Early black Mormon pioneer Jane Manning James walked 800 miles to Nauvoo.
Quincy: Her trunk got lost, at least that’s what Charles Wandell says. In the Nauvoo Neighbor, the local paper, there is an ad that appears for several weeks running. The title is “Lost.” It describes the trunk and offers a small reward for its return. But Jane is essentially left without anything but the clothes on her back, which she finds to be a truly sorry state of affairs, in part, because I think she used her possessions as a way of asserting her respectability. She describes the clothing in the trunk as beautiful clothes, mostly new. She’s left without all of them. All she has are the shoes that have worn out, the stockings that have ripped and torn, the dress that she was wearing, and very little else. So she relies on the kindness of strangers. She needs to get a job. She needs to get some new clothing, all that kind of stuff.
GT: I know in the movie, Emma and Jane, there’s a really interesting scene where Jane comes to meet the Prophet Joseph and Emma. I know she’s pretty embarrassed. But she’s like, “I don’t have any clothes.” And Joseph says, “Let’s go get her some clothes, Emma.” Can you tell about that story?
Dr. Quincy Newell tells us more about that story, and tells us that Jane was a great friend of Joseph and Emma Smith. In fact, it appears Emma may have asked Emma to be sealed to her as a family member. In our next conversation, we will discuss this proposal, and Jane’s attempts to be sealed to the prophet Joseph Smith’s family.
Quincy: [Jane] starts telling anyone who will listen that Emma came to her and said that Joseph Smith had told her, Emma, to offer to Jane the opportunity to be adopted as a child. Jane, at the time said, “No thanks.” But starting in 1880, she starts petitioning church leaders to say, “You know, I’d really like to change my mind about that. Could I please be adopted to Joseph Smith, as a child as he offered to do back in Nauvoo? Would that be okay? When can that be accomplished?”
GT: This was not a legal adoption, but a religious adoption. Is that correct?
Quincy: That’s how Jane frames it. So at the time that Jane says the offer was being made, parent-child sealing, which is sort of how she frames it in the 1880s, was not really a thing. It was at least theoretically a thing. But it was not a thing that had been practiced. So nobody is really doing this. By the 1880s, lots of people are doing it. Lots and lots of white people are petitioning to be adopted as Joseph Smith’s children. They never laid eyes on Joseph Smith. He was dead long before they became converts to the church. Their requests are being granted right and left. I think probably thousands of people were adopted. He’s got a huge family. So Jane is basically asking for what lots of other people are getting as sort of a matter of course.
GT:Oh, really? It just a widespread thing by then.
Quincy: It’s a very widespread thing. So she’s just asking for something that everybody else is getting. But church leaders find this a really difficult request to grant in her case.
GT: I can imagine.
Quincy: I think it’s because they have a lot of trouble imagining giving Joseph Smith a black daughter in eternity. But she just keeps kind of poking them. So she writes letters to them. She has friends write letters to them. She goes to visit the church presidents in their homes. She talks about this at every opportunity. It’s in her autobiography. It’s in every account of her life. She sort of states this over and over again. She seems to make the argument that she should be allowed to have a sealing to Joseph Smith, as a child. She should be allowed to receive her endowments because she has been a virtuous Mormon woman, and because Joseph Smith would let her do this. So why won’t the church leaders at the time, let her do that?
Her repeated requests resulted in the most unusual sealing ceremony ever granted.
Dr. Quincy Newell discusses Jane Manning’s marriage to Isaac James. The two traveled to Utah in one of the earliest wagon companies to settle in Salt Lake City.
GT: Did they go with the first pioneer companies?
Quincy: I don’t think they’re in the first wave. They’re in the second wave, now I’m remembering. Patty Sessions delivers Jane’s child essentially, on the trail in Iowa, at a place called Keg Creek. So Jane is traveling pregnant, which can’t have been fun. At some point, they get hooked up with the George Parker Dykes company. They continue to stay with and work for Dykes and his family when they’re in Winter Quarters. Dykes goes off with the Mormon Battalion, and he writes letters home to his wives, who he refers to as Mrs. Dykes, to sort of cover up the fact that there are multiple Mrs. Dykes’s. He makes several remarks about, make sure you treat Isaac and Jane well, take care of them and so on.
GT: Polygamy is such a can of worms. So, she gets into the Salt Lake Valley.
Quincy: She’s in one of the first companies to enter the Salt Lake Valley. So they arrive in the summer of 1847. She has had another child, so she has given birth to a child on the way to Winter Quarters, and she’s pregnant with another child by the time they get to Salt Lake. They set up on some of the property that belongs to Brigham Young and continue working for him for some time, and then they get a piece of land down in the First Ward, I believe, and set up a farming operation. Jane starts doing laundry pretty soon as well.
We will discuss her other marriages, and her prominent role in Pioneer Utah.
Quincy: So in 1870, Jane and Isaac get divorced.
Quincy: 1870. That’s the necessary background. So in the 1880s, and 1890s, when Jane is starting to request endowments and sealings, she requests endowments. She requests sealing as a child to Joseph Smith. And she requests sealing in marriage. And occasionally, she will request sealing and marriage to Walker Lewis, which is a really interesting move on her part. And I think it’s maybe because Walker Lewis has the priesthood.
GT: That’s a fact I think most people don’t know.
Quincy: Right. So if you request sealing to a black man who doesn’t have the priesthood, well, then there’s a sort of procedural problem there, right?
GT: Yeah. Isaac, her husband didn’t have priesthood.
Quincy: Exactly. And so, she may be thinking, “Well, okay, I will request sealing to somebody who does have the priesthood, but who is also black, so they can’t object to it being an interracial marriage. And they can’t object that he doesn’t have the priesthood. So I should be good to go.”
Quincy: Yeah, they say no to that, too.
Quincy: But so that’s, as far as I know, that’s the only evidence that we have Jane and Walker Lewis knew each other. I am not totally persuaded that that’s evidence that they knew each other. She may only have known of him but known that he had the priesthood.
GT: So this was just kind of a strategic move on her part.
Quincy: It may have been, It’s hard to say. There’s a lot about Jane that’s hard to say.
As we conclude our discussion of black Mormon pioneer Jane Manning James, we will talk about this question: what role does race play in LDS Theology? Many black church members have been told they will be white in the resurrection. Is our theology an example of white supremacy? Dr. Quincy Newell will answer these questions.
Quincy: [Jane] was well respected in the community, in part because of her relationship to Joseph Smith. She was one of the last people alive, who had known him in person, and so she was sought out for her memories of the Prophet. And Joseph F. Smith spoke at her funeral. She was she was celebrated and lauded as an upstanding member of the community, well-respected and to be missed. But, at the same time, one account of the funeral said that Joseph F. Smith talked about how she would receive all of her wishes in heaven, and that she would have a white and glorified body. And that’s not an exact quote, but he did say she would be white.
And, there’s a really interesting aspect to imagining that scene. If you think about Joseph F. Smith standing in front of a congregation that includes a lot of black faces, and talking about how Jane, this respected black woman in the community is going to be white in heaven, that’s all kinds of problematic.
GT: And I know a lot of people are going to have a hard time with that. Because they’re like, “Well, that’s not racist.”
Quincy: No, but that’s racist.
GT: Oh, I know it is. I know I’m going to get comments on that. But anyway, even as late as 1978, I remember President Kimball, who we all laud for this wonderful [revelation], talked about Indians who would become a white and delightsome people. And I know he said that with the best of intentions. And it’s hard, I think, especially for really Orthodox people to say that’s a racist statement. But it’s a racist statement. And so it’s hard because I know a lot of black people, Indians, whatever nationality, have had to deal with this. I hate to call it white supremacy.
Quincy: It’s white supremacy.
GT: But that’s what it is.
Quincy: Yeah, it is.
GT: And so what can we say to people to get them to understand that that really is racist theology?
Quincy: Not being an LDS theologian, that is a challenging question for me to answer. So I think there are Mormon theologians who are far more able to address this question than I. But I guess I would start with the idea that the Bible says we are all made in God’s image. I was raised as a Protestant. And so, I think of God as beyond gender, beyond race, not having either one of those characteristics. I know for Mormons, that’s different. But I think that you have to start with the question of, why is the default image of God, an old white guy? Right?
What are your thoughts regarding the racism that Jane endured?