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Elizabeth Heath

Dona Beatrice was born Kimpa Vita in the Kongo kingdom (present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Congo Kinshasa). As a young woman, Vita (later baptized Beatrice and known as Dona Beatrice) led a religious movement to restore the empire to its former glory during a period of instability and fragmentation within the Kongo kingdom. Beatrice began her movement, later called Antonianism, in 1704, when she claimed to have had a near-death vision of Saint Anthony. She said the popular Portuguese saint appeared to her as an African, after which she died and came back to life as the saint. Soon afterward she began preaching a religious message that combined an anti-Catholic Christianity with Kongo culture, through which she hoped to reunite the Kongo kingdom.

Within months Beatrice established a church in the Kongo capital of São Salvador Although based on Christian theology Beatrice preached that the founders ...

Article

Born George Baker, in Rockville, Maryland, Father Divine was the son of George Baker, a day laborer, and Nancy Smith, a domestic worker. At age twenty he moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where he was active in the Baptist church. He soon began an itinerant ministry that traveled throughout the South. In 1906 he was present at the birth of modern Pentecostalism at the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles, California.

In 1915 Baker moved with a small group of followers to Harlem, New York, where he preached as Major J. Divine. His Peace Mission Movement evolved here, and Baker became known as Father Divine. In 1919 he bought a house in a white Long Island neighborhood in Sayville, New York, and established it as a cooperative and communal dwelling known as Heavens.

His worship services in Sayville attracted thousands of people. In 1931 ...

Article

Henry Warner Bowden

Divine, Father (1877?–10 September 1965), religious cult leader was born George Baker apparently on Hutchinson Island Georgia in obscure and indeterminate circumstances It is difficult to recover specifics about Divine a black sharecropper s son who spent his youth in the rural post Reconstruction South This difficulty has been compounded by his own efforts to hide his prosaic origins because he eventually claimed to be God on earth Most inquirers agree however that until the early 1900s the subsequently acclaimed deity was probably George Baker who in his early life experienced racial prejudice inadequate education and poverty By 1899 he resided in Baltimore Maryland where he taught Sunday school and preached occasionally at a Baptist church Around 1906 he came under the influence of Samuel Morris who took the biblical passage about the spirit of God dwelling within and arrogated it to himself alone Baker served as ...

Article

Eric Bennett

Wallace D. Fard, also known as Fard Mohammed, entered public life in Detroit, Michigan, in the summer of 1930. Coming from obscure origins, perhaps Egyptian or Hawaiian, he peddled “notions”—trinkets, silks, and raincoats—to residents of Paradise Valley, a predominantly African American neighborhood of Detroit. Fard claimed to have come from Arabia, identified his goods as the wares of African peoples, and satisfied his customers—many of whom were uprooted Southerners—by providing them with a sense of cultural identity and stories of a common heritage. At first he moved from house to house, talking of his travels, but soon popular interest in his anecdotes encouraged him to move his storytelling to a hall.

Although Fard initially prescribed foods and moral codes, he began to address deeper theological concerns as his popularity grew. He cited the Bible, not to teach Christianity but to debunk it espousing instead the Islamic ...

Article

Sholomo B. Levy

religious leader and founder of the Peace Mission movement, was born George Baker in Rockville, Maryland, to George Baker Sr., a farmer, and Nancy Smith, a former slave who worked as a domestic with her three daughters before marrying Baker sometime in the 1870s. Nancy, who had been owned by two Catholic masters, exposed her children to the African American spiritual traditions of the Jerusalem Methodist Church in Rockville until she died in 1897.

Following his mother's death, George Baker gravitated to Baltimore, as did thousands of African American in search of a better life. He appears on the census of 1900 as a gardener and he also found work on the docks where he witnessed the crime and poverty of the destitute and was moved by a new message of ecstatic salvation emanating from dozens of storefront churches in the city Baker a dark ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

voodoo queen, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the daughter of Charles Laveaux, a freeman of color who owned a grocery store in that city, and Marguerite D'Arcantel, a freewoman of color about whom very little is known, although it is rumored that she was a spiritualist or root doctor. Certain sources erroneously claim that Charles Laveaux was a prominent white planter and politician. He was not, but he was probably the illegitimate son of Don Carlos (or Charles) Trudeau, a high-ranking official in Spanish-controlled Louisiana and the first president of the New Orleans City Council when the United States purchased Louisiana in 1803 The historical record which in Marie Laveaux s case is exceptionally imprecise provides several spellings of her surname often leaving out the x but most archival records suggest that Charles Laveaux used that version of his name and that this spelling was ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

Congolese (Brazza-ville) political and social activist, was born in Manzakala in the Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville). His father Ngoma, a Lari-speaking man originally from the village of Mpangala, died before Matsoua was born. His mother Nkoussou, born in Manzakala, thus had to raise him herself. As a child and adolescent, he attended Catholic mission schools in the Mbamou region and at Brazzaville, the capital of French Equatorial Africa. Although he attended seminary, he ultimately abandoned plans for a religious vocation and moved to Brazzaville in 1919. There, the French government customs agency hired him as a clerk.

In 1922 he joined a French military unit and left Brazzaville for Paris. The matriculation badge 22 he received as a new recruit later became a common image employed by his followers. After receiving training in France, Matsoua participated in the Rif campaign in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco in 1925 ...

Article

Eric Young

A renowned civil servant, soldier, and labor organizer, André Matsoua’s career continued even after his death. As a youth he studied to become a priest but resigned in 1919 to join the colonial customs service. He later traveled to France and joined the army, serving in North Africa during World War I. In 1926 he settled in Paris, where he became involved in labor-union organizing and founded Amicale, a self-help organization. Seeking recruits and financial contributions, the movement spread to the French Moyen-Congo, where the colonial administration, upset by Matsoua’s outspoken opposition to the discriminatory indigenant, or indigenous, classification of many Congolese, arrested him in 1929.

Although Matsoua was by then a legal French citizen an African traditional court in Brazzaville sentenced him to three years in prison and a decade in exile in Chad Six years later he escaped was soon caught escaped again and found his way ...

Article

Hilary Sapire

South African prophet, was born around 1875 in the imiDushane Xhosa region as the wars of conquest on South Africa’s eastern Cape frontier drew to a close. The region had been heavily visited by missions of different Christian denominations, but Nontetha’s family and community were among the traditionally minded amaqaba, who rejected European values and clung to their traditional dress, language, and culture, keeping aloof from formal schooling and elements of the growing cash economy. Nontetha was thus an unlikely figure to become the founder and figurehead of an independent church movement.

Knowledge about Nontetha’s early life is sketchy. A tall, striking figure, she came to local prominence as an ixhwele herbalist with a reputation for an uncanny prescience about future events Steeped in Xhosa tradition she was also familiar with aspects of local Methodist culture hymns prayers and dress which would later surface in her own services ...