For years, Kwaku Walker Lewis had been a part of the Episcopal Church in Massachusetts. In 1842, he converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
While in Massachusetts, Lewis was made an Elder in the Church in 1843, making him only the third Black man to do so. His eldest son Enoch would follow him in joining the Church and married as a Mormon in 1846.
Walker Lewis remained an Elder in Massachusetts when Brigham Young arrived in Utah two years later. Young’s influence resulted in a number of segregation measures in the Mormon Church. One such measure saw Black men barred from the priesthood.
Walker Lewis Arrives In Utah
Driven by his faith, Lewis moved to Salt Lake City, Utah in 1851. He would find that Massachusetts and Utah’s Mormon communities were worlds apart. The relationships he had forged over nine years in Massachusetts didn’t apply here. He was soundly ignored by many of the same people he called friends and partners.
Following Lewis’ arrival in Salt Lake City, Brigham Young pushed for another race law that resulted in slavery being legal in the territory and punishments for interracial intercourse.
Lewis’ position also didn’t translate in power. When Jane Elizabeth Manning James was seeking to be sealed and endowed by the Church, she felt Lewis was her chance. He was either unable to do so or refused—perhaps after James refused his proposal to be his second wife.
Frustrated with Salt Lake City, Lewis left after six months and returned east to Lowell. There he began experiencing complications with tuberculosis. He passed on October 26, 1856 of his illness.