Monday, February 8, 2010

""Our feet cracked open and bled..."

"Our feet cracked open and bled until you could see the whole prints of our feet with blood on the ground."
Jane Elizabeth Manning James bore this testimony as part of her life story.
IF there is one defining moment I have as a Black LDS woman it would be the moment I found out there were Black LDS Pioneers. For years growing up on Pioneer Day or the Sundays where Pioneer day was talked about I would listen to the stories of the great great grand children of those who had relatives who lost their lives or, suffered great hardships walking across the plains to "Zion." I would sit and listen to the stories of how great great Grandpa Hezekiyah or Dear Aunt Levondia Young lost a toe or commanded their half dead ox to "RISE AND BE WHOLE" so it would continue the journey from Nauvoo to SLC. In the back of my mind was that little voice of one of my great-great ancestors saying
"man, what I sho wouldn't give to be free to walk off this plantation and walk across the plains with some pioneers."
The way I saw it, Hell, at least they were free to walk. They were free to stop walking, turn around and walk someplace else too. No matter how hard the trials, they were free.
So Imagine my surprise when I learned there was black LDS pioneers who came across the plains! Black pioneers became almost an obsession with me: Who were they, where did they come from, did they remain faithful, and WHY is this not shared knowledge in the history of the church? I WAS HOPPING MAD when I found out too. Do you know what kind of example and strength this could have been to me while growing up? Well I was gonna make sure I told the story of these pioneers any chance I could.
The first one I ever learned about was a Free Black Woman Named Jane Manning. She joined the church about the age of 19 and shortly after she and her family ( brothers, sister and mama) Set out the join the LDS Saints in Nauvoo, IL. She and her family walked over 800 miles to get there. That's right I Said 800 miles on foot.

"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 united in prayer to the Lord; we asked God the Eternal Father to heal our feet. Our prayers were answered and our feet were healed forthwith."

She arrived in Nauvoo with her family and after all in her family found homes and employment of their own, she stayed in the home of the Prophet Joseph Smith. They employed her and gave her a home later asking her if she wanted to be adopted/sealed to them as one of their children, part of their family, to which she declined.

Through out her years she met and married Issac James and then later traveled from Nauvoo to Salt lake city with her husband and 2 sons in a Pioneer company. Although the journey was long and hard she remained strong and steadfast. Sharing all she could along the way.

Excerpts from the journal of a fellow pioneer woman express the Christlike example Jane was to so many.

From the journal of Eliza Partridge Lyman:

"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."

To understand the depth of such giving, There were pioneer companies who at some point had to ration meals to four ounces of flour a day.
And there was no "BIGGIE SIZING" it. So to receive 2 lbs of flour was a GREAT sacrifice and blessing. 2 lbs of flour probably saved the life of that family.

Jane Manning James was the first free black woman to live in the Utah Territory. Her daughter Mary Ann was the first black child born in Utah.

I stand amazed at the power and faith she had in knowing she would be blessed and taken care of through all of her trials. To suffer the trials of being a black woman during those times as well as the trial of being a Mormon during those times was a two fold double punch in the gut. However in part of her life story she states:
“Oh how I suffered of cold and hunger,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.”
Each time she shared her life story, the trials and tribulations, she never EVER forgot to give props and thanks to the man upstairs for her many blessings.
Her husband left her and her children for 20 years and then returned to her not wanting to die alone. She welcomed him back and took care of him until he passed aways.
Later in life she was interviewed about her life and she shared these words:
“I have seen my husband and all my children but two (of eight) laid away in the silent tomb but the Lord protects me and takes good care of me in my helpless condition.”

The life story of Jane's courage, strength, endurance, and faith is an example to all who read about her.
She ends her life story with the following testimony:
"[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. 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."
May we all be so "feeble."

A Monument of Jane Elizabeth Manning James was dedicated on June 5, 1999 in the Salt lake cemetery. This work was commissioned by the LDS Genesis Branch. Not only was I front and center at this dedication, Imagine my amazement when I was honored to be the voice of Jane and asked to read her biography at the dedication. What a humble honor I will always hold dear to my heart.

I am nothing like the strength and dedication that Jane Elizabeth Manning James was. I've buckled under less circumstances.
I remember the first time I told my mama about the black Mormon pioneers and how much I hated pioneer day and the story of the pioneers. She let me in on a little secret informing me that I, too was a pioneer. Having been a black LDS member since She and my father were baptized in 1973. 5 1/2 years before my father would be blessed with the Priesthood. There are many who will always turn their back away from the church because of previously practiced traditions and beliefs. The time will come when those will come to me and my siblings and look for those examples of strength and testimony that I look to Jane and many others for. I, too am a pioneer and never new it until the moment my mother informed me of it.
It is important to remember that at some point our whole country was in turmoil over racial prejudices. And those leading the government, churches and many other areas of leadership were products of time and circumstances. The Lord will only allow men to get so far in their own planning before he puts his ultimate plan in place. Being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is proof positive to me that The Lord Has a plan and he is working it. He knows when the timing is right and he knows when the children of the Earth are ready for it. We must accept progress and move it forward. We must know where we are going BECAUSE we know where we've been. I feel for anyone still holding grudges to those passed mistakes that the Lord has stepped in and correct for I am CERTAIN he is telling us.
"I have righted your wrongs, don't let passed injustices stop your progression. Move forward and make it better for those who walk behind you"

Thank you, Jane, I hope someday you'll look at me and say... "that's my sista, keep on keepin on!"


dramatic sporano said...

Thank you, Karyn. And thank you, Jane!
Karyn, you write so beautifully.


S'mee said...

Amen to the above thanks! These histories are a fascinating part of the Gospel! I feel fortunate that, here in SoCal, we have been taught about the Black Saints who helped establish the valley where the Redlands Temple now stands! In seminary we were also taught that there were Black Saints who traveled west and also that much of the early persecution of the saints was in part due to Joseph Smith's views on slavery. What a legacy! I feel grateful that, although I feel I know very little about Black Mormon History, we did learn a bit! : )

ShaBANG said...

Margaret, I am so glad you are cheering in my corner!
S'mee, My goal is to find way to incorporate the history of black pioneers where ever and when ever I can. I'm so happy you learned about them in seminary. I think that's an excellent place to learn of them. I know it would have done wonders for me during those teenage years. I would love to hear from you those things you learned about the black saints where you live! Share the stories :)

Rachelle said...

I read this through a link in the yourLDS newsletter--congrats. The history of the pioneers seems never-ending as if we've just skimmed the surface. I learned that there were Black pioneers in the past 15 years or so, but I think it was because of a book, possibly The Work and the Glory? I don't remember, but I remember having the same thoughts you expressed, Wow, I didn't know that before. Kudos to you for your involvement.

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