Last night I had the pleasure of visiting with ?youthful? Saints from the Ludlow Ward in Western Massachusetts for their Sunday night lesson. The invited speaker was Mr. Keith Hamilton, a former trial lawyer and chairman of the Utah board of Pardons and Parole. Among Keith?s many claims to firsts is the fact that he was the first black person to graduate from BYU law school. Keith is now a full-time author as well as the executive producer of the latest production of Margaret Young?s I Am Jane, a stage play dramatizing the pioneer experiences of Jane Manning James, as well as other black Mormon pioneers (iamjanefoundation.org). He also is in the play, depicting Isaac James, Jane’s one-time erstwhile but in the end redeemed husband.
In a wide-ranging talk on the theme of ?making a difference?, Keith shared with us some of his unique experiences, including growing up in an African American Baptist family, losing both his parents to accident and illness by the time he was in eighth grade and converting to Mormonism as a senior at North Carolina State in 1980. Keith also regaled us with tails from his mission in ?virgin territory? (i.e. non-missionized areas) in Puerto Rico, his experience as a bishop in San Francisco after the ?World Series? Earthquake in 1989, and lately his efforts to bring Jane Manning James?s story to as many people, LDS and non-LDS, as possible.
I believe Keith?s book, Eleventh Hour Laborer, (ammonworks.com/11th-hour) comes out in the Fall. For those scholars interested in the history of the priesthood, I know Keith has some very interesting things to share about what he believes is a more productive way of understanding this contentious history (one that in Keith?s own style, will be very thought-provoking itself).
I?d very much encourage folks in Utah to check out I am Jane, which runs for two weeks at the Grand Theatre (Salt Lake City Community College) in mid-June.
I?ll be heading to Utah to do more research on Jane and other early black Mormons, and sit in on as many shows as they?ll let me!