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Marcus Garvey, Father Divine and the Gender Politics of Race Difference and Race
Author(s): Beryl Satter
Source: American Quarterly , Mar., 1996, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Mar., 1996), pp. 43-76
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/30041521
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Marcus Garvey, Father Divine and the
Gender Politics of Race Difference and
Race Neutrality
Rutgers University, Newark
adoring missive Garvey might have expected. After briefly recounting
his years of committed support for Garvey and the Universal Negro
Improvement Association (UNIA), Austin came to his main point: that
Father Divine was God and that Garvey would do well to recognize this
fact. “‘Garveyism’ was the highest grace this so-called race had. …
But to-day a greater than Garvey is here. [Y]ou were regarded as the
world’s most fearless leader in this present civilization before the
coming of FATHER DIVINE. . . . Please try HIM out as 23,000,000 of
us did, you need HIM as all the World does,” Austin exhorted.
Garvey was not about to turn to Father Divine as his personal savior.
Instead, Garvey pushed through a lengthy resolution at the UNIA’s
1936 convention that condemned Father Divine in no uncertain terms.
Father Divine’s claim to be God was “blasphemy of the worst kind.”
Divine was a common swindler and under the control of scheming
whites. Most seriously, Garvey accused Divine of “race suicide.”
According to the UNIA resolution, Divinites “separate themselves
sexually from the bond of matrimony” and cease to “reproduce the
species of the race by having children.” Such a policy, the resolution
declared, would lead to the “complete extermination of the Negro race
in the United States in one generation. . . .”
Garvey was right to focus on race suicide in this resolution, since the
valuation of racial identity was one of the key differences that separated
Beryl Satter is an assistant professor of history at Rutgers University, Newark. She is
currently completing a book entitled New Thought and the Era of Woman, 1875-1920.
American Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 1 (March 1996) © 1996 American Studies Association
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Garvey’s movement from Divine’s. Marcus Garvey was the Jamaicanborn head of the UNIA, an organization that reached its peak of
strength in the early 1920s and whose organizing principle could be
summarized in the slogan “Race First.” A faith in the importance of
racial solidarity underlay the three goals of Garvey’s UNIA: to arouse
a unified race consciousness in all peoples of African descent, whether
living in the United States, the West Indies, or Africa; to strengthen this
united black race by organizing black-owned and managed, large-scale
business enterprises and shipping lines; and finally, to create a blackgoverned nation in Africa that would host the creation of a renewed
black civilization and stand up for the rights of black people everywhere.2
Father Divine, born George Baker, was an African American of
obscure origin who founded the most notorious new religion of
Depression-era America-the Harlem-based Peace Mission movement.
If Garvey’s UNIA was premised on “Race First” and faith in national
destiny, then Divine’s Peace Mission was premised on a belief in race
neutrality and faith in Father Divine as God. Father Divine was most
well-known for his ability, during the height of the Great Depression, to
feed thousands daily at his free, fifty-course Peace Mission banquets.
The Peace Mission program was more clearly enacted, however, in the
scores of racially integrated, sexually segregated, and celibate communes formed by Divinites in the 1930s. Within these communes,
which Peace Mission members called “heavens,” Divinites refused to
recognize race, arguably the key social division of modern America. In
a dramatic reversal of the racial segregation characteristic of the larger
society, black and white Divinites worked and lived together in
heavens, took care to mix the seating at Divinite banquets so as to
alternate black and white diners, and refused to acknowledge verbally
the existence of racial difference.3
Why was Marcus Garvey so enraged over Divine’s success, and what
role did the two men’s contrasting views of race and sexuality play in
this feud? When discussing the tension between Garvey and Divine,
scholars of the UNIA and the Peace Mission point to the fact that large
numbers of Garveyites were among the thousands4 joining Divine’s
Peace Mission. Historians explain this crossover membership, and
Garvey’s extreme reaction to it, in terms of broad similarities between
the UNIA and the Peace Mission. Both movements centered around a
charismatic leader, provided concrete benefits to their members, pro-
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moted economic enterprise, and encouraged political action. Although
Garvey denounced as blasphemy Divine’s claims to be God, Garvey’s
own self-presentation as a “Black Moses” and his suggestion that
blacks think of God as dark skinned may have eased the way for some
black Americans to accept Father Divine as God. Finally, Garvey and
Divine’s shared interest in New Thought, a popular early twentiethcentury religious ideology that claimed one’s thoughts could literally
create one’s material reality, may also have facilitated the transition for
those who shifted allegiances from Garvey to Divine in the mid-1930s.5
I would argue, however, that one cannot fully understand either the
internal trajectories of the two movements or the relationships between
them unless the gender politics of the two organizations are carefully
examined. The need for a gender analysis is clearly suggested by the
specific histories, constituencies and ideologies of the Peace Mission
and the UNIA. For example, according to both contemporary and
scholarly accounts, anywhere from 75 to 90 percent of Divine’s
followers were African American women.6 This predominance of
women suggests that the Peace Mission should be analyzed as a black
women’s movement and its gender politics given particular attention. In
contrast, although some women held high-ranking positions, Garvey’s
UNIA appears to have been a predominantly male organization. Yet the
very intensity of the UNIA’s masculinist cast-represented in everything from its official hierarchy, which placed UNIA women’s organizations under the command of male presidents, to UNIA ritual, in
which black men marched in costumes of warriors, judges, and kingssuggests that a particular gender vision was at the heart of UNIA
In the following pages I therefore examine the gender politics of the
UNIA and the Peace Mission movement. I focus particularly on the
connections between the racial ideologies of the UNIA and the Peace
Mission, on the one hand, and the gender ideologies, gender organizations, and experience of women within the two movements, on the
other. I argue that the opposing gender politics of the two movements
can help illuminate the crossover in membership between the UNIA
and the Peace Mission and, more importantly, can contribute to an
understanding of the relationship between racial ideologies and the
choices historically available to African American women.
Scholars of Marcus Garvey and Father Divine have not analyzed the
relationship between these men’s racial ideologies and the roles
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available to their female followers. Some scholarship has explored the
history of women in the two movements and (to a lesser extent) the
gender politics of the two movements. While Garvey scholars agree
that UNIA publications promoted public roles for men and private roles
for women, more recent scholarship has added complexity to the image
of a sexist UNIA. Barbara Bair points out that the UNIA’s calls for
active, public roles for men and passive, private roles for women
overturned white images of black men as feminine and black women as
masculine and challenged the white double standard, which held that
white women should be sheltered in the home while black women
worked. Ula Taylor suggests that the UNIA emphasis on black women
as men’s helpmates did not imply that black women could not also be
leaders. On the contrary, she argues that black women, who have
historically viewed white racism rather than black men as their
oppressor, have a long tradition of both supporting their husbands (and
families) and assuming community leadership roles. Finally, UNIA
scholars agree that despite the official paeans to black women as wives
and mothers, the UNIA in fact offered women a wide variety of
participatory roles and was one of the few organizations offering
leadership positions to black women in the 1920s.8
Unlike Garvey’s UNIA, Father Divine’s Peace Mission movement
was a predominantly female organization. However, no scholar of the
Peace Mission has considered the overwhelming numerical predominance of black women in the movement as a sign that the Peace
Mission should be analyzed primarily as a black women’s movement.
Instead, many Peace Mission scholars have noted women’s participa-
tion in the movement only to emphasize women’s fanaticism, igno-
rance, or sensual longings for Father Divine.9 Jill Watts, author of the
most recent book on Father Divine, is one of the few scholars to discuss
Divine’s female followers without reducing their interest in Divine to
sexual or psychological aberrations. Watts argues that the communal
and celibate Peace Mission lifestyle freed women from isolated
housekeeping, traditional gender roles, and the dangers of childbearing.
Watts also interprets Divine’s protectiveness toward his women followers (for example, his calling up a storm to punish a man who put his
wife in a mental hospital) and his self-description as both mother and
father to his flock as symbolic support for “women’s rights.”‘0
In sum, scholarship on the UNIA and the Peace Mission shows the
appeal as well as the drawbacks these organizations held for their
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women members. This essay focuses more specifically on the connections between the racial ideologies of the two movements and the
positions of women within them. By contrasting the gender politics of
Garvey’s Race First UNIA with those of the Peace Mission, a predominantly black movement that explicitly denied racial difference, this
essay highlights the ways that ideologies of race shape the forms of
activism available to women. More specifically, it addresses the
following questions about the UNIA and the Peace Mission movement.
What was the relationship between Garvey’s Race First philosophy and
the place of black women within the UNIA? Did the drastic situation
faced by African Americans during the Great Depression threaten
Garvey’s vision of black womanhood? Why might some African
American women have rejected the role of UNIA race mother for that
of celibate, race-neutral Peace Mission angel? Was joining the Peace
Mission simply a desperate and culturally suicidal abandonment of
black racial identity, black culture, and black men? Or might the Peace
Mission ideology of race and gender transcendence have enabled the
creation of a new form of African American political culture, expressing the hopes of the most marginalized members of depression-era
Harlem? What can the UNIA and the Peace Mission tell us about the
relationship between ideas of race purity or race neutrality, on the one
hand, and polarized gender oppositions, nationalism, and cultural
identity, on the other?
Race and Gender in Garvey’s UNIA
The contrasting gender politics of the Peace Mission and the UNIA
derived most directly from their leaders’ opposed understandings of the
roles of black race purity and race pride in the struggle against white
racism. As early as 1921, Marcus Garvey became committed to race
purity as the factor distinguishing the UNIA from other black organiza-
tions. His insistence upon the importance of race purity led him to
praise the race purity ideals of the Ku Klux Klan, to attack his African
American opponents as “nearly all Octoroons or Quadroons,” and even
to suggest that lighter-skinned blacks be consciously bred out of the
racial pool.1
As a number of scholars have observed, ideologies of race purity
have, historically, led to male control of women’s bodies. Southern
white race purity codes, for example, entailed a double form of male
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control of women’s bodies; relying on a gender ideology that depicted
white women as pure and black women as animalistic, white race
purity ideas justified both the sequestering of white women and white
men’s sexual terrorism against black women.12 A race purity ideal
functioned differently for the UNIA-an organization that expressed
the hopes of a people struggling for dignity and self-determination-
than it did for ruling whites, who used an ideology of race purity to
ensure the continuation of their economic and political dominance.
Garvey’s brand of race purity contained none of the threats to white
women that white race purity held for black women. His lauding of the
beauty of dark skin was a necessary and even revolutionary counter to
centuries of white maligning of the physical appearance of African
Americans. In this context, Garvey’s call for race unity among the
dispersed peoples of African descent was a bold and politically astute
effort to unite the dispossessed in a struggle for independence, as well
as a courageous attempt to politicize and internationalize the awakening of black race consciousness characteristic of the 1920s.13
Garvey’s emphasis on race consciousness and race purity inevitably
molded the UNIA’s proscriptions about gender. For example, race
purity advocates generally value women primarily as mothers of the
race. UNIA leaders clearly voiced this perspective. As one Garveyite
official wrote, if “you find any woman-especially a black woman-
who does not want to be a mother, you may rest assured she is not a true
woman.”14 To ensure that women’s offspring were of the proper race,
black women needed to be maintained in the same sort of protective
isolation that white men apparently secured for their women. As
another UNIA official explained, black men must
throw our protecting arms around our women … let us go back to the days
of true manhood when women truly reverenced us … let us again place our
women upon the pedestal from which they have been forced . . .
The UNIA was thus committed not to promoting the dignity and power
of black women in general but to protecting black women from racial
defilement and regaining black women’s reverence and respect for the
black man. Many black women supported such a policy of chivalrous
protection as a welcome alternative to their position as exploited
workers who were vulnerable to sexual harassment by white employ-
ers.’6 This does not, however, negate the fact that so-called protection of
women by men involves control as well as benevolence.
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The cultural meaning of motherhood in African American communities often had a different resonance than it did for white middle-class
Americans, and it is important to note that a lauding of motherhood
does not necessarily connote a limitation of women’s personal autonomy or political power. Although black mothers, like white mothers,
have long shouldered the primary responsibility for child raising,
among African Americans this has less often meant intensive and
isolated child rearing and more often meant women’s willingness to
engage in extradomestic, income-producing activities in order to fund
their children’s educations. This broader, more public and political
understanding of African American motherhood is reflected in the
tradition of “community mothers”-often elderly women who function
as “role models, power brokers, and venerable elders” in black
communities-who are respected less for the quality of their private
mothering than for their activist role in holding together the broader
In some ways, the UNIA Race Mother ideal seemed to draw upon
the African American community motherhood tradition. The UNIA had
a woman’s page entitled “Our Women and What They Think,” which
was intended to give women a voice in the otherwise male-dominated
journal of the U.N.I.A, Negro World. Edited by Garvey’s wife, Amy
Jacques Garvey, some “Our Women” articles asserted that black
women’s responsibilities were “not limited” to homemaking and
childcare, but included “tackling the problems that confront the race,”
including working with men “in the office as well as on the platform.”
These articles clearly implied a vision of motherhood that entailed
community activism as well as private domesticity.’8
In many respects, however, the UNIA race mother diverged significantly from the community mother concept. While the community
mother depended for her effectiveness on a base of autonomous black
women’s organizations, political organizations for UNIA women were
not autonomous. Although each of the local UNIA divisions had both a
man and a woman president, the “lady president” had authority over the
women’s section, while the male president had authority over the local
division as a whole. In addition, a hierarchical sexual division of labor
existed within the UNIA; men ran the UNIA businesses and represented the movement as statesmen and diplomats, while women
provided clerical, cultural and civic support services. This system
discouraged the sort of informal but powerful leadership exerted by
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community mothers.19 Finally, it is clear that the term motherhood had
a far more biological meaning for Garveyites than community motherhood had traditionally connoted in African American communities.
(After all, the community-leading “mother” was often an elderly
woman.) UNIA ideology implied that marriage and child-care held a
special significance for Garveyite women. According to Negro World
articles, while Garveyite men were to uplift the race through aggressive
engagement in business and commerce, Garveyite women were literally to produce a “better and stronger race” through the quality of their
childcare. Negro World columnists repeatedly heralded this more
biological form of race-building as “the greatest privilege that can
come to any woman in this age, and to the Negro woman in particular.”20
The UNIA glorified black men as soldiers, leaders, and rulers. As
Barbara Bair points out, Garvey’s ritual and verbal imagery consistently invoked visions of black men as kings, emperors, and popes.
Garvey called himself the Provisional President of Africa, conferred
orders such as the Knight Commander of the Nile on his most devoted
followers, and created a special militia, the African Legion, whose fulldress military uniforms drew large audiences at UNIA parades. The
Black Cross Nurses, a UNIA women’s organization that provided
health counseling and services to their communities, were also a
regular feature of UNIA parades, and a group of women in military
uniform marched in at least one UNIA parade. This female participation does not lessen the fact that the most dramatic spectacle at UNIA
parades was the uniformed male Garveyites.21 The UNIA’s identification of black men as the epitome of black humanity became even more
emphatic during the Depression; in 1934 a journal entitled Black Man
succeeded the UNIA’s journal Negro World.
The implications of the UNIA’s emphasis on martial and leadership
roles for men and race motherhood roles for women were mixed for
Garveyite women. On the one hand, a few prominent women achieved
positions of great responsibility and influence within the UNIA despite
the movement’s official sanctioning of public roles for men and private
roles for women. Furthermore, numerous lesser-known women learned
important organizational skills by actively participating behind the
scenes.22 On the other hand, Garveyite women who tried to follow the
New Negro Woman model of both creating a perfect home life and
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actively serving the UNIA inevitably found themselves exhausted
the multiple demands on their lives.
Amy Jacques Garvey epitomized their situation. Garvey expected
her to be the perfect wife, while also serving as his secretary, legal
adviser, fund-raiser, editor, and fulltime propagandist. Jacques Garvey
fulfilled these multiple roles until the birth of her two children in 1930
and 1933. Their births occurred during a period when Garvey was
travelling frequently, desperately strapped for money, and entirely
preoccupied with reviving the UNIA. Receiving little financial or
practical aid from Garvey, Jacques Garvey dropped her political work
altogether in order to feed, shelter, and educate her children. Looking
back over her years with Garvey and the UNIA, Jaques Garvey noted
bitterly, “What did he ever give in return? The value of a wife to him
was like a gold coin–expendable, to get what he wanted, and hard
enough to withstand rough usage in the process.”23
Amy Jacques Garvey’s experience indicates that without considerable financial and practical support from the race father, the UNIA race
mother was more likely to find herself isolated and exhausted than
active and empowered. She might even begin to feel that irresponsible
black men, as much as white racism, were her primary obstacles. For
example, women in a Jamaican division of the UNIA complained that
they were fighting the battle for race uplift alone. Angry at black men
whom they called cowards for their abandonment of race and family
responsibility, these women invited men to a women’s meeting to
remind them of their “duty towards the women of their race.”24 Maymie
Leona Turpeau De Mena, a high-ranking UNIA member who later
stunned Garvey by publishing the Divinite paper World Echo, complained in 1924 that although women formed “the backbone and sinew
of the UNIA,” they have been “given to understand that they must
remain in their place.”25 Jacques Garvey herself wrote angry editorials
in the mid-1920s in which she attacked black men for their “lack of
appreciation for their noble women. . . .” She wrote, “We are tired of
hearing Negro men say, ‘there is a better day coming,’ while they do
nothing to usher in the day.”26
By the mid-1920s, Garveyite women were not the only people with
complaints about Garvey’s leadership and organization. Despite its
initial growth, the UNIA soon began to weaken as a result of
organizational infighting, governmental harassment, and business fraud
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and naivet6. Garvey was eventually jailed for mail fraud in 1925, and
deported to Jamaica in 1927.27
After Garvey’s deportation the leaderless and bankrupt American
branches of the UNIA gradually declined. Factional disputes within
UNIA locals as well as Garvey’s own growing political distance from
the needs and concerns of American blacks were deeply damaging.
Most detrimental of all to the UNIA, however, was the declining
economic strength of black Americans. As early as 1927, private
welfare agencies reported unusually high levels of suffering and
unemployment in Harlem and other black communities, and conditions
only became more difficult when the depression reached the rest of the
nation in the 1930s. In this context of severe economic stress, the
UNIA’s faith in business enterprise and its push to sell stock for its
shipping line became increasingly irrelevant to the working- and lowermiddle-class blacks who had formerly provided the backbone of the
The Depression also undercut the gender strategy of the UNIA,
which called for black women to cede public roles to their men in order
to devote themselves to their offspring and so strengthen the race. The
Depression had a particularly devastating impact on black men. In the
1920s, certain low-wage, dead-end service jobs had been reserved for
African American men, but by the 1930s even these positions became
scarce as desperate whites crossed the color line to compete for porter
and janitorial jobs. White men were willing to take occupations
formerly filled by black men, but neither black nor white men would
take menial women’s work, even in the worst years of the Depression.
This meant that black women, like white women, could sometimes find
jobs more quickly than either black or white men. The jobs were
usually temporary, required grueling labor, and paid well below the
minimum needed to survive.29 Nevertheless, the fact that Depressionera black women found jobs at slightly higher rates than black men
meant that by the 1930s the gender strategy of the UNIA no longer
offered a viable alternative for most black Americans.
The very forces that undercut Garvey aided Divine; it is surely not
coincidental that 1927-the year of Garvey’s deportation and the first
year in which private welfare agencies documented real suffering in
Harlem-marked the year when newspapers first reported the growing
popularity of a previously obscure black preacher who called himself
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Father Divine.30 What were the race and gender strategies of th
Mission? How did these strategies fit the situation of the middl
working-class African American women who constituted the vast
majority of Divine’s followers?31
Father Divine’s 1930s Peace Mission Movement
One can begin to answer these questions by looking at the Peace
Mission’s analysis of race. From Divine’s millenarian perspective, both
the concept of race purity and the very existence of racial division had
been transcended. In contrast to Garvey’s wish to ensure Negro purity,
Divine insisted that the very term Negro was false because it referred to
no historical reality.32 Divine claimed that race was a social construction. He explained, “there is no so-called blood of some special race.
Blood is blood, Spirit is Spirit, Mind is Mind!”33 Divine preached the
unified descent of all peoples from God. He told his followers to
“recognize only the lineage from whence you really came”-that is, the
heavenly lineage encompassing all peoples ready to transcend their
human natures. To claim this transcendent ancestry, all Divinites took
new angelic names, such as Faithful Love or Glorious Illumination,
upon joining the Peace Mission movement. As Divine explained,
“Angelic Names . . . mean the Angelic Nature. Name means nature.”34
Divinites stressed the importance of angelic names in part because of
Divine’s New Thought belief that to name something was to shape it in
thought and so to create it. Calling oneself by an angelic name was
therefore equivalent to becoming reborn as an angel. This belief that to
speak of a thing was to create it had special application to Divine’s
thinking about race and racial strategy. It led to a crusade by Divinites
against the use of racial and ethnic slurs; such vocabulary, Divine
claimed, carried with it “the GERMS of SEGREGATION and DISCRIMINATION and the very GERM of LOWRATION by the saying
of such terms unconsciously. . . . “3 Divine carried this idea to the
extreme in his preaching that the first and most significant step toward
eradicating racism was avoiding words that referred to racial difference
itself. As Divine explained,
Thoughts are things! If we dwell upon them we will become to be partakers
of them, automatically. Therefore we hardly use the word that is commonly
known as race, creed, or color, among us.36
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By using phrases such as the “‘so-and-so’ people” or “people of light
complexion” in place of “Negro” or “Caucasian,” Divine believed he
was helping to rid the world of both racial differences and the structure
of segregation and discrimination that such differences were used to
Divine similarly downplayed the existence of gender difference.
Divine referred to his followers as “so-called men” and “those who call
themselves women.”37 When encouraging his followers to manifest in
their behavior a new heavenly mind or spirit, he said, “Spirit and mind
is [sic] the same as the principle of Mathematics, it is not confined to
complexion, is it? Neither is it confined to sex, as far as male or
female.” He also downplayed his own gender. “GOD is your Father,
your Mother, your Sister, and your Brother,” he told his followers.38
Divine’s appearance seemed to suggest gender neutrality. An unusually
small man who wore neat, tailored suits, Divine struck both his male
and female followers as “cute” and “sweet.”39
The resulting gender politics of the Peace Mission stood in stark
contrast to those of the UNIA. The UNIA encouraged Garveyite
women to see themselves primarily as mothers to the Negro race, and
they had gained respect as wives and mothers at the cost of certain
restrictions on their behavior. Divinite women rejected the identity of
mother in favor of sister, the prefix commonly adopted by Divine’s
female followers. According to the Divinites, an “evangelical life” did
not entail private devotion to husband and offspring in service to the
race. Instead, it meant the immediate realization of an angelic-that is,
communal, racially integrated, sex segregated, and celibate-lifestyle
in service to God, or Father Divine.
Father Divine’s insistence upon celibacy was not overtly linked to his
analysis of race. It derived, first of all, from the premises of New
Thought. Intrigued by the power of mind over matter, many New
Thought authors advocated celibacy as the ultimate victory of the
spiritual over the material. Father Divine’s arguments for celibacy were
indistinguishable from those offered by other New Thought leaders;
like them, he insisted that sexual activity dissipated human energy,
strengthened the “lower” rather than the “higher” nature, and was
incompatible with the self-denial needed to achieve angelic status.40
More crucially, however, the practice of celibacy among Divine’s
followers signified their millenarian perspective. Practices of sexual
excess or abstinence are common in millenarian movements, whose
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members typically break religious or sexual taboos as a symbol of their
distance from the corrupt past.41
Father Divine’s insistence upon celibacy cannot, however, be understood entirely outside of a race context. To Garvey, the idea of a black
man advocating celibacy was tantamount to race suicide; the salvation
of African Americans required healthy and numerous black bodies.42
Divine’s answer to segregation and racism was to deny the body
altogether-both the racialized and the sexualized body. In his millennial
world of raceless and genderless angels, racial segregation could not
possibly have a place.43 It was Divine’s firm belief that the human body
had been transcended that enabled Divine’s followers to battle segregation and to live in racially integrated groups; black and white together
was the ultimate symbol that the human body itself no longer reigned.
Divine’s rejection of the black sexualized body meshed perfectly
with that same denial by white America. Because Divine’s movement
was sex segregated and celibate, it could be looked upon as a relatively
nonthreatening curiosity by white outsiders.44 The existence of largescale, racially mixed communal living that was not celibate would
likely have triggered white hysteria and even violence.45 Although
bound up with the claim that race difference did not exist, celibacy in
Divine’s movement ensured that at the most basic level race purity
ideology remained unchallenged.
Divine’s reasons for insisting on sex segregation and celibacy were
not, however, identical to women’s reasons for joining a movement
with those tenets. Women’s reasons for joining the Peace Mission were
complex. While some joined because of severely demanding family
and financial situations, others joined because of the appeal of living
communally with other women.46 The rejection of both men and
conventional gender roles attracted many Divinite women.47 Indeed,
they sometimes extended that rejection farther than Divine himself
intended. When encouraging his followers to disregard earthly divisions, Divine spoke almost exclusively of “races, creed and colors,”
rather than divisions between men and women.48 But women heard
what they wanted to hear in his words. For example, Divine told his
followers, “Your bodies are pure from vice and from crime, because
you have been Redeemed from all mankind.” However, when arrested
for voter registration disruption, Divinite women refused to ride in the
same car with male prisoners, explaining that they could not because
“Father has redeemed us from men.”49 This claim that God had
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redeemed them from men stood in stark contrast to the attitude of
Garveyite women, who in the early 1920s carried banners in UNIA
parades proclaiming “God Give Us Real Men!”5o
Divinite women took new angelic names to assert publically their
new status as members of a community of “sisters and brothers.” While
most took names like Joyous Light or Happy Flower, many chose
explicitly male angelic names, such as Joshua Love, Jasper Aaron, and
Jonathan Mathew.5′ This is particularly significant given Father Divine’s
New Thought insistence that “Name means Nature.” These women
were rejecting not only their status as wives, but also as women.
The sex-segregated and female-dominated Peace Mission had little
hierarchy, gendered or otherwise. There was simply Father Divine; his
small group of black and white, male and female “secretaries”; and the
numerous, loosely organized cooperative businesses and communes of
the Divinite Kingdom. This apparent lack of hierarchy was only
relative, given that all Divinites saw themselves as worshipers of the
movement’s ultimate leader, Father Divine. Nevertheless, Peace Mission “extensions” of the 1930s were quite varied and remarkably
autonomous.52 Equally telling, the Divinite paper, The Spoken Word,
had no women’s page. Instead, reports on the doings of sisters and
brothers were featured throughout.
Divinite rituals drew upon and sanctified women’s experiences. At
Peace Mission banquets, Divine ritually ladeled the first portion of
soup, cut the first piece of meat on every platter, and poured coffee
from a large silver urn. Father Divine’s symbolic opening of the
banquet did not overturn gender roles; indeed, a specially trained staff
of Divinite women usually served the remainder of the banquet meal.
Nevertheless, Divine’s opening ritual must have been especially powerful for black women domestics, who probably made up the majority of
Peace Mission adherents. The sight of “God himself” performing their
daily service activity elevated and sanctified their labors. Moreover,
women could relax and enjoy a meticulous table setting that reflected
an elegance usually seen only in the homes of white employers. Now
they, as domestic workers, were not serving, they were being served.53
What effects did Peace Mission social organization-which included
no hierarchy, no heterosexuality, no private property, and no privatized
home and child care-have on Divinite women? On the whole, the
Peace Mission seemed to free their energy and creativity. Despite the
Depression-era context, African American women formed scores of
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Peace Mission extensions and businesses–communal living a
ments as well as restaurants, food stores, and dressmaking a
shops.54 Divinite women also collectively owned, ran and s
the Promised Land, the nearly seven hundred Peace Mission c
farms located on over two thousand acres of land in upstate
Observers initially doubted the feasibility of the Promised Land
project. “[T]hese fanatics are hardly endowed with that stability of
temperament and self-discipline required to endure the hardships of an
agricultural existence,” a hostile white biographer of Divine noted in
1937. However, Divine’s followers-mostly middle-aged black women
who had spent their younger years in the rural south-knew how to
work a farm. Three years later, newspapers respectfully described the
now-thriving farms and their related enterprises.56
Besides creating successful urban and rural cooperatives during the
midst of the Great Depression, Divinite women became increasingly
involved in political action. By the mid-1930s, the Divinite newspaper
Spoken Word contained a mix of radical political reporting (often lifted
from such journals as the New Masses and the New Republic) and the
verbatim words of Father Divine’s speeches, which combined transcendent visions with calls for political education and action. Women read
the Spoken Word as a holy text, and soon their banquet testimonials
began to reflect diverse political visions. As a New York WorldTelegraph reporter sarcastically noted,
followers arose to give testimonials. These took on a political hue…. A lean
woman gave testimony to the effect that she had sat for three weeks in the
spectator’s gallery in the U.S. Senate and had discovered that the country was
governed by a pack of noodles. Another woman told of a paradise that took
on a decided Marxist tinge as she described it. Still another saw that the hope
of the country lay in a benevolence reminiscent of Tammany Hall.57
Simultaneously, Divine introduced more practical skills to his followers. In 1935 he suggested that they attend night school to become
literate and so qualify for voter registration. In response, Divinite
women flooded the night schools, making up 20 percent of the students
in 1935. This marked the first time in ten years that any woman had
attended night school classes at Harlem’s Public School 89.58 It appears
that only the radical lifestyle change involved in communal Divinite
living enabled significant numbers of Harlem women to attend adult
education classes-a telling indication of the depth of the problems that
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had hitherto made adult education virtually impossible for Harlem
Divinite women were soon putting their new political skills into
practice. They formed the overwhelming majority of the close to three
hundred Harlem Divinites who attempted en masse to register to vote in
1935.60 Women undertook other actions as well. Divinite sisters enacted
peaceful resistance to segregation by entering restaurants in racially
mixed groups. They also participated in joint Communist-Divinite
parades (where they mixed cries of “Father Divine is God!” with
slogans like “Down with Fascism!”).61 Finally, women were prominent
in Divine’s Righteous Government, an organization within the Peace
Mission dedicated to the political implementation of Divine’s vision.
Of the organization’s six departments, women headed at least three
(politics, education, and research).62
Peace Mission women created a distinctive Divinite culture. Com-
mentators, for instance, frequently noted the power of the hot swing or
boogie-woogie style music at Divinite banquets. Accompanying the
orchestrated music was a women’s choir, which sang about social
wrongs, racial injustice, or love for Divine. As one observer reported,
these songs were “no orthodox hymns. They are original, colorful,
completely alive outpourings. Often they attain the very heights of folk
Peace Mission women also expressed themselves through distinctive
clothing and appearance. According to the Spoken Word, today’s
woman should have “a sturdy, husky .. . physical type of beauty, as in
Russia, and not the Clara Bow, Jean Harlow type of flaming youth.”64
The type of clothing favored by Divinite women can be gleaned from
scattered reports. While the men of the movement wore dark, neatly
pressed suits, one New York Times article described Divinite women as
“clad chiefly in brilliant red, light blue and vivid purple garments .. .”65
Their dress starkly contrasted with the official costumes of some
Garveyite women. As Barbara Bair points out, male members of
Garvey’s African Legion wore elaborate, military-style costumes, while
their sister organization, the Black Cross Nurses, wore loose dresses
and capes suggestive of self-sacrificing nuns and nurses.66
One might think that the Peace Mission’s refusal even to use the
word Negro, much less promote the physical perpetuation of African
Americans as a race, would be accompanied by a devastating erasure of
black culture as a whole. Again, a comparison with Garvey’s UNIA
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proves instructive. Garvey valued black artistic expression, and his
UNIA prompted a tremendous outpouring of black literary writings.
UNIA poetry concentrated on the battle against racial injustice, the
reawakening of Africa, and paeans to Garvey himself. The poems
tended to maintain the trademark UNIA emphasis on Race Manhood,
however, while depicting black women as queens, victims, virgins, or
“Mothers of Men.”67 In his eagerness to promote self-respect in African
Americans, Garvey encouraged the use of European poetic forms and
scorned dialect poetry as degrading. He denigrated black folk culture,
attacked the work of Harlem Renaissance authors, and viewed jazz and
spirituals as impediments to racial progress.68
The cultural output of the Peace Mission similarly centered on
opposition to racial injustice and hymns of praise to the movement’s
leader. Divinite songs and rituals did not emphasize Race Manhood,
however. Instead, the 1930s Peace Mission accepted the experience of
its black members as normative for the entire membership, black or
white, and strongly stressed the value of black women’s experience
during the movement’s central ritual occasions. In contrast to Garvey’s
contempt for jazz, Divine made an eclectic mix of popular and
traditional music central to his ritual practice. He served the food and
spoke the language of the black working class.69 Divine validated the
emotional testimonial style that had long been a means of expression
for rural and urban African Americans and encouraged them to infuse
their prayer with political content.
Later Years of the UNIA and the Peace Mission Movement
Living first in Jamaica and later in London, Garvey continued his
efforts to rebuild the UNIA throughout the 1930s. His declining
influence was painfully obvious, however. For example, when Garvey
started his School of African Philosophy, a training course for UNIA
leaders, in the mid-1930s, he published ads declaring “1,000 Students
Wanted! !” The first session of the school, held in London in September
1937, attracted eleven students. By the time of Garvey’s premature
death in 1940, he was penniless and almost devoid of followers.70
During the final decade of his life, Garvey’s politics became more
mystical and more masculine. “It is thought that created the Universe.
It is thought that will master the Universe,” he wrote in 1937. Garvey
had long been interested in New Thought, and in the 1920s he had
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drawn on New Thought rhetoric to encourage black men to persevere in
business. Now he used New Thought ideas to argue that the real
explanation for his movement’s decline was the inner weakness of
black men. “Mind is the thing that rules and the black man to-day falls
below the level of a white man only because of the poverty of his
mind,” Garvey claimed. He also drew upon New Thought to support his
arguments about the importance of racial separatism. Blacks suffered
because they were captive to the denigrating thoughts and propaganda
of an alien race, Garvey wrote. To be truly free, they needed to create
their own thought environment or atmosphere. “Any race that accepts
the thoughts of another race, automatically, becomes a slave of that
other race. As men think, so they do react. . . .” he wrote in 1930.71
By the 1930s, Garvey increasingly spoke of a coming racial Armageddon that would bring a victory for blacks only when the “Negro
makes himself a man” and forms a “great phalanx of noble fighting
braves.”72 Given Garvey’s commitment to the idea that mental images
could make or break black people, it is not surprising that a considerable proportion of his 1930s journal Black Man consisted of poems he
wrote with titles like “Go And Win!,” “Win the Fray!,” and “GET UP
AND DO.” These poems, replete with images of marching “He-Men,”
represented Garvey’s final efforts to rouse a masculine, martial spirit in
his readers.73
By the mid-1930s, Garvey apparently lost interest in the role of black
women in racial uplift. His School of African Philosophy, which
promised to train its students as UNIA leaders, diplomats, and entrepreneurs, included tips on how to deal with one’s wife and family and
seemed to assume a male audience. Yet Garvey’s failure to delineate a
specific role for black women seemed to allow at least some Garveyite
women to assume that the UNIA leader whom the lessons promised to
create could be female; of the School’s initial eleven students, four
were women.74 Nevertheless, in one of Garvey’s last comments on
gender politics in 1934, he condemned blacks who used birth control.
The resolution seemed to cast black women once again as “race
mothers.”75 His attack on birth control seems of a piece with his praise
of Hitler and Mussolini as self-made men and with his 1937 boast that
“[w]e [in the UNIA] were the first Fascists.”76 Like the fascists, Garvey
dreamed of a violent settlement of race problems. Black men would
become warriors, and black women would produce the bodies needed
in the coming race war.
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If 1927 marked a turning point for Garvey and the UNIA,
equivalent year for Divine’s movement was 1936. That year
of events convinced outsiders that the Peace Mission was on t
of becoming a radical political force: Divinites’ rush to regist
their creation of a Righteous Government Platform to which all
candidates hoping for the Divinite vote must conform, and their
apparent alliance with the Communist Party. In response to this
perceived political threat, U.S. government harassment of the Peace
Mission intensified.77 A series of sexual scandals, expos6s, and defec-
tions further weakened Divine’s movement. Finally, to escape paying
reparations to a disgruntled former Divinite, Divine moved from
Harlem to Philadelphia in 1942. This move left Divine, like Garvey,
permanently separated from his base of support in New York City.78
Perhaps in response to these crises, Father Divine spent the years
between 1937 and 1942 consolidating his authority over the Peace
Mission movement. The Spoken Word, with its eclectic mix of Divine’s
banquet speeches; movement news; and radical local, national, and
international political reporting, was replaced in late 1936 by the
Divinite journal New Day. Typical issues of New Day contained
approximately ninety pages of Divine’s banquet speeches, ten pages of
letters, and one page of world news.79 In 1940 and 1941, Divine
officially incorporated several of the movement’s most active centers,
began bringing all Peace Mission properties under centralized supervi-
sion, and instituted rules whereby no Peace Mission could be started
without the permission of a parent church.80
By the mid-1940s, Peace Mission membership had declined dramatically.81 This decline was possibly related to a number of factors,
including the end of the Depression, Divine’s self-imposed exile from
Harlem, and Divinite dissatisfaction with the increasingly rigid nature
of the movement. The Peace Mission’s loss of members can also be
explained in terms of the dynamics typical of millenial movements. The
force driving such movements’ rejection of mainstream social, political, and economic arrangements is a deeply felt protest against the
injustices of mainstream society. Once these injustices are addressed
directly by political movements, millenial faiths often find that their
central appeal to their membership has been undercut. As Robert
Weisbrot points out, the Double V campaign of the 1940s as well as the
rise of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s, both of which directly
challenged segregation and other forms of deeply embedded white
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racism, may have severely undercut the appeal of Divine’s movement.82
After a millenarian group begins to lose members, the message of its
prophet tends to change. Instead of criticizing the evils of an oppressive
social system, the prophet often begins to blame social ills on the evils
of the oppressed people themselves. The prophet then preaches selfpurification rather than confrontation as the means for bringing about
the millennium. It is not surprising, then, that when the numbers of
Divine’s followers began to dwindle, he began to blame injustice on the
imperfections of the oppressed.83 African Americans “had committed
the sin in setting up color in the first place,” Divine now insisted. “They
set it up in their consciousness and they would find it everywhere they
went and they and no one else would be responsible.”84 This shift to
self-blame echoed the attacks on black laziness leveled by Marcus
Garvey in the 1930s when he too found himself the prophet of a
dwindling movement.
Divine’s political outlook shifted dramatically with the outbreak of
World War II. He seemed to interpret the war as a contest between the
racists and segregationists he abhorred, on the one hand, and the united,
peaceful planet that he had long promoted, on the other. When the
United States entered the war Divine therefore fiercely supported the
war effort and did all he could to promote a fervent American
nationalism among his followers.85 Indeed, during the war years, the
same Father Divine who had once stated that “I am none of your
nationalities. You don’t have to think I AM an American. … I AM none
of them” now claimed that the only way to ensure world peace was by
turning the world into a gigantic United States of America.86 The
United States, as the “amalgamation of all nations,” was chosen as the
site of the “Kingdom of GOD on earth,” Divine insisted. Eventually all
nations of the earth would fly the American flag and accept the
Constitution, which Divine believed was divinely inspired, as their
charter of government.87 Instead of preaching the absence of race or
gender divisions under the neutrality of African American-inflected
religious practice, Divine instead preached the absence of national
divisions under the neutrality of American global dominance. By the
1950s, Divine directed his most passionate tirades not against “RACISM and all MATERIALISM and every adverse and undesireable
tendency,” but against communists and unions, who Divine claimed
were “inspired by atheism and Nazism and other isms that spell
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division, to undermine the foundations of our government, which we all
As Divine became both increasingly nationalistic and anxious about
the ideological purity of his followers, his understanding of celibacy
(and with it, the position of Divinite women) changed dramatically. In
the 1930s, Divine had embraced celibacy as a sign of the distance
between those living as angels in Divine’s millennial heavens and those
who had not yet acknowledged Father Divine as God; but his comments
on celibacy were few and far between. By the 1950s, celibacy as well as
virginity took on increasing importance to Father Divine. He began to
preach that if his followers remained celibate they would live forever.89
His growing stress on virginity could be seen in the changing nature of
three Divinite orders-the Rosebuds, the Lily-buds, and the Crusaders-first created between 1938 and 1941.
The most important of these orders was the Rosebuds, which was
both a women’s order and the official Divinite choir. In the mid-1940s,
Divine praised the Rosebuds mainly for their skill at purchasing
properties in “restricted” areas and as exemplars of economic indepen-
dence.90 By the 1950s, however, Divine seemed to value the Rosebuds
primarily for their virginity. According to the Rosebuds’ Creed, adopted
by the early 1950s, the Rosebuds pledged to let their “every deed and
action express virginity.”9′
The new emphasis on virginity had multiple meanings for the
Divinites. On the one hand, Divine’s insistence on virginity symbol-
ized, as it always had, the boundaries between the elect and the
unredeemed world. On the other hand, the aggressive virginity of
Divine’s new orders seemed linked to his belief in the millennial role of
the United States. By the 1950s, Divine seemed to view the United
States as a Peace Mission writ large. Just as Peace Mission members
erased trouble-causing differences through both the inclusive strategy
of interracial living and the exclusive strategy of repressing all poten-
tially divisive physical desires, so too did they imagine the United
States erasing difference through both the inclusive strategy of expand-
ing to include all peoples and the exclusive strategy of battling the
“ruthless ideology of Socialism and Communism.” Divinites equated
the words virgin and virtuous. The virgin righteousness of Divinites
showed their kinship with the virgin righteousness of America itself.92
As the meaning of celibacy shifted under the weight of Divine’s new
nationalism, so too did Divine’s emphasis on race neutrality take on a
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different meaning. Rather than stating that all race was a construction,
Divine seemed particularly interested in denying the existence of the
African race. Throughout the 1950s, for example, the New Day
repeatedly published Divine’s statement that “I do NOT represent
races, creeds or colors. Therefore I AM NOT what you think or take me
to be. I AM NOT a N o and I AM NOT representing any such thing
as the No or the C race. . . . I AM a REAL, TRUE
Divine supported his One Hundred Percent Americanism by organizing his church in ways that brought it closer to mainstream white
culture. Instead of challenging mainstream gender roles, for example,
Divine’s orders now approximated the gender norms of 1950s American culture. The Rosebuds pledged to remain “submissive, meek and
sweet,” while the male Crusaders pledged to be “active, effective,
integral” members of Father Divine’s movement.94
Divine also reshaped his own life and image according to more
mainstream ideals. In 1946, he took a seventeen-year-old, petite and
blond-haired white Canadian woman as his second wife (his first wife,
Peninnah, was a heavy-set, African American woman-both marriages
were “purely spiritual”).95 It appears that Divine attempted to alter his
photographic image in order to downplay his dark skin. According to
one observer, by the 1950s Divine’s followers insisted that his com-
plexion was not dark. The observer reported that Divine’s official
photographers used “every known photographic technique” to lighten
the shade of Divine’s skin. The result could be seen in New Day
photographs from the mid-1950s, in which the complexions of Father
and Mother Divine appear to share a similar washed out, off-white
color, and in the color photographs of Divine currently on display at the
Divine Tracy Hotel in Philadelphia, which give his complexion an
orange cast.96
Divine’s praise of all things American culminated in 1953 when he
and his wife moved to Woodmont, an 1890s robber-baron estate located
in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. While heaven had formerly been located in
a three-story Harlem collective, it was now an elegantly appointed
mansion, which Divine described as “a home that is set apart for
MOTHER DIVINE and MYSELF as though a private family. . . .”97
Once installed in Woodmont, Divine seemed to believe that all was well
in his own life, and so in America and in the world. “GOD IS ON THE
THRONE NOW,” he announced during his first week at Woodmont.98
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From this point on, Divine had little to say about the state of America
or the world at large. Until his death in 1965, New Day editions mainly
reprinted speeches by Mother Divine, along with letters and speeches
written by Father Divine in the 1930s and 1940s.
A comparison of Divine’s Peace Mission movement and Garvey’s
UNIA indicates that the very different racial ideologies of these
movements profoundly affected their gender politics. Garvey’s UNIA
protested the race-caste system in America by urging blacks to unify as
a race. In Garvey’s view, the strength of this black race was dependent
on the continued growth of a healthy and recognizably black population. The production of a healthy black population, in turn, could occur
only if black women found the appropriate mates and devoted themselves to raising strong children. This left black men to provide for,
defend, and rule the united black nation. Garvey’s strategy ultimately
put black manhood, as well as race, “first.”
In contrast, Divine’s 1930s Peace Mission protested the American
race-caste system by denying race difference altogether and attempting
to practice complete racial integration. In the context of a depressionera society predicated upon race hierarchy, however, large-scale enactments of racial transcendence would be tolerated only if accompanied
by the rejection of sexuality. Divine’s interest in celibacy may have had
purely religious roots. Nevertheless, his choice of celibacy as the
primary symbol of angelic living was crucial to his ability to create a
racially integrated movement.
Both Garvey’s Race First and Divine’s race neutrality thus entailed
control of women’s sexuality. Garvey’s UNIA channeled women’s
sexuality into the role of wife and mother, while Divine’s Peace
Mission forbade heterosexuality and even heterosociability. Garvey’s
gender strategy, however, assumed the existence of a steady male wage
and was therefore a tolerable option for black women only during
periods of relative economic well-being. As the UNIA crumbled during
the Great Depression, thousands of African American women became
followers of Father Divine and accepted his millennial race-neutral
approach. They willingly accepted celibacy and sex segregation in
exchange for the social, political, and economic opportunities offered
by the Peace Mission movement.
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Marcus Garvey felt that black culture would thrive only in the
context of strong, patriarchal black families. Although he encouraged
African American artistic production, Garvey nevertheless denigrated
many aspects of black culture that struck him as too dreamy and
undisciplined to contribute to the building of a great nation. One might
assume a close tie between race pride and an assertive black culture, but
the early years of the Peace Mission movement suggest that race purity
ideology need not be a precondition for the assertion of a vibrant black
culture. Divine’s African American, working-class, female followers
brought their tastes in food, music, and dress to the Peace Mission
movement. These women formed the majority of Divine’s followers in
Harlem, and they largely shaped the purportedly race-neutral culture of
the Peace Mission as a whole.
While Divine’s movement peaked in the mid-1930s, these same
years saw Garvey living in exile from his American base of support.
Once the remaining American UNIA locals lost followers to Divine as
well as to other political and religious leaders, Marcus Garvey ironi-
cally began to draw more heavily upon the same New Thought ideas
that animated Divine’s speeches. While Divinites used New Thought
ideas about the power of words and thought to deny the existence of
race as well as gender difference, Garvey articulated a New Thought
philosophy that was both more political and more vindictive. He used
New Thought ideas about the power of influence to shore up his calls
for a renewed black art, literature, and history to counter the “thoughts
of a race that has made itself by assumption superior.”99 Garvey also
took to heckling his readers repeatedly about the need to become more
masculine and aggressive, as if this were a realistic alternative to
organized political activism. Despite the economic pressures of the
Great Depression, Garvey refused to modify his vision of gender roles
within the UNIA; given the fact that the only UNIA resolution of the
1930s that was directed at women condemned birth control, it appears
that Garvey continued to envision black women as mothers of the race.
If Garvey’s continuing emphasis on women as reproducers reflects
the drawbacks of a race-purity approach, the later history of the Peace
Mission suggests the extreme instability of a formula of race neutrality
as a method of opposing the American race-caste system. By the 1950s,
Divine’s denial of race had changed into a denial of the existence of
racism and a consequent lauding of the United States as a racially just
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(rather than simply a multiracial) society. Divine’s complacency about
conditions in the United States increased after he moved into the
Woodmont mansion and began to live out his own version of the
paterfamilias experience. Instead of a neutrality in which a form of
African American culture was the norm, Divine’s increasing personal
comfort as well as his increasing nationalism led him to promote a
neutrality that drew upon the dominant white culture. Divine’s movement shows that, although the denial of race difference in some ways
counters the need to control women’s reproduction and can therefore
allow some innovation in social and economic arrangements, such a
denial is not enough to counter other forces leading to a strict policing
of women’s bodies-in this case the force of nationalism. Divine’s
movement indicates how nationalism even without anxieties over
reproducing the race can be imprisoning for women, since the purity
claimed for the nation is too easily symbolized by the female virgin
The histories of Marcus Garvey’s UNIA and Father Divine’s Peace
Mission movement demonstrate some of the pressures faced by African
American organizations that attempt to challenge the racial status quo.
In addition to the usual difficulties of organizing poor or culturally
marginalized people, on the one hand, and the drain of constant
governmental harassment on the other, African American organizations
face special stresses that result from their racialized identity in white
America. Black organizations can find themselves in a double bind;
while calls to race pride may unify African Americans politically, a slip
from race pride to race purity can easily occur. Race purity, in turn,
encourages protective attitudes toward women. These attitudes restrict
women’s behavior and are, in any case, extremely difficult to implement in the context of economic oppression that creates the need for
antiracist organizing in the first place. At the same time, the rare black
organization that attempts to claim the position of race neutrality,
usually appropriated by European Americans, stands to lose the
specificity of the culture it is fighting to strengthen. The gender politics
of African American religious and political movements must not be
overlooked; they throw into high relief the complex and confining links
between nationalism, race consciousness, gender, and sexuality that
continue to shape modern American politics and culture.
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I would like to thank Holly Allen, Mia Bay, Jackie Goldsby, Jerma Jackson, Jody
Lester, Jan Lewis, Lucy Maddox, Margaret McFadden, Barbara Melosh, Sarah
Schulman, Kathryn Tanner, Deborah Gray White, and the anonymous reviewer for
American Quarterly for their enormously helpful comments and criticisms of this
1. C. D. Austin’s letter and the UNIA’s condemnation of Father Divine are reprinted
in Robert A. Hill, ed., The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement
Association Papers, vol. 7 (Berkeley, Calif., 1990), 707-8, 705.
2. See E. David Cronon, Black Moses: The Story of Marcus Garvey and the
Universal Negro Improvement Association (Madison, Wis., 1974); Amy Jacques
Garvey, Garvey and Garveyism (1963; New York, 1978); Judith Stein, The World of
Marcus Garvey: Race and Class in Modern Society (Baton Rouge, La., 1986).
3. See Robert Weisbrot, Father Divine and the Struggle for Racial Equality (Urbana,
I11., 1983); Jill Watts, God, Harlem, U.S.A.: The Father Divine Story (Berkeley, Calif.,
1992); Roma Barnes, “‘Blessings Flowing Free’: The Father Divine Peace Mission
Movement in Harlem, New York City, 1932-1941” (Ph.D. diss., University of York,
England, 1979); Charles Braden, These Also Believe: A Study of Modern American
Cults and Minority Religious Movements (New York, 1949), 1-77.
4. Accurate membership statistics for both the UNIA and the Peace Mission are
difficult to determine. In the 1920s, Garvey claimed a UNIA membership of six to
eleven million, while in the 1930s Divine claimed to have twenty million followers
worldwide. Historians estimate from fifty thousand to two hundred thousand active
Garveyites in the mid-1920s, and from thirty thousand to fifty thousand Divinites in the
1930s. See Emory J. Tolbert, The UNIA and Black Los Angeles: Ideology and
Community in the American Garvey Movement (Los Angeles, 1980), 7 n. 7; see
Lawrence Levine, The Unpredictable Past: Explorations in American Cultural History
(New York, 1993), 121; Watts, God, Harlem, U.S.A., 142; Weisbrot, Father Divine,
5. For comparisons of Garvey and Divine, see Weisbrot, Father Divine, 190-96;
Watts, God, Harlem, U.S.A., 115-18; Hill, Papers, vol. 7, 641 n. 9; Robert A. Hill and
Barbara Bair, eds., Marcus Garvey: Life and Lessons (Berkeley, Calif., 1987), xxviii-
xxx, xlix-1. Also see documents on Divine in Hill, Papers, vol. 7, 641, 704.
6. See Wiesbrot, Father Divine, 59-60; Hubert Kelly, “Heaven Incorporated,”
American Century 121 (Jan. 1936): 106; “Kingdom Sings and Registers,” New York
Sun, 4 Nov. 1935. Some west coast Divinite heavens had a majority of white followers.
See Charles P. LeWarne, “Vendovi Island: Father Divine’s ‘Peaceful Paradise of the
Pacific,’ ” Pacific Northwest Quarterly (Jan. 1984): 2-12.
7. I am indebted to the work of Barbara Bair and Tera W. Hunter on the gender
politics of the UNIA. See Barbara Bair, “Women and the Garvey Movement: The
Politics of Difference” (paper presented at Rockefeller Humanities-in-Residence talk,
Rutgers University, 1989); Tera W. Hunter, “Feminist Consciousness and Black
Nationalism: Amy Jacques-Garvey and Women in the Universal Negro Improvement
Association” (paper presented at Women’s History Research Seminar, Yale University, 1983). Also see Barbara Bair, “True Women, Real Men: Gender, Ideology and
Social Roles in the Garvey Movement,” in Dorothy O. Helly and Susan M. Reverby,
eds., Gendered Domains: Rethinking Public and Private in Women’s History (Ithaca,
N.Y., 1992), 154-66.
8. See Tony Martin, “Women in the Garvey Movement,” and Honor Ford-Smith,
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“Women and the Garvey Movement in Jamaica,” in Rupert Lewis and
eds., Garvey: His Work and Impact (Trenton, N.J., 1991), 73, 75, 78, 81; Bair, “True
Women, Real Men,” 156, 160; Ula Yvette Taylor, “The Veiled Garvey: The Life and
Times of Amy Jacques Garvey” (Ph.D. diss., University of California Santa Barbara,
Jan. 1992), 194, 214; Hunter, “Feminist Consciousness,” 22-23.
9. For example, although Robert Weisbrot notes the preponderance of women in the
Peace Mission, their gender becomes central to his analysis only when he remarks that
women gazed at Divine with “sensual longing” or notes that “[s]ome of these women,
black as well as white, appeared to experience sexual orgasms during their frenzied
behavior at the banquets.” See Weisbrot, Father Divine, 86. Among Divinite scholars
only Sara Harris notes that male followers also gazed adoringly at Divine. See Sara
Harris, Father Divine (New York, 1971), 339-40. Also see Barnes, “Blessings Flowing
Free,” 273.
10. Watts, God, Harlem, U.S.A., 35, 42. Watts’s sympathetic account of women in
the Peace Movement still relegates their experiences to a few pages in an extensive
study; she does not analyze Divine’s movement as a black women’s movement.
Furthermore, Watts’s consistently positive slant on the Peace Mission sometimes leads
her to normalize what was clearly an extremely unconventional and socially challeng-
ing religious movement. For example, in addition to calling Divine an “articulate
advocate of women’s rights,” Watts describes the typical Peace Mission heaven as a
rehabilitation center that offered occupational therapy, job training, day care and
support group therapy (42, 47, 106, 128). This 1980s vocabulary is misleading.
Abandoning children to children’s extensions where they were raised communally is
not day care, absolute gender segregation and celibacy are hardly necessary in order to
free women from the fear of childbirth (35), and calling up storms to avenge female
mental hospital patients is not the standard definition of women’s rights. Watts image
of a protherapy, pro-women’s rights Father Divine certainly makes the movement seem
less alien, but at the cost of misrepresenting the less socially acceptable aspects of
Divinite behavior.
Watts’s effort to portray Divine as a rational and consistent individual leads her to
distort the erratic nature of Divine’s political life. For example, although Father Divine
joined his editorial staff in passionately attacking capitalism, encouraging his followers
to be radicals, and allying himself with the Communist Party in the United States
during the depression, and only turned to anti-Communism and strident American
nationalism in the 1940s, Watts claims that the Father Divine of the 1930s held the
same views as the Father Divine posthumously depicted by his 1970s and 1980s
followers-as a man (or God) whose most passionately held political beliefs are
support for capitalism and opposition to welfare. She creates this more consistent
picture by attributing undated speeches by Divine that were published posthumously by
his followers in the 1970s to Divine in the 1930s. For an example of Watts’s
anachronistic use of 1970s New Day reprints, see 209, nn. 50-56. For her efforts to
portray Divine as a fervant procapitalist in the 1930s, see 100-101, 104-6, 119-20,
126, 128, 134-35. For an alternative view, see original Spoken Word, editions from
11. See Hill, Papers, vol. 1, lxxi, lxxx-lxxxi; Cronon, Black Moses, 111, 191-95;
Jacques Garvey, Garvey and Garveyism, 176-78; Hill and Bair, Marcus Garvey, 204.
12. See Hazel Carby, Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-
American Woman Novelist (New York, 1987), 20-39; Jacqueline Dowd Hall, “‘The
Mind That Burns in Each Body’: Women, Rape, and Racial Violence,” in Ann Snitow,
Christine Stansell, and Sharon Thompson, Powers of Desire (New York, 1983), 32849.
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13. See Levine, Unpredictable Past, 107-36. In contrast, white calls for race unity
functioned to convince working-class whites that nonwhites, rather than an exploitative
economic system, were the source of their problems. Black race consciousness created
political coalitions among the powerless internationally; white race consciousness
sundered potential coalitions domestically among the powerless.
14. Negro World, 17 May 1924, cited in Bair, “Women and the Garvey Movement,”
10. Garveyites frequently wrote of women not simply as mothers but as “Mothers of
Men.” See Bair, “Women and the Garvey Movement,” n. 17, 28-29.
15. Percival Burrows, in Negro World, 9 June 1923, cited in Bair, “Women in the
Garvey Movement,” 10.
16. See Bair, “True Women, Real Men,” 156. Articles in Negro World indicate that
Garveyite women were angry only that UNIA men were not taking their responsibilities as chivalrous protectors seriously enough. For example, see “Ladies of Jamaica
Division Lead Men in Constructive Efforts,” Negro World, 7 Apr. 1923; “Respect and
Protection of Our Women a Vital Question,” Negro World, 23 Aug. 1924; “Listen
Women!” Negro World, 9 Apr. 1927.
17. See Jacqueline Jones, Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work and
the Family, from Slavery to the Present (New York, 1986), 96-99; Cheryl Townsend
Gilkes, “The Roles of Church and Community Mothers: Ambivalent American Sexism
or Fragmented African Familyhood?” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 2 (spring
1986): 44; Eileen Boris, “The Power of Motherhood: Black and White Activist Women
Redefine the ‘Political,'” in Seth Koven and Sonya Michel, eds., Mothers of a New
World: Maternalist Politics and the Origins of the Welfare State (New York, 1993),
18. See “The Black Woman’s Part in Race Leadership,” Negro World, 19 Apr. 1924;
“Women in the Home” and “The Kinf [sic] of Girl Men Like,” Negro World, 9 Feb.
1924; “Emancipated Womanhood,” Negro World, 15 Nov. 1924; Taylor, The Veiled
Garvey, 222-24.
19. Bair, “Women and the Garvey Movement,” 5-8; see Gilkes, “Ambivalent
American Sexism.”
20. See “Obligations of Motherhood,” Negro World, 29 Mar. 1924; “Emancipated
Womanhood,” Negro World, 15 Nov. 1924. Also see Hunter, “Feminist Consciousness,” 16, 18; Ford-Smith, “Jamaica,” 73, 75, 78, 81.
21. See Hill, Papers, vol. 1, liii; Bair, “Women and the Garvey Movement,” 7;
photograph by James VanDerZee, “Garvey Women’s Brigade, 1924,” in Roger C. Birt,
“For the Record: James VanDerZee, Marcus Garvey and the UNIA Photographs,”
Exposure 27 (fall 1990): 11; Martin, “Women in the Garvey Movement,” 70.
22. See Bair, “True Women, Real Men,” 160-66; Martin, “Women in the Garvey
Movement”; Ford-Smith, “Jamaica,” 67-69, 77-82. UNIA women made an unsuccessful plea for more autonomy within the movement in 1922; see Bair, “True Women,
Real Men,” 160-61.
23. Jacques Garvey, Garvey and Garveyism, 169, 218-51; Taylor, “The Veiled
Garvey,” 301, 309, 329.
24. “Ladies of Jamaica Division Lead Men in Constructive Efforts,” Negro World, 7
Apr. 1923.
25. M. L. T. De Mena, Negro World, 19 Apr. 1924, cited in Hunter, “Feminist
Consciousness,” 22-23.
26. “Listen Women!” Negro World, 9 Apr. 1927; Negro World, 24 Oct. 1925, cited
in Gerda Lerner, ed., Black Women in White America: A Documentary History (New
York, 1973), 579.
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27. See Cronon, Black Moses, 75-134, 142-44; Stein, World of Marcus Garvey,
202, 206-7.
28. See Cheryl Lynn Greenberg, “Or Does It Explode?” Black Harlem in the Great
Depression (New York, 1991), 13, 20-22, 28, 39-40; Levine, Unpredictable Past, 135;
Hill, Papers, vol. 7, xliii-xlvii; Stein, World of Marcus Garvey, 255.
29. See Greenberg, Or Does it Explode?, 66, 74, 77, 197.
30. Watts, God, Harlem, U.S.A., 62.
31. Conditions for working class African American women in 1930s Harlem were
dire. During the Depression, the vast majority of African American women in Harlem
were employed in domestic service. While unskilled black male workers earned
between two dollars and six dollars per day, African American women employed as
domestics were earning between four dollars and ten dollars per week for twelve- to
fourteen-hour days. See Greenberg, Or Does it Explode?, 45, 78, 80; Jones, Labor of
Love, 154, 179, 199. Furthermore, although most black women worked outside of the
home, many of the steps taken by Harlemites to stretch their limited incomes-such as
taking in boarders and preparing their own food and clothing-were performed by
women and thus added considerably to African American women’s already oppressive
work loads. See Greenberg, Or Does it Explode?, 176, 180.
The multiple stesses placed on middle-aged, African American women in Harlem
helps explain why this group was particularly prepared to join a millenarian social
movement like the Peace Mission. In addition, statistical evidence indicates that many
of Divine’s female followers had been part of the Great Migration of 1916-21.
Migrants, immigrants, or colonized people are the populations most likely to join
millenarian groups. See Barnes, “Blessings Flowing Free,” 123-24; Yonina Talmon,
“Pursuit of the Millennium: The Relation Between Religious and Social Change,”
Archives Europeennes de Sociologie 3 (1962): 133, 144-45, 149.
32. Divine explained that the term Negro was employed
for the specific purpose of bringing about a division among the people, and to belittle
and lowrate those that were of a darker complexion, by calling them not AFRICAN by
nature, neither an ETHIOPIAN, neither an EGYPTIAN, but by calling them something that they never were. Tell your Educators to search the Scripture, and also search
the History, and see if there is a nation by the name of what they call the People in
America. (Spoken Word, 30 Nov. 1935, 20)
Also see Spoken Word, 4 Jan. 1936, 27.
33. See Spoken Word, 30 Mar. 1935, 10; Spoken Word, 16 Mar. 1935, 7.
34. Spoken Word, 26 Oct. 1935, 28; Spoken Word, 9 Nov. 1935, 29.
35. New Day, 24 Nov. 1945, 7.
36. Spoken Word, 4 Jan. 1936, 27. Divine’s refusal to speak of (and thereby mentally
create or strengthen) negative circumstances led to odd verbal practices within the
group. For example, Divinites referred to Amsterdam Avenue as Amsterbliss, and used
the greeting Peace instead of Hello because they did not want to speak of and so
strengthen hell.
37. See Watts, God, Harlem, U.S.A., 35.
38. Spoken Word, 30 Mar. 1935, 9; Spoken Word, 29 June 1935, 3; Barnes,
“Blessings Flowing Free, 210 n. 82.
39. Arthur Huff Fauset, Black Gods of the Metropolis (1944; New York, 1970), 65,
67; Robert Allerton Parker, The Incredible Messiah: The Deification of Father Divine
(Boston, 1937), 120. Divinite women frequently spoke of Divine’s “beautiful starry
baby eyes,” indicating that they saw him as baby as well as father. See “A Revelation,”
Spoken Word, 23 Nov. 1935, 15; Parker, Incredible Messiah, 129.
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40. On New Thought arguments for celibacy, see Beryl Satter, “New Thought and
the Era of Woman, 1875-1895” (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1992), 328-96. For
Father Divine’s arguments in favor of celibacy, see Spoken Word, 6 Apr. 1935, 3; 26
Oct. 1935, 27; 2 Nov. 1935, 5. Although Divine usually spoke of celibacy as a practice
of godly self-denial, he sometimes addressed the issue in terms of population control.
See Spoken Word, 6 Apr. 1935 3; also see Spoken Word, 26 Oct. 1935, 18.
41. See Peter Worsley, The Trumpet Shall Sound: A Study of “Cargo” Cults in
Melanesia, 2d augmented ed. (New York, 1968), 250-51; see Spoken Word, 29 Apr.
1935, 3.
42. See Marcus Garvey, “Big Conference of U.N.I.A. in Canada,” in Hill, Papers,
vol. 7, 705; Marcus Garvey, “What God Means to Us,” in Hill, Papers, vol. 7, 107-8;
Marcus Garvey, “Lessons from the School of African Philosophy,” in Hill and Bair,
Marcus Garvey, 234-37.
43. Divine’s denial of the body did not extend to practices of self-mortification or to
dietary restrictions. He encouraged his followers to eat heartily by making a fiftycourse banquet the ritual center of his movement.
44. Even in light of the Divinite ban on sexual relations, white observers were still
shocked by the level of intimacy that existed between Divine’s black and white
followers. For example, see John Hosher, God in a Rolls-Royce: The Rise of Father
Divine, Madman, Menace, or Messiah (New York, 1936), 171; Braden, These Also
Believe, 26.
45. Contemporary observers made this point. See Harris, Father Divine (New York,
1971), 98; Braden, These Also Believe, 20.
46. There is some evidence that the Peace Mission, with its insistence on sexsegregated living and repudiation of reproduction as a strategy of racial uplift, also
drew lesbians seeking an alternative to the confines of family life. One 1937
denunciation of the Peace Mission movement claimed it was a lesbian haven. This
expos6 was highly unreliable. See Barnes, “Blessings Flowing Free,” 212. On the other
hand, Divine himself periodically warned his followers not to sleep in each other’s
I do not want anyone [in] the Peace Mission movement . . . going into others’ private
rooms that you are not assigned to. . . . Some of you so-called sisters .. . will not stay
away from others’ rooms-from the other Rosebuds’ rooms, other sisters’ rooms. …
(Harris, Father Divine, 338)
A 1950s report on the movement notes that while there is no overt homosexuality in
the movement, some must exist; “its practice is written all over the stances and the
faces of some followers.” See Harris, Father Divine, 338. See also Barnes, “Blessings
Flowing Free,” 209.
47. Divine sanctioned unconventional work roles for women by choosing a young
black woman, Flying Determination, as his personal pilot, and by appointing women to
serve as Peace Mission chauffeurs. See photograph of Flying Determination in
scrapbook, “Father Divine,” Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New
York; see Braden, These Also Believe, 27.
The Divinites were proud of the fact that they ignored gender coded work-roles. For
example, an article in the Spoken Word reported on a newsreel in which
Not only was FATHER seen digging with a pick but Faithful Mary had one too.
Mother was seen expertly handling a shovel and doing other work usually considered
to be a “man’s” work. (Spoken Word, 14 Feb. 1925)
48. For example, see Spoken Word, 30 Mar. 1935, 11.
49. Spoken Word, 29 June 1935, 3; “29 of Divine Flock Seized in Vote Row,” New
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York Times, 7 Oct. 1936. Divine sometimes came very close to this formulation,
however. In a speech in October 1935, he said that the person who was redeemed from
“all lust and passion” would be “Redeemed from among men. If you are in the likeness
of a woman you are Redeemed from among men-that is if you live an Evangelical
life . . .” See Spoken Word, 19 Oct. 1935, 12. In later years, Divine explicity warned
his male and female followers not to ride together in buses. See New Day, 13 Aug.
1942, 110.
50. See Jacques Garvey, Garvey and Garveyism, 49; Bair, “Women and the Garvey
Movement,” 9.
51. Parker, Incredible Messiah, 157, 231-33; Harris, Father Divine, 59; Spoken
Word, 4 Jan. 1936, 28; “Kingdom Sings and Registers,” New York Sun, 4 Nov. 1935.
52. Although white journalists typically characterized Divine as the controlling boss
of his “chain store heavens,” evidence indicates that Peace Mission communes were
surprisingly independent of one another. For example, see affidavits by Charles
Calloway and John Lamb and a letter from John Lamb in Mother Divine, Peace
Mission Movement, 78-81, 82-85, 110. For a detailed analysis of the economic
structure of Divinite communes, see Braden, These Also Believed, 27-42. Also see
Weisbrot, Father Divine, 122-31 and Kenneth E. Burnham, God Comes to America:
Father Divine and the Peace Mission Movement (Boston, 1979), 9. On the political
independence of Divinites, see Watts, God, Harlem, U.S.A., 87, 125, 131; also see 111,
53. See Barnes, “Blessings Flowing Free,” chap. 1. One Divinite woman who
identified with Divine’s role as server explained, “It is a thing of infinite beauty to
actually see Father Divine-God in action at the table serving. …. He pours the coffee
so beautifully. So much rhythm, just like music from a violin. .. .” See Parker,
Incredible Messiah, 129. Also see Weisbrot, Father Divine, 180; Braden, These Also
Believe, 3.
54. See Parker, Incredible Messiah, 145-50; Spoken Word, 9 Feb. 1935, 15; 18 May
1935, 6; 22 June 1935, 18; 4 Jan. 1936, 28. Also see “Divine’s Restaurant Puzzles
Magistrate,” New York Times, 12 June 1935; Barnes, “Blessings Flowing Free,” 284;
Weisbrot, Father Divine, 123-25; and Braden, These Also Believe, 27-42.
55. See Spoken Word, 23 Nov. 1935, 7; Weisbrot, Father Divine, 125-31. On
women as workers and managers of the Promised Land, see Spoken Word, 14 Feb.
1935; “Divine Pilot Arks Up 1936 Jordon,” New York Post, 20 Aug. 1936; “Divine
Scene at Olympics,” New York Sun, 8 July 1937; and “Biggest Businessman in Harlem
has Extended his Holdings to Heaven,” New York World-Telegraph, 10 Sept. 1936.
56. Parker, Incredible Messiah, 285-86; see “Father Divine’s Movement Expands,”
New York Times, 2 July 1939; “Strike a Balance,” New York Post, 28 June 1939.
57. “Father Divine’s ‘Heaven’ Favors Reapportionment,” New York World-Telegraph, 2 Mar. 1935.
58. Weisbrot, Father Divine, 96; Jones, Labor of Love, 193; Barnes, “Blessings
Flowing Free,” 461-62.
59. Harlem women who had migrated from the rural south may also have spurned
adult education because in their experience education did not bring mobility. See
Greunberg, Or Does It Explode?, 18. Once they became Divinite Angels, however,
previous experiences of discrimination would be discounted, since they now believed
that their every desire could be fulfilled.
60. Barnes, “Blessings Flowing Free,” 464; “Kingdom Sings and Registers,” New
York Sun, 4 Nov. 1935.
61. Spoken Word, 13 Apr. 1936; Spoken Word, 23 Nov. 1935, 1; Mark Naison,
Communists in Harlem During the Depression (New York, 1983), 129.
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62. Barnes, “Blessings Flowing Free,” 459; Spoken Word, 31 Aug. 1935. As always
in Peace Mission publications, no mention was made of the race of these women. It is
likely, however, that at least some of the Righteous Government leaders were middleclass white women. On the effects of the Righteous Government crusade on Divinite
women and men, see Barnes, “Blessings Flowing Free,” 518, 521-32, 574 n. 13.
63. Harris, Father Divine, 328; also see Fauset, Black Gods, 105-6; Braden, These
Also Believed, 72; Hosher, God in a Rolls-Royce, 127.
64. Spoken Word, 31 Aug. 1935, 7.
65. “Divine’s ‘Angels’ Win Fight to Register,” New York Times, 10 Oct. 1936. Also
see Parker, Incredible Messiah, 166-67. Other observers confirmed that satiny reds,
blues, and purples were the colors favored by Divinite women. One observer described
Divinite Faithful Mary as “richly dressed in a white and purple satin affair. The white
covered the upper part of her body and met the purple in a sharply zig-zag formation
just above the waist.” Hosher, God in a Rolls-Royce, 146. Another reporter described
the dress of Divinite Sarah Moss, who wore a white straw hat; white skirt, shoes, and
gloves; and a bright scarlet satin blouse. “Court Lifts Veil on Divine Garage,” New
York Times, 5 June 1936, 7. Divinite women liked to contrast firey colors with whites.
This practice seemed to embody the Divinite creed of racial integration and to echo on
their bodies the Peace Mission pattern of seating black and white women next to each
other at Divinite banquets. See photographs accompanying “Father Divine in Harlem,”
Vanity Fair, Jan. 1936, 39; photograph of Peninnah in Weisbrot, Father Divine,
following 90.
66. Bair, “Women and the Garvey Movement,” 7. See “Notice,” Negro World, 28
Apr. 1923; David Levering Lewis, When Harlem Was in Vogue (New York, 1981), 3940.
67. Tony Martin, Literary Garveyism (Dover, Mass., 1983), 45-46; Bair, “Women
and the Garvey Movement,” n. 17, 28-29.
68. Hill, Papers, vol. 7, l-liv.
69. See Weisbrot, Father Divine, 180, on the sparerib stews and pork commonly
served at Peace Mission banquets.
Divine spoke openly of his identification with his followers. “I AM the common
people,” he declared. He even claimed to make grammatical errors so that his followers
“might understand ME: that I might be with them in their grammatical errors, and
erroneousness; that I might lift them and they might lift me.” See Spoken Word, 18
May 1935, 5; Burnham, God Comes to America, 29. Peace Mission members in turn
felt in Divine they had “A God Like Me.” See Spoken Word, 23 Nov. 1935, 16.
70. See ad in Black Man, late Oct., 1935; Hill and Bair, Marcus Garvey, xlix; Stein,
World of Marcus Garvey, 266.
71. Hill and Bair, Marcus Garvey, 275 (Garvey’s italics), 149, 7.
72. Black Man, Jan. 1934, 14.
73. For example, see Black Man, Dec. 1933, 14; Jan. 1934, 14, 16; Mar.-Apr. 1934,
front cover; Aug.-Sept. 1935, front cover; late Mar., 1936, front cover.
74. Hill and Bair, Marcus Garvey, xlix.
75. Amy Jacques Garvey had condemned birth control for blacks in the 1920s. She
wrote that “birth control suits [white people] but not us; it is our duty to bear children,
and care for those children so that our race may have good men and women through
whom it can achieve honor and power.” See Negro World, 9 Apr. 1927, 7. By the
1930s, however, Amy Jacques Garvey seemed disturbed by her observation that
although “malnutrition was taking its toll” on poor Jamaicans, “the fecundity of the
people was undiminished.” This makes the timing of Garvey’s condemnation particularly odd. See Jaques Garvey, Garvey and Garveyism, 217, 206. Also see “Negroes
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Decreasing, Whites Increasing in U.S.A.,” Black Man, late Dec., 1935 13; see Hill,
Papers, vol. 7, 705.
76. Hill and Bair, Marcus Garvey, Ivii-lviii. On the relationship between pronatalism
and fascism, see Claudia Koonz, Mothers in the Fatherland: Women, the Family and
Nazi Politics (New York, 1987); Victoria De Grazia, How Fascism Ruled Women:
Italy, 1922-45 (Berkeley, Calif., 1992).
77. See Weisbrot, Father Divine, 165; Barnes, “Blessings Flowing Free,” 286, 216;
“Court Lifts Veil on Divine Garage,” New York Times, 5 June 1936, 7; Parker,
Incredible Messiah, 273.
78. Weisbrot, Father Divine, 209-10. On Peace Mission sex scandals, see Watts,
God, Harlem, U.S.A., 144-52, 155. Millennial movements attract rebellious and nonconformist individuals and so are inherently unstable and inclined to fissions. Thus
although external harassment took its toll on the movement, the splits from within were
equally damaging. As Barnes points out, the Peace Mission was in many ways a family,
and “[1]ike many another.., family, the Peace Mission Movement could be suffocating
and cruel.” Former members described Peace Mission Heavens as ridden with jealousy
and intrigue, and told of their own terrors that Divine, as God, would find and punish
them if they dared to leave the movement. See Barnes, “Blessings Flowing Free,” 229;
Hadley Cantril, The Psychology of Social Movements (New York, 1941), 136-37.
79. See New Day, Dec. 8, 1936. This format varied little for the next twenty years.
See also Watts, God, Harlem, U.S.A., 160, 144.
80. See Harris, These Also Believe, 215; Weisbrot, Father Divine, 209-10; Watts,
God, Harlem, U.S.A., 161-63.
81. Braden, Father Divine, 15, see 14-17.
82. See Weisbrot, Father Divine, 211; Worsley, Trumpet Shall Sound, xxxviixxxviii, xlix, 232.
83. See Worsley, Trumpet Shall Sound, 232-33. Although Father Divine’s belief in
the creative power of thought always contained the potential of self-blame, this
tendency had been muted during the 1930s heydey of his movement. At that time,
Divine attributed even criminal behavior to the sufferings of people under unjust laws.
In one 1935 banquet speech, Divine explained that “[e]ven cultured men at times, and
others that are not cultured, resort to crime because of segregation, because of the
dishonesty of Politics, and the dishonesty of the Laws. .. .” See Spoken Word, 7 Dec.
1935, 5-6. On another occasion, Divine explicitly sanctioned rebellion against unjust
laws. “God is a law-breaker and a law-violator,” he said. Spoken Word, 26 Oct. 1935,
84. New Day, 13 July 1974, 17, cited in Watts, God, Harlem, U.S.A., 88. After Father
Divine’s death in 1965 the New Day continued to publish selected reprints of his
speeches. They cite the time and place that Divine gave the speech. Because Watts
gives only the date of the New Day issues, it is not certain whether Divine made this
statement after 1936. The tone of the comment fits Divine’s increasingly punitive
attitude in the 1940s and 1950s, however.
85. New Day, 22 July 1944, 44; see New Day, 13 Aug. 1942, cover; Braden, These
Also Believe, 1, 18, 21.
86. Father Divine, speech originally delivered in 1932 and published in New Day, 1
Mar. 1975, cited in Watts, God, Harlem, U.S.A., 88.
87. See Mother Divine, Peace Mission Movement, 35, 144, 149-50; see Father
Divine’s speech of 6 Oct. 1945 in New Day, 18 July 1987, 7.
88. See New Day, 22 July 1944, 7; Divine’s sermon of 6 Feb. 1951 in New Day, 2
Dec. 1978, cited in Weisbrot, Father Divine, 212.
89. See Harris, Father Divine, 120; Mother Divine, Peace Mission Movement, 52.
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90. The Rosebuds, Divine said in 1944, were “making an INDEPENDENT PEOPLE
in the land! And as they LIVE their INDEPENDENCE and do not depend on
individuals for anything . . . they will stand INDEPENDENTLY and do any and
everything for themselves .. .” New Day, 22 July 1944, 8; see New Day, 24 Nov. 1945.
91. The Rosebuds became Divine’s primary, though not exclusive, exemplars of
virginity. The Crusaders, a male order, similarly pledged to “live so that every thought,
word and deed is virgin pure in its righteousness.” The Lily-buds, an order for older
women, were not required to be literal virgins. Nevertheless, their pledge promised that
they had been “redeemed from the mortal, carnal life . . .” See New Day Supplement,
15 Sept. 1956, 2a, s12; Burnham, God Comes to America, 84-96; Mother Divine,
Peace Mission Movement, 32. On Divine’s emphasis on virginity, see Harris, Father
Divine, 236-37.
It is not clear exactly when the Rosebuds’ Creed, with its strong emphasis on
virginity, was first proposed. The earliest reference I have found is in Harris, Father
Divine, published in 1953.
92. The Rosebuds’ uniform exemplified the merging of nationalism and virginity
typical of Divine’s later movement. In sharp contrast to the fiery colors and satiny
textures adopted by Peace Mission women of the 1930s, the Rosebuds wore blue skirts,
white blouses, red jackets with large Vs on the lapels (standing for Virgin, in some
accounts, and Virtue and Victory, in others), and tiny red, white, and blue neckties. The
use of the famous World War II V symbol to embody not only the predestined victory
of the United States but also the virginity of Divine’s red-white-and-blue-clad Sweets
is a near-perfect exemplification of the merging of body and community symbolism
typical of religious sects. The Rosebuds’ victory over lower bodily impulses symbolically merged with a hoped-for American victory over “lower” nations. See photos in
New Day, 11 Sept. 1954; Harris, Father Divine, 248-49; Watts, God, Harlem, U.S.A.,
161; Mother Divine, Peace Mission Movement, 32; see Mary Douglas, Natural
Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology (New York, 1982).
Numerous mainstream Americans shared Divine’s obsession with virginity and anticommunism in the 1950s. See Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American
Families in the Cold War Era (New York, 1988), 92-113.
93. Letter from Father Divine to Citizens Emergency Defense Conference, 4 Aug.
1953 in New Day, 11 Sept. …
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