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• 5• Making Utah History Press Coverage of the Robert Marshall Lynching, June 1925 Kimberley Mangun and Larry R. Gerlach Lynching claimed thousands of victims across the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Many of these individuals, as graphically depicted in Without Sanctuary, were African American men who lived in southern states.1 Memphis journalist Ida B. Wells was the first to identify the underlying causes of lynching. In three long investigative pamphlets published between 1892 and 1900, she discussed how allegations of rape obscured the real reason behind the killings of black men: white rage over economic advances among a rising black middle class.2 Lynching has received considerable scholarly and popular attention since Wells’s groundbreaking work. Most scholarship on American mob violence has focused on the South. But the American West, especially Texas and Montana , also experienced an epidemic of summary collective murder in the latter half of the nineteenth century.3 Violence occurred in Utah Territory, as well. Conflict in the territory, created in 1850, was originally between leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and federal officials over political dominance, and between followers and non-Mormons who challenged the church’s social and cultural mores.4 Later, hostilities were directed at racial and ethnic minorities. At least eleven men were hanged between 1869 and 1886, including a Chinese man, a Japanese man, and • 133 • Making Utah History two African Americans.5 The first black lynching victim, identified only as “a damned nigger,” was hanged, circumstances unknown, at a remote railroad camp in 1869. The second, an itinerant laborer named Sam Joe Harvey, was arrested in 1883 after shooting and killing a police officer. Jailers turned him over to a vengeful mob who hanged him and then dragged his corpse down a Salt Lake City street for several blocks.6 With the advent of statehood in 1896 and the institutional modernization of the early twentieth century, lynching came to be regarded as a peculiar historical relic of Utah’s rowdy frontier days. But on June 18, 1925, a lynch mob in Carbon County murdered Robert Marshall. He may have been the last black man lynched in the trans-Rockies West. Instead of a traditional account of the Marshall lynching per se, this essay offers a summary of the crime and then examines how Utah’s daily and weekly press covered the lynching and its aftermath. It also considers local and national coverage of the Day of Reconciliation and Forgiveness, a controversial event held in 1998 to atone for the extralegal execution. More than one hundred articles and editorials have been examined using historical methods and critical discourse analysis, a method that considers the “situational, institutional and social structures” that affect how texts are produced and consumed.7 The essay also draws on archival research conducted at the Utah State Historical Society, including the records of the Salt Lake City Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), court documents, and the papers of Governor George H. Dern. This essay situates the public memory of the extralegal murder of Robert Marshall in the larger context of the history of race relations in twentieth-century Utah and the role of the press in shaping narratives of Utah’s history. He Paid for the Crime with His Life The discovery of a rich coal seam in central Utah in 1888 changed the complexion of towns founded by Mormons. Hundreds of immigrants from Italy, Greece, France, Finland, and other European countries settled in Helper, Price, and Scofield in the decades that followed.8 Black women and men arrived, too, and put down roots in Castle Gate, a mining town in Carbon County that was owned by the Utah Fuel Company.9 Robert Marshall, a forty-year-old itinerant miner, joined those individuals when the company hired him to work in its mines.10 But he quickly was branded a troublemaker for carrying a gun. J. Milton Burns, the company’s special • 134 • Kimberley Mangun and Larry R. Gerlach agent and Castle Gate’s deputy sheriff, grabbed the weapon one day when Marshall was reading a newspaper at the post office. Marshall reportedly resented the action; the gun belonged to a friend, and Utah’s constitution provided for the right to bear arms.11 On Monday, June 15, 1925, Burns was ambushed during his nightly rounds and shot five times.12 The Sun, the weekly newspaper in nearby Price, reported rumors...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780252094651
Related ISBN
9780252037467
MARC Record
OCLC
828140137
Pages
336
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-20
Language
English
Open Access
No
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