Martha Ann Jane Stevens Perkins Howell, born on January 20, 1875, was named for her maternal grandmother, Martha Vilate Crosby Flake, who had been a slave during the Mormon migration to the West. Martha Howell’s maternal grandfather was Green Flake, also born a slave, who was in the Vanguard Company for the Mormon pioneers. Martha’s mother was Lucinda Flake, and her father, of Mexican origin, was George Washington Stevens.
Black Mormons comprised a small group in the intermountain west, and the few families with many children constituted the largest marriage pool for blacks at a time where anti-miscegenation laws were solidly in place.
On October 11, 1899, Martha and her bridegroom, Sylvester Perkins, celebrated a double wedding with Louis Leggroan and Nettie James, granddaughter of Jane Manning and Isaac James. The Perkins family was also prominent. Sylvester Perkins was the brother of Jane James’s daughter-in-law and the son of Franklin Perkins, who had been briefly married to Jane James herself.
Born just ten years after the Civil War ended, Martha cared deeply about literacy and the empowerment it would bring to her family. She insisted that her children visit the library weekly and help their illiterate father learn to read. She and Sylvester owned a large farm in the Millcreek area of Salt Lake City.
Martha’s mother, Lucinda, had ceased activity in the Mormon Church after fellow members in Idaho Falls, Idaho, declared that they would not attend if a black person was present at church services. Martha, however, was actively LDS, though her life was lived during the years when the church did not allow black men to be ordained to its priesthood or to receive its exclusive temple ordinances. The church did not segregate its congregations, there were no all-black LDS stakes, but the policy implied differentiation between the races. This differentiation was based on the rationale that blacks had either been cursed as descendants of Cain and Ham or had been “less valiant” than whites in a pre-mortal life,