Playing Jane : Re-presenting Black Mormon Memory through Reenacting the Black Mormon Past
Journal of Africana Religions
University Park, PA
Penn State University Press
[2014 Mormon Historical Association Winner for Article Award of Excellence]
By reenacting the "[auto]biography" of the celebrated nineteenth-century black Mormon woman Jane Manning James, twenty-first-century black Mormons hope to explain to their audiences and to themselves why they joined or choose to stay in a religious community that, for much of its history, excluded people of African descent from full church membership With respect to this history of exclusion, I interpret the performance of reenacting James's autobiography as a means of creating a usable past for present-day black Mormons, one that connects them to the Mormon origin mythos. These reenactments also serve as implicit critiques of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' (LDS) hierarchy: the Mormon Church's official history and theology makers have yet to fully recognize black Mormons' contribution to early Mormon history, and likewise have yet to fully recognize the important role Mormons of African descent play in the modern LDS Church.