Book Review: Your Sister in the Gospel
By Josianne Petit
I learned about Jane for the first time when I was 16 and it changed the course of my life. Up until that point I had never seen myself reflected in the history of Mormonism nor heard of a black pioneer. When I was given the opportunity to play her in the 2014 production of “I am Jane,” I was humbled. The words of the play echoed the feelings of my soul because of everything I had experienced as a black Mormon. It captured the exhaustion, heartbreak, and unrelenting faith that leads a black person to continue on their journey in Mormonism. That complexity of emotions, experiences, and spiritual path is the essence of Jane Manning James. It is my hope that one day we will do her and her story justice.
Your Sister in the Gospel is a very well researched biography into the life of an incredible black, Mormon, pioneer, Jane Manning James. Newell’s focus on speaking to only that which could be confirmed by multiple sources is commendable. However, in doing so Newell makes the fatal mistake of many white authors who try to tell the story of people of color. She centers Jane’s story in whiteness.
From the unflattering cover art which refers to “Aunt Jane,” a title highlighting Jane’s place in white society, to the final paragraphs which detail prominent white members who were in attendance at Jane’s funeral with only speculation about Jane’s own family, this biography leaves the black reader longing to uncover the beacon of hope to all black Latter-day Saints.
The narrative receives a clinical treatment and in the process divorces Jane from the soul she possessed and the heart that enabled her to persevere through so much. And yet, this is the best we have. Jane’s story needed to be told. The fact that there is finally a book that speaks to her life is appreciated. This should be treated as a solid starting place.