God, Harlem U.S.A.: The Father Divine Story / Edition 1

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How did an African-American man born in a ghetto in 1879 rise to such social and religious prominence that his followers addressed letters to him simply "God, Harlem U.S.A."? Using hitherto unknown materials, Jill Watts portrays the life and career of one of the twentieth century's most intriguing religious leaders, Father Divine. Starting as an itinerant preacher, Father Divine built an unprecedented movement that by the 1930s had spread across the nation and around the world, attracting a wide variety of followers. As his ministry grew, so did the controversy surrounding his enormous wealth, flamboyant style, and committed "angels"--black and white, rich and poor. Here for the first time a full account of Father Divine's childhood and early years challenges previous contentions that he was born into a sharecropping family in the deep South. Where earlier biographers have concentrated on Father Divine's social and economic programs, Watts focuses on his theology, which gives new meaning to secular activities that often appeared inconsistent and contradictory. Father Divine developed a syncretic religion composed of African-American traditions, Catholicism, Methodism, Pentecostalism, and the power of positive thinking, or New Thought, a forerunner of the New Age religions popular today. He taught followers to channel his spirit to achieve health, prosperity, and salvation. By focusing on mind power and positive thinking, Father Divine offered those suffering from racism and economic dislocation an ideology that promised success through self-mastery. Although much has been written about Father Divine, God, Harlem U.S.A. finally provides a balanced and intimate account of his life's work. This is the story of a religious movement from its charismatic leader to its dedicated followers and their impact on American life.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Born George Baker Jr. (1876-1965), Father Divine was a charismatic African American religious leader who in 1919 established the Peace Mission movement. In this expansion of her doctoral thesis, Watts, who teaches history at California State University, cogently argues that Father Divine should be recognized as a theologian raher than as a cult figure. Based first in affluent, white Sayville, Long Island (N.Y.) and later moving to Harlem, Father Divine and his followers advocated integration, hard work, positive thinking, pacifism, celibacy and the acceptance of Father Divine as God. His message of salvation appealed to both blacks and whites, as did his programs of job training and free food during the Depression. By the late 1950s, Father Divine, a powerful figure in the '30s and '40s, was weakened by sexual and financial scandal and a racist vendetta launched by the Hearst papers. A meticulously researched portrait of an influential African American. Photos. (Feb.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520201729
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 2/13/1995
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 249
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Jill Watts, Associate Professor of History at California State University, San Marcos, is at work on a book about Mae West.

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Table of Contents

1 According to the Flesh 1
2 Nothing but GOD 14
3 Carrying the Message 31
4 In This Dining Room 49
6 These Outside Directions 98
7 As a Sample and as an Example 123
8 A Kingdom without a Spot or a Wrinkle 144
Epilogue 167
Notes 179
Selected Bibliography 227
Index 241
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