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Religion: Grace to Harlem

3 minute read

Rev. Major J. (“Father”) Divine, Harlem cultist whose followers believe he is God, has many “extensions” or “kingdoms.” Chief one until last week was a three-story building, rank with human and culinary odors, which he rented on Manhattan’s 115th Street. Why this kingdom had not long since collapsed was the wonder of any outsider who ever attended a meeting there, felt its floors reverberate to the rhythmic pounding of a thousand Corybantic Negro feet. Many a Harlemite believes the black “God’s” following is dwindling. Last week Father Divine’s chief kingdom, still apparently in good shape, was sold to a black rival—”Bishop” Charles Manuel (“Daddy”) Grace. Assessed at $38,000 and owned by a Manhattan bank, the kingdom was first offered to the Divineites, but their agent, named “Blessed Purin Heart,” balked at paying more than $16,000. Bishop Grace paid down $2,000 in cash, contracted to pay $18,000 more within a month.

Born Marcilino Manuel Graca in Portugal, “Daddy” Grace is a tall, dark, long-haired religionist who believes in the orthodox Lord, preaches a Pentecostal faith with some refinements of his owninvention. His headquarters and his respectable-looking home are in Washington, but in the past seven years his greatest success has been in Baltimore, fourth largest Negro city in the U. S. “Bishop” Grace calls his sect the “House of Prayer For All People,”* has claimed from 300,000 to 1,000,000 followers. In his 100 churches, pastors exhort the faithful for contributions, and during services, which lean heavily upon singing and chanting, there are likely to be frequent sales talks and demonstrations of Daddy Grace Toothpaste, Daddy Grace Cold Cream, Daddy Grace Hair Straightener. Pastors also hawk the Grace Magazine, a “miraculous publication” over which prayers are said as it goes through the presses. Believing that this journal has the power to heal, members of the cult wear copies of it strung around their necks or under their clothing.

Like Father Divine, Daddy Grace has had his troubles with the Law. Four years ago in Brooklyn he was convicted of having violated the Mann Act by taking a 20-year-old pianist to Philadelphia and Washington. Sentenced to a year and a day in jail, Grace got the sentence set aside on appeal. Later he was indicted in Baltimore, charged with defrauding the Government of more than $15,000 in income taxes on nearly $200,000 which he was alleged to have made between 1927 and 1932. The indictment was dropped because courts have held that free-will gifts are not taxable income.

Last week when “Bishop” Grace arrived in Harlem to inspect his new property, and presumably to evangelize a rich new territory, Father Divine issued one of his prolix statements to his followers and the world: “It has been said that this place has been purchased by some individual. If it has been purchased, it was according to My Instruction. It was offered to My Followers and they were disinterested in it. They would not, nor did not, even so much as lease the building for a further length of time. . . . We have aplenty, aplenty of buildings. . . . We have accommodation for many thousands ofindividuals out of this city, and many buildings in this city. At least the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. . .”

*As New York’s Bishop Manning calls his Cathedral.

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