Who is Father Divine?

Father Divine 10.20.13

I have become very interested in a gentleman named Father Divine ever since moving to Philadelphia.  I won’t go into how I became so interested, but I did want to share a few facts about this fascinating figure.

  • Father Divine, a.k.a Reverend Major Jealous Divine, was the founder and leader of a metaphysical group called the International Peace Mission Movement established in 1932.

(Read more after the jump!)

  • Father Divine, whose place and date of birth are unknown (although historians speculate that he was born around 1876), was very much interested in New Thought and Christian Science philosophy.
  • After preaching throughout Georgia as “The Messenger” with two other spiritual teachers, Father Divine left the group and declared himself to be the one true God.
  • Rev. Divine thereafter gained a following of mostly women and taught his congregation to shun gender categorizations and to live in celibacy.
  • Around 1814, Father Divine and his followers moved to Brooklyn, NY where they formed a commune in which drinking alcohol, sex, gambling, and smoking cigarettes were prohibited.
  • In 1919, Father Divine moved his commune to an all-European-American community on Long Island, NY where he held lavish banquets for his followers and helped them find employment.
  • While on Long Island, Father Divine was arrested for disturbing the peace.  After paying his bail of $1,000, considered remarkable during the Depression, Father Divine’s popularity soared and he began speaking throughout New York.
  • People from all over the country began following Father Divine whose northeast members came from largely middle-class, European-American communities. In 1932, Rev. Divine’s movement was established as the International Peace Mission Movement with branches in Los Angeles, CA and Seattle, WA, and members congregating in France, Switzerland, Canada, and Australia.
  • Also in 1932, Father Divine moved to Harlem where he and his followers bought hotels, which they called “heavens”.  In these heavens, members were able to live cheaply while they looked for employment.  He also established small businesses such as clothing stores, gas stations and restaurants to provide services to the people at cheaper costs.
  • After legal woes began to plague Father Divine, he fled to Philadelphia, PA to continue running his movement which was suffering from negative national publicity.
  • In 1938, Howland Spencer sold his Krum Elbow property in Hyde Park County, NY to Father Divine who created more heavens for his followers who lived amongst fruit trees on the beautiful, fertile property.  The property was located next to Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s estate.  The move caused much uproar in the press.
  • In 1953, a Father Divine devotee gifted him with a 72-acre French gothic manor, Woodmont, in the wealthy enclave of Gladwyne, PA.  He died there in 1956, survived by his wife who became the head of the Peace Movement.  His elaborate shrine can be found on the Woodmont grounds.
  • In 1972, Jim Jones claimed that he was an incarnation of Father Divine and attempted unsuccessfully to take over the Peace Movement.
  • Father Divine was a proponent of reparations for the African-American population, anti-lynching laws and social reform.
  • Members of his Peace Movement can be found in countries all over the world such as Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, and Nigeria.
  • While the number of Father Divine’s followers remain in question, it has been estimated that he may have garnered several million devotees.  Rev. Divine himself tallied his membership at 22 million.

(Sources: Wikipedia.com, encyclopedia.com, hudsonrivervalley.org, libertynet.org)

Eye-and-eye mantra: Be the woman you want to be at all times!

Copyright Ajua Hawkins 2013

11 Replies to “Who is Father Divine?”

    1. There is just so much good that has not been told in the world. We are given such a limited history in school. So happy that you enjoyed the post. Love to you my friend!

    1. Yes, I was very surprised that I had never heard of him either. They don’t teach us these amazing things in school to let us know what power we have. Wish I could show you his estate where his followers still live. It is like an amazing castle in the woods. They don’t tell us of the wealth built by melanated people in this country. It is very inspiring. Love to you!!

  1. Peace! I also am very interested in Father Divine. It is wonderful to see this blog! One small correction: the year Father but aside the Body was 1965 (I think you accidentally reversed the 5 & 6).

    1. Hi and thank you so much for stopping by my blog. Yes!! I am so interested in the entire movement but of course, more importantly in the man himself. I think what he accomplished was an amazing thing especially for that time; and I’ve never learned anything about him all that time I studied both religion and African American history. And thank you so much for the correction. I appreciate it. Sending you so much love!

  2. I, too, am fascinated by Father Divine. I just finished God, Harlem, USA and I found it to be a good book but very unsatisfying. I want to know much, much more. Has anyone found other books about Father Divine?

    1. Hi Rich. Thank you for stopping by. I’ve watched a lot of Youtube vids on Father Divine. Very interesting. Also, his organization’s website has tons of his own written work. I really want to go to the house he last lived in which is in a very wealthy neighborhood near where I live. I don’t know if they still do tours but would LOVE to take one. Good luck with your search. I know Amazon has a few books about Father Divine.

  3. As near as I can tell you can still get a tour of Woodmont on the weekends. I plan on visiting as soon as I can. I will call first, just to make sure.
    The thing that interests me most about Father Divine is that he claimed to be God, and his followers believed him. In Western religion it is pretty unusual for someone to claim to be God. It is blasphemy. What do you think? Was he actually God?

    1. Thank you so much for the reminder. I would love to go. Yes, I find it so interesting as well his followership especially because of his claim of being God. Interesting question you pose. I believe that God is everything and God is in everything and there is no separation between us and God as Western religions teach. I was actually having this conversation this morning with a Christian. So I guess in that respect, yes, I believe he was God. If we are made in God’s image then I can make the connection that this man was God. I think his movement was pretty awesome and empowering. What do you think?

  4. I read somewhere that when he was just starting out as a preacher he was with some other preachers who believed that everyone was God. Later, he changed his mind and said something like, “Everybody can’t be God. Only I am God.”
    I would tend to agree with your point of view. I was a Quaker for awhile and Quakers believe “there is that of God in everyone.” Interestingly, Father Divine appears to have had some contact with or knowledge of Quakers, so this concept of “that of God” was familiar to him.
    Thanks for your reply. I am enjoying our dialogue.

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