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God, Harlem U.S.A.: The Father Divine Story Hardcover – 1 Jul 1992


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Review

"A meticulously researched portrait of an influential African American."--"Publishers Weekly --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From the Inside Flap

"Unearthing rare, scarce, and previously unknown original sources, Watts spells out a comprehensive, even definitive account of Father's controversial life and charismatic ministry. In addition to the fascinating biography, this is solid social and intellectual history as well."American Academy of Religion" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x87d8ca38) out of 5 stars 12 reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x87a60a08) out of 5 stars a useful, but flawed book 21 Sept. 2009
By Neurasthenic - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Father Divine and his followers are often a subject of some derision -- his claim to be literally God and the sex scandals during his ministry make him an easy target. Jill Watts, to her credit, takes the man seriously and discusses his theology at some length, identifying its relationship to other "New Thought" religions like Christian Science, as well as the man's role in the nascent civil rights movement in the United States.

Unfortunately, the book relies almost entirely on anecdote. Want to know what some former follower said about "Mother Divine" in 1937? It's probably here. Want to know how many followers he had, or how much money, or where the money came from? No such luck. Divine said the money was handed to him directly by God, and that's enough for Watts. This is essentially a narrative, not a work of analysis.

The writing is irregular as well. One sentence refers to "black" followers and "white" followers, and the next to "blacks" and "EurAmericans." Watts editorializes oddly at times. Every decision that worked out well for the Peace Mission is characterized as coming from Divine's deep insight into human nature and careful planning. Every setback is credited to scheming by those who opposed him, especially William Randolph Hearst. It's not believable.

Though the reader is left with a decent understanding of why the movement has largely faded (hard to continue to maintain that you're God once you've died, plus the sex scandals, financial scandals, and the declining importance of Divine's apparent material wealth after the end of the Great Depression), there is not nearly so good a discussion of why it grew so large (or, for that matter, how large it grew, see above).

Finally, there is not a sufficiently clear demarcation in the text between the things we know are true and those that Watts merely supposes, especially in the scantily documented early years of Divine's life.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x87799c54) out of 5 stars The True Vine 13 Mar. 2006
By Mark Newbold - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I picked this book up from a friend who had purchased it and could not put it down once I began. For those like myself that thought the spiritual life of most African-Americans ranged from Christian evangelicalism to the Nation of Islam and Moorish Science, this was an eye opening experience from the perspective of how influencial "New Thought" movements were on Father Divine and his integrated band of followers. This book provides a study of American religious history between the two world wars that few Americans are aware of.
Father Divine finally takes his rightful place along with others of his era, Aimee Semple McPherson, Billy Sunday and Charles & Myrtle Filmore. The elements incorporated into Father Divine's mission are varied besides New Thought, Unity, Christian Science, there are also elements of the Society of Friends as well as Shaker spirituality. This book was a constant surprise and delight. Father Divine comes across as fully human with a nobility of spirit that persevered through several decades of rampant racism. Highly recommended.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x88400378) out of 5 stars Fact filled - a journey of education! 1 Nov. 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book provides the opportunity to learn about this highly controversial African American Leader of the 20th Century - and form ones own opinion if one is so inclined! Much that was written about Divine is sooooo old - and not very well researched - Jill Watts has done a fine job.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x87e26888) out of 5 stars Super Dupper! 24 Aug. 2000
By Kathleen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Dr. Jill Watts has thoroughly taken the life of Father Divine and brought it to life. I knew little about Father Divine before reading this book and was intrugued by the challenges that faced him. Dr. Watts is an intelligent and articulate woman. I would recommend this book to anyone whether they are interested specifically in African American history or are not. I'm looking forward to reading her next book on Mae West.
HASH(0x87752f34) out of 5 stars Memorable, fun and thought-provoking book 9 Sept. 2013
By Sam I Am - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This was a thoroughly researched and entertaining book - everything published before "God, Harlem USA" about Father Divine tended to be either biased against him or dry and scholarly. Neither genre made for very interesting reading. So it was a great delight to stumble upon this book. My only complaint is that the author seemed to accept Father Divine's abilities to perform miracles at face value, without being skeptical or doing more investigative research.

For anyone interested in the history of the Azusa Street Revival, and the development of the Pentecostal Movement, this is an essential book to add to your collection. Father Divine was only one of countless individuals who later became prominent in religious circles in the decades after attending the life-altering religious experience of the Azusa Street Revival.
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