Summarized by Kent Larsen
Play Tells Story of LDS African American Jane Manning James
Salt Lake Tribune 4Mar00 A4
By Bob Mims: Salt Lake Tribune
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- LDS Author and BYU instructor Margaret
Young's play on African American mormon pioneer Jane Manning James
premiered yesterday at the Genesis Chapel in Salt Lake City. The play
tells the story of James, who traveled from Connecticut to Nauvoo to
meet the prophet Joseph Smith, and then crossed the plains with the
rest of the LDS Church, living in Utah until her death in 1908 at age
James was one of a handful of African Americans that joined the
Church in Joseph Smith's time. She was the daughter or free blacks in
Connecticut and joined the Church after hearing missionaries preach
there. She traveled with her family to Nauvoo, Illinois in October
1843, walking the last 800 miles from Buffalo, New York. She joined
Joseph Smith's household as household help for Emma Smith. After the
Saints were expelled from Nauvoo, she traveled west, arriving in Salt
Lake in September 1847.
James tried repeatedly during the rest of her life to obtain Temple
blessings and be sealed into the family of Joseph Smith because she
had, by many accounts, become one of the family. But LDS Church
leaders repeatedly denied her requests, although she was eventually
allowed to participate in baptisms for the dead.
Young wrote the play after researching some of the contributions of
African Americans to the settlement of Utah and to their LDS faith.
She became convinced that James' story was largely unknown, and
needed to be told. In particular, the LDS Church's ordination of some
blacks to the priesthood in Joseph Smith's time is unknown, leading
to some misunderstanding.
Darius Gray, president of the Genesis group sees this
misunderstanding as a continuing problem for the LDS Church,
especially since some statements made before the 1978 revelation on
blacks &the priesthood have not been disavowed. "It hurts both
blacks and whites, that legacy," said Gray, a member since 1964.
"White members who are ill-informed or uninformed, aren't prepared to
deal with black converts coming into the church. That is especially
true if they are ill-informed, subscribing to some of the past
thoughts and notions that were quite unkind to blacks."
While the Church has made some progress in Africa, gaining more than
100,000 members there, progress among African Americans in the U.S.
isn't as strong, both because they remember the former priesthood ban
and because the past statements remain on record. Gray says this is
unfortunate, "That's the other side of the coin, the black convert or
black investigator [and] what they encounter when they run into the
same sort of attitudes being espoused today," Gray said. "The 1978
revelation did not say anything to undo what had been said in the
past. . . . Yes, something still needs to be done."
But Young's story doesn't end with James' arrival in Utah. She made
ends meet during frontier times by taking in laundry, tending a
garden and making her own soap, and managed even after her husband
left her. She contributed to the construction of the St. George,
Logan and Manti Temples, and gained a reputation for generosity.