Radical Samples and Examples
Father Divine and Father Jim Jones, founding leaders of the Peace Mission movement and Peoples Temple respectively, were not only controversial leaders of innovative and radical new religious movements. They also created unique and radical utopian experiments which used familiar settings in which, in the context of the political and social settings of the time, they tried to do extraordinary things.
Both men recruited their core constituents from similar populations, the African American urban populations of the USA. Both also recruited and used non-black individuals, mostly, but not totally, white Americans of European descendent. Many of the white followers in both groups rose to positions of leadership that were disproportionate to their numbers in the general membership.
According to the rhetoric in either group, this was not the intent. In fact, the rhetoric and intended practice of both the Peace Mission and Peoples Temple was the same: To replace “racial” or “skin color” distinctions among people with the reality of a “universal brotherhood” irrespective of race and gender. Yet both men operated in both sexist and racialist environments and circumstances that directly challenged and contradicted their intentions. The response of both Father Divine and Jim Jones was to seek out rural territories, on which to rebuild society along the non-racialist, non-sexist lines that they viewed as necessary for happiness. Both men set out to create radical interracial utopias of new people that would be “samples and examples” of their vision.
Father Divine Goes Farming
Father Divine, whose birth name was George Baker Jr., was recruited from the Baptist Church around the beginning of the 20th century into an eclectic teaching, heterodox House Church/commune by its enigmatic leader Samuel Morris, who was also known as Father Jehovia (i.e. “Jehovah” or “God”). Although the exact teachings of this tiny group/commune are not known with documented precision, they can be surmised by following the subsequent teachings and careers of two of its most well-known former members. One of them, Father Divine, went on to found a sister/successor House Church in 1932 that became much better known to the world as the Peace Mission movement.
Both Father Jehovia and his disciple and later sect-founder in his own right, Father Divine, founded utopian church movements in black urban settings in the United States among recruits with recent rural and agricultural roots in the racially-segregated south. Many of these recruits had been, or were the immediate descendents of those who had been, enslaved Africans. Regardless of their “slave” or “free descendent” status, all such recruits were raised or were still living in conditions of Black racial oppression by the post-Civil War, racist status quo. This inescapable and oppressive social and political milieu provides the backdrop for the appeal of George Baker Jr. in his savior guise as “Father Divine” among those he would come to lead.
Baker was born to freed slaves in 1879 in a racially-segregated rural suburb of Baltimore, Maryland, a state which, although it remained in the Union, had strong sympathizers for the Confederacy both during and after the Civil War. Baker’s predominantly African American hometown was derisively and nonchalantly called “Monkey Run.” As young man, Baker moved into Baltimore proper – also racially segregated – where he took odd jobs working on the docks and cutting lawns for rich white people.
By the time of the Great Depression of the 1930’s, George Baker Jr. was gone, reinvented as “Father Divine”, a very wealthy cult leader who lived in an all-white suburb of New York City on Long Island, New York. His movement’s base, though, was in Harlem. This predominantly black inner New York City neighborhood was growing by leaps and bounds, as blacks from the rural south looking for better times poured into the city. It was with the strength of this black urban base behind him that Father Divine set out to secure rural lands in upstate New York on which to build his anti-racist, interracial utopia. He called it “The Promised Land.”
From his early days as a follower of Father Jehovia, Father Divine never wavered from the House Church/Commune model that he had joined and whose essence was embodied in his Peace Mission Movement. He simply expanded the model and replanted it, first in a larger expanded urban setting and later in an expansive rural setting. The rural setting for his proposed and bold interracial communal cooperative utopia was Ulster County in upstate New York.
The population of Ulster County in the 1930’s was sparse and overwhelmingly white. It was also affluent: Many financial, industrial and political leaders – among them Franklin Roosevelt – had estates here. It was an unlikely setting for Father Divine to create the reality of a transracial utopia.
Collective Farming Utopia
The depression-era Ulster County communes, farms and businesses of the “Promised Land” characterized and exemplified the Peace Mission movement at its apex. From its many collective farms came the fruits, vegetables and dairy products for the Peace Mission’s ritual communal meals, meals that demonstrated for the public Father Divine’s ability to keep his promise of providing plenty during times of soup kitchens and austerity for the masses.
The farms were also labor intensive and thus provided jobs for the recently-urbanized blacks who may have otherwise faced the mass unemployment of those who still lived in Depression era NYC. Other Divinites – including middle- and upper-class whites, albeit a smaller number – worked side-by-side with these sons and daughters of former slaves, all receiving from each according to his work, to each according to his needs, in line with the principles of a collective family under Father and Mother Divine. The experiment was supervised by a cross class and interracial administrative staff of largely female “Angels” working directly under the leaders.
Besides providing immediate practical benefits such as food, jobs and lodging for the Peace Mission, the Promised Land served other organizational and ideological purposes. Setting up interracial collective farming communes filled largely with poor, urban blacks, in predominantly white, comparatively upscale rural America, challenged the concept and practice of racial segregation as practiced in the 1930’s USA on a practical and visually jarring level.
This culminated when the Peace Mission, which the media portrayed as a bizarre “Negro Cult,” integrated the white exclusive community of Hyde Park. It did so by purchasing the Krum Elbow Manor farms and estates in 1936. Thus black Father Divine, son of slaves, became a home-owning neighbor of the sitting US president.
Communally-owned and -operated collective farms also challenged the efficacy and functionality of individual and privately-owned farms. In addition, the practice of the Peace Mission of using the socially-produced profits of their collective farms for use by other businesses within the movement contrasted sharply with the prevailing capitalist model in the USA both in theory and in practice.
There were other benefits for the Peace Mission with their rural upstate Promised Land. Since the headquarters and primary Peace Mission extensions were located in the inner cities of the eastern and Mid-Atlantic States, with a few in California as well, the rural New York communes also provided a safe and confidential location to place dissident, problematic or embarrassing members.
Peoples Temple Quest
Peoples Temple grew out of the ministry of a politically left-leaning young Christian minister, Rev. James Warren Jones, who had left the Methodist Church to develop his own interracial message in the mid 1950’s USA. In his quest for models and inspiration for his own movement, Rev. Jones settled in on the declining Peace Mission of the then-octogenarian Father Divine in a profound way, visiting and cultivating its leadership and even openly announcing that he would be the Peace Mission’s new leader after Father Divine was no longer present in the body. To this end, the nascent Peoples Temple movement incorporated much of the Peace Mission phraseology, worship, hymns and other practices, including references to Rev. Jones and his wife Marceline as “Father” and “Mother” Jones.
Similar to the Peace Mission, Peoples Temple was built around a small communal core of activist/worshippers under the leadership of the founding personality who embodied divinity for them. In the case of Jim Jones the aura of divinity manifested through him early on in the form of spiritual miracle works, speaking and interpreting tongues, divine healings and extrasensory perception. From this early pedigree of divinity, Rev. Jones attracted both blacks and whites to his racial rainbow cause.
Peoples Temple, like the Peace Mission before it, started in an inner city urban area. As it grew, its leadership soon began looking for rural lands on which to grow and display its interracial utopian vision. While its eventual move took Peoples Temple to the rural – and racially-hostile – area of Ukiah in Northern California, Jones had first considered launching his experiment in the foreign nations of Cuba and Brazil, where he and his family lived for two years. With large populations of African descent people, whites of non-Anglo descent, and mixed race, both Cuba and Brazil may have seemed attractive places to the young couple with children and a church filled with people of all colors. Such undertakings were postulated as future overseas missions of Peoples Temple, and to some degree, were never completely abandoned.
Many factors may have suggested this course to Rev. Jones. He and his wife were taking the lead and setting an example as a white family adopting children of a number of races. Also since 1956 he had been in dialogue with the leaders of and influenced by the Peace Mission’s views on celibacy, reproduction and trans-racial families.
Eventually, of course, Jones chose another nation similar to those which first attracted him. Guyana was multiracial with a socialist government and, most importantly, land to spare.
California “Promised Land”
In 1965 – two years after his return from Brazil – Jones focused his vision for the Temple on California, where it would continue to expand and grow and reach its apogee. The California stage of Peoples Temple’s utopian experiment took root in Redwood Valley, 110 miles north of San Francisco. Located in rural Mendocino County, the rural utopia would come to play a similar role in Peoples Temple history, just as the Ulster County “Promised Land” had played in Peace Mission history. Both counties served as a backdrop on which to grow and display the reality of their respective interracial utopian visions. From the small town of Ukiah, Jim Jones would headquarter, anchor and grow his movement, spreading later to the inner city areas of San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The first reinforcement for the movement’s cooperative communal farming and business model came from a contemporary source, the Christ Church of the Golden Rule, in the nearby town of Willits. For three years, the church provided Peoples Temple with a meeting place and a practical template on “how to,” in a practical sense, function and thrive as a multiracial, inner city church in a white rural landscape. As he did with Father Divine’s movement, Jones would attempt a merger with Christ Church of the Golden Rule. As with the Peace Mission, the attempt failed.
By the early 1970s, Peoples Temple had adapted to the point that they built their own permanent house of worship, print shop, group communal homes – separately for dependent seniors and youths – laundries, and ranches for cattle and agricultural projects for produce. Peoples Temple was fast laying an independent basis for its existence by appropriating and recreating the now-defunct rural model of the Peace Mission movement that had proved pivotal for its expansion and success in the 1930’s.
The power, efficacy and success of the Temple’s Redwood Valley base of operations would serve as the engine and anchor for the rapid growth that Peoples Temple would experience during its 1970’s expansion. In retrospect the success of Peoples Temple’s 1968 Redwood Valley experience would serve as the ideal of what it could have gone back to, if the Jonestown experiment had survived, or even missed, the series of calamities that culminated in its tragic end in the Guyanese jungle 10 years later.
As with the Peace Mission at its apex in the 1930’s, the successes of Peoples Temple at its height in the 1970’s were laced with an undercurrent of internal strife and sustained external attack. The Peace Mission of the 1930’s came through its “furnace of afflictions” scratched, bruised and ultimately diminished. Yet it survived. Unfortunately and tragically for the people who composed Peoples Temple – and those who loved them – Jonestown would not.
Both the Peace Mission and Peoples Temple were, in their times, cutting edge, high intensity, uncompromising, interracial utopian formations with absolute leaders with a fanatically-devoted following. With the very sweat and essence of their collective lives, both groups were determined to carve out a living example of what their leaders said – and the followers agreed – the world should be, as opposed to the way the world was.
Once Guyana was settled upon as the location of a future overseas mission Peoples Temple moved forward with characteristic resolve. Although the setting up of an agricultural mission in northern California had been done with an accompanying narrative of contingency regarding the imminent possibility of nuclear war between the USA and the USSR, the move to establish an agricultural mission in northwestern Guyana was done with a narrative of contingency to escape from possible political oppression and racial persecution as well as the nuclear war contingency.
The construction of Jonestown began in 1974, as a group of a few dozen “pioneers” cleared the jungle and designed the infrastructure of a new community. Jones advertised it as both a “socialist paradise” and a “sanctuary” from media scrutiny.
From Temple Outpost to Temple Terminal Point
As the events of the mid-1970’s that caused conflict between Peoples Temple and its opponents heated up, preparations for a mass exodus to the agricultural outpost in South America became more intense, and when the word came in the summer of 1977 to move, more than 700 people left California for Guyana in a six-week period. By the end of that year, only a skeleton crew was left in the San Francisco and Redwood Valley to maintain the properties there and to facilitate the expected continued exodus of the few remaining members.
Thus an agricultural outpost in Guyana that was originally constructed to hold 500 people rapidly expanded into a small city of 1000 people, mostly middle- aged to elderly black women and youths under twenty. The goal of Jonestown was to replicate the success of the Redwood Valley years in Guyana and serve as a “sample and an example” of Father’s teachings from the vantage place of the Third World. Unlike the earlier all-white and rural canvasses that both the Peace Mission and Peoples Temple had sought to display the vibrancy of their multiracial social justice utopian example on, Guyana was largely poor and black, much like the vast membership of both the Peace Mission and Peoples Temple.
In theory this phase of the experiment should have succeeded. Although their faith remained high and their determination to accomplish and perfect the cause was undiminished, outside pressures increased to the point that the Temple leadership decided to prepare the community for the final contingency plan: collective mass suicide, which took place on November 18, 1978.
Gone From Utopia
The Promised Land of the Peace Mission, the collective farms and communal businesses – with 30 major missions located in Ulster County upstate New York State – was slowly lost to that movement over time following its apex years in the 1930’s. By the time Jim Jones and his wife first went to see the aged Father Divine for themselves in 1956, that number had dwindled to five, and nearly a quarter century later, when Jones was extinguishing his own version of the Peace Mission communal utopia, that number had dwindled to just one. In 1985, twenty years after the death of Father Divine and seven years after the tragic end of Jonestown, the steadily contracting Peace Mission sold off its last Promised Land utopian mission.
Ironically, the Peoples Temple agricultural communal community in Redwood Valley – the successful part of the utopian experiment from 1968-1978 – began to slowly atrophy because attention and resources were drained away from it and refocused on its replacement at Jonestown. The Jonestown community ended because the leadership decided that its collective and startling demise in unity served the cause much better than besieged community could or would.
The Peace Mission and Peoples Temple were two ideologically similar and chronologically overlapping utopian groups whose top leaders strategized together in a mentor/mentee relationship and whose memberships were at times in harmony and at other times in conflict. Both groups sought to use everything, including mundane and fundamental human activities, such as farming, to display, broadcast and underscore the interracial utopian vision of the world that they were dedicated to bringing about.
Stripped of their subjective intent, objectively the Peace Mission’s Ulster County agricultural missions and Peoples Temple’s Californian and Guyanese agricultural missions were simply huge collective communal farms. Subjectively though, these farms were like primordial schools, wherein early humans learned, honed and fundamentally and dialectically both taught and learned cooperative communal skills to and from each other, irrespective of age or gender. The learning, sharing and teaching – the very bases for the success and maintenance of the human race – formed the foundation of both of the utopian ventures. George Baker Jr., child of post-Civil War, newly-emancipated African Americans, and Jim Jones, poor white child of the American small town underclass both sought to harness the experiences learned from these primordial schools, and transform them into a new, higher forms of cooperative, communal and civil society. As remade and administered under their steady and firm hands of guidance and involved intentional intervention and oversight, both men sought to actively create new people, liberated from mainstream society’s dehumanizing sexist, racist and classist dross. Both therefore sought to offer collective humanity “samples and examples” of a Promised Land, of a better future. In doing so, both the Peace Mission and Peoples Temple offered a way to make their envisioned non-racial, non-sexist, non-classist utopian future into an actual and realized present. Dispassionate and informed retrospective historical analyses by succeeding generations of humans looking back and gazing forward in time, will further determine if either attempt was ultimately successful.
(E. Black is an independent researcher with an interest in Peoples Temple as a new religious movement and social phenomenon. Her particular focus is exploring the relationship between Peoples Temple and an earlier new religious movement, the Peace Mission Movement of Father Divine. Her other article in this edition of the jonestown report is Laying The Body Down: Total Commitment and Sacrifice to The Cause in the Peace Mission and Peoples Temple. Her previous writings from the site may be found here.)
Books and articles
Chidester, David. Salvation and Suicide: Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple, and Jonestown. Bloomington and Indianapolis: University of Indiana Press, 2003.
Divine, Mother. The Peace Mission Movement. New York: Anno Domini Father Divine Publications, 1982.
Hall, John R. Gone From the Promised Land: Jonestown in American Cultural History, New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1987; reprint 2004.
Harris, Sara. Father Divine: Holy Husband. New York: Doubleday Publishing Company, 1953.
Jones, Jim, Pastor Jones Meets Rev. M. J. Divine, 1959.
Lincoln, Eric C. and Mamiya, Lawrence H., “Daddy Jones and Father Divine” in Moore, Rebecca, Anthony B. Pinn, Mary R. Sawyer, eds. Peoples Temple and Black Religion in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004.
Los Angeles Times, “Father Divine’s Movement Slowly Fades,” June 14, 2003.
Mabee, Carleton. Promised Land: Father Divine’s Interracial Communities in Ulster County, New York. Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mountain Press, 2008
Moore, Rebecca. Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2009.
Moore, Rebecca, Anthony B. Pinn, Mary R. Sawyer, eds. Peoples Temple and Black Religion in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004.
Parker, Robert Allerton. The Incredible Messiah: The Deification of Father Divine.Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1937.
Reiterman, Tim, with John Jacobs. Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1982.
Rose, Stephen C. Jesus and Jim Jones. New York: Pilgrim Press, 1979.
Satter, Beryl. “Marcus Garvey, Father Divine and the Gender Politics of Race Difference and Race Neutrality,” in West, Cornel and Eddie S. Glaude Jr., eds.,African American Religious Thought: An Anthology. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003.
Watts, Jill. God, Harlem, U.S.A.: The Father Divine Story. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1995.
 For previous works that explore the similarities and differences between Father Divine and Jim Jones and their teachings, see E. Black, The Three Virtual Intentional Communities Of God In A Body In Real Time (1868-2008), 2008. For other accounts of the relationship between Father Divine and Jim Jones and their followings, see Stephen C. Rose, Jesus and Jim Jones (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1979); Rebecca Moore, Anthony B. Pinn, Mary R. Sawyer, eds. Peoples Temple and Black Religion in America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004); and John R. Hall, Gone From the Promised Land: Jonestown in American Cultural History (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 2004). See also Jim Jones’ own account, Pastor Jones Meets Rev. M. J. Divine, 1959.
 On Peace Mission demographics, see Beryl Satter, “Marcus Garvey, Father Divine and the Gender Politics of Race Difference and Race Neutrality,” in Cornel West and Eddie S. Glaude Jr., eds., African American Religious Thought: An Anthology (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 581-587. On Peoples Temple demographics, see Moore et al., 57-80.
 On the use of “inverse” language to unlearn “racial” language see Carleton Mabee, Promised Land: Father Divine’s Interracial Communities in Ulster County, New York (Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mountain Press, 2008), 225 for the Peace Mission, and David Chidester, Salvation and Suicide: Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple, and Jonestown (Bloomington and Indianapolis: University of Indiana Press, 2003), 69 for Peoples Temple.
 See Watts. The other former follower of Father Jehovia and the former co-religionist of George Baker Jr. when they both were in the Father Jehovia House Church/commune together was John A. Hickerson.
 Watts and Mabee.
 Mabee, 82-87.
 Mabee, 284-302 and 18-90.
 The term “Divinite” was introduced by Sara Harris in Father Divine: Holy Husband (New York: Doubleday Publishing Company, 1953) and used to describe the followers of Father Divine. We suggest that the terms Jehoviaite and Jonesite or Templite to describe and delineate the followers of Father Jehovia and followers of Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple as distinct from the followers of Father Divine and each other, as they can all be perceived as belonging to a uniquely singular radical utopian trend and focus in the USA.
 Mother Divine. The Peace Mission Movement (New York: Anno Domini Father Divine Publications, 1982), 23-25.
 Mabee, 73-87; and Watts, 57-158.
 On the use of the Promised Land as an exile for dissident, problematic or embarrassing members, see Mabee, 123-140; and Watts, 148, 151, 154-156)
The first and original Mother Divine, Penniniah ( aka “Sister” or “Mother” Penny), wife of Father Divine was spirited away to the Promised Land when it became apparent to the Peace Mission inner circle that she was going to die. It is believed that she died sometime in 1943 at an unknown location in the Promised Land. Her death was awkward to the organization, as Father Divine already at this time had been teaching the immortality of the physical body through the acceptance of his teachings, or simply put “those that accept Father Divine as God and obey his teachings never die.” Death among his followers was seen as an avoidable unnecessary occurrence or even as an intentional offense, a direct act of intentional disobedience to Father Divine’s will and not a “natural” occurrence common to all living things. For more on the death of the first Mother Divine see Harris, 243.
 On the history of Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple, Rebecca Moore,Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2009) and Tim Reiterman, with John Jacobs, Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1982).
 See note 2.
 Watts shows, using US census and other data, that the core group of the Fairmount Ave. Sect (her term for the Father Jehovia House Church/commune) was comprised of individuals who were itinerant evangelist, street preachers, and former “normative” or marginal Black Church leaders.
Father Jehovia, Father Divine and Jim Jones’ nascent “breakaway” group all started off as small, communal House Churches. Yet unlike Jim Jones who only took “divine titles” toward the height of his career, both Samuel Morris and George Baker Jr. started their careers with “Divine Titles” i.e. “God in the Fathership degree” (Father Jehovia) and “God in the sonship” or” Messenger degree.” George Baker Jr. Baker, after 1912 using a series of appellations, i.e. Rev Devine, Major Jealous Devine, etc., would not be known as “Father Divine” until the late 1920s or early 1930s almost 20 years after he began his solo, post-Father Jehovia ministry. See Watts.
Jim and Marceline Jones made history in 1961 when they became the very first white couple in Indiana to adopt a Black baby. The baby boy was named after his adoptive father, becoming Jim Jones Jr. The Temple even incorporated a song “Black Baby” (Sung by Marceline Jones) onto its official gospel album entitled “He’s Able” in commemoration of the event.
For Jim Jones in Latin America in the early 1960s, see Moore 2009, 18-21, 23, 127; and Reiterman 77, 79-86.
 For more on the move to California, see Moore 2009, 23; and Reiterman, 94-96.
 See Reiterman, 100; Moore 2009, 24; and Hall, 64, for more on the interaction between Peoples Temple and Christ Church of the Golden Rule.
 See Reiterman, 102 and Moore 2009, 23-28 for more on the Redwood Valley years of Peoples Temple.
Jonestown would come to be the third and last direct incarnation of the radical, utopian vision that had animated the small house church/commune of Father Jehovia at the turn of the 20th century. It was the same radical, utopian vision that had so captivated the young George Baker Jr. when he joined Father Jehovia’s tiny group and which he, as Father Divine, would latter and independently take a stab at perfecting as the leader of the Peace Mission movement.
Parts of this contingency plan listed various options, including fleeing to Canada or to a Caribbean missionary post,” such as Barbados or Trinidad. However, Peoples Temple quickly chose Guyana. Peoples Temple also had researched Guyana’s economy and extradition treaties with the United States. In October 1973 the directors of Peoples Temple passed a resolution to establish an agricultural mission there. For more on the lease agreement with Guyana, see “Jonestown,” Wikipedia.
 Interestingly, when faced with similar internal issues and outside threats and investigations, in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, the Peace Mission also deployed a contingency plan that consisted of “fleeing” New York State, abandoning both its established international headquarter in Harlem, New York City and its “Promised Land” agricultural utopian outpost in upstate New York for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Such a move marked the beginning of the long decline of the Peace Mission. See Watts, 166-167, 171 & 176-177; and Mabee. On nuclear threats as perceived by Peoples Temple as a reason to migrate see Reiterman, 94-95 and Chidester, 5-6,107,109-112).
 Jim Jones and Peoples Temple called Jonestown “The Promised Land,” 40 years after Father Divine had designated his upstate New York “Promised Land” as a “paradise” to be used as an attempted “sanctuary” from media scrutiny as well.
 See Reiterman, 321-322, 333-334, 337; and Hall, 188, 194, 196-199 for more on the mass emigration to Guyana.
 On the Jonestown experiences and the events culminating in the mass suicides and murders of November 18, 1978, see Hall, chapters 10, 11 and 12; Reiterman, chapters 38-44 and Moore 2009, chapter 3.
 The “civilizing force of agriculture” is a long held theoretical proposition put forth by varied anthropologist, scientist as well as thinkers on social issues.