"Dear Brother," Jane Manning James wrote to Joseph F. Smith in 1903, "I take this opportunity of writing to ask you if I can get my endowments and also finish the work I have begun for my dead .... Your sister in the Gospel, Jane E. James." A faithful Latter-day Saint since her conversion sixty years earlier, James had made this request several times before, to no avail, and this time she would be just as unsuccessful, even though most Latter-day Saints were allowed to participate in the endowment ritual in the temple as a matter of course. James, unlike most Mormons, was black. For that reason, she was barred from performing the temple rituals that Latter-day Saints believe are necessary to reach the highest degrees of glory after death.
A free black woman from Connecticut, James positioned herself at the center of LDS history with uncanny precision. After her conversion, she traveled with her family and other converts from the region to Nauvoo, Illinois, where the LDS church was then based. There, she took a job as a servant in the home of Joseph Smith, the founder and first prophet of the LDS church. When Smith was killed in 1844, Jane found employment as a servant in Brigham Young's home. These positions placed Jane in proximity to Mormonism's most powerful figures, but did not protect her from the church's racially discriminatory policies. Nevertheless, she remained a faithful member until her death in 1908.
Your Sister in the Gospel: The Life of Jane Manning James, a Nineteenth-Century Black Mormon
(Oxford University Press, 2019) is the first scholarly biography of Jane Manning James. Quincy D. Newell
chronicles the life of this remarkable yet largely unknown figure and reveals why James's story changes our understanding of American history.
Daniel P. Stone holds a PhD in American religious history from Manchester Metropolitan University (United Kingdom) and is the author of
William Bickerton: Forgotten Latter Day Prophet (Signature Books, 2018). He has taught history courses at the University of Detroit Mercy and Florida Atlantic University, and currently, he works as a research archivist for a private library/archive in Detroit, Michigan.