the first post in a roundtable on Quincy D. Newell’s Your
Sister in the Gospel: The Life of Jane Manning James, a Nineteenth-Century
Black Mormon (Oxford University Press,
2019). Look for more posts in the coming week!
Quincy Newell’s biography of Jane Manning James is a concise, informative study of one of the best-known Latter-day Saints of African descent. It is not the first study, nor the last, to examine Jane’s life and faith.[i] Born a free woman in Connecticut and buried a free woman in Salt Lake City, Jane James’ experiences are a crucial part of any study of Mormonism and people of African descent. Newell notes in the introduction that Jane’s life is “comparatively well-documented…she left multiple accounts narrating her personal history, some of which were published during her lifetime, and she appears in many other sources, including other people’s diaries, meeting minutes, and church and government records” (1). Despite the presence of these sources, many parts of Jane’s life remain mysterious to historians.
For all the words left behind by Jane, or about Jane, two words
repeatedly used by Newell stick out to me.
The 55th Annual Conference of the Mormon
History Association will be held June 4-7, 2020, in Rochester/Palmyra, New
York. The 2020 conference theme, “Visions, Restoration, and Movements”
commemorates the 200th anniversary of Mormonism’s birth in upstate
New York. Joseph Smith’s religious movement has grown from a fledgling frontier
faith to a diverse set of religious and cultural traditions functioning across
the globe. Members of Mormonism’s many branches are found among people of
different colors, languages, and nationalities. Consequently, Mormonism shapes
and has shaped the lives of millions of adherents and their neighbors from its
founding to the present.
People from all
of Mormonism’s branches have proven visionary in building their congregations
across the globe, in humanitarian efforts to relieve suffering and rebuild
communities, in political activism, caring for the environment, and other
actions which sometimes push back against accepted traditions, policies and
structures. Transformational activism
was a key feature of Mormonism from the beginning, born as it was in a
landscape of peoples and movements who changed the world around them–
constructing the Erie Canal, “burning” with religious fervor in the
Second Great Awakening, nurturing abolitionists and the fight for Black
liberation, and producing the struggle for women’s rights and suffrage.
On Memorial Day in 2019, 50-60 people gathered to participate in a monument dedication for Hark Lay Wales, a formerly enslaved African American man buried in Utah’s Union Cemetery. Wales, pronounced either like “whales” or “Wallace,” depending upon the person you speak to, lived and died in Utah Territory. He was enslaved by the William Lay family who converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mississippi. Wales entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 with the first company of Latter-day Saints.
There is no definitive, published proof that he was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, though sources have told Juvenile Instructor that information will be forthcoming on centuryofblackmormons.org which suggest Hark may have identified as a Latter-day Saint at some point in his life. For a full overview of Hark’s life, please consult this piece by Amy Tanner Thiriot on Keepapitchinin.
The program preceding the dedication was remarkable for several reasons. First, it was presided over, guided by, and featured nearly all Black speakers, both Latter-day Saint and non-Latter-day Saint. Many of Utah’s and the LDS Church’s best and brightest spoke or sang at the event, including Robert and Alice Faulkner Burch, Marlin Lynch III, Tekulve Jackson-Vann, Salt Lake City Fire Chief Jeff Thomas, Yahosh Bonner, Utah State Representative Sandra Hollins, David Hollins, Andra Johnson, Nate Byrd, & Byron Williams, and the lone white speaker, Sheri Orton. Robert Burch dedicated the grave through prayer and Melodie Jackson, Garrett Whiting, and Sierra Rose unveiled the headstone.
Congratulations to all of the winners! JI-ers are in bold.
Leonard J. Arrington Award: Kathleen Flake
Special Citation: Larry H. Miller, Gail Miller, and Kim Wilson
Best Book: Jonathan A. Stapley, The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018).
Best Book Honorable Mentions: Colleen McDannell, Sister Saints: Mormon Women since the End of Polygamy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018); James Swensen, In a Rugged Land: Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, and the Three Mormon Towns Collaboration, 1953-1954 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2018).
Best Biography: Daniel P. Stone, William Bickerton: Forgotten Latter Day Prophet (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2018).
Best International Book: James A. Toronto, Eric R. Dursteler, and Michael W. Homer, Mormons in the Piazza: History of the Latter-day Saints in Italy (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2018).
Best International Book Honorable Mention: Julie K. Allen, Danish but Not Lutheran: The Impact of Mormonism on Danish Cultural Identity 1850-1920 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2018).
Best Person History/Memoir: Vella Neil Evans, My Father’s People: Journeys Across a Landscape of Hope (Self-Published)
Best Article: Matthew McBride. “’Female Brethren’: Gender Dynamics in a Newly Integrated Missionary Force, 1898-1915.” Journal of Mormon History 44, no. 4 (October 2018): 40-67.
Best Article on Mormon Women’s History: Kathryn H. Shirts. “The Role of Susa Young Gates and Leah Dunford Widtsoe in the Historical Development of the Priesthood-Motherhood Model.” Journal of Mormon History 44, no. 2 (April 2018): 104-139.
Best Article on International Mormonism: Erik J. Freeman, “’True Christianity’: The Flowering and Fading of Mormonism and Romantic Socialism in Nineteenth-Century France.” Journal of Mormon History 44, no. 2 (April 2018): 75-103.
Article Award of Excellence: Joseph R. Stuart. “’A More Powerful Effect upon the Body’: Early Mormonism’s Theory of Racial Redemption and American Religious Theories of Race.”Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 87, no. 3 (September 2018): 768-796.
JMH Article Award: William G. Hartley, “Brethren, It’s the Last Day of the Month’: A History of Ward Teaching, 1912-1963,” 44/4.
Best Dissertation Award: Megan Ann Stanton, “All in the Family: Ecclesiastical Authority and Family Theology in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Best Unpublished Graduate Student Paper: David Dmitri Hurlbut, “Unmasking a Peculiar People: The Entry of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints into Mission in Southeastern Nigeria, 1962-1966” (Boston University)
Reviewed by Jon England, Ph.D. Candidate at Arizona State University
In April of 2013, Elder Marcus B. Nash of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Seventy gave a lecture at the University of Utah’s Wallace Stegner Center Symposium. In his lecture, titled “Righteous Dominion and Compassion for the Earth,” Nash explained that the Mormon environmental ethic revolves around the concept of “stewardship” and the need to care for God’s creations. Coincidentally, just a few months later, historians Jedediah Rogers and Matthew Godfrey began exploring the possibility of a book on Mormon environmental history. The result is The Earth Will Appear as the Garden of Eden, a collection of essays from both established scholars and young historians of Mormon environmental history.
first essay, Rogers takes us through the historiography of Mormon environmental
history and identifies some of the gaps. He references Lynn White Jr.’s 1967
assertion that Christianity is to blame for environmental degradation. This has
become a central debate in environmental history, and each author approaches it
through the context of their various subjects. Sara Dant gets at the roots of
Mormon environmental ethics by questioning the legitimacy of a Brigham Young
quote: “There shall be no private ownership of the streams that come out of the
canyons, nor the timber that grows on the hills. These belong to the people:
all the people.” I
won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that she reminds historians to double
check their sources. She also identifies the tension within the Mormon
environmental ethic between communal stewardship and a market economy. Thomas
Alexander’s “Lost Memory and Environmentalism” works to confirm Dant’s
conclusion. Mormon settlers began with an environmental ethic (a bit of a
misguided ethic, but an ethic nonetheless), which they forgot as they secularized
their sense of entrepreneurship. As a result, the Wasatch Front environment
suffered with overgrazing, air pollution, and a decline of native species.
environmental histories of the Latter-day Saints deal with their time in Utah
and settling the West. Matthew Godfrey, however, shows that over a decade
before Brigham Young attempted to make the “desert blossom as a rose” in
northern Utah, Joseph Smith was teaching the Saints to do the same thing in
Missouri. And Brett Dowdle provides an insightful look at how American Mormon
missionaries in England and British converts in the U.S. perceived new
Francaviglia takes us back to the Great Basin and posits that Mormons used and
created maps that show how they viewed the land they were settling. These maps
obviously proved essential in building cities, but also expressed the vision
Mormons had for their settlements. Betsy Gaines Quammen delves into land policy
with an examination of the history and founding of Zion National Park. She
convincingly asserts that Thoreauvian ideals of wholesome nature converged
harmoniously (for the most part) in Zion with Mormon perceptions of practical
wilderness use. Jeff Nichol’s essay, however, argues that the Mormon sense of
stewardship had its limits. Echoing Dant and Alexander, Nichol exposes the
tensions within Mormon environmental thought of communitarian ideals and market
successes within the context of the livestock industry. Communal projects, such
as shared ranges, helped establish Mormon communities, but overgrazing became
more prolific as Utah moved toward a market economy. Overgrazing livestock
changed the local environment in disastrous ways.
Mormons changed their environment was through irrigation. Brian Frehner
complicates the history of reclamation projects with the story of St. Thomas,
Nevada. Mormons founded St. Thomas in 1865, and for decades struggled to keep
it afloat only to watch it literally sink under the waters of Lake Mead in
1938. In 2002 however, remnants of the town reappeared due to the diminished
flow of the Colorado River. The story of St. Thomas is one of both success and
failure and shows that reclamation projects never fully accomplished their purpose
to control nature in the Southwest.
few essays focus on the diminishing agrarian culture of the Church through the
twentieth century. Brian Cannon shows
that this change came despite Mormon leaders’ efforts to keep the Church’s
agrarian identity. Nathan Waite illustrates how Church president Spencer W. Kimball
looked to preserve the connection between the land and the Church by
encouraging members to maintain gardens. Rebecca Anderson offers a fascinating
look at the history of place and memory by comparing Ensign Peak to the gravel
pits that line Beck Street just to the north. While Ensign Peak represents the
early Mormon vision of what Zion could become, the gravel pits show the reality
Handley provides a fitting conclusion to this collection with a summation of
what Mormonism has to offer environmentalism. He also identifies what’s at
stake. Mormonism has yet to embrace its own environmental ethic in an effective
way. Fortunately, this collection represents a possible turning point as it
reflects the growing concern among Mormons, particularly among the younger
generation, for the environment.
The authors touch on issues specific to Utah
such as over-development and smog, and global issues like climate change, but
not in-depth, leaving room for more discussion and analysis. Just as Elder
Nash’s lecture (which is included in the appendix) opened the door for more
conversation around the Mormon environmental ethic, Eden lays the
groundwork for more substantial work in the environmental history of Mormonism.
Sara Dant, “The ‘Lion of the Lord’ and the Land: Brigham Young’s Environmental
Ethic,” The Earth Will Appear as the Garden of Eden, 29
The Joseph Smith Papers Documents, Documents 8: February-November 1841 reveal Joseph Smith’s life as he endeavored to build a city and expand the faith that he led. These documents also reveal the interstices between these two projects. Through correspondence, revelations, sermons, financial documents, meeting minutes and other significant documents, Volume 8’s editorial team helps readers to understand the multifaceted growth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after its first large-scale transatlantic push and before the introduction of temple liturgy.
In the documents created over ten short months, readers begin to see how Joseph Smith’s life was complicated by the many forms of government that he oversaw. Most notably, to me, Joseph Smith and his followers strove to build a city that offered a liberal view of religious tolerance to any who would live in it. The Nauvoo City Council Book records, “Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Latter-Day-Saints, Quakers, Episcopalians Universali[s]ts Unitarians, Mahommedans, and all other religious sects and denominations whatever, shall have free toleration and equal Privilieges in this City.” Joseph Smith himself promised to hear any case wherein any person “guilty of ridiculing abusing, or otherwise depreciating another in consequence of his religion or of disturbing, or interrupting any religious meeting, within the Limits of this City,” could be fined up to $500 and receive six months imprisonment.
Kurt Manwaring has published an interview with historian Ignacio Garcia over on his site, From the Desk. Garcia earned his Ph.D. in History from the University of Arizona and is Lemuel Hardison Redd, Jr. Professor of Western & Latino History at Brigham Young University and is President Elect of the Mormon History Association. An excerpt from Manwaring’s site is posted below; click over to From the Desk to read the rest!
What are the most important changes MHA has made in the past decade and where do you hope to see the organization 10 years from now? What factors most influence the organization’s ability to realize the progress you envision?
The Mormon History Association is conducting a search for editor of the Journal of Mormon History. The editor of the journal determines the content, solicits submissions, oversees peer review, works with submitting authors in performing substantive and stylistic content editing, and coordinates with a JMH production staff and the University of Illinois Press to ensure that issues of the journal are published according to deadline and within budget. The editor has full editorial control of the journal but reports to the MHA board of directors in maintaining a high-quality product that serves as the flagship publication for the organization. The Mormon History Association is particularly interested in candidates with an academic institutional affiliation but will consider submissions by all qualified applicants.
The person chosen to be the editor will be appointed to a four-year term beginning in January 2020, renewable at the discretion of the MHA board of directors.
J Stuart on Roundtable on Quincy Newell’s: “Thanks, Janiece. I'm fascinated by the community dynamics in 19C Mormonism. So much has (rightly) been made of insider/outsider mentality, but I'd love to see…”
Hannah J on Roundtable on Quincy Newell's: “Thanks for this Joey - I really liked the idea you explored here that epistemological uncertainty is key to exploring underrepresented histories!”