Father Divine, also known as “The Messenger,” was a spiritual leader from about 1907 until his death in 1965. He founded the International Peace Mission Movement. His self-given name was Reverend Major Jealous Divine, and he claimed to be God. Various contemporary critics alleged that he was a fraud.
Little is known definitely about Father Divine’s early life or even his real given name, as Father Divine and the Peace Movement he started did not keep many records. In 1936, Eliza Mayfield claimed to be Father Divine’s mother. She stated that his real name was Frederick Edwards from Hendersonville, North Carolina, and he had abandoned a wife and five children, though she had no proof of her claims. Nevertheless, Father Divine responded to the allegations by saying that “God has no mother.”
Most researchers agree that Father Divine’s parents were freed African American slaves. In a 1906 sojourn in California, Father Divine became acquainted with the ideas of Charles Fillmore and the New Thought Movement, a philosophy of positive thinking that would influence his doctrines. Among other things, this belief system asserted that negative thoughts led to poverty and unhappiness.
Father Divine later traveled south and preached extensively in Georgia. In 1913, conflicts with local ministers got him sentenced to 60 days in a chain gang. In 1931, Father Divine was arrested by Sayville police for disturbing the peace. Father Divine paid the $1000 bail despite the Great Depression.
Father Divine continued to be arrested for disturbing the peace up until 1932. He then moved to Harlem, New York, where he had accumulated a significant following in the local black community. There were speculations that Father Divine was a forerunner to the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, influenced by his upbringing in the segregated South. Father Divine died in 1965.