Pioneer Day [just came and went], and to be honest, it’s not a holiday I grew up celebrating. Since I don’t live in Utah I don’t even get the day off, and I’m pretty sure I’m allergic to wearing pioneer clothes because it looks less “pioneer-y” on me and much more “cotton-picky,” if you know what I mean. But one of the things I love about this time of year is remembering the legacies of the early pioneers. One of the pioneers I have grown to know and love is Jane Elizabeth Manning James.
Being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sometimes makes a lot of us the ONLY. Some of us can relate to being the only Latter-day Saint kid at school, on the block, or in our family. Sometimes within our own Latter-day Saint community we can be the ONLY—the only single member or single parent, the only one with tattoos, the only blended family, the only one struggling with addiction, or the only one whose kids don’t go to church.
For different reasons, many of us feel like the ONLY in our church communities. For me, I’m often the only Black person/family in my Latter-day Saintcircles. At times when this was difficult for me, I wondered, Was there a person who knew what it was like to have that moment when you’re sitting in church and you think you feel the Holy Spirit, but it’s really the person behind you who has their hand all up in your hair? Was there anyone out there who knew what it was like to leave home and journey West, and feel so different in a sea full of people though your faith is the same? For me, I found that kinship amongst the stories of Black pioneers.
Jane Elizabeth Manning James was an American pioneer and early member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jane, a free Black woman, was born in Wilton, Connecticut. After hearing the missionaries preach, she embraced the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and excitedly shared the Good News with her family.
In 1843 Jane, along with eight of her family members, embarked on a journey from Connecticut to join Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo, Illinois. When they reached Buffalo, New York, they purchased steamboat tickets, but after their luggage had been placed on board, they were denied passage because they were Black. Their money and luggage was not returned to them.