The story of Jane Manning James is complicated for me. The prejudice she experienced and the blessings she was denied have always been painful to me. But in spite of her many adversities, her testimony was powerful, and her courage overwhelming, and she stands as a powerful example to me of building your testimony on the sure foundation of the gospel, and trusting the rest to work itself out in time.
Much like Joseph Smith, at a young age (19), Jane Manning felt that something was missing in the religions she had encountered in Connecticut. In 1841, she went to a Sunday meeting to hear the Mormon missionaries speak, and was baptized the following Sunday. Many of her family members were also baptized.
A year after their baptism, Jane and 8 of her family members decided to join the saints in Nauvoo. Because they were black, the Captain of the steamboat in Buffalo refused them passage (and also refused to return their luggage, which had already been loaded onto the boat). This did not deter Jane and her family; they walked the 800 miles to Nauvoo, encountering physical pain and even more racism along the way. Despite these pains, they spent their travels singing hymns, and praising God for healing their feet so they could continue their journey.
The saints originally treated them coolly when they arrived, but Joseph Smith immediately recognized the strength and courage of this family, and welcomed them whole-heartedly. When Jane could not find work or a place to stay, Joseph told her, "you have a home right here if you want it." She stayed with the Smith family for several months, assisting in household chores, and Emma even offered to adopt her into their family (Jane, not knowing what this meant, declined). Her bond to Joseph was strong; after the martyrdom, she declared "When he was killed, I liked to a died myself." She served in the Young household until the migration. While there, she met Isaac James, who she married.
She joined the Saints in their trek west, and gave birth to the first African American baby born in the Utah territory. Despite petitioning prophet after prophet, she was denied the blessings of the temple; however, she stayed faithful, even donating funds to the building of the St. George, Manti, and Logan temples. She was actively involved in the Relief Society, and the women's exponent gives many accounts of the testimony she bore during these meetings (my favorite being her account of anointing herself with oil when she was ill, and being healed through her faith). Despite her own poverty, she showed constant charity to others, sharing the little that she had with those in need. She died in 1908, and President Joseph F. Smith spoke at her funeral. Her temple work was done shortly after the declaration in 1978.
I love the testimony she bore. Despite the challenges of her life, she stated at the end of her life, "I want to say right here, that 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 pay my tithes and offerings, keep the word of wisdom, I go to bed early and rise early, I try in my feeble way to set a good example to all."
I am grateful for her courage, her charity, and her unshakable faith, and I hope to be able to emulate them in my own life.
Jane Manning James, Black Saint, 1847 Pioneer, by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, August 1979 Ensign
Remembering Jane Manning James, by Becky Cardon Smith, Meridian Magazine
Honoring Jane Manning James: Courage on a Stage of Bigotry, by Susan Easton Black
Jane Manning James in the Women's Exponent, by J. Stapley
2005 talk given my Susan Easton Black in the Winter Quarters Ward