When Father Divine died on Sept. 10, 1965, members of the press were not admitted to Woodmont, home of the International Peace Mission movement in Gladwyne, Pa.
Throngs of faithful gathered there to pay their respects. News media stationed outside the gates interviewed followers. “What kind of person was he?” reporter Trudy Haynes asks one of the followers, a white man. “Well, he was different from anything that you could have ever come in contact with,” he replied.
Later, a reporter asks another white follower, “Do you believe Father Divine is dead?”
“No I do not,” the woman replies matter-of-factly, without hesitation.
While media coverage of his death highlighted the racial diversity of his appeal, it also focused on his lifestyle. An archival clip playing at the time showed Father and Mother Divine, dressed in their best, seated in plush, high-backed chairs at the head of a large, well-appointed banquet table. Fine china, silverware and glasses are arrayed before them as followers bustle about, attending to the dinner.
Over the clip, a newscaster intones, “Father Divine became God to millions, both black and white. To the followers of his International Kingdom of Peace movement, he was the second coming of Christ, but to nonbelievers, he was a mystery. Despite the lavishness of his palatial 73-acre country estate, Woodmont, his followers insist that Father Divine never personally profited from the movement; that he in fact never exploited the so-called ‘God game.’ ”
This dichotomy — that of a spiritual leader who helped break down racial barriers and feed the masses while also enjoying the trappings of wealth — has become attached to Father Divine’s legacy. Was he indeed God? Were his motives to raise the spiritual fortunes of his followers pure? Or was he driven, instead, by a desire to raise his own fortunes?
Perhaps only God himself knows the answer to that question.
See coverage of his death in the video below.