Born in 1922, Florence “Honey” Leggroan Lawrence has experienced a lot in her lifetime.
Her great, great grandfather, Nathan Bankhead, came to Utah with John Bankhead – a Mormon pioneer from Mississippi. Nathan was one of 32 enslaved African Americans brought to Utah by a group of southerners called the Mississippi Saints.
Mrs. Lawrence was born in Murray, Utah and moved to Salt Lake City as a teen, where she attended Jackson Junior High and West High School. She married Arthur Charles Lawrence in 1942, and shortly afterwards they bought a home on Post Street in Poplar Grove, where she has lived for 73 years. They had three children – two boys and a girl.
Mr. Lawrence worked for Union Pacific Railroad and passed away at the age of 50, leaving Mrs. Lawrence to raise their youngest son, Ricki, on her own. Early on, she worked in private homes, cleaning and doing domestic work. Later she landed an office job for the State Dept. of Social Services and worked there until she was 72 years old.
Soon after she retired, she began to take care of her great grandchildren, Malik and Tawn. “She basically raised them,” said her 45-year-old granddaughter, Tiffany Sawyer.
“Now, I have to depend on my family,” said Mrs. Lawrence, who lives with her 78-year-old son, Art.
There were several Black families who lived on her street, including the well-known Utah civil rights activist, Alberta Henry. “Mom and Mrs. Henry became bosom buddies until Mrs. Henry died,” said Mrs. Lawrence’s daughter, Judy Williams. The two women worked together in the NAACP, of which Mrs. Lawrence is a lifetime member.
Sawyer said that she used to attend NAACP luncheons with her grandmother, where she would help her collect money from attendees at the front table. Sawyer recalled one luncheon with awe – the time when Rosa Parks came to Utah and was a guest speaker. Sawyer had the honor of sitting at the same table with Parks, who after noticing she was pregnant, asked her when the baby was due. “It was an amazing experience,” said Sawyer, and added that her grandmother, who is affectionately called “Honey” by her family, has had an incredible influence on her life.
Art Lawrence likened his mother’s leadership style to that of a “lieutenant,” who worked diligently alongside Alberta Henry in a supportive role. “One of the most important things that they worked on together was the creation of the Alberta Henry Foundation, which provided college scholarships to Black students,” said Art.
Mrs. Lawrence and her son, Art, talked a little about the racism that they experienced in the neighborhood. “Some of the boys on our street were really good at calling names,” said Art. “That man (the boys’ father) gave me a lot of trouble,” said Lawrence. “But, why are we talking about that? That was in the past,” she said.
When asked if she thought we had made progress as a community in terms of racial equality and social justice, she said, “Yes, to a certain extent. I’d say we’ve made slight progress.”
Post Street and 1000 West, between 300 and 400 South, was one of the few areas where Black families could buy a home back in 1948. Even one block east, on 900 West, Mrs. Lawrence’s sister had to get written permission from the neighbors before she was allowed to buy a home there.
There were three influential Black ladies on Post Street who were close friends – Mrs. Alberta Henry, Carolyn Dixon, and Mrs. Lawrence.
These “Ladies of Post Street” used to get together and talk about the Bible. “We were all different religions, but we made sure not to argue over who was right or wrong, only to have discussions,” said Mrs. Lawrence, who was raised as a devout Seventh Day Adventist. “Church was our life,” she said. On the Sabbath day – from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday – they turned off the television, put on gospel records, and studied the Bible.
Her granddaughter, Tiffany Sawyer, recalled all the family gatherings they had on Saturday evenings after church when she was a young girl. “When the weather was nice, we would eat dinner outside and then the adults would sit on the porch, while us kids played.”
On the walls of Mrs. Lawrence’s home hang African-inspired art, family photos, and about a dozen framed awards or tributes that she has received over the years. Ceramics and sewing are two hobbies that Mrs. Lawrence has enjoyed over the years, and her house shows it. Many cheerful ceramic figures adorn her shelves. Colorful quilts, curtains and other handmade décor help create a cozy, comfortable atmosphere. “I have tried to make it a home, not just a house,” she said.
Her daughter, Judy, admires her mother for “the strides she has made and her stamina.” “She came out of a time when there wasn’t much opportunity, especially for Black women,” Judy said. Judy was the first Black student to become Valedictorian at West High School and was the first in her family to attend a university. “Because my mother didn’t question her abilities to do outstanding things, I didn’t question myself; I just followed in her footsteps,” Judy said.
Today, Mrs. Lawrence is humble about her past accomplishments. She says that her memory isn’t what it used to be. “It comes and goes. I look at all the awards and plaques on the walls and my kids have to tell me what they were for, because sometimes I remember and sometimes I can’t.”
“I am in the latter days of my life; God’s been good to me,” she added, with a sweet smile.