Father Devine

by Newark Talk Collective


Jule Spohn:
Does anyone remember Father Devine - a flamboyant man of the lord - and the Devine Hotel at the intersection of High Street and Clinton Ave? The hotel is still standing and apparently still operating and has the DEVINE HOTEL sign on top.

I can remember hearing that he was a "Holy Roller" and had a harem of women in the hotel. I'm sure he did some good for his community in his day but there are a lot of stories around about him.

Mary Ray Beggio:
What wonderful memories you bring back. I would ride the bus up Clinton Ave and always look for Father Devine and one day there he was, going into the hotel with four beautiful black ladies. He was always in the papers, you might find some stories in an old issue from the 50's.

John Golden:
I believe the hotel was originally the Hotel Riviera, and, after Father Divine bought it, it was called the Divine Hotel Riviera.

peter grimm:
the father was anti sex, women on one floor, men on the other.
i think he owned the belmont hotel, the women were angels we had a cab stand there and angels could not sit with men.

Jule Spohn:
You are right - his women were called "Angels."

peter grimm:
I knew him well, attendended some dinners he wanted to have people not to know him to be a racisit so he hired me for awhile, i was his private driver for a year he did not like black drivers, later i found out that he told all that i was a arc angel sent from above

Do you know of any Mansion that Father Divine bought in the late 1950's? Like 66 South Mountain ave in Upper Montclair.

Jule, about Father Divine. In the late 1920s we lived on Prince St. Our neighbor, next door in a small store, was a "Holy Roller " church. Plenty of, moving, shaking and LOUD SINGING. A few doors down the street was the "original" [?] store front "soup kitchen" [on Prince between Montgomery and W. Kinney] run by Father Divine. This was during the "depression" days, late 20's early 30's and conditions were very rough. Our family was managing, but we saw many families, in need and welcomed there. Long before the Riviera Hotel became "Divine " this seemed to be his place. Everybody that was in need of a meal was welcome. If you had a nickel, that's what it would cost. If no money, "come in anyway". Those were NOT "the good old days" but there was some help available. For many years after, and at the Riviera there were stories circulating. some positive, some not so . "I only know what I read in the papers" End of story .

Jule Spohn:
Don't know of that building but I do know he had a heck of a lot of buildings all over - in this state and others. I know he had places in Perth Amboy, Jersey City, Harlem, Sayville Long Island, and else where.

His homes were called "Heaven" and he was called "God." On the walls of his various Heavens here and in other cities hung banners which read: FATHER DEVINE IS GOD ALMIGHTY.

He was born in the late 1880's somewhere in either Georgia, Florida, or Virginia. His name was George Baker and he earned an honest living as a gardner. Twenty years later, by a process of multiple birth's he became The Messenger and then Major J. Devine. He was born a forth and then a fifth time and then became Rev. J. Devine. Then almost immediately afterward he became Father Devine (God) and remained God ever since. When he was in Harlem his disciples stretched a streamer of balck and gold silk across the throne of Heaven, the headquarters of the cult, on 115th Street, with these words: FATHER DEVINE IS DEAN OF THE UNIVRSE.

He called his followers "Angels" after they assigned all of their property to him, and handed over all the money they earned, and took a new name.

He claimed that upon his death he would ascent to Heaven in a airplane. He died of old age - either 88 or 4,000 - in 1965 leaving an estate of around $10 million. Not bad for a humble gardner turned God.

Jule Spohn:
Hello Seymour. Thanks for the info regarding the Prince Street soup kitchen. As I said in my opening few lines "I'm sure he did some good for his community in his day" and here you confirm it. Thanks. I'm sure that he did a lot more good than he is credited for. When anyone is "flamboyant" nine out of ten times only the negative shows up and the other good stuff is swept under the rug. I'm sure this happened to him many times.

Jule Spohn:
Hello again. Decided to check my Encylopedia Britannica to see what they might have on Father Devine. Here it is:

"Born 1877?, Hutchinson's Island, near Savannah, GA. Died Sept 10, 1965 in Philadelphia. Also called J. Devine; byname of George Baker; American religious leader who in 1919 founded the Peace Mission movement. Began preaching in Baltimore where he became known as "The Messenger." After briefly returning to GA he moved to New York City in 1915. He adopted the name Major J. Devine (later Divine) shortly thereafter and in 1919 established his first "heaven" or community dwelling, in Sayville,LI. His predomintly black following expanded rapidly in the 1930's and 40's, and many more "heavens" were opened in distant cities. By the 1960's the orgainzation owned more than $10 million in property. Father Devine was regarded by his followers as God, and he did not permit them to smoke, drink liquor, or use cosmetics. The movement declined after his death."

I'm sure I remember this mansion being looked at or sold to Father Devine. Remember my father and friends talking about it. Friends of my father and mother owned the mansion in the 1950's. They bought it with the intention of making into a "High Class" Rooming House...the area was not zoned for it. The mansion had 30 rooms. These people sold it and bought another large home. I thought it was Father Devine that bought it. It still there. I have taken rides up there and look at it. Lots of memories in that BIG HOUSE.

Charles McGrath:
If my memory serves me right, I think Father Devine was contemplating buying Olympic Park. It never materialized. It may have been related to Father Devine's death in 1965 which was also the year that Olympic Park closed.


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