Our Pariahs & 6 Degrees of Separation

I met George Baker (a.k.a. God, according to the FBI) when I was about four years old.This was by courtesy of my father who was one of many unemployed black males caught up in and by the “movement”.He was a short,light complexioned black man who had the ability to consciously or unconsciously move his ears.To a four-year old,this ability made him appear sinister and more like an animal than a human or even worse a devil.He had swept up most of the unemployed husbands of the coterie of black women of West Indian origin in the Prospect Ave. area of the southeast Bronx.These women supported one another,kept their families above water and discussed the news of the day including Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia ,with the blessing of the Italian troops by Pius XII , and the abdication of Edward VII because of his infatuation with an American divorcee named Simpson.The suicide of a favorite son( M.D.) was equal in horror to the depredations of Father Divine(Baker) who took property and possessions as his due for membership in one of his many kingdoms.My mother saw to it that there were no more visits to his kingdom by me,and my father whose new name was “Andrew”, was on his own. After two and one half years “Andrew” had enough and felt strongly upon return to his family that Divine was a devil incarnate.Belief in Baker’s divinity was a condition for membership and with the goods and valuables of many (black and white,male and female),people were being fed with cheap food and housed on inexpensive land.(Sound familiar?)The most amazing thing about these women was their ability to step aside and allow back their wandering,finally disillusioned spouses with full authority as though they had never left.The kingdoms were(conditionally) open to all and there were some international converts.Divine loved business and may have been mentored by a white business man early on.His romance with communism was one-sided(theirs) probably because his attraction to the disenfranchised (spiritually and economically)seemed useful to the party.Nevertheless it attracted the attention of the FBI.WWII ended the great depression and thinned the ranks of followers.With the death or disability of the first Mother Divine(Peninah) the ladies of Prospect Ave lost interest in “God” and even his two consecutive marriages to young naive,Canadian blondes could not fully resurrect their interest.They had already countered his religious appeal with storefront churches reflecting the religion based educational structures of the islands from which they came.(Moravian,Baptist,Methodist,Episcopalian etc;churches sponsored by the nations that owned the islands).An interesting side note is that many of these storefronts had the eagle of the NRA emblazoned on their windows.(Roosevelt’s National Recovery Act, later to be declared unconstitutional.)
On his death in 1965,according to Wikipedia,a man named JIM JONES tried, unsuccessfully, to rally the remnants of his followers and possibly to claim some of the assets.(there is still a kingdom in Philadelphia with some geriatric followers holding on and some sort of shrine in Delaware.)
This was an international movement and it contained many of the features of Jonestown.The man who tried to resurrect Divine’s kingdom was our infamous JIM JONES.It seems reasonable that many of the features of Jonestown were directly derived from Divine’s Kingdoms.

Baker’s Kingdoms were (conditionally)open to all.Black and white male and female. He fed his disciples on cheap food and housed his disciples on cheap land.He worked his disciples hard, producing simple products at rates that were strictly below union costs and he found companies to contract with.He married several times and the abandonment of a black “Mother Divine” for a young naive white blonde from Canada was much discussed by the ladies of Prospect avenue.This paragon(Baker) loved business and money but attracted interest from communist fronts inasmuch as the disenfranchised spiritually were also usually those who couldn’t manage the economics of the time.WWII and the end of the great depression thinned the ranks of followers. After his second blonde Miss Canada liaison (I believe the first one died) although the first black Mother Divine was still alive and possibly disabled,the world lost interest in Divine.How he became identified as a civil rights activist is unclear but “BIO” does so while indicating a legally sponsored and apparently successful separation between “Father Divine” and George Baker.Apparently saints and sinners transact on the boundary between soul and soma.

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3 Comments

  1. Professor Thomas … another challenging post. I had never heard of George Baker, a.k.a. God, a.k.a. Father Divine. In reading your narrative, many characters ran through my mind. Firstly, the Shakers … but as description moved along, the Shakers were the farthest thing of a parallel concept. Not only were they truly celibate (one of the causes for their dwindled numbers), but they led the simple, egalitarian life represented, as one example, in their furniture. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Hancock Shaker Village and walk through some of their austere surroundings.

    So, with my mind moving right along, other charismatic figures came into mind: Juan Domingo Peron, Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry, L. Ron Hubbard, Benito Mussolini, Donald J. Trump (to name a few). You can see that charlatans were the common denominator. They promise what they cannot deliver … and people flock. What has given Joseph Smith, Jr. sustainability remains a mystery, while the Church of Scientology is particularly sadistic and exploitive. You ask: “Sound familiar?” Unfortunately, yes … with too many examples. You included the monster that was Jim Jones.

    “Apparently saints and sinners transact on the boundary between soul and soma.”

    I refuse to drink the KoolAid. My problem is that I don’t have the definitive definition of “saints” or “sinners.” It’s all in the eyes of the beholder … or, “I know it when I see it.” May I suggest that all of us are blank slates … with the potential of allowing, through some charismatic factor, others to write on that slate whatever comforts our fears and insecurities. Nature provides to the human species personalities that recognize those fears and insecurities. If the masses are lucky, those personalities act on behalf of the general good. More often than not, we don’t get that lucky and we get the people mentioned above. Thus, then, nature’s law: the survival of the fittest? Or, we are doomed … as credited to Atahualpa, “El único animal que no se marea en las alturas es el burro” … “The only animal that does not get dizzy in heights is the donkey.”

    As it pertains to George Baker, a.k.a. God, a.k.a. Father Divine, he possessed the ability for positive contributions. Yet, not only was he a delusional liar, but he was exploitive and abusive. Yep … a sinner. Life is full of missed opportunities and the only thing we’re left with is hindsight. The wisdom of Yogi Berra: “When you come to the fork on the road, take it.” What does that tell us about the future.

    Sounds like your mother must have been an extraordinary woman … unknown. She saved you from the “devil incarnate.” Your post “Wine is a Mocker …” also tells us so. I found your following statement very moving, full of caring understanding:

    “The most amazing thing about these women was their ability to step aside and allow back their wandering, finally disillusioned spouses with full authority as though they had never left.”

    Subjugated? Do you think that is a consistent gender-based condition, or one that was a product of the specific circumstances? Not all women are nurturing in nature, and they bear the responsibility of very negative consequences. But, this splinters into another discussion … one in which I have even less qualifications (other than observation).

    As you can see, Professor Thomas, you made me research … and think. You are my teacher. I only exposed the tip of the iceberg, respecting the space. Thank you.

    P. S. I think I got off your subject title. 😦

    1. Thank You ! Your emoticon is unnecessarily down looking.You cause me to remember a bit of my HS spanish perhaps referable to our human sound and fury.”Los rebuznos de burro no llegan al cielo” (braying of an ass doesn’t reach heaven). This sharply contrasting with Goethe’s “Himmelhoch jauchzend Gedanken sind frei!” It’s from Ganymede,the cup bearer of the gods.(Yearning and stretching towards heaven, man’s thoughts are free and freeing)It’s our individual choice..

      1. I failed to say that the word jauchzend importantly carries the connotation of joy.So it is joyful striving.I think that Ganymede was male, entirely mortal and attracted the desire of gods and humans.Homophobia would, if unleashed, destroy this beauty.Goethe lived long enough to also write”Warte nur balde,ruhest du auch”.(So ist es)?(That’s the way it is)”Wait a while, you too will soon rest” (like the mountains and the tops of trees.)It’s the existentialist dilemma and “faith” can be a cop out.The poem is titled”Er ist es”(It is he)

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