Utah Stories from the Beehive Archive

Segregation, Racial Violence, and the Klan in Rural Utah


Dublin Core


Segregation, Racial Violence, and the Klan in Rural Utah


African Americans living and traveling through Utah in the early twentieth century had to delicately navigate the increasing power of the Ku Klux Klan, which contributed to an acceptance of racially-motivated violence.

Black people have lived and worked in Utah – as trappers, cowboys, and farmers – long before statehood, but the arrival of the railroad changed the racial makeup of Utah communities at the turn of the twentieth century. In urban areas such as Ogden, Black workers in the growing hospitality, entertainment, and railroad industries coalesced into tight-knit communities. But in more rural parts of Utah, Black workers and their families often faced increased discrimination and persecution – threats that were compounded by relative isolation. 

Officially incorporated in Utah in 1921, the Ku Klux Klan – known as the KKK – terrorized rural and ethnically diverse places like Carbon County. Klan members sometimes targeted Catholic immigrant workers with crosses set ablaze in their front lawns, and the KKK controlled several businesses and government positions. When Jim Crow laws and segregation were the norm across America, some Utah communities used racial clauses in housing covenants and other ordinances to restrict where Black people could go. In some rural towns, vigilante justice in the form of lynching and other extrajudicial violence loomed as a possibility for Black residents, especially for a Black man accused of a crime. 

The last lynching of the American West is sometimes attributed to Price, Utah, when a Black miner named Robert Marshall was hanged in front of a mob of 1,000 spectators after being accused of shooting a white guard in 1925. After Marshall’s murder, authorities charged and jailed eleven men with known connections to the Klan, but the men never went to trial. The local newspaper, The Sun, wrote “All is well that ends well… The general sentiment of the folks of Carbon county [sic] is that even were the men under accusation the actual perpetrators of the lynching there was little to be gained by carrying the matter to a point where they would be severely dealt with.” 

It was Utah’s anti-mask laws, which prohibited masks during public demonstrations, that helped halt the growth of the secretive Klan. But the context that allowed the KKK to exist – hate and intolerance – is an uncomfortable legacy that still challenges our hopes for more inclusive communities.


By Megan Weiss for Utah Humanities © 2024


Image: Robert Marshall with his family, Ludlow, Colorado, c 1920. Marshall is considered the last victim of racially-motivated lynching in the West after he was murdered by a mob in Price in 1925. The perpetrators were never tried for the killing. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

See Lary Gerlach, Blazing Crosses in Zion: the Ku Klux Klan in Utah, Utah State University Press, 1982; Larry Gerlach "Justice Denied: The Lynching of Robert Marshall,Utah Historical Quarterly no. 4 66 (1998): 355–364; Ronald G. Coleman, “African Americans in Utah,” Utah Encyclopedia, accessed September 2023; Larry Gerlach, “Ku Klux Klan,” Utah Encyclopedia, accessed September 2023.


The Beehive Archive is a production of Utah Humanities. Find sources and the whole collection of past episodes at www.utahhumanities.org/stories.