Pioneer Day with Soul- Part 2: Jane Manning James

Sometimes, we erase our struggles from our journals because we don’t want others to know how hard life was for us.  What if our descendants were to learn that we suffered from depression or that we had doubts about our religion’s fundamental myths?  Could our progeny be challenged rather than inspired? Likewise, we often edit our ancestors’ stories to glorify them.  I have found that many who tell Jane Manning James’s story focus on the first part of her life as a Mormon—her barefoot journey of over 800 miles from Buffalo, New York to Nauvoo, Illinois.  Some histories record her subsequent trip to Salt Lake City.  But that’s where most stop.  In fact, her spiritual strength would be tested for the rest of her life far more than her physical strength was during that 1842-3 journey.

A few years before her death, Jane dictated her life story to Elizabeth J. D. Roundy, concluding it with these words:

[M]y 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. I pay my tithes and offerings, keep the Word of Wisdom. I go to bed early and arise early. I try in my feeble way to set a good example to all.

Born free in Connecticut in 1822, Jane Elizabeth Manning heard the gospel preached by Charles Wandell. Being “fully convinced that it was the true gospel,” she was baptized the following Sunday. Ultimately, her entire family joined the Church and then made that heroic trip to Nauvoo.

Jane chose to leave out of her life story any mention of her divorce from Isaac James, her brief marriage to Franklin Perkins, and, most important, her continual petitions for temple blessings starting in 1884, documented by her letters and others’ journals.  In her life story, she talks about her “blindness” as her worst trial, and mentions the deaths of many of her children and grandchildren, but ultimately (as is characteristic of all her accounts of hard things) praises God for giving her the strength to endure it all.

When the Genesis Group commissioned Leroy Transfield to sculpt a monument to Jane, he initially wanted to portray the Mannings making that long journey. Whenever he began sketching the scene, however, he got a headache. Finally, he felt he should depict another event from Jane’s life—one we would not know of without another pioneer journal.

In 1850, Eliza Partridge Lyman wrote:

April 13: Brother Lyman [Eliza's husband] started on a mission to California with O. P Rockwell and others. May the Lord bless and prosper them and return them in safety. He left us . . . without anything to make bread, it not being in his power to get any.
April 25: Jane James, a colored woman, let me have two pounds of flour, it being about half she had.

This was the scene the sculptor chose: Jane James offering a bowl of flour to her fellow pioneer, possibly saving her life through the gift.

To me, the image was perfect, symbolic not only of Jane’s strong example but quietly echoing the deliverance Joseph of Old offered his brothers, and even the Great Deliverance offered by Him who was “despised the rejected of men” (Isaiah 53:3).

Jane’s offering to Eliza was a tremendous sacrifice, for her own family was poverty-stricken as well.  Her life story never mentions her afflictions without praising God, though. “Oh how I suffered of cold and hunger,” it says, “and the keenest of all was to hear my little ones crying for bread, and I had none to give them; but in all, the Lord was with us and gave us grace and faith to stand at all.”

For the monument, Darius Gray, my co-author and then the president of the Genesis Group, had secured some granite from the same quarry the SaltLakeTemple builders had used. How appropriate to set Jane’s monument onto that temple stone!

On June 3, 1999, two days before the dedication of the “JaneMonument,” I went to a Utah foundry to pick up the completed bronze relief. Leroy was waiting for me in the parking lot. When I asked how sculpture had turned out, he hesitated. “Why don’t you come inside,” he said.

“Is everything all right?”

As we entered the foundry doors, he suggested I sit down.

Leroy took a breath and let the words drop. “It exploded.” He explained that once in fifty times, a casting will burst in the kiln’s fires.

The dedication could not be re-scheduled. Elder David B. Haight would be present, as would Elders Alexander B. Morrison and John H. Groberg.

Leroy had one option for us: He would coat the ceramic prototype with bronze paint and then glue it to the granite. Only a few of us would know that the monument we were dedicating was not permanent. The real thing would be erected after the firing process was completed again—successfully.

I drove to Salt Lake City, where Darius was waiting at Hansen Stone. He asked the same question I had asked Leroy—”How did it turn out?”

I answered,“Before I say anything else, let me just tell you that everything is going to be all right.”

“What happened?”

“Well, it exploded.” I then explained our options.

Darius laughed—which was exactly what Jane would’ve done, I think. I have imagined her laughing as she faced her small tribulations, and kneeling when she faced her bigger ones. Joy was her theme, and gratitude her pattern. “I have seen my husband and all my children but two laid away in the silent tomb,” she says—and then immediately follows with, “but the Lord protects me and takes good care of me in my helpless condition.”

We had had only a minor explosion. Surely the Lord would take “good care” of us.

The morning of June 5 dawned cloudy. Leroy went to the SaltLakeCemetery, where the monument was to be dedicated. The granite was already in place, next to Jane’s headstone, but rain was falling and the stone was wet. He could not glue ceramic to a wet surface. So, true to Jane’s example, he knelt and prayed for the rains to stop.  It stopped. He then smathered his work with glue and pressed it onto the stone.

An hour later, I was on my way to the cemetery with my husband and various Genesis members. It was raining again, and I prayed for a clear sky. Just as we arrived, I saw a patch of blue begin to stretch over the cemetery.

We sang “Amazing Grace” as the opening hymn, and then listened to Elder Morrison talk about the grace of Jane James, who had known much of prejudice in her lifetime, yet had chosen to walk in faith. Elder David B. Haight, whose ancestors had come west with Jane in the Ira Eldridge Company, said he was certain she had helped care for his family, because “that’s the kind of person she was.” Members of our Genesis Group singers offered a medley of hymns, including “Lead Kindly Light,” “Come, Come Ye Saints,” and “I Am A Child of God.”

The rain began again just as we finished the dedication. I took my dear friend Susie, in a wheelchair because of a stroke, to see the monument close up. She wept. I could only imagine what life experiences were behind her tears. We gazed at the unfinished monument, which was a poignant reminder that there was yet work to do, and fires waiting to prove our strength. This painted ceramic only hinted at the brilliance that was to come. It reminded me of the deferred blessings in Jane’s life, the difference between painted clay and fired bronze.

Three months later, the permanent sculpture was ready, having come through the kiln with brazen strength. I told LeRoy it’d be wonderful to donate the substitute to the ChurchMuseum. He was certain that wouldn’t be possible, since he’d have to chip it off because of all the glue he had used. I was hardly even surprised, though, when he called to tell me he had been able to pry it from the stone intact. We did donate it to the ChurchMuseum and later displayed it in the Washington, D.C.Temple Visitors’ Center as part of a Black History exhibit.

Perhaps Jane did not mention her denied petitions for her endowment because she did not foresee the changes ahead.  Only ten months after her death, the NAACP would be established.  Others would make and document their long journeys towards the ideals of the Declaration of Independence—that all men and women are created equal.  In Utah, however, she becomes a spokesperson for equality as we learn more about her complete story.

Jane’s example continues to gleam through the fires of my own life. I think of her walking those many miles, and cannot focus on her bloodied feet without acknowledging God’s mercy as she did. These are her words:

But we went on our way rejoicing, singing hymns, and thanking God for his infinite goodness and mercy to us—in blessing us as he had, protecting us from all harm, answering our prayers, and healing our feet.

I think of her entering the Mansion House in her ragged, dirty clothes and hearing Joseph Smith say, “God bless you. You are among friends.” I think of her welcoming her husband home, after he had abandoned her for twenty years. I think of her approaching one Church president after another, pleading for temple blessings, only to be told she must wait. She becomes Joseph in the pit, waiting to be remembered and set free—and ultimately revealing the glory of who she really is. She becomes the Canaanite woman of Matthew 15, begging mercy of the Lord and showing her faith even when it seems she will not be blessed. She becomes every man or woman who has passed through the Refiner’s fire. She becomes the radiant Daughter of Zion, rising from the dust and from the flame. She speaks her name, and shines.

Comments

  1. Stephen R Marsh says:

    That was beautiful.

  2. Amazing. Absolutely humbling, amazing, awe-inspiring, and joy-fulfilling.

  3. I have truly enjoyed this inspiring series. I grew up in LA and remember going with my father (who grew up In Augusta, GA), in the weeks following the revelation in 1978, to the LA Temple to do the temple work for the “mammy” and her husband who had essentially raised my father and his brother. What an amazing experience…it was so important to my father to do that work, as I remember him struggling with understanding the withholding of Priesthood prior to 1978. As he later served as a sealer in both Chicago and Nauvoo he would always tell us of the joy he felt when he would see those who had previously been denied those blessings coming to the temple. Thank you once again for these stories.

  4. Scott thank you for your additional thoughts as well. Truly spiritual experiences–evidence of the Gospel in action!

  5. Love this. Love Jane. Love you. Thank you again.

  6. julia G blair says:

    First of all, I loved this. It is inspiring. I’ve wondered about recording difficult personal experiences, especially if they involve other people. I know that we each experience things differently. I agree that her constant requests for
    Temple blessings is very telling.

  7. Stunning. God bless Sister James – and may we honor her in the way we handle issues like the ones she endured so well.

  8. Good comment, Ray. I hope we do honor her in those ways. And it’s always fun to see Julia G. Blair comment at BCC. No offense to anyone, but she’s my favorite commenter. So, Mom, maybe we keep two journals–one which tells all, and one which is just sweetness and light. My father-in-law left some very painful letters for us to find after his death. They have helped us understand him much better.
    Of course, one consequence for Jane’s not mentioning her divorce was that proxies sealed her to her ex-husband in 1978.

  9. Jacob H. says:

    Thank you for sharing.

  10. This was the perfect read for today. Thank you for sharing.

  11. M Dearest says:

    I was inspired by this to keep trying harder, and that is no small thing this week. Thank you.

  12. Beautiful – and humbling. Reminds us to put our issues and problems into perspective

  13. Sharee Hughes says:

    Beautiful, Margaret. Jane is indeed someone we need to honor. Last night when I was scrolling through the TV, looking to see if there was anything on worth watching, I discovered that the Documentary Channel was showing “Nobody Knows.” Now I have this on DVD and have viewed it several times, But I watched it again last night. I never fail to be moved by Jane’s story, as well as the testimonies of some of the blacks interviewed.

  14. How fortunate for us to have you share these precious experiences with us. Thanks for that.

  15. This would make a beautiful Ensign article.

  16. J. Stapley says:

    Thank you Margaret.

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