NYPL Exhibitions

Father Divine

Father Divine (1879–1965) was a charismatic religious leader who early on discarded his birth name, George Baker, and attracted tens of thousands of Americans to his Peace Mission Movement. Based in Harlem during much of the Great Depression, he preached a radical message of racial equality and personal empowerment. Rather than simply dispensing charity, his followers founded a commercial empire of Peace Movement restaurants, shops, and hotels, which they ran cooperatively to keep costs and prices low. The “angels,” as he called his flock, regarded Father Divine as a human manifestation of God, in part because he fed multitudes. His worship services, even in the midst of the Depression, began with lavish banquets of chicken, duck, spareribs, potatoes, stewed tomatoes, string beans, fruit salad, and chocolate cake. Some followers reported that when Father Divine poured coffee, the pot never emptied. People paid 10 or 15 cents if they could afford it, and nothing if they could not. As he blessed the food, Father Divine urged his congregation, “Do not fast!” and they enthusiastically complied.