Nearly 600 enlisted African American soldiers and their families migrated to Salt Lake City in 1896. These soldiers discovered that Utahns’ attitudes towards African Americans were much like the rest of the country, and faced racial discrimination during their time in Utah.
In 1896, the men of the US Army's 24th Infantry Regiment and their families arrived in Salt Lake, nearly quadrupling the size of the city's African American population. One of only four army units at the time made up of white officers and black enlisted men, the 24th Infantry had been ordered to take up residence at Fort Douglas. What they found upon moving to Utah was a state that, like much of the rest of the country, was divided along racial lines. Though black Utahns may not have faced the same acts of horrific violence African Americans living in the South were forced to contend with, they often were still treated as second-class citizens by the majority white population.
Some of Salt Lake's influential white citizens expressed outrage that the 24th had been transferred to Fort Douglas, going so far as to intimate that drunken black soldiers would pose a danger to the white populace. Senator Frank Cannon even met with the Secretary of War in the hopes of convincing the army to station the unit somewhere else. But the 24th did have its defenders. Julius Taylor, publisher and editor of the Salt Lake newspaper, the Broad Axe, supported the unit's move to Salt Lake, as did some of the soldiers themselves. According to one of the men, a Private Thomas A. Ernest, wrote to the Salt Lake Tribune, objecting, in his words, "to being classed as lawless barbarians. We were men before we were soldiers…We ask the people of Salt Lake to treat us as such." By the time the 24th was called to fight in the Spanish American War, some white residents seemed to have had a change of heart, and lined up at the railroad station to see them off. And some of the men of the unit liked Utah so well that they ended up moving back to the state after their tours of duty were up.
Image: 24th Infantry, 9th and 10th Calvaries. Stationed in Utah in the 1890s at Fort Douglas. No date. Courtesy of Utah State Historical Society.
See the February 1995 collection of the History Blazer, a joint project of the Utah State Historical Society and the Utah State Centennial Commission. The History Blazer can be found on the Utah History Suite CD available from the Utah State Historical Society.