In a month, the award-winning movie about Church pioneer Green Flake will premiere for general audiences. Given the change in how films may be consumed in our new COVID-informed world, this premiere will occur via virtual watch parties, with each showing accompanied by live Q&A sessions with those involved in this film.
I obviously haven’t seen the film yet, but I am heartened by the reviews I am seeing from the Los Angeles International Film Festival and top honors from the Venice Film Awards and the London Independent Film Awards.
I learned about this film from a relative, who asked, “Is this real?”
I am sure I had seen Green Flake’s name in my readings, but as my readings have been many, I didn’t immediately recognize his name. So I googled Green Flake.
As I told my relative, “Any life during that era was fascinating and filled with peril.” The Los Angeles International Film Festival noted, “It is time to cheer a film like this with its central Black protagonist and his journey on the screen, which takes it above and beyond the standard slave-themed films we have seen in recent years.”
Green Flake was a young slave in the James Flake household in Mississippi, gifted to James as a wedding present when Green was ten.
A few years later, missionaries arrived at the James Flake home in Mississippi with the message of the Restored Gospel. James Flake and many in his household were converted. And James Flake freed his slaves.
Here is where an understanding of 19th century slave laws becomes important. For freed slaves had to leave to remain free. But the former slaves, like Green, who had also been baptized did not want to leave the tiny family congregation of believers. So Green and these freed individuals who wished to remain with the Flake family chose to be reclassified as slaves to maintain association with the family they loved so well, now as fellow Saints. 1
Young Green threw his lot in with the Saints, including becoming part of the advance company headed by Brigham Young that was first to arrive in the Salt Lake valley. In fact, Green was part of the first group to arrive in the valley on 22 July, two days ahead of Brigham Young, who was ill. Green would end up marrying Martha Crosby, sister to one of the other two Black men who had been part of that original group.
The 1850 census records Green as a slave. In 1851, Agnes Flake decided to relocate to San Bernardino, to form part of the community of Saints in that region. 2 Green Flake was left in Salt Lake. According to Flake family tradition, Agnes had tithed Green to the Church. By 1854, James had died. Widowed, Agnes Flake sent word to Salt Lake, asking that “the negro man she left” be sent to California to help her. It is unclear whether Agnes or the person who wrote the letter was the one unclear about the fact that California was a Free state, making reference to Black individuals as property entirely inappropriate. Brigham Young, however, would have been extremely aware of the national politics that had both made California a Free state and Utah Territory an entity expected to permit continued slavery. In any event, Brigham Young declined Agnes’s request, citing Green’s poor health and need to provide for Green’s own family in Utah. Agnes herself would die in 1855, leaving her young children to be cared for by Lizzy, yet another of the Black Saints who had originally been converted in Mississippi and chosen to align their lives with the Flake family. 3
There is not yet documentation to clarify when and how Green was freed, though the late D. Michael Quinn maintained that Brigham would free all slaves that were “tithed” to the Church via him. The 1860 census records Green as a free man.
I look forward to watching His Name is Green Flake this summer!
- I know this requirement that a freed slave leave the state was true in Virginia. I am open to challenge if anyone can prove that this was not also law in Mississippi. ↩
- James died in May 1850 in California. It appears Agnes may have left for California without being award that James had died. ↩
- Lizzy or others in the community apparently did not realize living in California made a person free, as the Flakes sent to Utah for papers to document that Lizzy was free. Lizzy, like Green, had been gifted to James Flake as a wedding present. At the time, Lizzy was only four years old. ↩