Celebrating Juneteenth, Utah's Black History With Genealogy

Jun 16, 2020

Credit Austin History Center / Austin Public Library

Friday is Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States. As part of the celebration in Utah, Robert Burch, the president of the state’s Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, is encouraging Black Utahns to research their family story. 

“In 1865 when slaves were freed, there were four million people whose stories had not been told,” Burch said. “So whatever perception of what we had before the end of the Civil war is inaccurate and untrue simply because we don’t have those people’s stories.”  

Burch led a family history and genealogy workshop Monday night as part of the Juneteenth Freedom and Heritage Festival. 

“The problem is we haven’t documented the history to help explain why we are where we are now,” Burch said. “There is a very clear narrative that shows how we got to racism in Salt Lake City. And so we can’t keep dismissing [and saying] that the history is not important because it explains why people are marching in the streets.”

So Burch is trying to encourage and teach Black Utahns to research their genealogy to round out the history of Black people in Utah. 

“We’re not trying to rewrite history, what we’re trying to do is complete history because so much of it is lost because the focus has been on the European version of the history,” Burch said. “We need people to start telling those stories so we can get a fuller version of what American history is.” 

Burch also wants Black Utahns to keep their journals and documents right now for future generations. History, he says, will be looking back to this moment, and he wants to make sure that black Utahns aren’t left out of the narrative.