utah, but also challenges us to seek out women’s stories and perspectives. With Mason’s help, Clark explains how to identify motive and biases around historical sources; and how bystander male assumptions (in this case male clerks, police officers and newspaper reporters) may no longer be mistaken for women’s stories and perspectives. Next, late 19th c. US congressional efforts, and the broader American public’s resistance to Mormon polygamy, along with Utah mirroring the nation’s anxiety about race, all play in this complex story. 

“Responding to a nation that portrayed polygamist Mormons as the most deluded and degraded of all people, Latter-day Saints counter attacked by highlighting the moral depravity of their critics. Mormons strong disavowal of miscegenation certainly reflects trends in late 19th century LDS theology and culture, but it also represents a political tactic calculated to deflect attention and criticism at the high point of the national anti-polygamy crusade.”  Patrick Mason


The heart of this UHQ article involves America’s and Utah’s very wrong and harmful historical assumptions about race, also white legislators’ efforts to restrict, in regards to race, who should or should not marry in the eyes of the state. And finally, how Utah and the nation sought to codify into law, anti-miscegenation or interracial marriages (most particulary white & black or white & Asian). The use of the term “miscegenation," is a historical term that has no currency in a society based on respect for all human rights, fundamental freedoms, and racial equality.

 To read Mason's article, click on "The Prohibition of Interracial Marriage in Utah, 1888-1963" At the present Mason is the Arrington Chair of Mormon History & Culture, and is an associate professor of Religious Studies and History, at Utah State University.

Mason begins his article with this description: “On a September day in 1898, Dora Harris and her fiancé Quong Wah, Chinese immigrant and proprietor of a downtown laundry service, enter the county clerk's office in Salt Lake City, seeking a marriage license. The deputy county clerk rejected their request citing a law passed ten years earlier by the territorial legislature which forbade a white person from marrying anyone of black or Asian descent.”


On this first nation-wide commemoration of “Juneteenth,” this episode acknowledges and describes this new national holiday; offers the backstory and describes why nationally, and in Utah, this holiday and what it represents is a good thing. The date celebrates the two year delayed announcement in Texas of the end of Slavery.