This is the fourth entry in the series Honoring Black History.
Before the January 28th episode of The Nod dropped, I’ll be honest, I had absolutely no idea who Father Divine—a black man who claimed to be God—was. You should definitely listen to the episode—it’s fascinating—but I wanted to take a moment to share a few pieces of Father Divine’s story that really stuck out to me.
First of all, Father Divine founded the International Peace Mission movement after becoming acquainted with New Thought. His movement had a lot of cult-like teachings and beliefs—Father Divine being God, for starters—but it also sought to break down gender and racial divisions. And considering it got its start in 1906 and experienced its heyday during the Great Depression (the 1930s)—attracting both blacks and whites alike—that’s pretty revolutionary.
The movement also owned a variety of businesses—including hotels—and integrated them. Again, pretty revolutionary for the time. To me, their most revolutionary act, however, came during World War II when they offered the U.S. Coast Guard use of the Brigantine Hotel in New Jersey for $1/year for the duration of the war. As the hotel staff and guests were integrated, the movement’s only stipulation for use of the hotel was that the Coast Guard desegregate as well. And it worked! In 1942!
While there is certainly a lot of bizarre, suspect, and downright deplorable history surrounding Father Divine, I have to admit I’m inspired by his ability to see an opportunity to use his power to further the agenda of equality.
If you want to know more, check out the documentary Father’s Kingdom.
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