It was scarcely midnight, but the true of an fashionable eremite group were still hollerin’ Sunday hallelujahs in a residence at 72 Macon St. in the routinely pale Suffolk County South Shore city of Sayville.
Unnoticed by the believers, a organisation of cops and vigilantes had surrounded the residence and were regulating to bring the regard party to its knees.
The date was Nov. 15, 1931, and a charismatic revivalist famous to his vassals as Father Divine was about to have his first front-page moment.
John Lamb, one of 80 people packaged into the eight-room house, after wrote that they were “in the midst of a good proof of the spirit, while several angels were singing in unfamiliar tongues, dancing and praising God.”
Meanwhile outside, he wrote, “hose lines were laid so that water could be poured in, if necessary, to still us down.”
The hoses stayed limp. Father Divine, a bald, petite black man, negotiated a pacific obey and led his group out the front door.
“There we found the state troopers waiting,” Lamb wrote, “and they conspicuous we were all under detain but elite not to use any force.”
A multiracial mob of 78 men and women were collared for unfinished control or disturbing the peace.
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Father Divine, a.k.a. the Rev. Major Jealous Divine, was charged with progressing a open nuisance, a crime customarily compared with back-alley enterprises, not a favoured church that charity inexpensive food and a guarantee of salvation.
But there was zero common about Divine.
His origins were mysterious. He claimed he was magically begotten in biblical times.
It’s some-more likely he was innate George Baker in Georgia or Maryland a decade after the Civil War.
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In about 1900, Baker became an early coadjutor of Samuel Morris, an individualist Baltimore reverend who billed himself as Father Jehovia — and God himself.
Baker poached Morris’ hustle.
He took the moniker “The Messenger” and by 1914 was heading a assemblage on Lefferts Place in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. Like Morris, he claimed he was humankind’s creator.
He began crafting a prosperity-gospel tenet called the Peace Mission Movement that speedy community living, shared assets, avoidance from alcohol, tobacco and sex (even for connubial partners), and open arms for all races — a monument back then.
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Rebranded as Father Divine, he unspooled his doctrine in confusing wordiness that could sound like Vaudeville double-talk.
“The particular is the enactment of that which expresses personification,” he once said. “Therefore he comes to be privately the countenance of that which was impersonal, and he is the personal countenance of it and the enactment of God Almighty!”
He spoke in tongues but really trying.
Divine drew congregation by charity 15-cent dishes — not inexpensive soup-and-sandwich chews, but copious banquets.
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“His dinners were feasts — heaped platters of duck and ham, beef stew, fry pork, vegetables and desserts galore,” Carl Warren wrote in a five-part Daily News examine of Divine. His supporters had “stars in their eyes, cash on the barrel-head and a cheerful negligence for tone lines.”
Divine shifted to Long Island in 1919, when a argument stirred a man to try to hang it to his neighbor in all-white Sayville by selling his home to the black preacher.
Over the next dozen years, as America slid toward the Depression, Divine’s following snowballed from dozens to thousands. About 300 acolytes assimilated his daily feasts, and that series competence triple on Sundays when buses arrived from Brooklyn and Harlem.
Cops spent hours any day untangling wretched traffic jams.
By 1931, Sayville had had enough. After a exhilarated city gymnasium meeting, neighbors T.J. Linehan, Claire Swettman and Fred Guthy filed complaints against Divine, call the Sunday night raid.
The 78 supporters were fined a few bucks each. But Divine insisted on a jury trial, held in Mineola 7 months after before the unrelenting Justice Lewis Smith.
Jurors reluctantly convicted Divine but endorsed leniency. Justice Smith wasn’t having it.
As the grinning Divine stood before him, Smith separate out a tirade, job the little reverend a rascal and “menace to society.” The true gasped when Smith conspicuous sentence: a year in prison.
Four days later, the judge forsaken passed of a heart attack at age 55.
“I hated to do it,” Divine told reporters.
He was liberated after just a week behind bars.
The broadside captivated new romantic followers, and Divine shifted his Peace Movement domicile to Harlem and his feasts to the old Rockland Palace on W. 155th St.
At his rise recognition in the late 1930s, he lorded over hundreds of community buildings, land and businesses — mostly in Harlem and upstate Ulster County — that were donated or purchased by devotees.
Newspapers that abandoned fanny-pinching, cash-grabbing white revivalist preachers published one exposé after another about Divine and his silk suits, Duesenberg limousines and posh lifestyle. The News conspicuous all its snooping “failed to find any justification of a racket.”
In 1953, he retired to a Gothic estate nearby Philadelphia, where he advocated for polite rights and against extremist lynching in the South.
He died in 1965, at roughly age 90, and was succeeded as Peace Movement avatar by his wife, Edna Ritchings, a much younger white Canadian whom he married in 1946.
Known as Mother Divine, she died just 3 months ago.
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