Jane Manning James: An Independent Mind
The scriptures were clear: Faith, not lineage, is the avenue to blessings. Jane reminded those who seemed to be blocking her passage of that truth.
Jane's siblings had remained in Illinois and Iowa, most joining the Reorganized Church. No one should be surprised that only independent Jane, with her husband and sons, had accompanied the Mormon pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley. In the last years of her life, her brother Isaac Lewis Manning made his way to Salt Lake, and kept her company. The two had special seats in their ward house and in the tabernacle.
Jane James died on April 22, 1908. Just four months later, on August 26th, Joseph F. Smith reversed his statement of 1879. In that statement, he had refuted the claim that black priesthood holder Elijah Abel had been released from the quorum when his race became known. Smith had shown two certificates of Abel's re-certification as a Seventy, which clearly revealed the claim as false. But in 1908, Smith, who had spoken at Jane's funeral, revised his claim, and said that indeed Abel had been released from the quorum. This was not true, but perhaps offered the possibility of unanimity in institutionalizing the priesthood policy. Might Jane have countered the revision had she still been living? Her boldness throughout her life suggests that she would have been gracious, but that she would also have told the truth.
Nonetheless, Jane Manning James would not want to be remembered as an oppositional voice. She had a sense of being specially called to witness by both Joseph Smith and by Mother Smith. Joseph had told her and her sister, "Go and be good girls, and remember your profession of faith in the everlasting gospel, and the Lord will bless you."
She remained true to her faith, and concluded her life story with her testimony: "I want to say right here that my faith in the gospel 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."
Those final words, despite all that she expected to receive but didn't, despite all that she hoped not to experience but did, indicate her independence more than any others. Nothing and no one would keep her from her faith.
Margaret Blair Young teaches creative writing at Brigham Young University. Her best known novels include the Standing on the Promises trilogy, co-authored with Darius Gray. These three books give the history, with some fictional liberties taken, of Black Mormon pioneers. The updated and revised versions will soon be available through Zarahemla Press and at Amazon.com. Gray and Young also made the documentary Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons, now available wherever LDS books are sold, and shown monthly on the Documentary Channel. Young is currently working on a film about Mormon missionaries in Africa, titled Heart of Africa.