New marker memorializes ‘noble woman’ as an example

Jane Elizabeth Manning James, an African American Latter-day Saint and a friend of the Prophet Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Ill., was honored June 5 with a memorial service and new monument at her grave site in Salt Lake City Cemetery.

Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve presided over and offered dedicatory remarks at the service. The service was organized by Genesis, a support group for African American members of the Church and their friends that was formed in 1971.

Elder Alexander B. Morrison of the Seventy and president of the Utah North Area also addressed the gathering. Henry Wolfinger, archivist at the National Archives in Washington D.C., spoke on "Jane's Historical Significance." Darius Gray, who has been Genesis president since the death two years ago of its founder, Ruffin Bridgeforth, conducted the service.

In his remarks, Elder Haight alluded to accounts from Sister James' life history that had been presented earlier in the memorial service by Genesis members in a dramatic reading, set against a vocal background of "Come, Come, Ye Saints."

"After I was baptized," Sister James recorded in the life history excerpted in the presentation, "I started from Wilton, Connecticut, for Nauvoo with my family on foot to travel over 800 miles. We walked until our shoes were worn out and our feet became sore and cracked open and bled until you could see the whole print of our feet with blood on the ground. We stopped and asked God to heal our feet, and our prayers were answered and our feet were healed forthwith.

"At last, we got to Prophet Joseph Smith's [Nauvoo] mansion. Sister Emma [Smith] was standing in the door and said, 'Come in, come in!' Brother Joseph said to me, 'You've been the head of this little band, haven't you?' And I answered, 'Yes sir!' And then he said, 'God bless you. You are among friends now, and you will be protected.'

"After Joseph and Hyrum were martyred, I left Nauvoo to come to this great and glorious [Salt Lake] valley. And 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. As in my first journey, I will go on my way rejoicing, singing hymns and thanking God for His infinite wisdom and mercy."

In his remarks, Elder Haight declared, "We ought to live the way we should live and take as an example this outstanding woman who did it in the most difficult way and under the most difficult circumstances.

"Imagine the bloody, aching, tender feet. Eight hundred miles from Connecticut to Nauvoo with all of the challenges that you can have."

Elder Haight spoke of the new marker, which features a bronze bas-relief on polished rock depicting an incident in which Sister James shared half her four pounds of flour with her friend, Eliza Partridge Lyman. Sister Lyman's husband had just left the Salt Lake Valley for a Church mission to California and, as was common in those days, trusting that the Lord would provide for his family.

"We looked at the marker carefully to be sure we understood what the artist is portraying to us," Elder Haight said. "Then it was explained that that is Jane standing at the door with the flour to hand to Sister Lyman, who is in need. And so here we have the great example of love of neighbor, love of someone else, love of people and wanting to help someone in need."

He said Church magazines would do well to publish articles about Sister James. "As we read her life, we find almost countless angles and points of interest, points of doctrine and principles of godliness in her life that we might want to emulate."

Elder Haight noted that Sister James came in the second company of pioneers, arriving in the valley Sept. 22, 1847, the same company in which his Haight ancestors had traveled. "They had made the trip from Winter Quarters, had lived together in those settings. They were friends and undoubtedly would have been helping one another; I'm sure Jane would have been helping my family, because that's the way she was."

Elder Morrison described Sister James as "a noble woman" who "knew much of adversity, much of sorrow, much of hardship, and perhaps most sadly of all, much of prejudice and bigotry during her life." But, he said, "through it all, and in spite of it all, her faith in God and in His prophet remained as a bright and shining light which guided her footsteps and lighted her way."

Baptized in 1842, Sister James left Connecticut in the fall of 1843 with her mother, two brothers, two sisters, a brother-in-law and a sister-in-law to travel to Nauvoo to join with fellow Latter-day Saints, Elder Morrison related. "Authorities at Buffalo, N.Y., refused the group passage by boat to Columbus, Ohio. And so, from Buffalo to Nauvoo, Jane and her family were forced to travel on foot.

"Lesser souls faced with such adversity would have grumbled, bickered among themselves, given up, even cursed God and died, as Job's wife advised him to do," Elder Morrison said. "But not Jane. Her faithful heart was made of both sterner and more holy stuff. Her unusual humility of spirit was coupled with an inner fortitude and ability to persevere, to transcend pain and sorrow, to just keep going one step at a time, which touches the heart as it leaves one breathless with admiration. Young people of today who cry out for role models would do well to look to Jane as an example of faithful fortitude and of goodness in action. Jane touches my heart in so many ways. I look forward to meeting her and learning from her."

Elder Morrison said he loves her compassion for others and recounted that her husband, Isaac, whom she met and married in Nauvoo and with whom she came west, left her in 1869 and was gone for more than 20 years, returning only as he neared the end of his life. "Jane cared for him until his death a year or so later, and his funeral was held from her home," he said.

He added that her compassion was coupled with generosity in sharing what she had, which in the early days in the valley was precious little.

Left as a single mother, she raised food in her garden, took in laundry and made soap to help make ends meet, Elder Morrison said. "From her meager funds, she provided money to the building funds of the St. George, Logan and Manti temples. She raised good children and wept when she lost them in death. She was the mother of 10 and outlived all but two of them. Of her seven children who reached maturity, five died before the age of 40. Two of her daughters died in childbirth, and six of 14 grandchildren died before reaching the age of 4. But through all her sorrows, her faith in Christ and His atonement stayed strong.

Of her love for the Prophet Joseph Smith, Elder Morrison said the Prophet was always kind to her and treated her, she said, as one of his own children. "When he was killed, said Jane, 'I like to have died myself if it had not been for the teachers. I felt so bad, and the teachers told me, you can't want to die because he did. He died for us, and now we want to live and do all the good we can.' But in the years that followed," Jane recalled, " 'I shall never forget the agony and sorrow.' "

Sister James, who died in 1908 at about age 86, lived in a time of great prejudice toward African Americans but was not embittered by the ignorance of many around her, Elder Morrison said.

Mr. Wolfinger said he was raised in Arizona with an interest in Western American history. Leonard Arrington's work about the Church's 19th Century role sparked his interest in Mormon history, which led in turn to his research into the life of Sister James.

"Jane was a woman of remarkable strength and character," he said. "She was raised in straitened circumstances. Her father died when she was a young girl, and she was placed in the home of a prosperous white farmer to work as a servant. She received no formal education and no special training. Though she did learn to read, in later life she often signed her name with a mark and dictated her correspondence, which suggests that she never mastered writing."

He said she encountered the LDS faith through missionaries preaching in Westchester County, N.Y., and neighboring southern Connecticut in the early 1840s.

After coming to Nauvoo, he said, she worked in Joseph Smith's household until just before his death six months later.

"Jane was one of those who fled Nauvoo under the leadership of Brigham Young, temporarily settling in Winter Quarters, Neb. Remaining family members who had made the trek to Nauvoo with her did not move west. Before leaving Nauvoo, Jane married Isaac James, a free black from New Jersey who converted to the Mormon faith in 1839. She was pregnant during the flight, and their first son was born in Iowa."

Theirs was the first free black household to arrive in the Salt Lake Valley with the pioneers, the archivist noted.

He said her life is a reminder that the Church has been diverse in its composition from the outset, that it appealed to blacks as well as whites, and African Americans were a part of the gathering of Latter-day Saints and the move of the community to the Salt Lake Valley. "While we focus on Jane today, we should not overlook the presence in Utah as early as 1860 of several score African Americans, a number of whom were members of the Church."

Brother Gray said the monument, sculpted by Leroy Transfield, is yet unfinished. He explained that it will sit on a pedestal and a plaque will be added to the reverse side giving a brief history of Sister James' life.

He said the memorial service was not just about Sister James "but what she has taught us we should do. We're trying to bridge some gulfs here. There are many in this world. Satan is resourceful. And yet, if we follow the example of that good sister and maintain love in our hearts, have patience, I think we will all do better than we have done in the past."