Black pioneers a part of legacy



    In July 1847, the first pioneer company ended their long trek into Salt Lake Valley.

    Unknown or forgotten are the black pioneers that also made the same trek with the companies to Utah, said Darius Gray, president of the Genesis group, a support organization for black Latter-day Saints.

    “Blacks have been a part of Mormon history from the very beginning,” he said.

    It is important for black Latter-day Saints to know that they too have a history within the church, Gray said. The black pioneers are role models for everyone, no matter what color.

    Jane Elizabeth Manning James, an influential black pioneer, was always faithful and ended her life history with her testimony of the church, said Margaret Young, co-author of Standing on the Promises trilogy.

    Her faith and belief in the gospel prompted her to ask repeatedly for her and her ancestors to receive their endowments, Young said.

    “Angus Canon, Jane’s stake president, made a three-sentence answer for President Taylor granting permission for Jane to do baptisms for the dead,” Young wrote her essay “Is There No Blessing for Me?” The Relentless Jane Manning James.

    Though her race prevented her from ascending the temple stairs beyond the baptismal font, her association with Joseph Smith and other prophets earned her and her brother designated seats in the tabernacle, Young said in her essay.

    Although James was prohibited from receiving her endowments, there were a few men who received the priesthood, Gray said.

    “Elijah Abel was the great excetion: ordained (in 1836) by Joseph Smith himself, washed and anointed in the Kirkland Temple, and advanced to the office of a Seventy,” Young said in her essay.

    Abel was a thorn in the sides of those Church leaders who believed with much of America that blacks were destined to be “servants of servants” — even eternally, Young’s essay said.

    But after a claim that Abel had been dropped from the Quorum of the Seventy once his lineage was renewed, President Joseph F. Smith checked the records and discovered that Abel’s certificate as a Seventy had been renewed twice, including once after his migration west, Young said.

    Abel served three missions for the church before he died in 1884, Gray said.

    According to the History of the Church, vol. 6, Joseph Smith was against slavery and in his presidential platform of 1844 he called upon the United States to give liberty to the captive.

    “Break off the shackles from the poor black man, and hire him to labor like other human beings,” Joseph Smith said.

    James traveled with her family from Wilton, Conn., to Nauvoo, Ill., and their shoes were worn out and their feet were bloody, Young said.

    “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 knelt and prayed. We asked God the eternal Father to heal our feet, and our prayers were answered forthwith,” James’ stated in her history.

    Although the different races divided the people, all suffered equally economically, Young said.

    But at one point, James’ economic condition was even better than a woman named Eliza Partiridge Lyman’s. When Lyman had no prospect of getting more food until after harvest, James let her have two pounds of flour, which was about half of what James had, she said.

    Another strong young black pioneer was Green Flake. He and two other black servants, Oscar Crosby and Hark Lay, came to Salt Lake Valley with the very first pioneer company, Young said.

    Young said that the three servants were all members of the church and remained faithful their entire lives.

    “Green Flake worked for Brigham Young for two years and Young released him acknowledging that he bought his freedom by the work he had done,” she said.

    Flake stayed a faithful member of the church his entire life, she said.

    Although most of the original black pioneers stayed faithful in the church, many of their ancestors fell away from the church, Gray said.

    Remembering the precious examples of black pioneer stories will benefit all, regardless of race, Gray said.

    “The tenacity in the face of adversity, dedication to their faith is altogether remarkable. They are true examples of what we should be,” he said.

    In June 1999, the Genesis group dedicated a monument at the Salt Lake City Cemetery to Jane James. The sculptor is of James offering the two cups of flour to Eliza Lyman.

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