Laying The Body Down:
Total Commitment and Sacrifice to The Cause in the Peace Mission and Peoples Temple

by E. Black

The light-skinned African American man known as Father Jehovia[1]  to his followers lies in an unknown grave in an unknown location, his very existence having been forgotten by all but a very few. Father Divine, son of post Civil War-emancipated Africans and once an ardent disciple of Father Jehovia and later a “divine” leader and Father to his own group of followers and dead since September 1965, lays in state in a bronze coffin in a crypt inside a round white marble mausoleum on his private 73-acre wooded estate in the shadow of the huge and imposing French gothic style castle he called home, Woodmont in the rural outskirt community of Philadelphia called Gladwyne.[2]

Father Divine’s mausoleum is an ornate affair with ten-foot high bronzed doors and topped by a transparent crystal pyramid. It is visited by a number of the curious as well as by an ever-dwindling number of elderly followers on pilgrimage to the place wherein “lies the body of God.”[3]

On the other hand, Father Jim Jones, a white child of the working poor small town USA, who unsuccessfully sought to succeed Father Divine as the recognized and legal head of the Peace Mission movement, was cremated and his ashes dumped unceremoniously into the vast Atlantic Ocean, his memory tightly wrapped in an interlocked web of all but total and universal hatred, recrimination, derision, condemnation and cultural censure.[4]

Yet all three men articulated and tried to embody in the world the exact same vision: Total universal freedom in a collective of humanity beyond race, gender and class. Organizing first and foremost from the US black urban centers, all three tried with varying degrees of success to establish, maintain and underscore that vision by building tangible utopian communities of followers. Each man, in turn, held themselves up, as perfect “samples and examples” that their followers and the world at large could and should emulate. All three men were to give their lives in total commitment and sacrifice for “the cause.” This paper presents an overview of the three men and their respective separate ministries, communities and legacies that together make up what is referred to as “the movement” or “the cause.”[5]

The Root: The Ministry of Father Jehovia and his Utopian House Church[6]

“I have trodden the winepress alone.”
Jehovah as quoted by the Prophet Isaiah 63:3 in the Holy Bible

Samuel Morris was a married middle class black man who attended the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during the 1890s when he discovered that he was “God incarnate.” Although he didn’t exactly go to the papers with the earth-shaking revelation, neither did he hide it from those closest to him, including his wife, Callie, and their two young children.

The immediate task of Mr. Morris as “God” in this material life was the ingathering of other “souls” or those who, upon hearing the call, would also be awakened to the reality that they also were also “Gods” by following the example of the one who was awakened to the “God consciousness within” first. Unfortunately, many, if not most, who heard it would refuse the call. Among those who refused to accept that God “in the fatherhood degree” had been bestowed, on Samuel Morris was his wife Callie.

The refusal of his wife and of those closest to him to accept his truth caused the very first documented case of a call to personal sacrifice in the new radical utopian movement that would manifest in subsequent generations as the Peace Mission and Peoples Temple. Choosing to be true to his calling, his destiny, and his movement, Morris sacrificed himself and left his home, wife and children behind in Pittsburgh to embark on his life and mission as Father Jehovia. Many were to follow him in the cause by willingly sacrificing families and friends, jobs and any prior reputation of sanity to “the cause.”

Morris moved to early-20th century Baltimore, Maryland, where he got whatever jobs he could while itinerantly preaching and letting those that would listen know that he was “God.” One of his preaching methods was to go to various churches, present himself as a guest speaker, and then, once accepted as such, conclude his rambling sermons with the shouted declaration “I am The Father Eternal!” This tactic more often than not resulted in him being bodily seized on the pulpit, scuffled out of the building and unceremoniously dropped outside of the offended church. But with a single-minded persistent determination that would also characterize the two more widely known, successor formations in the movement he started, the Peace Mission and Peoples Temple, Father Jehovia was undeterred in his ministry.

His persistence paid off. His devoted following met for daily worship, study and communal meals under his leadership to learn the way to unity and ascension under the very “body of God” present with them in the room. The tiny yet high intensity House Church Commune on Fairmount Street continued until it imploded in 1912 with the defection of his top two lieutenants, George Baker Jr. and John H. Hickerson.

Afterward, both Father Jehovia and his communal utopia faded into historical oblivion, with neither compelling conversions nor further high level defections to mark the group’s continued existence. Father Jehovia himself appears to have passed away during the 1930s.

Although it was rarely studied at the time, the legacy and impact of Father Jehovia and his small House Church commune would get belated scrutiny by those studying the life and career of his most famous disciple, George Baker Jr. or, as he came to be known, Father Divine.

“Father Can’t Never Die!”
The Tree: The Ministry of Father Divine and his Peace Mission movement[7]

“He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.”
The Prophet Isaiah speaking of Jehovah in Isaiah 59:7 in the Holy Bible

George Baker Jr. was a single man in his late 20s and a Sunday school teacher in the local Baptist church the crusading utopian preacher, Father Jehovia, visited sometime in 1907. Unlike almost everyone else at his church, Baker did not reject the tall man with the divine claims, but rather was extremely interested in what he had to say. Soon after he accepted the itinerant minister’s claim to divinity, becoming a follower of Father Jehovia and joining him and a few others disciples in the tiny House Church.

As a new and convinced recruit, Baker willingly took on the mantle of self-effacing sacrifice on joining the group, and let go of his prior life, cutting all ties to his past. He laid the “body,” the life and identity of George Baker Jr. down, never to pick it up again. He even went so far as to deny that he ever was a “George Baker Jr.” when questions about his origins arose many decades later. Like his leader, he willingly sacrificed everything to “the cause.” In return, he took on a new identity in the House Church of Father Jehovia as “the Messenger” of God. As the small group grew, the young messenger’s position was further clarified when he was declared “God in the son ship degree” under Samuel Morris as God “in the father ship degree.” He would initially retain the title even after defecting from the House church in 1912.

The young messenger began his new life by going on an extended missionary tour of southern states, specifically Georgia, looking for recruits, taking odd jobs, and preaching when and wherever people would hear him. Similar to the initial efforts of Father Jehovia before him, Baker presented himself to speak in a variety of churches, and similarly he was cast out of them when the church elders heard his “I and you are Divine” messag. The difference between Baker and his mentor was in Baker’s success. The same message preached in the small town black communities of rural Georgia gathered a still small but fanatically dedicated core of supporters. Black women – weighed down by continuous break-backing labor without relief, caring for many children, both their own and others, and suffering both the nonchalant, casual racism from white people and the casual sexism of men – were thrilled by the message that, like men, they too were “God” and that the messenger had come, embodying a degree of God in his own person to set them free from within.

Unfortunately for these newly-recruited women, who may have been clearly willing to let their burdens go, many of their husbands and children, did not share in their excitement and attendant abandonment of family. Baker would soon be arrested and, giving no name except “God,” sentenced to an insane asylum.

06-20a-blackUpon his release and subsequent banishment from Georgia, he took a core group of six or seven disciples ­– mostly women, all black – up to New York City. This small band of post- Father Jehovaites or proto-Divinites traveled together working, lodging, preaching and recruiting as a group as they went. By the time they reached New York city in 1914, the group consisted of twelve.

What characterized them and tied them to the previous legacy of Father Jehovia, besides their leader, was their collective decision to cut all previous “mortal” ties to follow the young messenger, to sacrifice the familiar, and to face the unknown, all on behalf of the cause. Like those before them and those yet to come, their sacrifice included family and friends, jobs, churches and any prior reputation of sanity.

This tiny band of House church black communards would grow from a small apartment in Brooklyn, to a larger, but still fledging interracial group operating out of a house in the all-white suburbs on Long Island. They would go on to attract publicity when the mainstream media, looking for some curious diversions with which to divert people’s attention during the Great Depression, discovered that “God in the body” of a five-foot-two-inch black man and his fanatical followers made good copy. Adding to the coverage of the bizarre Father Divine mystique was the spectacle of the Peace Mission, as his cult came to be known in 1932, feeding hundreds of thousands with free or low-cost meals with an apparently endless supply of food and money in the midst of economic hard times.

There were nevertheless notes of concern over allegations of sexual, mental and other abuse among Father Divine’s followers. News coverage ran the gamut from the sensational (“The [sexual] slavery” of hapless young white girls, “hypnotized into joining the Peace Mission”[8] ) to the alarming (The Peace Mission “alliance” with the Communist Party USA[9] ) and the clearly laughable (Father Divine’s claim to “subjectively control the cosmic forces of nature”[10] ). But there were also respectable journals of mental health that weighed in with discussions over allegations of neurotic and psychotic behaviors and tendencies seen among some Peace Mission members.[11]

What was overlooked was any serious and sustained assessment or analysis of the motivations and impacts of the Peace Mission’s actions on issues of social change in the US. Had anyone taken a careful look, they would have discovered a social laboratory setting in which a relatively small handful of US citizens, mostly but not all of African descent, mostly but not all poor, mostly but not all female, were collectively using an uniquely-crafted, eclectically-informed organizational tool that had elements of a church, a social club, a military formation and a political party, all while being none of these. Using the established and disinterested observational tools of analytical investigation, they may have discovered a thriving collective of serious, often fanatically-devoted people, all of whom were willing to sacrifice their own fortunes, prior identities and even their own lives to bring about a non-racial, non-sexist and non-classist utopia to reality.[12]

The Peace Mission of the 1930s and 1940s – with its huge collective farms and the expensive real estate properties – was made possible only by its members’ complete commitment to “the cause.”

Throughout this period, Peace Mission members risked the very real possibility of lynchings by the Ku Klux Klan, extra-judicial harassment by racist and rogue elements within local police departments, firings from what few jobs they’d been able to get during the Depression, rejection from blood kin, accusations of being communist, the loss of children in custody proceedings, and confinement in psychiatric hospitals. In the face of all these negative potentialities and realities, Peace Mission members responded that they were ready, at any and all times, to give Father their very lives for the cause.

Dealing with the Last Enemy: Death[13]

It is not known what Father Jehovia’s teachings were on the mortality of the body, hence we don’t know what influence he may have had upon his most successful disciple. What is known, though, with documented certainty, are the 1930s and 1940s Peace Mission teachings on death. In sum the Peace Mission teachings were that God’s “appearance” on earth in bodily form as Father Divine was heralded as a fulfillment of Biblical passages about the return of Jesus Christ at the end of the world to gather saints and to enact and install the kingdom of God in which pain, sorrow, suffering, and death would be no more. In addition, those who fully accepted this reality and submitted their bodies to that “conscious recognition” would never die. The Peace Mission press was filled with tales of members who were beyond the allotted three score and seven years, all giving “Thanks to Father” for allowing them to beat the odds.

Father’s Angels[14]

The expansion of the Peace Mission had taken it beyond the simple and small house church organization of its first 20 years of existence. During that time, Father Divine had developed a largely female secretarial staff that he called “co-workers” and the mainstream media called “Angels.” This group of 20 or more oversaw the day-to-day operation of the Peace Mission and its numerous and expanding extensions. They answered Father’s correspondences. They collected and kept track of membership donations. They directed the distribution of the internal goods and services. They supervised the staff that procured foodstuffs and that prepared and served the iconic mass Peace Mission communal meals. They ran interference with a curious and often hostile press, while simultaneously producing and distributing the Peace Mission’s own periodicals and other promotional material. Perhaps most importantly, they were entrusted with the task of hushing up potential scandals, dealing with defectors, protecting Father’s reputation and – when necessary – burying Father’s dead.

In a group already characterized by a high level of total and absolute devotion towards the leader and his teachings, this internal Peace Mission group was characterized by an even higher commitment and sacrifice to the cause. And even within this elite group, Father Divine, who alone knew all, saw fit to parcel information to them on a “need to know” basis. This was especially apparent on the issue of periodic deaths inside the Peace Mission.

Despite Father’s best efforts, some members just wouldn’t “stay out of death’s way.” When that happened, announcements made over the intercom in the large communal housing extensions would instruct members to stay in their rooms. Once the premises were secured, a team of individuals chosen by Father would remove the body from the premises and deliver it, usually under cover of night, to the doorstep of a nearby hospital or morgue. Since living arrangements in the communes was ultimately the responsibility of Father and assigned through his staff of angels, the “missing” Divinite could rationally be assumed to have been simply transferred somewhere else. These transfers were as arbitrary as they were common. They were also not to be questioned.

God Lays Down His Body For The Cause[15]

Although the death of a member of the Peace Mission could be – and was – covered up or disguised, the death of Father Divine himself could not be. George Baker Jr. had been born in 1879. But in his Peace Mission, his birth date – as well as his birth name – were concealed, in order to focus attention on the message and on the cause. Thus for members, the age of “the Body” was just one more mystery. Some inside the Mission supposed the body was “eternal and timeless.” Nothing was ever said or done to dissuade any one from thinking otherwise.[16]

Yet starting in the mid 1950s, the media, as well as rival black cultist and religious leaders, began bandying about stories about the death of Father Divine. It didn’t help that, although Divine might appear at some public events, he did not speak. The rumors were always premature, though, as the Peace Mission delighted in demonstrating.[17]

Eventually – around 1960 – Father Divine did indeed stop all public appearances, reserving his strength for brief glimpses at some of the Mission’s communal dinners. Finally, on September 10, 1965 the impossible happened: “God” died. Faced with withering publicity over God’s death,[18]  Father Divine’s 40-year-old white widow, Sweet Angel Divine, went on the theological offensive. After overseeing the funeral arrangements for her husband, she developed the rationale to explain just how and why “God” could or would “Die.” It was an exercise in ideological apologia and theological argumentation designed to reinterpret the objective truth through the lens of the subjective assertions of Peace Mission ideology. She observed that God had not died at all, but had simply “lain down” for the cause that which he had picked up for the same cause: the bodily expression that the members had seen and called Father Divine. She also held out the prospect that he could, or would, return in that very same body, or perhaps a different one, of his choosing. Whether he did that or not was “God’s business.” Besides, she concluded, whether in or out of “the body,” God was still God and “Father Divine is God.”[19]  Sweet Angel Divine went on to succeed her husband as “the symbolic maintainer of the Peace Mission.”[20]

The 21st Century: Laying the Peace Mission Down[21]

In the 50 years following the death of Father Divine, the decline in the Peace Mission movement has become terminal. Whereas the 1950s witnessed the acquisition of Father Divine’s last trophy real estate transaction with the purchase of the Woodmont estate as his retirement home, the next 40 years would see the shedding of properties he could no longer control. The last of the Ulster County missions, which once made up his once-vaunted “Promised Land” of the 1930s, was sold off in 1985.[22]

The Peace Mission independent press, inaugurated during the glory days of the 1930s, folded in the 1980s. The last of the once-vibrant West Coast Peace Mission extensions closed in the 1980s as well.[23]  The Divine Lorraine and then the Divine Tracy, both iconic Peace Mission properties that had symbolized the resilience of the Peace Mission experiment, were sold in 2000 and 2006 respectively.[24]

As we witness the natural death of the Peace Mission at the beginning of the 21st century, we also recognize that it is a testament, not only to the leadership skills of George Baker Jr. in his guise of Father Divine, but also to the membership that he “fathered,” that the movement survived as long as it did.[25]

“Lay Your Body Down!”[26]
The New Branch: The Ministry of Jim Jones and Peoples Temple[27]

“He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.”
Quote from a vision of the apostle John from the book of Revelation 19:3, Holy Bible

In 1956, with rumors in the media of his death already swirling, Father Divine and his Peace Mission had moved into the backwaters of social change movements. Indeed, even in its years of well-publicized expansion and radical organizational positions on racial integration, women’s rights, and class distinctions, the influence of the movement on the larger society was still marginal. At the age of 77 and essentially retired from active life, George Baker Jr. was past his prime, and his movement was past its heyday.

For those interested in getting involved with “the cause” during the Cold War, there were normative and established mainstream organizations, like the NAACP and labor unions, and new ones like the nascent civil rights movement under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. For a certain young white minister and his wife, both of whom were passionate about racial integration, however, these groups weren’t enough. In 1956, the young couple made a pilgrimage from their Indiana church to Philadelphia to see and hear Father Divine and experience his declining Peace Mission movement for themselves. They were Reverend James and Marceline  Jones. Their church was Peoples Temple.[28]

Jones’ decision to make the Peace Mission an early and sustained focus of fellowship was both prophetic and curious. At the beginning of his own ministry, he was exploring and then cementing an allegiance with a movement that was clearly contracting and in decline. In 1959, after three years of fellowship, he let it be known openly – that is, in front of Father and Mother Divine, the secretarial staff and the followers at the Peace Mission headquarters – that he had come “to take Father’s place” at the helm of the Peace Mission movement. He would do more than simple rescue the group, he would renew and resurrect it in the way no one else was capable of doing.[29]

This was not just some spontaneous outburst or raw emotion at work. Jones had taken practical steps to do what he stated he had come to do. He had already displayed his organizational power by building his own multi-faceted interracial church, complete with an emphasis in home based elder care.[30]  He had demonstrated the ability to perform spiritual as well as political miracles. He had a multi-racial family consisting – within one year of this fateful trip – of three adopted and one natural child. Shortly after Stephan was born, Jim and Marceline made history by adopting a black baby – the first white couple in the state of Indiana to do so – and naming him Jim Jones Jr. In so doing, Jim Jones was showing total commitment and sacrifice for “the cause” in an undisputable and personal way.[31]

The year 1960 also marked the beginning of Jim Jones’ search for a place to replant and bring to fruition Father Divine’s three-decades-old vision of a rural-based utopian intentional community called “The Promised Land.” Again through his action, Jones was showing what no other disciple of Father Divine could. He began to “reincarnate” the very same God that Father Divine had been at his historical peak.[32]

Like Father Jehovia traveling from Pittsburgh to Baltimore, and George Baker Jr as “the Messenger” testing out Baltimore, rural Georgia, and other locations throughout the South before settling in New York City, the young white minister who sought to both embody and succeed them visited several places in the western hemisphere – Cuba, Guyana, and Brazil among them – in part to find a place in which to implement the utopia of justice and racial equality that all three men had dreamed of. In that regard, Peoples Temple’s move to Redwood Valley, California in 1965 could be considered an intermediate and temporary stopover on the way to a true Promised Land. Jones’ claim to be the only leader to do this was reinforced that year when he offered Peace Mission members the “protection” of his presence in Redwood Valley, the new location of the “body of God,”[33]  after Father Divine finally “laid his body down.”

Jones became more aggressive in that campaign in 1971, when he led a bus caravan of Temple members to Philadelphia and the Peace Mission. His proposition then was unchanged from what it had been twelve years earlier – he had come to take Father Divine’s place at the helm of the Peace Mission movement – but this time, he thought his hand was strengthened by Divine’s departure and the potential of a rudderless organization left behind.

Jones was wrong. The Peace Mission had a leader – Mother Divine – who, unlike her husband and predecessor, was strong enough to firmly reject Jones’ offer. At age 46, and with six years as the new leader, the independent woman had spent her entire adult life inside the walls of the Peace Mission, first as the young secretary, then as a mistress, then as the acknowledged wife of the leader. The idea of Jim Jones directing the Peace Mission had no appeal for her, and she rejected his assertion that he was the resurrection of her former husband. After a tense communal dinner – and, according to accounts by several Temple members, a mysterious late night meeting between Jones and Mother Divine, the Peace Mission leader sent him and his followers packing. All Jones had to show for his efforts was the defection of one member of Mother Divine’s secretarial staff and about two dozen of her followers.

Jim Jones had shown, in both word and deed, that he was as fanatically devoted to “the cause” as either Samuel Morris in the persona of Father Jehovia, George Baker Jr in the persona of Father Divine, or the followers of either man were or had been. Unlike Mother Divine, Jones was not content to simply revere the past record of Father Divine. He was determined to fulfill and exceed it.[34]

Two years after the Temple’s fateful trip to Philadelphia, its leaders began negotiating with the government of the South American country of Guyana to acquire land for a huge communal farm and town to be built out of the jungle. The agricultural project would become known to the world as Jonestown.

The Fruit: Jonestown and Total Commitment and Sacrifice to The Cause

The horror and tragedy of the mass murders and suicides at Jonestown, Guyana became both the pinnacle and the termination point of Jim Jones and his ministry, and the moment that both became known in the popular mind. For most Americans, the horror became what Jim Jones and Peoples Temple were all about.[35]

A broader, composite view allows us to see the horror of the perpetrators and victims in a contextual light. What appears at first glance as just profoundly disturbing can also be just profoundly confusing, if one focuses on only a few of the pieces in isolation instead of considering how all the pieces fit to complete the puzzle. All assembled together, the total picture becomes clear: Three men, Samuel Morris, George Baker Jr and Jim Jones appeared last century, however marginally, as strategic activist generals of the broad battle against racism in the USA. At once revolutionary vanguards, spiritual leaders, and dedicated utopians, they raised armies of committed and self sacrificing troops from all races (albeit predominantly black), of both sexes (albeit predominantly women), of all classes (albeit predominantly working class), and of all backgrounds (albeit mostly segregated inner cities).

The three leaders then guided their armies in a strategy to wage war on racism, gender oppression and unjust class division, on all levels, right inside the very belly of the beast. The cause was just, and no price was too high to pay for victory, even death.[36]

Seen from this perspective, all of the events in this battle that began a century ago, the intriguing, the innovative, the confounding – in short, the good as well as the horrible – become understandable. The war for the cause began with a man in 1898 seeing a vision of a better world. Tragically – but almost inevitably – it ended some 80 years later in Jonestown, where a different man with the same vision, led his followers to death.

Jonestown, Guyana, then, was the fruit from the Peoples Temple branch that sprouted from the Peace Mission tree which had sprung from a seed of dramatic reconstructing as a challenge that Father Jehovia planted in a world that he saw and would not accept. In the end, the soil of racial, gender and class oppression proved to be too inhospitable to sustained growth.

(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 Farming Utopia: The Promised Lands of the Peace Mission and Peoples Temple. Her previous writings from the site may be found here.)

Sources

Books and Articles

Black, E. The Three Virtual Intentional Communities Of God In A Body In Real Time (1868-2008), 2008.

—. The Reincarnations Of God: George Baker Jr. and Jim Jones as Fathers Divine, 2009.

—. Housing God In Life And Death: Architecture and the final resting place in two radical movements, 2011.

Burnham, Kenneth. God Comes To America. Boston: Lambeth Press, 1979.

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.

Hoshor, John. God In A Rolls Royce: The Rise of Father Divine: Madman, Menace or Messiah. New York: Hillman-Curl, Inc., 1936.

Jones, Jim, Pastor Jones Meets Rev. M. J. Divine, 1959

Mabee, Carleton. Promised Land: Father Divine’s Interracial Communities in Ulster County, New York. Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mountain Press, 2008.

Miller, Timothy. America’s Alternative Religions. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.

Moore, Rebecca. Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2009.

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.

Watts, Jill. God, Harlem, U.S.A.: The Father Divine Story. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1995.

Weisbrot, Robert. Father Divine. Boston: Beacon Press, 1984.

 

Periodicals and Newspapers

The Afro American – Oct 10, 1936

Baltimore Afro-American – Jun 1, 1957

Jet Magazine, June 30, 1955

Lawrence Journal-World, September 11, 1965

The New York Times, September 11, 1965

Reading Eagle – Apr 22, 1937

 

Websites

http://www.afrigeneas.com

http://jonestownapologistsalert.blogspot.com/

http://www.libertynet.org

http://www.lowermerionhistory.org/

http://www.newyorker.com

 

Wikipedia

 

YouTube

Father Divine’s crypt Mausoleum and Shrine, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khPnpYyfV6A&feature=relmfu

 

Notes

[1] The religious name of Samuel Morris. For a picture see Afrigeneas ~ Precious Photos.

[2] For more on Woodmont see the Wikipedia article and the National Historic Landmark Nomination. The NHLS also has numerous exterior photos of Woodmont.

[3] For information and views of Father Divine’s crypt Mausoleum and Shrine, see YouTube and Libertynet‘s “Shrine to Life At Woodmont. Erected to the Life, Work and Words of FATHER DIVINE.” See also Libertynet‘s “The Shrine To Life at The Mount Of The House Of The Lord” and The Lower Merion Historical Society.

[4] For an account of the disposal of Jim Jones body, see What was the disposition of Jim Jones’ body? For assessments of his career, see The Jonestown Tragedy: What Have We Learned in 30 Years?Jim Jones and the History of Peoples Temple, and The Secret Life of Jim Jones: A Parapolitical Fugue.

[5] Other assessments on the intertwined careers of Father Jehovia, Father Divine and Jim Jones by this author are The Three Virtual Intentional Communities Of God In A Body In Real Time (1868-2008) (2008), The Reincarnations Of God: George Baker Jr. and Jim Jones as Fathers Divine (2009), and Housing God In Life And Death: Architecture and the final resting place in two radical movements (2011).

[6] For more on Father Jehovia, see note #1 above and Jill Watts, God, Harlem, U.S.A.: The Father Divine Story (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 27-31, 108 n3, 191 n33, 192 nn34, 35 and 36. Also “Who Is The King Of Glory?” 1-3 by A. J. Liebling and St. Clair McKelway, The New Yorker, June 27, 1936.

By 1930, Father Jehovia, then in his early 60s and presumably any following he may of still have had were in the state of New Jersey. After this date he and his work fade into oblivion. Any thoughts he or any of his followers may have had on the rise of his ex-disciple, then going by the name “Father” Divine, are thus lost to history.

[7]“Father Can’t Never Die” is a quoted answer from Divinite followers in the early 1950s when asked “What will happen when Father Divine dies?” by researcher and author Sara Harris. It is also the title of the last chapter in her 1953 book Father Divine: Holy Husband. The product of seven years (1947-1953) of in-depth study of the Peace Mission movement, the book ends by raising, for the first time, the prospects of a mass suicide among the followers of Divine in the event of his death. History would show that she raised the correct concern but about the wrong organization: it would be a very similar organization to the Peace Mission of Father Divine, Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple, that would end in mass suicide. Jim Jones owned a copy of Harris’ book that was, ironically, found among his personal possessions in Jonestown.

For more on Father Divine’s ministry, see Harris as well as Mother Divine, The Peace Mission Movement (New York: Anno Domini Father Divine Publications, 1982); John Hoshor, God In A Rolls Royce: The Rise of Father Divine: Madman, Menace or Messiah (Hillman-Curl, Inc., New York, 1936); Carleton Mabee, Promised Land: Father Divine’s Interracial Communities in Ulster County, New York (Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mountain Press, 2008); Robert Allerton Parker, The Incredible Messiah: The Deification of Father Divine (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1937); and Jill Watts, God, Harlem, U.S.A.: The Father Divine Story(Berkeley, University of California Press, 1995).

[8]] Representative of this was the coverage of the seduction and eventual defection of 16-year-old Delight Jewitt covered in page 1 and page 2 of the Reading Eagle of April 22, 1937, and in most major biographies of Divine including those by Harris, Mabee and Watts.

[9] See Harris, 181-194 and Watts, 119-121.

[10] On Father Divine’s fantastic claims, see Harris, 162-180.

[11] Psychiatrist James A. Brussel, New York State’s assistant commissioner of mental hygiene, authored a diagnosis of Father Divine’s followers for the American Journal of Psychiatry, entitled “Father Divine, Holy Preceptor of Psychosis” in its July 1935 edition, pages 215-224; another account was offered in 1938 by Hadley Cantril and Muzafer Sherif, “The Kingdom of Father Divine,” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1938, 33, pp. 147-167, also at The Kingdom of Father Divine. Lauretta Bender and Zulieka Yarrell in the Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, April 1938, Volume 87:4, offered “Psychoses among the followers of Father Divine,” 418-449. Lauretta Bender and M.A. Spaulding did an expanded and follow-up piece entitled “Behavior Problems in Children from the Homes of Followers of Father Divine” for the Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, April 1940, 460-472.

[12] Revisionist and more positive evaluations of Father Divine and the Peace Mission printed after 1978 include Kenneth Burnham, God Comes To America (Boston: Lambeth Press, 1979), Robert Weisbort, Father Divine (Boston: Beacon Press, 1983) and the Peace Mission’s own account by Mother Divine. Might the timing of the publishing of these books have anything to do with a need to positively distance the legacy of Father Divine from the Jonestown debacle?

[13] Peace Mission teachings on death can be found in Mother Divine, 51, 52, 62.

[14] Profiles and duties of the internal secretarial staff/strata of the Peace Mission can be found in Burnham, 61-63 & 85 and Harris, 227-242. The secretarial staff, the Peace Mission elite and its inner circle was a body of between 15 and 25 people, mostly women, in its heyday under Father Divine. It was developed out the growing needs of the movement of the late 1920s and the early 1930s. Members served at the wish and invitation of Father Divine.

According to research done by Harris, some of the members were Dorothy Darling, Sunshine Love, Ms Great Love, Anne Sterrit, Ms Charity, Ms Sweet Heart, Sunshine Love, Great Love, Anita Nadler Daire, Ms Lovely Best, Ms Peaceful, Quiet Devotion (Rita Delap), Carol Sweet, Helen Faust, Justice and Willingness Charity. Other members at other times were Faithful Mary, Sweet Angel, Saint Mary Bloom, Edna Mae Claybrook and Mary Love.

Only two men have been known from this author’s research to have served father Divine as secretaries. One was John Maynard Mathews and the other was John Germaine. The former, aka John Lamb, was a white, very wealthy married business man who followed his wife into the Peace Mission in 1929 and who then served as Father’s executive secretary at the height of the movement in the 1930s. He later defected when Father Divine married his 18-year-old Canadian secretary Sweet Angel Divine in 1946. Mr. Germaine succeeded Mr. Mathews and in 1953 was also the secretary in charge of all Peace Mission extensions in the USA and abroad.

[15] Accounts of how the Peace Mission, a movement in which deaths were divinely “outlawed” by the leader, dealt with the actual deaths that occurred in its ranks are covered in Harris, 116-127. See also “Body Of Dead Father Divine Angel Sought”, The Afro American, October 10, 1936.

[16] See Burnham, 1, 95, and Harris, 310-320.

[17] See “Rumors Father Divine Is Dead.” Jet Magazine, June 30, 1955; “People Are Talking About…”; and “Father Divine Is Dead,” Says Daddy Grace, Baltimore Afro-American, June 1, 1957.

[18] On Father Divine no longer speaking after 1960, see Burnham, 98. On Father Divine’s death, see Burnham, 97-98; Mother Divine, 99-103; and Watts, 173.

On media reaction to Father Divine’s death see “Father Divine, Cult Leader, Dies; Disciples Considered Him God; Father Divine, Believed to Be God by His Followers, Is Dead”, Special to The New York Times, September 11, 1965; and “Father Divine Is Dead Today After Sickness Of Year”.

[19] For Sweet Angel Divine’s explanation on the death of her husband, “God, Father Divine,” see “FATHER DIVINE’S Sacrifice on September 10, 1965”.

[20] See Wikipedia entry on Edna Rose Ritchings.

[21] “Father Divine’s Movement Slowly Fades,” Los Angeles Times, June 14, 2003.

[22] The Kingston Mansion was sold off in 1985. See Mabee, 217.

[23] According to the Wikipedia entry on the International Peace Mission Movement, “There were two public news organs of the International Peace Mission Movement: The Spoken Word (1934–1937) and the New Day (1936–1989). In addition, according to the Wikipedia article, “In California there were two Peace Mission churches as late as 1978.” A recent search turned up none as of 2012.

[24] On the selling of the Divine Lorraine, see Wikipedia entry on the Divine Lorraine Hotel.

[25] See note 21.

[26] A commanded exhortation given to his followers by Rev Jones during his “death speech” on November 18, 1978. Go here for discussion of death tape.

[27] Book assessments include Chidester, David, Salvation and Suicide: Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple, and Jonestown (Bloomington and Indianapolis: University of Indiana Press, 2003); Moore, Rebecca, Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2009); and Reiterman, Tim, with John Jacobs, Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1982).

[28] For Jim Jones’ own account and apologia of his courtship of and initial involvement with the Father Divine movement, see “Pastor Jones Meets Rev. M. J. Divine.”

[29] For the retrospective Peace Mission account written after November 18, 1978 and in response to it, see “Rev. Jim Jones Once Sought Control of Peace Mission Movement; Cut Down by Retribution; Takes Hundreds with Him in Death Pact”.

[30] Central to its human service approach to total care, nursing homes and services for the elderly represented an initial and consistent service that the ministry of Jim Jones offered to members even before the ministry took the name “Peoples Temple.” The ministry continued to provide elder care and services though the years up to and including the setting up in Jonestown of elder specific care and lodgings.

Besides the financial and practical aspects of setting up the Peoples Temple elderly care homes, and the fact that Marceline Jones was a trained nurse, it is this author’s studied view that it was the rapidly ageing and declining population of the Peace Mission that was the core and specific targeted audience of Jim Jones efforts in this arena.

The Peace Mission was and is notorious for not setting up any form of specific elder care facilities for its members, leaving elderly and decrepit members to essentially “trust God” and fend for themselves as best they could.

The development of extensive elder care/social services network inside the Temple early on it further demonstrates to our satisfaction that Jim Jones built the Peoples Temple intentionally and specifically, among other reasons, as both a sister group to and a successor organization of the Peace Mission. Designing the Temple to both parallel then to succeed the Mission.

In building a comprehensive elder care system and then courting an organization for take over that consisted of largely elderly and aging people, the young Jones couple was simply operating from the adage “Build it and they will come.”

[31] Jim Jones and his wife as well as the Peoples Temple were both pioneers of trans-racial adoptions.

To both underscore and institutionalize his dedication to the cause of racial integration, Father Divine proclaimed an annual “international, interracial, universal holiday” to celebrate and commemorate his intergenerational and interracial (and allegedly celibate) 1946 wedding to his young white secretary, Jim Jones on the other hand promoted his “rainbow family” as a living “sample and example” of his teachings and commitment to “the cause.”

His seven children were Agnes Paulette Jones (white); Suzanne Jones Cartmell (Asian); Stephanie Jones (Asian); Lew Eric Jones (Asian); Stephan Gandhi Jones (birth son); James Warren Jones, Jr. (black); Jim Jon Prokes (birth son).  He is also alleged to have father John Victor Stoen.

[32] For more on Jim Jones as a reincarnation of Father Divine see works by this author The Three Virtual Intentional Communities Of God In A Body In Real Time (1868-2008) (2008), The Reincarnations Of God: George Baker Jr. and Jim Jones as Fathers Divine (2009) and “Ever Faithful”: The contest between Mother Divine, Jim Jones and their followers for supremacy in faithfulness to the Cause (2010).

[33] Jim Jones warned the Peace Mission of threatening nuclear war between the USA and the USSR, and suggested that he could protect them from it. The Peace Mission’s post-Jonestown retrospective point of view is found in Mother Divine, 138.

[34] On Mother Divine’s post-1965 caretaker status as leader of the Peace Mission, see Timothy Miller, America’s Alternative Religions (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), 287. For Peoples Temple dynamism during the same time period, only abruptly cut short by the Jonestown mass suicides, see Miller, 305-308.

[35] For the understandable and ongoing outrage around the murder/suicides of children and others in Jonestown and the determined focus to brand any attempts to discuss the Jonestown tragedy in other ways that include the tragedy but also other aspects that surround and inform it as “apologist,” see Jonestown Apologists Alert.

[36] When the few remaining members of Mother Divine’s aged following were being taken to task for stubbornness and recalcitrance around an issue, the following response was posted (on a now-defunct website): “The Peace Mission’s core beliefs will not allow its followers — no matter how few in number — to concede defeat,” and “Cult-minded selectivity is an interpretative process that’s always morphing with failed predictions.”

The same could have been written of their cousins in the Jonestown commune of 1978, or 100 years earlier in the room of Father Jehovia addressing his remaining disciples after the departure of his top two lieutenants.

Originally posted on July 28th, 2013.

Last modified on November 12th, 2018.
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