In the fall of 1842, Jane Elizabeth Manning was 22 and living near Norwalk in southwest Connecticut when she first met LDS Church prophet Joseph Smith.
She knew that a number of new Mormon converts had emigrated from Norwalk to Nau-voo, the settlement established in Illinois by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After hearing the principles of the LDS faith, she quickly converted, as did a number of her relatives. A year after her baptism, Jane Elizabeth Manning, her mother, three brothers, two sisters and a brother- and sister-in-law, joined the westward migration.Many of the family's experiences were common to other Mormon pioneers. But crucial differences also would emerge. A postscript to one of Manning's many letters to church officials explained why: "I am Coloured."
It was a given that the Mannings, black people traveling in a time of slavery, would be singled out for attention. In Peoria, Ill., officials challenged them to produce their "free papers" - which they didn't have because Manning's mother had been freed in 1811 and the children had never been owned by anyone.
When the weary family reached Nauvoo in 1843, they were immediately directed to Joseph Smith's home, where the church leader welcomed them warmly. Within a week, all but Jane had new homes. When Joseph and Emma Smith found her crying because her belongings had been lost on her journey and because she believed she had no place to go, they invited her to live with them.
The young black woman became an integral part of the household, and Emma Smith asked Manning if she wanted to be adopted as a child into the family. Not understanding the question, she declined, but stayed with the Smiths until shortly before Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were murdered in the Carthage, Ill., jail in 1844.
During the unsettled time after thekillings, Jane Manning married Isaac James, a free black from Monmouth County, N.J., who had converted to Mormonism in 1839 as a young man of 19. The Jameses went west with President Brigham Young to Winter Quarters, Neb., to prepare for the journey to the Rocky Mountains. None of the Mannings went with her, however, and all left the church.
But the Jameses were building a family of their own, and with their two sons they accompanied the Mormon pioneers who traveled from Nebraska to the Salt Lake Valley in mid-June 1847. When they arrived, they built a home on a small land claim in the 1st Ward in the southeast section of what would become Salt Lake City. The family's first years in the valley were marked by periods of poverty, but in the Mormon cooperative tradition, the family gave when they could and accepted help from their neighbors.
By 1860 six more children had been born, and the family was prospering.
Nine years later, Isaac and Jane James were divorced. Jane remarried, but when that marriage ended two years later, she took back her former married name. After the dissolution of her two marriages, Jane James exchanged her 1st Ward property for a lot on 500 East between 500 and 600 South, where she lived out her life in a two-story frame house.
No longer living off the bounty of her small 1st Ward farm, she began working as a domestic and lived in relative poverty for the remainder of the 19th century. She immersed herself in Mormon life, joining the 8th Ward Relief Society, and donated money and labor to many church causes.
James was dedicated to Utah and the LDS Church but ultimately excluded from some dreams because of her race. Black people could be baptized into the LDS Church and could be baptized for the dead, but church doctrine - modified in 1978 - prohibited them from other sacred rituals and blessings.
In 1890, shortly before she reconciled with Isaac James when he returned to Salt Lake City and to the church, Jane James had asked to have her marriage sealed - a church ceremony that extends a marriage relationship through eternity.
She also asked to be adopted into Joseph Smith's family, telling the authorities of Emma Smith's offer of nearly 50 years prior, and asked to receive her temple endowments in the Salt Lake Temple.
Church authorities in 1895 denied the request for endowments and in 1902 denied her request to be sealed.
It must be taken as an indication of her diplomacy that James' relationship with church authorities remained cordial despite her repeated requests for them to consider her point of view. She protested, but gently. When she died in 1908, church President Joseph F. Smith was one of several officials who spoke at her funeral, and a front-page story in the Deseret News commended her for her "undaunted faith and goodness of heart."