Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Two-Year-Old Wilford, Punished for Being Alive

Wilford Black, Two-Year-Old Criminal of Polygamy

The tiny 20 by 20 foot sandstone colored house with a 6 foot chain link fence around it was a curiosity to me. Not only because of the rare tall fence, but because of the quiet man who walked for hours on end from one corner to the next on the spotless dirt ground. The yards around had a few weeds here and there but not that one. I asked my tour guide, who is that man? “Oh”, she said, “that is Wilford, he never recovered.”

In October 1953 Judge David F. Anderson, Juvenile Court Judge from St George Utah went to the home of FLDS members Leonard and Vera Black in Short Creek Utah. He had previously conversed with the Arizona prosecuting attorneys who 3 months before were involved with a massive raid on the people in the sister town of the same name just over the border. They wrote to him: “…inasmuch as the juvenile order sticks it will be much more effective than any criminal proceedings would ever be. In addition we would not be up against a situation of convincing the jury that young girls in their early twenties are guilty.” Anderson wrote back that he would “take all possible steps to protect the children from growing up to be polygamists”

After the interview with the Black family it was obvious to the judge that:
“These families are extremely opposite of the ordinary family that is broken up by Juvenile court order. It is plainly evident that there would be no hope of getting the cooperation or understanding of either parents or the children in making a foster or adoptive home placement” He goes on:
“Because family ties are so strong, it looks to me that it would be virtually impossible for most of these children to make a satisfactory adjustment in other homes… I can’t escape the feeling that going ahead with these cases will do more harm than good to the children, and will amount to punishing the parents through the children.”

This turned out to be prophetic in the case of one two year old little boy; yet it was never mentioned again.

Anderson was summoned to the Capital in Salt Lake City, Utah where a Public Welfare Commission decided that he would insist that if the parents wanted to keep custody of their children they must “refrain from teaching the children anti-social behavior such as to inculcate the idea that the religious tenants of the organization are more binding than the law of the land”

So in December 1953 Judge Anderson filed twenty separate court petitions alleging that the children were neglected in the sense that their parents had failed to teach them proper moral principles and persisted in teaching the doctrine of plural marriage. Anderson decided to punish two year old Wilford and his mother Vera Black along with her other children, for polygamy.

Juvenile Probation officer Jay R. Huntsman filed a petition that Vera’s eight children were:
“…dependant, neglected children, in three respects: that the parents provided inadequate clothing, food, and medical care; that the parents taught the children that polygamous relationships were proper even though illegal; and that the parents actually lived in a polygamous marriage”

The first one was a straw-man argument they knew was false but Judge Anderson, in the hearing on the case, truly believed that: “The only way that the children of these families can be prevented from going into polygamy is by permanently separating them from their parents at a fairly early age, so that they will not be exposed to the fanatic religious teachings” and he concluded that the Black home was an “immoral environment for the rearing of the children”

Jay Huntsman arrived at Vera Black’s door early in the morning of June 4 1954 to take the children. Petite, yet feisty, Vera refused to let her children go alone and rode with them to Cedar City, 50 miles from home, where she was finally ousted from the vehicle.

Vera and her husband Leonard sued for a writ of habeas corpus and Justice William Stanley Dunforth of the fourth district court soon ruled that Judge Anderson’s initial judgment violated the freedom of religion and freedom of speech clauses of the United States Constitution. He ordered the children returned to their home. Little Wilford and his brothers and sisters were returned to their mother within a week.

But life was only good for little Wilford for a few months, for on December 30, 1954 the Utah Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Juvenile court. Justice George M Worthen railing in his report that plural marriage “trapped children in a condition of perpetual immorality and was inexcusable for the parents to hide behind religious cover”
Thus the two year old Wilford, who came into the world to parents who planned for him, wanted him, adored him, and cared dearly for him, but who lived an unpopular religion that gave him his family; was torn from his mother’s arms again.

Famous LDS Historian Juanita Brooks, who was with Vera both times they took her children, encouraging her to fight, wrote to the Utah County welfare office:

“You may remember me as the woman who talked to you in St. George the day the Black children were taken first in 1954. You will recall that my chief concern was for the one child, Wilford, because I had observed him the day before and sensed his mortal terror. Only a mother who has nursed along such a frail, sensitive child, could realize what that experience did to Wilford, and how deeply and irreparably his is being injured by this one… I pray you not separate this child from either his older brother, Orson, or his younger one, Francis, with whom he has slept every night as long as he can remember… To me, no teaching of children under the age of ten can justify tearing them out of a home where they have love and security to scatter them and make them public charges”

No testimony offered in any of the court cases either asserted or established that Vera Black was an unfit mother in any way except for her religious beliefs. The court left room for only one option of negotiation. If the Blacks would only denounce their lifestyle and religion, the court would recognize the gap between legal technicalities and social realities and return the children to their parents.

After the children had been taken away, the Blacks traveled the next day to Salt Lake City to appeal personally to Governor Lee for intervention on their behalf. They failed. Vera Black finally realized that she had absolutely no recourse but sign.

Vera read this statement to the media when they came to take her children for the second time:
“Ours is a nation of equal rights before the law. Why should I be required to sign an Unconstitutional loyalty pledge or any other oath of any kind in order to keep the children I have honorably born unless all mothers in our state are required to do the same?
I will gladly sign an oath to support and sustain the Constitution of the United States, and obey the laws of the state of Utah which conform to the spirit of that great document.
I am ever willing to teach my children the laws of Utah concerning marriage when they grow old enough to understand such laws”

But the Black family had no choice but to surrender, Vera and her children were not reunited until June 1956 after agreeing to sign an oath renouncing her belief in polygamy. She and Leonard appeared before the court and testified that they had not lived together as man and wife since the 1953 raid and that they would teach their children to obey the laws of the land. Vera burst out crying when the court asked her if she would be happy to reunite with her children. “Oh, Of course I would!” The reunion two days later was very emotional.
Vera continued to feel that justice had not been served and she returned to life in plural marriage. To the fundamentalists the case Black vs. State of Utah is proof of the lowness to which the government would go to persecute their religion, and the willingness it had to destroy their families. They have been wary ever since.

Wilford is 55 now, but he never fully recovered from the shock of being torn from his mothers arms not once, but twice. He became severely introverted; not leaving his mothers side for years. He never could communicate with anyone well. Today he does not even feed and dress himself. He just pulls weeds.

With several of the FLDS children in Texas in the hospital, underweight from shock and lethargy this very day, history may be repeating itself.

(Most of the information in this article was taken from the book “Kidnapped From that Land”, by Martha Sonntag Bradley)

1 comment:

Survivalwoman said...

When I Became a state child because m y own mother abandoned me , I was altered forever. To Sheer one away from the ones they love and that equally love them is an act of murder. For it kills part of ones soul. I pray that the children now not have to go through this ever again.