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God, Harlem U.S.A.: The Father Divine Story Paperback – February 13, 1995


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Born George Baker Jr. (1876-1965), Father Divine was a charismatic African American religious leader who in 1919 established the Peace Mission movement. In this expansion of her doctoral thesis, Watts, who teaches history at California State University, cogently argues that Father Divine should be recognized as a theologian raher than as a cult figure. Based first in affluent, white Sayville, Long Island (N.Y.) and later moving to Harlem, Father Divine and his followers advocated integration, hard work, positive thinking, pacifism, celibacy and the acceptance of Father Divine as God. His message of salvation appealed to both blacks and whites, as did his programs of job training and free food during the Depression. By the late 1950s, Father Divine, a powerful figure in the '30s and '40s, was weakened by sexual and financial scandal and a racist vendetta launched by the Hearst papers. A meticulously researched portrait of an influential African American. Photos.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"A meticulously researched portrait of an influential African American."--"Publishers Weekly
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 249 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (February 13, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520201728
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520201729
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,227,330 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Neurasthenic TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 21, 2009
Format: Paperback
Father Divine and his followers are often a subject of some derision -- his claim to be literally God and the sex scandals during his ministry make him an easy target. Jill Watts, to her credit, takes the man seriously and discusses his theology at some length, identifying its relationship to other "New Thought" religions like Christian Science, as well as the man's role in the nascent civil rights movement in the United States.

Unfortunately, the book relies almost entirely on anecdote. Want to know what some former follower said about "Mother Divine" in 1937? It's probably here. Want to know how many followers he had, or how much money, or where the money came from? No such luck. Divine said the money was handed to him directly by God, and that's enough for Watts. This is essentially a narrative, not a work of analysis.

The writing is irregular as well. One sentence refers to "black" followers and "white" followers, and the next to "blacks" and "EurAmericans." Watts editorializes oddly at times. Every decision that worked out well for the Peace Mission is characterized as coming from Divine's deep insight into human nature and careful planning. Every setback is credited to scheming by those who opposed him, especially William Randolph Hearst. It's not believable.

Though the reader is left with a decent understanding of why the movement has largely faded (hard to continue to maintain that you're God once you've died, plus the sex scandals, financial scandals, and the declining importance of Divine's apparent material wealth after the end of the Great Depression), there is not nearly so good a discussion of why it grew so large (or, for that matter, how large it grew, see above).

Finally, there is not a sufficiently clear demarcation in the text between the things we know are true and those that Watts merely supposes, especially in the scantily documented early years of Divine's life.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Mark Newbold on March 13, 2006
Format: Paperback
I picked this book up from a friend who had purchased it and could not put it down once I began. For those like myself that thought the spiritual life of most African-Americans ranged from Christian evangelicalism to the Nation of Islam and Moorish Science, this was an eye opening experience from the perspective of how influencial "New Thought" movements were on Father Divine and his integrated band of followers. This book provides a study of American religious history between the two world wars that few Americans are aware of.
Father Divine finally takes his rightful place along with others of his era, Aimee Semple McPherson, Billy Sunday and Charles & Myrtle Filmore. The elements incorporated into Father Divine's mission are varied besides New Thought, Unity, Christian Science, there are also elements of the Society of Friends as well as Shaker spirituality. This book was a constant surprise and delight. Father Divine comes across as fully human with a nobility of spirit that persevered through several decades of rampant racism. Highly recommended.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 31, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book provides the opportunity to learn about this highly controversial African American Leader of the 20th Century - and form ones own opinion if one is so inclined! Much that was written about Divine is sooooo old - and not very well researched - Jill Watts has done a fine job.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kathleen on August 23, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Dr. Jill Watts has thoroughly taken the life of Father Divine and brought it to life. I knew little about Father Divine before reading this book and was intrugued by the challenges that faced him. Dr. Watts is an intelligent and articulate woman. I would recommend this book to anyone whether they are interested specifically in African American history or are not. I'm looking forward to reading her next book on Mae West.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This was a thoroughly researched and entertaining book - everything published before "God, Harlem USA" about Father Divine tended to be either biased against him or dry and scholarly. Neither genre made for very interesting reading. So it was a great delight to stumble upon this book. My only complaint is that the author seemed to accept Father Divine's abilities to perform miracles at face value, without being skeptical or doing more investigative research.

For anyone interested in the history of the Azusa Street Revival, and the development of the Pentecostal Movement, this is an essential book to add to your collection. Father Divine was only one of countless individuals who later became prominent in religious circles in the decades after attending the life-altering religious experience of the Azusa Street Revival.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I grew up reading about Father Divine; my nana had a book about him (which I am still searching for) because she was interested in his work having come of age in New York City and Philadelphia. This book gives a well-rounded view of his life and ministry as it can be known and understood. Kudos to the author not only for her impartial discussion but for her detailed research.
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