Black in Mormonism: How the Priesthood-Temple Ban Became Fully Entrenched Policy in the Church (Part 4)

Todd Noall

Todd Noall

Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Kevin Prince

Mormons and Blacks: Jane Manning James

Fast forward 16 years from John Taylor’s 1879 decision. It’s 1895, and a faithful black woman named Jane Manning James has asked permission from now-church-president Wilford Woodruff to receive her endowments. He and his counselors initially had told Sister James that they could see no way by which they could grant her request due to the current policy against blacks in Mormonism, but at a council meeting in August 1895, President Woodruff “asked the brethren present if they had any ideas on the subject favorable to her race.” Do you brethren have anything to go on that is favorable to Sister James’ cause here? That’s the question.

And the first person to speak up in that meeting was Joseph F. Smith, who reminded them that Elijah Able, who had passed away back in 1884, had been “ordained a Seventy and afterwards a high priest at Kirtland under the direction of the prophet Joseph Smith.” So there you go. Joseph F. Smith in 1895 believed, A, that Elijah Able’s priesthood ordination was legit, and B, that it was favorable evidence that ought to be considered in light of Jane Manning James’ request.

Now, others in the meeting brought counter arguments against his point, particularly George Q. Cannon, and so Sister James‘ request was not granted, and maybe we can talk more about her in a minute, but the key thing I want to highlight here is the simple point that in 1895, Joseph F. Smith is still keeping Elijah Able’s legitimate priesthood ordination alive in the institutional memory of the leading councils of this church.

But that all begins to change nine years later, in 1904, for reasons we cannot fully explain. And Joseph F. Smith’s memory of Elijah Able is at the center of it. But before we go there, let’s talk for a minute a little more about Jane Manning James.

And that’s a part of the story, too, is the two people that we maybe use to humanize some of this history are Elijah Able and—Jane Manning James, during this same time, asks permission to be sealed. And what’s interesting here is she asked permission to be sealed to Joseph Smith and Emma Smith as a daughter. 

Jane, in her autobiography, which she dictates—you can go to the church history website and download this fairly easily. My wife and I read the whole thing together. It’s really quite interesting. Jane dictated it. As far as we know, Jane was illiterate. She didn’t know how to write. But one of the things she said was that Emma Smith, while they were living in Nauvoo, because Jane initially lives with Joseph and Emma when she first arrives there—was that Emma Smith approached her and said she asked if Jane was interested in be[ing] sealed to them as one of their children. 

Jane’s wording is, “I told her no,” and then Emma sort of backed off, which sounds a lot like Emma, where she was very tentative about temple ordinances and sealings and things. She said that Emma approached her two weeks later and asked, and Jane said, “No, ma’am,” and then Jane later admitted, “because I didn’t know what she was talking about,” and she says, “I didn’t know my own mind at that time.” And so she comes to the First Presidency and asks if she can be sealed to Joseph and Emma as a daughter and we don’t know what happens. In 1884, she just makes the request. 

It’s in 1890 she requests temple blessings again. It seems like the person she talks to is Joseph F. Smith, who’s the second counselor in the first presidency at the time, and she asks if she can be sealed to Q. Walker Lewis, reminding him that he was ordained an elder, and she wants to receive her endowments. And as far as we know, the conversation goes like this: “Can I also be adopted to brother Joseph Smith the prophet’s family?” She explains that “Emma said Joseph told her to tell me,” so in this instance, she’s saying “Joseph Smith instructed Emma that I should be adopted to their family. She asked if I would like to. I did not understand the law of adoption then,” which, just to clarify, the law of adoption was that you could ask someone that you were close to, to be sealed to you as a child.

It actually seems like it was fairly common for a while in the early church, and so she makes this request and in 1894 a request is made to Joseph F. Smith by Zina Young on behalf of Jane Manning. She kind of persists with this as late as 1903 she’s asking Joseph F. Smith, “Can I receive my endowments? Can I receive the sealing?” So Jane is the opposite side, and an important part of her story is that we sometimes simplify this by saying it’s a priesthood ban; it only affected men. It was the Mormon priesthood ban. It affected men and women, and Jane personifies that part of the story.
So there’s these two figures, Elijah Able and Jane Manning, who are both saying, “We want to go to the temple, and this causes Joseph F. Smith to sit down and decide to finally codify things—to create a policy. 

Which it appears really hasn’t existed to this point. And let’s talk a little bit about that policy and how it’s announced.

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By Todd Noall, Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Mr. Kevin Prince, Source Expert

Kevin Prince is a religious scholar and host of the Gospel Learning Youtube channel. His channel has garnered over 41,000 subscribers and accumulated over 4.5 million views. Mr. Prince also created the Gospel Learning App, a reliable platform where individuals seeking truth can access trustworthy answers to religious questions from top educators worldwide.

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