How Many Black People and Asians Were in Pioneer Utah?

In partnership with the Church, IPUMS (Integrated Public Use Microdata Series) has recently made the entire 1850-1890 set of census data available in tabular (spreadsheet) form for analysis. While individual records have been available for some time, as has a 1% sample of the quantitative data, this new development allows us to download all of the census responses for the 19th century at once. As you can imagine, this is a fairly large file (I have a lot of juice in my laptop and I stopped trying to crunch all of the 19th-century US data after waiting for 20 minutes), but if you subset Utah it is much more manageable. The wonderful IPUMS folks have harmonized the different questions asked across time so that you can make comparisons across decennial censuses.

Running a simple frequency cross-tab with race shows how many people of each race were identified in the respective census in Utah.

Year White Black Native American Chinese Japanese Other Asian
1850 11304 20 31 0 0 0
1860 40371 45 121 0 0 0
1870 85597 196 138 406 0 0
1880 142021 208 49 537 0 0
1900 273800 452 2409 570 493 0
1910 368821 1641 2982 359 2074 10
1920 442102 1523 2561 359 2927 32
1930 500325 1074 2845 342 3286 252
1940 544328 1251 3613 214 2137 66

A few points:

  • Unless you think there were only 31 Native Americans in 1850 It’s clear that the Native American numbers aren’t worth much; perhaps they weren’t super enthusiastic about participating in the occupier’s people-counting rituals.
  • It looks like there were about 20 Black people with the early pioneer parties. I’m sure at this point researchers better versed in Latter-day Saint racial history can give names. Unfortunately the IPUMS data doesn’t have a field for which of the 20 in 1850 and 45 in 1860 were slaves, but I believe the original census documents do. (Also, census data collection back in the day had, shall we say, less quality control than now; some of these numbers are going to be somewhat off).
  • I was surprised that there appeared to be more Chinese in pioneer-era Utah than Black people; from Googling it looks like these were railroad workers. Still, the 19th-century Chinese-Utahn population wasn’t something I knew about before I crunched these numbers.
  • I’m not sure what to make of the jump in Black people from 1900 to 1910. The quantitative history of race in the US is a little fraught definitionally since the Census Bureau keeps changing the wording and options, so there might be an issue there, or it could be some wave of immigration. I have no idea, historians of race would hopefully know more about this.
  • We rightfully talk about active or or subtle discrimination against racial minorities, but just looking at these raw numbers the feeling that pops out to me is simply one of loneliness. Having only 20 members of one’s socio-racial group in the whole state seems like late-stage Moroni-level solitariness.

8 comments for “How Many Black People and Asians Were in Pioneer Utah?

  1. Nice breakout of newly-available data. Thx for generating this table, and for sharing it with us.

  2. Interesting data. Until 1900 or so the controversy surrounding blacks and the priesthood was almost a hypothetical for the average member who may not have known any blacks.

  3. In this data set, the percentage of the population that is Black starts out at 0.18% in 1840 and reaches 0.23% by 1940 (i.e. about 2 in every 1,000 people), though it does hit 0.44% in 1910 if that surge is real. (I suspect the error bars on all these percentages are bigger than the differences between them.) I imagine the average member never had a meaningful interaction with a black person throughout the period. Given that Utah is only 2.1% Black today, that was probably true for a long time after 1940 as well, and may still be the case in some areas.

    But many Church leaders were exceptions: they knew Jane Manning quite well as she had lived with Joseph Smith’s family in Nauvoo, then with Brigham Young’s family after the martyrdom until they went west. (It took me a while to realize that in the famous story of Jane giving half her flour to Eliza Partridge Lyman, they knew each other because they had both been part of the Joseph Smith household.) My sense is that Jane became something of a celebrity later in life, I’m guessing as people who had known Joseph Smith personally became rare–and people who had handled the Urim and Thummim, though most likely the Seer Stone rather than the spectacles, even rarer. Joseph Fielding Smith spoke at her funeral and it was covered in the Deseret News. Unfortunately that relationship doesn’t seem to have had much impact on their racial attitudes, which matched the prevailing attitudes of the day.

  4. Oops, that would be Joseph F. Smith who spoke at Jane Manning’s funeral, not Joseph Fielding Smith.

  5. For people interested in the number jumps, they correlate to larger historical events. The Great Migration (or Northward Migration) was when millions of African-Americans moved from the rural south to urban areas in the Northeast, Midwest & West between 1910 and 1970. Indigenous Americans weren’t really well represented in censuses until the Dawes Rolls in the late 1880s. Chinese workers came in with the railroad, but many stayed to work in the mines (there is a Descendants of Chinese Railroad Workers Association that highlights their role in the American West). Japanese migration to the U.S. really began in earnest after 1885, and there was an area in Salt Lake called “Japan Town” where a lot of immigrants gathered. The increase in white population after 1870 is in part due to the greater role of mining in the state, with many European immigrants (as well as other American non-Mormons) figuring most prominently in that wave. The Salt Lake Greek Festival is an homage to the large community of Greek immigrants who came to work in the Bingham copper mines in the late 1890s & early 1900s.

  6. Wow, what a breadth of knowledge. Thank you Mary Ann!

    @Michael: Very good point.

    @RLD: I feel like Jane Manning James is getting her belated recognition. As a small incidental aside, I recently stayed at the cabins the Church maintains near Palmyra for youth groups and the such, and they were named after prominent early female LDS figures, and we were assigned to the Jane Manning James Cabin.For anybody interested here is her autobiography:

  7. “Unfortunately that relationship doesn’t seem to have had much impact on their racial attitudes, which matched the prevailing attitudes of the day.”

    I would rather say: … which matched certain attitudes of the day.

    I believe that there were plenty of Americans and specifically LDS who were ashamed at our church leader’s treatment of Jane Manning. Specifically that of joining her to Joseph Smith’s family only as a servant and not as an equal. (A standing of equality appears to be what Joseph had in mind.). Our early church leaders could have …er … led and embraced her faith and reward her with the full fellowship which she deserved. To dismiss her pain as merely due to “the prevailing attitudes of the day” lets our leaders off the hook. Don’t they constantly remind us that we ought to look to them for truth that transcend popular culture?

  8. @Stephen Hardy: your point that there were a variety of racial attitudes about race in the US in the 1800s is well taken, but I don’t think there’s any real question that some level of anti-Black racism was the prevailing attitude. Even most abolitionists (including Lincoln) thought Blacks were inferior. “But it was the prevailing attitude of the day!” is not much of an excuse, and not one I look forward to making when I eventually learn that some of the things I take for granted are wrong. But let’s not kid ourselves and assume that if we’d been born 150 years ago either of us would be in the tiny minority that could claim not to be racist by today’s standards. We all fall short; we all need grace.

    My post was meant to express disappointment that knowing Jane Manning did not change Church leaders’ attitudes, definitely not to dismiss her pain. But she was faithful to the end, so to do otherwise on her behalf would be rather ironic.

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