cover image God, Harlem U.S.A.: The Father Divine Story

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

Jill Watts. University of California Press, $40 (249pp) ISBN 978-0-520-07455-2

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