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
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
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."