Occasionally, I do a keyword search for “Mormon” in JSTOR and Project Muse to see if anything comes up. A few days ago, I got a hit for a journal article that I didn’t know had been published or was even in the works. Quincy Newell, a religious studies professor at the University of Wyoming, has an article in the Journal of Africana Religions about Jane Manning James. Newell’s article is meant to showcase two significant documents: the autobiography that James dictated to Elizabeth Roundy around 1902 and the James’ reminiscences about the Prophet Joseph Smith that the Young Woman’s Journal published in December 1905. Although the focus of Newell’s article is on the documents, the short biography and analysis that she provides of James’ life is compelling. Newell situates the rumors her son Sylvester was the child of white man within the “naturalized sexual violence” to which black women were subject throughout the nineteenth century. She reminds us that it is impossible to know whether the relationship was consensual and that the existence of a biracial child born out of wedlock would have confirmed in the minds of many white, middle class men and women that the idea that black women like James were sexually promiscuous. The possibility that James had not consented to the relationship would not have made her any less culpable in the eyes of many white men and women. Newell also discusses James’ relationship to black religion, pointing out her conversion narrative does not mirror that of other black men and women in the nineteenth century. Overall, Newell’s article is fascinating and anyone interested in the history of race within Mormonism should check it out.
Citation: Quincy Newell, “The Autobiography and Interview of Jane Elizabeth Manning James,” Journal of Africana Religions Vol. 1, No. 2 (2013): 251 – 270.