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Gala, plaque to honor black LDS pioneer woman

Summarized by Rosemary Pollock

Gala, plaque to honor black LDS pioneer woman
Deseret News 29May99 C7
By Carrie A. Moore: Deseret News religion editor

On Saturday, June 5, at ll a.m. in the Salt Lake City Cemetery, a sculptured plaque will be dedicated to the memory of the first black Latter-day Saint pioneer woman, Jane Elizabeth Manning James. A century after her death, members of Genesis, an organization for black Mormons, who with the support of leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will gather to pay tribute to a poor but generous mother in pioneer Utah who gave of all the food she had to feed a hungry friend.

The plaque depicts James at the door of her friend Eliza Lyman, whose hands are raised to her cheeks in gratitude as she is offered two pounds of flour. Darius Gray, president of the group said James has had " a significant impact on my life because she is a distant mentor." "I think of the challenges that I've faced in my 34 years (as a member of the LDS Church). I marvel at her and know that in no way have I faced what she has....I know that if she can make it, I can make it. She knew who she was. She was, I believe, proud to be a black woman. I am proud to be a black man and both of us are proud to be Latter-day Saints."

The philosophy behind Genesis, which was established with the help of leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is one of open hearts. "You open the door to your brothers and sisters and receive their gifts, along with offering your own." "So many Latter-day Saints have not opened the doors of their hearts to their black brothers and sisters. I believe that part of bringing forth Zion is enlarging our borders so our hearts are ready for everybody... and that we really truly live the idea God is no respecter of persons," said Margaret Young a Provo woman who helped organize the celebration.

Jane Elizabeth Manning James was born in Wilton, Conn., in the early l800's and lived as a servant, rather than a slave, in the home of a white farmer. She encouraged several members of her family to listen to the Mormon missionaries as she had done and nine of them joined the church. The Manning family walked 800 miles to Nauvoo, Illinois after being refused passage on a boat. Here they joined with other Mormons who all secured work in the city except Jane. She tearfully explained her problem to Joseph Smith who hired her to wash, cook and keep house. After Smith's martyrdom, she lived and worked in the Brigham Young household. During this time, prior to the Nauvoo exodus, she met and married another free black Mormon, Issac James. After giving birth to their son, Silas, at Winter Quarters in 1846, they left with the lead company to head west.

Upon arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, Jane wrote of her suffering. "The keenest of all was to hear my little ones crying for bread, and I had none to give them." But what little she had, she shared. Soon the family established a farm and six more children were born between l848 and l860. In l869, Issac James left his wife but returned later for her to care for him until his death in 1891.

A non-Mormon scholar, Ronald Coleman, a noted historian and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Utah, characterized her as, "The matriarch of Utah's early black community." Not being able to receive her endowments and the blessings of temple marriage were a test of faith for Jane. Coleman wrote of James, "Religion - if you believe, and obviously she believed - then it would seem that as in the old religious song, 'all things are possible if you only believe.' With every fiber of her being, she believed that what was wrong in terms of not being able to receive her endowments could and would be corrected. And it did happen."

James was a devoted member of the Relief Society and supported many fund-raising projects for the St. George, Logan and Manti temples. She also financially supported the Lamanite Mission. She was well acquainted with LDS general authorities, who regularly reserved seats on the front row in the Tabernacle for her and her brother at General Conference.

The prophet Joseph F. Smith spoke at her funeral in 1908, remembering words that she spoke before her death. " (My) faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, as taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is as strong today, nay, it is if possible stronger than it was the day I was first baptized.....I try in my feeble way to set a good example to all."

Elder David B. Haight, of the Council of the Twelve Apostles will preside and speak on Saturday at the ceremony that is planned to honor her. "While her body may rest in the ground, her soul does not," said Darius Gray. "Knowing she lived a true and faithful life, I would fully expect that she is aware of it. And while she may be somewhat embarrassed, I also hope she would be somewhat pleased."

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information