"The best thing you can do for the poor is not be one of them."
October 6, 2005 7:32 PM   Subscribe

The Right Reverend Dr. Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II, aka Reverend Ike, is, today, perhaps best known for being name-checked in the title song of Parliament's third album, but he's been around for a long time, preaching the gospel of "Thinkonomics," a get-rich-quick scheme rooted in the Holy Scripture. The Rev. makes no apologies for the opulence of his Harlem church, or for his many multicolored Rolls Royces; no one walks so perilously the fine line between fraud and holy man as he. Hear audio and see video (.wmv) of some of Ike's sermons and decide for yourself.
posted by Dr. Wu (12 comments total)
Personally, I think he both looks and sounds more than a little like Jackie Gleason.
My interest in The Rev. Ike was piqued by the rather mediocre book Border Radio: Quacks, Yodelers, Pitchmen, Psychics, and Other Amazing Broadcasters of the American Airwaves.

posted by Dr. Wu at 7:32 PM on October 6, 2005

awesome post. thanks.
posted by es_de_bah at 7:53 PM on October 6, 2005

Very cool post, Dr. Wu. Thanks.
posted by interrobang at 7:57 PM on October 6, 2005

It was very slick, with pseudo-hand written messages urging me to do this immediately. It said I "MUST put a FAITH, LOVE and OBEDIENCE DONATION of $15 or MORE in it for the Church Ministry" when I sent back the bracelet. "GIVING is the door through which you RECEIVE so, do not send back this Prayer Bracelet without enclosing the Faith, Love and Obedience Donation. -- That would SHUT the DOOR on your Blessings."

More scams like the "Prayer Bracelet" in James Randi's The Faith Healers, for anyone who's interested in that sort of thing.
posted by interrobang at 8:23 PM on October 6, 2005

How come nobody's brought up Rev. Ike's sexual harassment suit?
posted by jonp72 at 3:46 AM on October 7, 2005

Free your mind and your ass will follow.

The kingdom of heaven is within!
posted by Pollomacho at 6:27 AM on October 7, 2005

Outstanding post.
posted by nervousfritz at 6:37 AM on October 7, 2005

Reverend Ike is *so* 1970's.

Today's hot new pimping priest is Bishop E. Bernard Jordan, who is ably assisted in his scam^h^h^h^h prophetic ministry by ex-Run DMC member, Joseph 'Run' Simmons.

Run credits Jordan with bringing him back to the church when his rap career was at an all time low.

And should Rev Run ever slip and decend back into rap with a profane message, Bishop Jordan will always be able to wash out his mouth with a bar of Valley of Dry Bones Soap
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:35 AM on October 7, 2005

I remember seeing this guy on TV all the time when I was a kid. Basically Jimmy Swaggart with a tan.
posted by jonmc at 10:19 AM on October 7, 2005

Basically Jimmy Swaggart with a tan.

Really, I thought that designation already went to Benny Hinn?
posted by Pollomacho at 11:21 AM on October 7, 2005

yes, he has been at it a long time. when i was a kid, my religious freak mother, a single working mom not making a lot (but more than enough for us to get by on if she'd spent it the right way), would send this asshole our grocery money, and we'd go hungry. Rev Ike said that she'd prosper by sending him cash, so that's just what she did, not that it ever worked. a lot of the time, we'd just eat a meal a day, and not an especially balancecd or nutritious one. to be sure we didn't 'steal' food, she'd lock up the refrigerator. we never got allowance, either, because she donated it to him on our behalf.
posted by TrinityB5 at 11:33 PM on October 7, 2005


by St. Clair McKelway and A. J. Liebling
(This is part of a long portrait of Father Divine which was
published in The New Yorker in June, 1936.)

Father Divine has said on more than one occasion that he is
God. On the walls of his various Heavens here and in other
cities hang banners which state that


and on the buses which take his followers on joyous excursions from the Harlem Heavens to the Heavens of Newark and Jersey City is the invariable, red-lettered inscription:


The effect of this bold claim, on the press and government of the city in which he makes his headquarters, has been
remarkable. The papers, on the whole, have appeared to regard his works as miraculous. The city government has been singularly deferential in its attitude toward him. The two principal candidates for Mayor of New York called on him at one of the nightly meetings in his Harlem Heaven in 1933.

"I came here tonight," said Mr. LaGuardia, "to ask Father Divine's help and counsel. Whatever he wants, I'll do it for him." Mr. O'Brien, appearing before the meeting a little
earlier, had said, "Peace! Come what may, adversity, joy, or
sorrow, you can meet it by reason of your leadership under
Father Divine. Peace!" It looks sometimes as if a good many people besides Father Divine's followers think maybe he is God.

Father Divine would like everybody to believe that he was born mature, and only a few years ago, in Providence, which is neither in Rhode Island nor the sky, but right here (or over there), like the pantheistic Deity or the Buddhists' eternal life. "Except a man be born again," Jesus told Nicodemus, "he cannot see the Kingdom of God." Father Divine not only sees the Kingdom of God every day, but leases it and lives in one of the main apartments himself. Naturally, he says, he had to be born again before that could be. He insists that he can't remember who he was or what he was like before that happened.

"Can you remember back to before you were born?" he has asked skeptics who have questioned him on this point.
If you bear firmly in mind the fact that the Father is a short, dignified colored man with a bald head, the true story of his life is more impressive than his story of divine rebirth. It is a story of arduous struggle, onward and upward, from obscurity to national prominence, from rags to riches. In a mere forty years, he rose from hedge-clipper and grass-cutter to evangelist, from evangelist to The Messenger, from The Messenger to Major J. Devine, from Major J. Devine to the Rev. J. Divine, and from the Rev. J. Divine to Father Divine (God).

He is around sixty now, and the earliest records of his life
are obscure. People who knew him when he was in his twenties think he came from Georgia, or Florida, or Virginia. They are not sure which. But in 1899, beyond all question, he was a man named George Baker and was earning an honest living in Baltimore, mostly by clipping hedges and mowing lawns. He had a scythe and a pair of pruning shears, and he would canvass the white residential districts in spring and summer, offering his services for fifty cents a day. He was frugal, and when winter came he had usually saved up enough money to loaf for a while. If his store of coins began to get too low, he would find odd jobs on the docks. He did not seem to be very ambitious.

On Sundays he taught in the Sunday school of the Rev. Mr.
Henderson's Baptist Church on Eden Street. He was a serious-minded young fellow and worried a lot about God. He didn't feel, or claim to be, closer to God than any of the other members of the Rev. Mr. Henderson's colored congregation. He just taught his Sunday-school class, read his Bible, and went about his work during the week with his head full of large words and sounding phrases. At Wednesday night prayer meetings in the church he sometimes made little speeches, as any member of the congregation had a right to do, and in these he almost always would get tangled up with some tremendous
thought, such as "God is personified and materialized."

He would grasp the thought firmly and wrestle with it. "God," he would say, "is not only personified and materialized. He is repersonified and rematerialized. He rematerializes and He rematerialates. He rematerialates and He is rematerializatable. He repersonificates and He
repersonifitizes." He would go on like that for a while,
sweating, his eyes bulging a little, and then he would stop
abruptly and resume his seat. People liked to hear him talk
even then. There would be cries of "Amen, brother!" and
"Brother, ain't it so!" between his words and sometimes
between the syllables of his words.

But he wasn't the superb orator then that he is now, and he never seemed to be quite sure what it was he was driving at.


Twenty years later, George Baker, who by a process of multiple birth had become The Messenger and then Major J. Devine, was born a fourth time, and then a fifth time, almost as soon as he established himself in Sayville, Long Island, in 1919. He became Rev. J. Divine, dropping the military title and adopting a vowel which gave the name a supernatural significance. Then almost immediately afterward he became Father Divine (God). He has been God ever since. A few weeks ago his disciples in Harlem stretched a streamer of black-and-gold silk across the throne of Heaven, the headquarters of the cult, on West 115th Street, with the blaring legend:


But that is rank hyperbole. The promotion to Dean of the
Universe is simply a gratuitous expression of the enthusiasm of his followers and does not represent a formal rebirth.

Neither in the early years in Sayville nor in the later years
in Harlem has Father Divine ever hinted that he considers
himself to be anything more than God. As God, after he had settled down in Sayville, he was modest and almost entirely without affectation. His white neighbors on Macon Street were never exactly friendly with him, but they didn't object to him particularly. It was not a pretentious street. The houses, set back from the curbs in comfortable, shady yards, were occupied mostly by people who worked in the
village the year round. The summer colony was on the other side of the Merrick Road and the hotels and great estates were still further away. To his neighbors, Father Divine was known not as Major J. Devine, the name he had signed to the deed when he bought his house, but as the Rev. J. Divine, and he told them he was operating an employment agency. He seemed to be an exceptionally clean, upright, and dignified colored man, with soft doe eyes and gentle manners. The neighbors did not know until some years later that he was supposed to be God.

They used to see him doing odd jobs around his yard in his
spare time, pruning the shrubbery, cutting the grass, and
tidying up the places where the former owner had allowed
rubbish to accumulate. He was alone all day except for a
cook. The twenty-odd men and women who lived with him were workers. Some of them were in New York except on Sundays; others left the house in the morning and returned in the evening. They were decent, orderly colored folk, and bothered nobody. They sang a good deal at night, especially on Sunday, but the singing was soft and they never kept it up much later than nine o'clock. Inside the house George Baker was called Father Divine, and all his followers were sure that he was God.

Once each week Father Divine walked to the office of the
Suffolk County News, down the block from the Oystermen's Bank & Trust Company, and placed a classified advertisement offering reliable colored help for all work. Whenever a householder answered the advertisement, Father Divine would call in person, bearing a business card marked "Rev. J. Divine." He would remove his hat and, standing on the doorstep, would say, "I can guarantee and reguarantee the character and probity and uprighteousness of all my clients."

People liked him, and within a year or so, working at a
leisurely pace, he got jobs in and near Sayville for all of
the early disciples. This relieved the communal purse of the
cost of commuting, which had been a considerable strain.
These early followers of Father Divine had never had much to give him but their wages, and their wages were never high.

They were poor people who labored on the outer fringe of
domestic service. None of them was expert as cook or
laundress. They worked mostly for families of three or four
who could afford one servant and who paid not more than $10 or $12 a week. But now Father Divine began to attract from the kitchens and butlers' pantries of the summer hotels and big houses of Nassau and Suffolk Counties a new kind of disciple--colored people of some means, who earned sometimes as much as $100 a month, slept and ate in their employers' houses, and had bank accounts and insurance policies. To these people Father Divine seemed to be God in an even more wonderful degree than he had been to the early followers. As he became acquainted with the better class of colored folk in Sayville and neighboring towns, he began to invite them to Sunday dinners at his house; he preached to them after dinner, and never took up a collection. When the guests asked him candidly how he managed to give them free dinners, he would say cheerfully, "Father will provide," and his disciples would
say, "It's wonderful! Ain't it wonderful? Sweet Father is God Almighty!" He enjoyed no sudden popularity. He attracted people to his house only by twos and threes.

Some Sundays there were no outside guests at all; on others there might be three or four. For six or seven years Father Divine's progress was slow. It was not until the late nineteen-twenties that things began to boom.

The experiences of a butler-and-cook couple named Thomas and Verinda Brown, who worked for a substantial white family in Forest Hills and earned a joint salary of $150 a month, plus board and room, are typical of the experiences of scores of disciples who joined the cult of Father Divine about this time. Thomas and Verinda occupied prominent places in Father Divine's Heaven from 1930 until 1933. They were what Father Divine calls Angels, a title conferred upon any person who assigns all his property to Father Divine, hands over all the money he earns, and takes a new name. Verinda was called Rebecca-Grace, and throughout one Sunday dinner in 1931 sat at the right hand of God.

Thomas was called Onward Universe and for a while was one of God's favorite Angels. Now the two are Thomas and Verinda again and are back in Forest Hills, working for the same family they were with when they first met Father
Divine. They no longer believe that he is God.

Verinda is a very tall, very healthy-looking middle-aged
woman, the color of a fine mink coat. Her features are large
and frank--a great nose, an enormous jaw, a mouth that opens and shuts decisively. Her natural expression is an expansive grin. Thomas is shorter, darker, less vivacious, a sort of understatement of Verinda. His eyes are drowsy and slow-moving. He is deliberate, methodical, and thoughtful by nature. Verinda comes from Barbados, Thomas from the Bahamas.

Both have been in this country thirty years or more and they have been married ten. Both are excessively neat; Thomas is even something of a dude, and at one time owned sixteen suits of clothes, all of them in fair condition. Verinda is a fine cook and a capable children's nurse; as a butler and house man, Thomas is efficient and has a soothing manner. They are decent, honest people. They estimate that during the time they were Angels in Sayville they gave Father Divine, freely and of their own accord, something over $5,000, itemized as follows:

Savings withdrawn from the Railroad
Cooperative Building & Loan Association. $700
Verinda's salary of $75 a month from April,
1930, to October, 1933. $3,225
Gold coins $100
Seven Florida lots (estimated value) $350
Thomas's salary, averaging $75 a month, for six
months in 1930 $450
Thomas's earnings at odd jobs in Sayville during
eighteen months of 1931-32 $750
Fifteen suits of clothes relinquished by Thomas
(estimated value) $85

Total $5,660

The manner in which Verinda and Thomas became acquainted with Father Divine seemed to them for a long time afterward to be clearly miraculous. One day in the spring of 1929, after Father Divine's Sunday dinners had become quite an event for the colored population in and near Sayville without attracting attention in other quarters, a laundryman in Forest Hills made a mistake and left some strange clean clothes at the home in which Thomas and Verinda worked.

Thomas knew that another family down the street patronized the same laundry, so he took the bundle to the servants' entrance of that house and introduced himself to the cook. He asked if by any chance the laundry bundles for the two houses had been transposed, and found that was just what had happened. The cook was a happy
colored woman who said her name was Priscilla Paul. "After
the Apostle," she explained. Thomas himself was a constant reader of the Bible and he and Priscilla exchanged, along with the laundry bundles, a few Biblical texts. They parted friends. "Peace! It's wonderful!" Priscilla said as Thomas started off, and Thomas still remembers how pleasant and reassuring it sounded. ("It's a catching phrase," he says now, in the depths of his agnosticism.)

That night Priscilla Paul came to see Verinda and Thomas in
their kitchen. "Peace!" she said as she entered. "It's
wonderful!" She invited them to come to the evening meal at her father's house in Sayville the next Sunday. She explained that she went to Sayville every Sunday herself and suggested they go with her on the bus. They accepted, and on Sunday were surprised but not displeased to find themselves at a sort of religious meeting. The dinner was very good. The fact that each plate, before it was passed to the eater, was blessed by the man Priscilla and all the other diners called "Father" rather appealed to Verinda and Thomas. Father Divine said nothing memorable in his sermon after dinner. He did not say he was God, or even intimate it, but his phrasemaking was glorious, and Thomas especially liked the Biblical sound of the things Father Divine said. Verinda thought Father Divine had the loveliest, softest eyes she had ever seen.

Verinda and Thomas had Sundays off after midday dinner, and they became regular visitors at Father Divine's house. They asked him if they shouldn't pay for the meals they had every Sunday--told him they'd be more than glad to, because they enjoyed themselves so much. But he would always wave them away with a cheerful smile and say, "Father will provide." It was wonderful.

As they got to know the other disciples--a preoccupied and prim old fellow named Gabriel; an elderly woman named Susanna, who sang beautifully; and others named Ruth Rachel, Hozanna Love, Faith Sweetness, Frank Incense,
Blessed Charity, and so on--they began to learn how much more wonderful it was than they had dreamed. Not only did the Father provide a dinner every week that must have cost $15 or $20; he worked other miracles besides. The loaves-and-fishes trick, to him, was just a routine. He was a healer, too. Everybody there, it seemed, had been cured of some physical or spiritual disorder. After dinner in the evenings, between songs like:

Father Divine is the Perfect God
Perfect God,
Perfect God ...


I love to sing the praise of thee,
Sweet Father Divine.
I love to sing the praise of thee,
Be practical all the time,

testimonials would be given by the Angels. This phase of the meeting was a sort of burnt-cork Buchmanism. Verinda and Thomas were perfectly healthy physically, but both had stern consciences and they managed to join in by telling about things they had done wrong, and explaining that, since they had come to know the Father, they didn't do wrong any more.

In the Father's sermons at this time there ran a refrain which had to do with "conscious mentality." He would say,
"Relaxation of the conscious mentality is the super-mental
relaxativeness of mankind." The Angels, who sat nearest to him at the big dinner table, had achieved this sublime state, it seemed. They had relaxed their conscious mentalities until they had been born again as Angels, they had got fine new names, and they didn't remember anything that had ever happened to them in the past. Verinda and Thomas thought the Angels, and everything about them, were enviable, and they began to try to relax their conscious mentalities. The way to do this, they were told, was to love the Father and think about him all the time.

The employers of Verinda and Thomas were puzzled, and somewhat unnerved, when, during this period, their splendid servants seemed to be going to pieces. Upon being reprimanded for breaking dishes or being slow with the cocktail things, Verinda and Thomas would explain mournfully that they were trying to relax their conscious mentalities. They seemed preoccupied, sad, and solemn, and they probably would have lost their jobs had they not been faithful servants for nine years past.

Besides the worry over their conscious mentalities, they had anxieties which their employers did not understand. Thomas and Verinda had grown to love Father Divine. He had been so kind to them during those first months, and he had seemed to know everything, to feel everything, to be so confident when he said, over and over at the dinners, "Your Father is rich in all your needs and all your wants shall be supplied." Those ecstatic shouts of "Yes, Father, you are so wonderful!" and "Thank you, Father!" which came from the Angels were impressive and contagious. There was something keenly satisfying and delightful about the idea of putting one's trust in somebody as the Angels put their trust in Father Divine.

Verinda and Thomas had begun to think of him as God. And now, just when they were loving him so, and were trying so hard to please him, he seemed not to notice them at all. They found themselves seated further and further away from him every Sunday. When he looked at them at all, it was as if he despised them. He was always talking these days about sacrifice and self-denial and consecration,
building the words up till they seemed four times as big as
they really were. "He who would enter into the Kingdom of God must have nothing he can call his own," he would say
sometimes, candidly. He preached against life insurance,
against all forms of insurance, and said that anybody who
stood to benefit by an insurance policy was a murderer or an incendiarist at heart. "Look," he would say, "at the Snyder-Gray case. If Albert Snyder hadn't been insured, he would never have been killed. He was putting temptation in the way of the iniquitous. Live right and keep my commandments and you shall never die. It is so written. He who insures his life or his property is a man of little faith."

He did not tell his followers that he had insured his house against fire with the Firemen's Insurance Company, the Glens Falls Insurance Company, and the National Liberty Insurance Company, but he had.

When Verinda and Thomas heard the speech against insurance they were delighted. It seemed to be addressed directly to them. They had small insurance policies of the kind that may be cashed in, and they applied for the money that Monday.

When they got the cash the next week, Verinda bought a trunk for Thomas and Thomas bought a diamond ring for Verinda. Then they made a special night trip to Sayville to tell the Father about it, feeling sure that he would be pleased.

"Why didn't you ask me what to do with the money?" he demanded bluntly, and added in a more Godlike tone, "He that loveth father or mother, son or daughter, husband or wife, more than me is not worthy to enter the Kingdom of God." They were abashed. Verinda, quicker of tongue than Thomas, said she was so sorry and asked the Father's forgiveness. They had, she said after a silence, a joint account in the Railroad Cooperative Building & Loan Association that contained about $700. They would do anything Father wished with that, she said. Father Divine said, "Draw it out. Lay not up treasures on earth where moth and thief and mouse break in and steal, but lay it up in Heaven with your Father."

This they did. Father Divine got the $700 that Friday. Then,
for a while, Thomas and Verinda dwelt in a state of beatitude. They were told that they had achieved the rank of Angels and were permitted to choose new names for themselves. Verinda chose Rebecca Grace, after some advice from the other Angels.

Thomas had already thought up Onward Universe for himself, and he adopted it forthwith. They remained Thomas and Verinda to their employers, but they explained one day that their old names were really just nicknames, that their real names now were Rebecca Grace and Onward Universe. "But you just keep calling us Thomas and Verinda," Thomas said to his master. "That will be perfectly all right."

Thomas and Verinda were happy now. They were moved back nearer the head of the table, and Father Divine beamed on them with heart-warming affection. As a matter of course, without being invited to do so by the Father, they began at once to turn over their wages to him every week, as all the other Angels did. Thomas took the deeds to his Florida lots out of his trunk and signed them over to the Father. When Verinda's mistress, the following year, gave her a bonus Of $100 in gold, Verinda turned that over to the Father. For one Sunday, Verinda sat on the right hand of God, and Thomas, only a few seats away, found himself talking intimately with God during dinner. They never talked with the other Angels about the money they were giving to Father Divine because part of the gospel taught at Heaven was that true believers "relaxed all recollection of material transactions." This was a phrase which, with prefixes and suffixes, Father Divine built into something of impressive proportions.

Father Divine was a keen-eyed God. He noticed that Thomas had on a different suit nearly every time he came to Heaven, and one day he asked Thomas about that and learned that Thomas had sixteen suits. "Bring me fifteen of those suits," he told Thomas. "Ask how the lilies of the field are clothed, and they spin not."

He was a jealous God, too. In Brooklyn he had always preached the gospel of celibacy to the followers who lived in the flat with him, and now, in Sayville, with about twenty Angels living with him and forty living with their employers, he preached the same gospel with even more determination. When the conscious mentality is really relaxed, he argued, all love except for the Father has to relax, too. Verinda and Thomas were a devoted couple and they slept at night in a double bed.

They took the Father's preaching literally and seriously, and
Thomas faced the same hardships as those third-century monks who used to exercise themselves by inviting attractive women to come to the monastery and tempt them. As Gibbon said of the monks, outraged nature sometimes vindicated herself. Whenever that happened, Verinda and Thomas would appear before the Father ill at case and heavy of conscience, and he, looking at them, would say, "I see you have sinned. You cannot hide from God. I am everywhere. I see all. I know all." And they would moan and cry, "Oh, Father! Yes, Father! Forgive us, Father! You are so wonderful, Father!"

A man of Thomas's abilities was needed in Heaven, and six
months after Thomas became Onward Universe, he left his job and his Verinda, and came to live in the house on Macon
Street. He was one of the principal Angels, and for a while
used to hold long Biblical discussions with the Father on
weekday evenings. He is handy with tools, and by day he
worked around Heaven, putting up partitions where the Father wanted them, repairing the roof, and doing other useful chores. Evidently it was worth the loss of Thomas's salary to Father Divine to have Thomas around. When there was nothing for Thomas to do, he found odd jobs in the village and earned a little cash from time to time, which he turned over to the Father. Verinda kept her job in Forest Hills and came to Heaven only on Sundays, as in the past. She used to meet Thomas there, but never clandestinely, and when they spoke to one another it was just to say, "Peace! It's wonderful!" For a long time it seemed to them that they were happier than they had ever been before. Verinda remained a faithful follower of Father Divine until the fall of 1933, By that time she had become just one of sixty-odd Angels, she was beginning to have
her doubts about the divinity of the Father, and she was tired of not having any spending money. Her employers in Forest Hills, who were fond of her, advised her to quit going to Father Divine's meetings, and finally she took their advice.

Thomas stayed with Father Divine until last year, by which
time he had been demoted to furnace man in the Harlem Heaven. Then one day he walked out, got his old job back, and his Verinda, and never returned.

A good many other Angel couples became estranged in the same way during the Sayville period. Some of them lived separately in Heaven itself and some lived separately outside, and all of them were lonely, their hearts were full of affection, and they didn't love anybody but God. He looked after everything. As he had done in Brooklyn with his early disciples, he now provided second-hand clothes for his Angels, skillfully altered and made over by Angel seamstresses. The Angels had no outside expenses to speak of. They had no doctors' bills to pay. Father Divine preached against doctors and dentists.

"Father is the Doctor" became the refrain of one of the
Heavenly songs. If a disciple was in the habit of going to a
clinic for treatment of some disease, even the most contagious ones, Father Divine frowned upon him and told him not to be of little faith. Death, he said, could not come to a true believer. If it did come, it was a proof that the dead Angel had not been a true believer. At least one Angel died at the Sayville Heaven. This was a woman named Bowman. It was recorded at the time that she was a pauper, with no relatives to pay for her funeral, and she was buried in the town's potter's field.

How much money Father Divine was taking in during the winter Of 1929-30 is anybody's guess. Figuring that sixty skilled and unskilled disciples earned an average Of $15 a week apiece (some of them in those boom years were making $40 and $50), the total, aside from insurance policies and savings accounts which he took over, would have been $900 a week. The Sunday dinners had become large affairs by the spring of 1930. Word of the strange preacher who seemed to be God, who gave free Sunday dinners, and who never took up a collection, had got back to Harlem. People began to go out to Sayville from Harlem to see for themselves and to eat the miraculous dinners.

But they, like the new disciples, were not riffraff.
The round-trip ticket from New York to Sayville cost $2.40
and it was cheaper for people who had to count the pennies to eat at home. Only the well-to-do class of Negroes came to Father Divine's Sunday dinners. Some of them became Angels.

A few newspaper stories appeared, all of them marvelling at the hospitality of Father Divine, and after the publicity
white people began to go to the Sunday dinners in Sayville.
There was a Mrs. Withers, of Long Island City, for instance,
who went through the customary initiation and eventually
became an Angel named Sister Everjoy. She had been a
Christian Scientist, had lost a child, and was vulnerable to
any kind of new faith that came along. There was J. Maynard Matthews, an automobile dealer of Brookline, Massachusetts, who had tried Divine Science, Unity, and a number of swamis and yogis without having found what he wanted. He presented Father Divine with a Cadillac, abandoned his business, and became the Father's secretary. His name is John Lamb and he is one of the most important Angels in the movement. Other white followers arrived from all over the country, not in great numbers, but singly, one at a time--a widow from Charlotte, North Carolina; a doctor from Chicago; a young accountant from Kansas City. They were solitaries, marked by that peculiar, agonized look which profound faith seems to bring to people's eyes, and they were all looking for some new
kind of life on earth.

By midsummer that year, the Sayville police on Sundays had to put no-parking signs up and down the block in which Heaven stood, to prevent hopeless traffic jams. Trucks and buses were bringing scores of Negroes out from Harlem every week. Father Divine's neighbors rented parking space in their front yards, thus combatting the nascent depression. Not more than seventy-five persons could be seated in Father Divine's dining-room, and he served the Sunday dinners to hundreds, in shifts, all day long and into the evening. A new technique of serving these meals was introduced about this time. The hungry visitors would sit down around the table and Father Divine would bless, first of all, the coffee and tea, and those drinks would be served. There would be an interval of thirty minutes or so, during which everybody was urged to have four or five cups apiece. Then, when the diners had reached a bloated condition, great platters of spaghetti, potatoes, Lima
beans, and other starches would be blessed and served.
Another half-hour would go by before the impressive hams,
roasts, chickens, and turkeys would appear. Usually these
dishes, having been blessed and offered to everybody, would leave the table almost intact, to be blessed and served again at successive meals for the rest of the day, and to turn up again on quiet week nights when the Angels sat down to dinner.

Father Divine himself found the Heavenly meals unsatisfactory. He usea to call on Verinda a little before noon on Sundays in her kitchen in Forest Hills and she would invite him to have a bite to eat. "I can't do that," he would say, drawing himself up to the table. "My Angels are waiting on me in Sayville, to bless their food," he would protest. Verinda would cook up some scrambled eggs, pancakes, sausage, fried potatoes, and coffee, and the Father would fall to, remarking that he might have a snack, at that, to strengthen him on his drive back to Sayville. "When I scrambled eggs for him," Verinda says now,
"I always scrambled six."

As Father Divine's fame increased, so did the suspicions of
many people outside his cult. Letters were sent to him
containing cash, money orders, and checks, by investigators in the pay of the Sayville police authorities, who thought he
might be open to prosecution on a federal charge of using the mails to defraud. In every case the enclosure was returned with a note that said, "Father will provide." The Suffolk County District Attorney planted two colored women from Harlem in Father Divine's Heaven in an effort to find out where his money came from, but at the end of two weeks they told him they hadn't been able to find out anything. This procedure was doomed from the start, for the reason that the two colored women were Harlem followers of Father Divine and were well on the way toward becoming Angels themselves.

In the end, the Suffolk County authorities ceased trying to work up a criminal case against Father Divine. Nobody could with authority challenge his claim that his money came to him out of the sky. "Everything comes to him automatically because he's God," the Angels used to say, and it seemed to be the only possible explanation.

By fall of that year, there were so many Angels in Heaven that Father Divine had to expand. Property in his block had
declined in value somewhat since the big meetings had begun, and he bought the house next door, at No. 64 Macon Street. It is a smaller house than the other one, and was used as a dormitory for female Angels. This left room in Heaven for an extra dining-room to accommodate the guests who came each Sunday in increasing numbers.

Father Divine had by this time about a hundred and fifty Angels living with him. In the summer of 1931, he leased a house across the street for white Angels exclusively. About the same time he established what he called an Extension Heaven in Harlem, a flat of five or six rooms on Fifth Avenue at 128th Street. Some twenty Angels who worked in New York lived in the Extension Heaven just as the suburban Angels lived in the one at Sayville. The sexes were segregated, and one of Father Divine's principal Angels looked after the marketing, directed the household work, and collected the wages of all the Angels every payday.

By the fall of 1931, the police authorities in Sayville and
the Suffolk County District Attorney had decided that Father
Divine was a public nuisance, and he was arrested on that
charge on November 16th of that year. After a change of venue had been obtained, he was brought to trial in Nassau County, before justice Lewis J. Smith, who turned out to be the man who contributed as much as anybody to the present greatness of Father Divine.

The justice, according to the opinion of the higher court which subsequently overruled him, permitted prejudice to enter into the trial and charged the jury in a manner that virtually demanded a verdict of guilty. Father Divine was convicted and Justice Smith fined him $500 and sentenced him to one year in jail. Four days after justice Smith pronounced this sentence, he died. He had been a robust
man and was only fifty-five years old. His physicians said his death was caused by heart failure. It was obvious to all of Father Divine's followers, and to thousands of people, both white and colored, all over the country who read about it in the newspapers, that Father Divine had struck down the Justice. The appeal was handled brilliantly by James C. Thomas, a Negro attorney who is a former Assistant United States District Attorney. He donated his services because he believed the issue to be one of racial prejudice. When the Appellate Division reversed the conviction in January, 1933, it was accepted as further evidence of the divinity of Father Divine. The Angels gave Mr. Thomas no credit at all for the victory.

During the five weeks Father Divine had been held in jail
without bail, scores of new followers joined his cult. The
Heavens in Sayville, and the branch in Harlem, had been
efficiently maintained by a few trusted Angels, who came to
him often at the Nassau County Jail for instruction and
advice. He was ready now to expand still further, and he
selected Harlem as his new headquarters. Leaving a few
elderly Angels to look after his property in Sayville, he
moved to New York. By this time not fewer than three hundred Angels were turning over to him everything they earned.

When Father Divine addresses his followers these days in
Heaven, a roomy, five-story structure at 20 West 115th Street, his demeanor is marked by an alertness which suggests that he is an extremely nervous man. One of his favorite routines is that of leading a chant which starts like this:

One million blessings,
Blessings flowing free,
Blessings flowing free.
There are so many blessings,
Blessings flowing free for you.

Then it goes:

One billion blessings,
Blessin-s flowing free,
Blessings flowing free,
There are so many blessings,
Blessings flowing free for you,

and so on-trillion, quadrillion, quintillion, and on up to
what he calls septdecillion. He shouts the catch line of each
verse and then, as he hums the chorus and the followers sing, his soft eyes begin to wander. They shift rapidly over the audience, they glance for an instant at the entrance door, at the exits, and once or twice during the singing of a verse he turns half about and looks sharply behind him. He seems agitated and apprehensive, and it is clear that there is more on his mind than the task of conducting a religious meeting.

He has the detached, preoccupied manner of a bartender in the early days of prohibition who, while mixing a highball, was always wondering when the police would come in.



Although he promised that he would ascend to Heaven in an airplane, he died of old age (either 88 or 4,000), in 1965,
leaving an estate of $10 million. As for judge Lewis J.
Smith, Father Divine told reporters, "I hated to do it!"
He also frequently seduced his secretaries and Angels with
such lines as, "Mary wasn't a virgin" and "I am bringing
your desire to the surface so I can eliminate it."

Truly a God to emulate.
posted by kablam at 10:14 AM on October 8, 2005

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