Bankhead, Henrietta Leggroan


photo of  Henrietta Leggroan Bankhead

 “I was a lackey. . . . I use to have to run errands for everybody,” Henrietta Leggroan Bankhead recalled. “Oh, they use to work me.”[1] It was a fitting memory for her life growing up on her family’s farm in Mill Creek, Utah on the east side of the Salt Lake Valley. Henrietta remembered that hard work at a young age was a central component of her life. Her parents taught her discipline and respect and to bless the lives of those around her. It was a philosophy which dominated her life as a young Latter-day Saint and then as a member of the Baptist faith as an adult.

Henrietta Leggroan Bankhead was Henry Alexander and Esther Jane James Leggroan’s second daughter and third child. She was born on 15 September 1895 in Mill Creek, Utah into a family that descended from prominent Black Mormon pioneers. Henrietta’s father, Henry, was born into slavery in the deep South. He traveled to Utah with his father Ned Leggroan and stepmother Susan Gray Reed Leggroan in 1870. He and his parents joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints three years after their arrival. Henry stayed in the church his entire life, as did his wife Esther Jane who was the granddaughter of Jane Manning James.

A few weeks after Henrietta’s birth her parents took her to their local LDS ward and on 7 November 1895, George Taylor, a fellow congregant, presented Henrietta before the congregation and she received a name and a priesthood blessing. All of Henry and Esther Jane Leggroan’s children received LDS baptisms. For Henrietta the ritual took place at the hands of Bishop James D. Cummings who baptized her soon after her ninth birthday. She was confirmed a member of the church the next day.[2] Originally the Leggroans were members of the Mill Creek Ward, but in 1900 the Granite Stake was organized and the family became members of the new Wilford Ward where these ordinances took place.

Henrietta grew up in a community where several other black families lived and farmed. Many of them were related to each other. They had close ties and formed a small black community in an otherwise very white valley.[3] Her father’s house was small and there were six children in the family, so as Henrietta explained in an interview with her niece when Henrietta was in her eighties, “I lived with Grandma James.”[4] Grandma James, Mary Ann Perkins James, was a devout Latter-day Saint, but her husband, Grandpa Sylvester James, was not. Sylvester and Mary Ann lived in separate parts of their home and didn’t get along well. Sylvester was Jane Manning James’s eldest son. Sometime after arriving in Utah, he became disaffected from the LDS church. He disliked Brigham Young, and said Mormons were, “the crookedest people on God’s earth.”[5]

Sylvester’s lack of devotion did not affect Henrietta’s love for him or enjoyment of his company. She helped him sell watercress from his horse-drawn cart and ate meals of roasted squirrel with him against the protests of her grandmother, who thought it would surely poison her. Sylvester was quite a drinker and Henrietta fondly remembered riding with him as he picked up his jugs of liquor and careened along country roads in wild drunken abandonment. He sometimes bought her a sack of candy and usually it was a big one because “the girl in the store was scared of him.”[6] When he was sober, he entertained his young descendants with stories about his adventures crossing the plains in 1847.

While living in Mill Creek Henrietta participated in ward activities and worship services, but as she looked back on her life, she viewed her position in the Wilford Ward as marginal. The family accepted visits by the “ward teachers” and tried to do their part but they nonetheless felt relegated to the edges of the congregation. She told her niece that, “You paid your tithing and if you didn’t, you wasn’t a good Mormon.”[7] In retrospect, she realized that black members were not always welcomed and treated well. There were times when white members refused to sit by her mother, for example, and she knew that none of the family would ever hold a leadership position and the male members of her family were not allowed to be ordained to the lay priesthood.[8] In addition, none of the family could be sealed in the temple. As a result, Henrietta called herself “just a member and hardly that.”[9]

The Wilford Ward held picnics and activities for the entire ward, including the black families, but those families were excluded from church dances. They made up for it by holding their own dances at one of their homes, but the message in Henrietta’s mind was clear: she knew black Latter-day Saints were not welcome everywhere. At harvest time all the neighbors helped each other and her mother quilted with other women who lived nearby so in some ways her family was integrated into the life of the community. As a child Henrietta always had friends to play with and her school was integrated but she was aware that there was often a social divide between white and black.[10]

Henrietta’s family lived on a farm, so there was plenty of work that needed to be done. The family worked as a team to produce enough food so that none of them ever went hungry. Her parents, “didn’t allow us to fight one another; we had to get along. We had a good family,” Henrietta recalled.[11] All the children had chores. Henrietta remembered learning to make bread when she was nine years old and continued to bake her own bread when she was in her eighties.[12] Her job as a young girl was to “look after” the cow. “I could, but didn’t like to milk. I [was] half scared of the cow when I was milking,” she said.[13] “I remember the cow got after me one day and then my bonnet flew off and she ate it.”[14]

Hard work occupied a central place in her young life and in her memories. As she framed her life story, she told her niece, “I’ve been working ever since I was nine years old, and not little work, big work.”[15] “I have always worked,” she declared. “The first ironing I ever done, I got a block of wood; . . . I wasn’t high enough to reach the ironing board. I stood on this block of wood and iron[ed]. . . . My mother use to wash for a doctor . . . and I use to iron handkerchiefs and if you left a wrinkle in them, they would rinse them over and you had to iron them over. So, I learned to iron the hard way.”[16]

Henrietta worked at home for her mother, but she also picked corn and onions and cleaned house for “Auntie Chambers,” her grandfather’s sister and Samuel Chambers’s wife (another prominent Black Mormon pioneer family). She earned enough money from these endeavors to buy fabric for new dresses. It wasn’t easy work, however. She said her Auntie “never cleaned her dishes . . . for weeks and weeks, and then we’d go down about once a month and clean up that kitchen. It was filthy, not dirty!”[17] Amanda Chambers was too busy working on the land and peddling produce to worry about housework. Henrietta also helped “Uncle Chambers” who picked grapes from his arbor while Henrietta packed them.

The farms which Henrietta and her relatives worked were mostly self-sufficient. They raised animals and grew all types of vegetables and had fruit orchards and berry fields. They stored the produce in cellars, dried some of it, and canned the rest. One of Henrietta’s jobs was to hold down the geese for her grandmother while she picked the feathers for pillows. It wasn’t an easy assignment and as Henrietta recalled, “Why them geese would whip you good.”[18]

In addition to the hard work, Henrietta remembered common place events about her family and their life on the farm. When she tried to eavesdrop on a conversation between her older brother Hyrum and his friend, for example, they chased her away using a caterpillar on the end of a stick, which caused her to flee from them screaming. On another occasion, a bumblebee found its way into one of the big balloon sleeves on her dress and she could hear it buzzing up and down her arm. “You should have seen me getting [it] out of there!” she recalled.[19]

She also remembered a special occasion when she visited her great-grandmother Jane Manning James in her two-story home in Salt Lake, “east of the city and county building.”[20] “Uncle Isaac,” Jane’s brother, had made some of the chairs in the home and Henrietta reminisced about the furniture and her wonder at the refinement of it all: “They had a red velvet couch,” Henrietta recalled. “I can just shut my eyes and see it sitting there and she had curtains with tassels . . . the blinds were kept closed so the sun didn’t fade the curtains,” she said. “Oh, they had beautiful lamps all flowered [with] . . . homemade shades.”[21]

Even still, Henrietta’s memories of her youth were dominated with a sense of the many chores associated with farm life and the busyness of it. Henrietta’s grandfather, Edward (Ned) Leggroan, had a nephew who stayed in Mississippi but corresponded with the Utah family. Sarah, Henrietta’s older sister often wrote to him. Henrietta said he had beautiful penmanship but she never sent him any letters, “because I didn’t have time to write. I always had something to do. I had no time to be writing. I was always doing this and that for Mother, and if it wasn’t Mother, it was my grandmother, and [if] not my grandmother, my grandfather, and if not my grandfather, my dad. They called me “Midget” and they run me so I was no bigger than a midget.”[22] She finally reached her adult height after growing four inches as a married woman.

It was in 1914 when nineteen-year-old Henrietta married Nathan Bankhead.[23] Nathan carried the name of his paternal grandfather who came to Utah enslaved to John and George Bankhead. The younger Nathan was the son of George A. and Sina Moseby Bankhead and was born into the family while they lived in Wellsville, Utah. The George Bankhead family relocated to Murray, Utah in Salt Lake County by 1910 making it possible for young Nathan and Henrietta to meet.[24] After their marriage, the couple made Murray their permanent home. Nathan found employment at the Kennecott Smelter in Murray and thereby provided for his family. The year following their marriage, Nathan and Henrietta had their first daughter. She was the eldest of five boys and three more girls. Their family home on Poplar Street served as a much-loved place for family get-togethers and visits from extended family members.[25] Nathan passed away in 1944, leaving Henrietta with a large family to raise by herself.[26]

In 1972, historian William G. Hartley interviewed Henrietta. By that time she had been living in Murray for over thirty years and had stopped attending LDS worship services long before. She explained her decision by telling him that she believed the Lord made all people and it was man who segregated the races. “The Lord feels we are all his children and loves us all, not just whites,” she said. She asked Hartley how he would feel if he went to a Mormon meeting and people avoided sitting next to him. She asked him how he would feel to learn that those white Latter-day Saints who were friendly to black members might be snubbed by other white members? Henrietta believed her presence at her LDS ward was causing trouble and that the easiest solution was to quit attending.[27] Instead, she worshipped at a Baptist church in Murray where she served as treasurer of the women’s auxiliary by 1951.[28] A local newspaper, the Murray Eagle, occasionally printed news of her involvement with the Baptist congregation as well as the congregation's concern for the comings and goings of her family.[29] She thus found a more comfortable place in the Murray Baptist Church for herself and her children than she had found among the Latter-day Saints.

Henrietta also told Hartley that she was raised well, with strong family and social values. She had been taught how to behave properly in her youth. She could remember being required to sit still and listen to block teachers’ lessons at home and remain quiet in church. She lamented the fact that children were no longer taught respect and obedience. Her philosophy on child-rearing included teaching children to control their rowdiness, help them learn what “no” means, and thank children when they did right, as well as punish them when they did wrong. She thought parents should raise children that other people would like to be around. Her basic philosophy was, “Be a blessing to people.”[30]

Henrietta Leggroan Bankhead died on 28 February 1980 and is buried at Larkin Sunset Gardens Cemetery in Sandy, Utah.[31]

By Tonya S. Reiter

Primary Sources

Bankhead, Henrietta Leggroan. Oral Interview by William G. Hartley. Murray, Utah, August, 1972. Notes in possession of author.

Bankhead, Henrietta Leggroan. Oral interview by Florence [Leggroan] Lawrence. Salt Lake City, Utah, 1977. Transcript. Helen Zeese Papanikolas Papers, 1954-2001. Ms0471. Box 2, folder 3. Special Collections. J. Willard Marriott Library. University of Utah, Salt Lake City.

Bankhead, Henrietta in Salt Lake City, Utah, City Directory, 1952.

“Baptist.” Murray Eagle (Murray, Utah), 20 April 1951, 5.

“Baptist.” Murray Eagle (Murray, Utah), 25 August 1950, 10.

“Baptist.” Murray Eagle (Murray, Utah), 26 January 1951, 3.

“Baptist.” Murray Eagle (Murray, Utah), 23 March 1951, 4.

“Baptist Church.” Murray Eagle (Murray, Utah), 24 January 1946, 8.

“Baptist News.” Murray Eagle (Murray, Utah), 17 October 1952, 5.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Record of Members Collection. Wilford Ward. Microfilm 26,673. Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Clayton, Annie D. Oral interview by William G. Hartley. Salt Lake City, Utah, 1972. Transcript. OH 1. Church History Library. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah.

“Murray Baptist.” Murray Eagle (Murray, Utah), 19 May 1950, 7.

“Murray Baptist Church News.” Murray Eagle (Murray Utah), 28 September 1951, 6.

“Nathan Bankhead.” Salt Lake Telegram (Salt Lake City, Utah), 14 August 1944, 14.

United States. 1900 Census. Utah, Salt Lake County, Mill Creek

United States. 1910 Census. Utah, Salt Lake County, Mill Creek.

United States. 1920 Census. Utah, Salt Lake County, Precinct 3.

United States. 1930 Census. Utah, Salt Lake County, Precinct 3.

United States. 1940 Census. Utah, Salt Lake County, Murray.

Utah. County Marriages, 1887-1937. Nathan Bankhead and Henrietta Leggroan, 16 Sep 1914. Microfilm 429,307. Family History Library. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah.

Secondary Sources

Bankhead, Henrietta Leggroan.

Reiter, Tonya. “Life on the Hill: Black Farming Families of Mill Creek.” Journal of Mormon History, 44, no. 4 (October 2018): 68-89.

[1] Henrietta Leggroan Bankhead oral interview by Florence [Leggroan] Lawrence, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1977, 14, transcript, Helen Zeese Papanikolas Papers, 1954-2001, Ms0471, box 2, folder 3, Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah.

[2] Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, Wilford Ward, microfilm 26673, Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[3] See Tonya Reiter, “Life on the Hill: Black Farming Families of Mill Creek,” Journal of Mormon History, 44, no. 4 (October 2018): 68-89.

[4] Bankhead, oral interview, 14.

[5] Bankhead, oral interview, 6.

[6] Bankhead, oral interview, 16.

[7] Bankhead, oral interview, 8.

[8] Annie D. Clayton, oral interview by William G. Hartley, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1972, transcript, OH 1, Church History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, 25.

[9] Bankhead, oral interview, 8.

[10] Bankhead oral interview, 8.

[11] Bankhead, oral interview, 14.

[12] Bankhead, oral interview, 30.

[13] Bankhead, oral interview, 14.

[14] Bankhead, oral interview, 19.

[15] Bankhead, oral interview, 19.

[16] Bankhead, oral interview, 29.

[17] Bankhead, oral interview, 20.

[18] Bankhead, oral interview, 17.

[19] Bankhead, oral interview, 28.

[20] Bankhead, oral interview, 27.

[21] Bankhead, oral interview, 27.

[22] Bankhead, oral interview, 29.

[23] Utah, County Marriages, 1887-1937, Nathan Bankhead and Henrietta Leggroan, 16 September 1914, microfilm 429,307, Family History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[24] United States, 1910 Census, Utah, Salt Lake County, Mill Creek.

[25] Florence Leggroan Lawrence, personal conversation with author, Salt Lake City, Utah, April, 2019.

[26] “Nathan Bankhead,” Salt Lake Telegram (Salt Lake City, Utah), 14 August 1944, 14.

[27] Henrietta Bankhead, oral interview by William G. Hartley, Murray, Utah, 22 August 1972. Notes in possession of author.

[28] “Murray Baptist Church News,” Murray Eagle (Murray Utah), 28 September 1951, 6; “Baptist News,” Murray Eagle (Murray, Utah), 17 October 1952, 5; “Baptist.” Murray Eagle (Murray, Utah), 20 April 1951, 5.

[29] “Baptist,” Murray Eagle (Murray, Utah), 25 August 1950, 10; “Baptist.” Murray Eagle (Murray, Utah), 26 January 1951, 3; “Baptist,” Murray Eagle (Murray, Utah), 23 March 1951, 4; “Baptist Church,” Murray Eagle (Murray, Utah), 24 January 1946, 8; “Murray Baptist,” Murray Eagle (Murray, Utah), 19 May 1950, 7.

[30] Bankhead, oral interview by Hartley, 22 August 1972.

[31] Henrietta Leggroan Bankhead, Find A


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