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He changed the course of civil rights in this country and you never heard his name.
African American Studies • Religious Studies • Anthropology • Sociology • Civil Rights
2017. Director & Producer Lenny Feinberg. Producer Nancy Cutler. Co-Producer Claire Chandler.
94 Minutes. Includes Captions.
This is the untold story of the remarkable civil rights pioneer Father Divine – who had over a million followers worldwide and is considered the link between Marcus Garvey and Martin Luther King – but is neglected by historians because he claimed that he was God incarnate.
Father Divine was born in poverty, the son of emancipated slaves, and went on to become one of America's most controversial religious leaders. Father Divine's movement was dedicated to integration and communal living, and was an innovator in desegregating neighborhoods, schools, businesses, and the ballot box in the 1930’s and 40’s, through his radical program of empowerment. He commanded hundreds of properties and businesses, all funded by the work of his thousands of followers. At the same time, he preached that he himself was an incarnation of God, and that by following his rules of purity and celibacy, his followers could live forever in “heaven on earth.” But scandal, suspicion, and racism lead to clashes with the law for him and his movement. Though he was once a celebrity, and was decades ahead of his time fighting for civil rights, he has largely been written out of history because of the audacity of his religious claims, and doubt about his motives.
Today, Father’s few remaining followers live as a communal family on a magnificent estate outside Philadelphia. As time and mortality confront the followers, they struggle to preserve Father’s legacy. Through unprecedented access to this unique and reclusive community, the film explores the line between faith and fanaticism, between a religion and a cult. Father's revolutionary ideas on race and identity still resonate today.