The Peace Mission was founded by the man known to his followers as Father Major Jealous Divine (1880?-1965). The "facts" of his life prior to 1914 remain a matter of disagreement. According to the most popular story (among those outside the Movement), he was born George Baker around 1880 on a rice plantation in Georgia. In 1899 he became the assistant of an itinerant preacher, Samuel Morris, who called himself Father Jehovia. The two split in 1912, and Father Divine bagan to gather his own following. Members of the movement project a much earlier date of birth as they cite June 6, 1882, as the date of his first marriage.
In either case, he emerged in Brooklyn in 1914. Five years later, with his followers, he moved to Sayville, New York, where his wife, Sister Penny, bought them a home. He lived quietly. His followers were organized to work in the community. By the mid-1920s there were from 3 to 40 members, all of whom were black. Sometime during this period, however, the first white members joined.
The most famous events in the life of Father Divine, the ones that catapulted him into the public spotlight, began on November 13, 1931. On that day, responding to neighborhood complaints about traffic congestion around his home, police arrested Father Divine for disturbing the peace. Viewing the incident as racially inspired, he refused bail, pleaded not guilty, and was tried and convicted. The jury asked for leniency. The judge ignored them and handed down a sentence of a year in jail and ordered him to pay a $500 fine. Father Divine went to jail. Two days later the judge, apparently a healthy man, died, and Father Divine freely offered his opinion that the death was not the result of natural causes. One follower is to have remarked on the day of sentencing, "The judge can't live long now. He's offended Almighty God." From his cell, Father Divine remarked simply, "I hated to do it!" (Since that date, the Peace Mission commemorates June 7, the day of the Judge's death, by publishing accounts of diasters that befell people whose activities conflicted with Father Divine's program).
Father Divine, spurred by the events in Sayville, moved his followers to Harlem in 1932. He had became a hero to the black community, and once in Harlem, he was able to expand the Mission in response to the Depression. He purchased hotels which he turned into Peace Mission "heavens". Members were able, through the Mission's assistance, to have cheap food, shelter, a job, and a reformed life. New members were instructed to pay off their debts, cancel insurance, return any funds they might have stolen, and in the future to pay their own way in cash.
His first wife having died, Father Divine married Edna Rose Ritchings, a white Canadian, in 1946. Their wedding day is a holiday for the Movement. About this time he also moved his headquarters to Philadelphia. In 1954 he was given Woodmont, an estate in suburban Philadelphia. It served as his country home until his death in 1965. His body is enshrined there. After his death, Mother Divine succeeded to leadership of the Movement and continues to administer its worldwide affairs.
The structure and practices of the Movement derived from Father Divine's perception of the situation of the downtrodden of society, particularly black Americans. He proposed a total economic and religious program to reform the individual and restructure society.
The Peace Mission affirms that Father Divine fulfilled all the Biblical prophecies for the Second Coming of Christ and the Coming of the Jewish Messiah. God as Father and Mother are personified in Father and Mother Divine and constitute humanity as one brotherhood. Woodmont is the Mount of the House of the Lord (Michah 4:1-2, Isiah 2:2-3) from which the law shall go to all nations. The Mission views itself as the fulfillment of specific Biblical prophecies and the essence of all religion: faith in the one God. It accepts both the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount.
From this religious perspective a social, economic, and political program has developed. Members look for a day when America, as the birthplace of the Kingdom of God, will become the Kingdom, in fact. The Kingdom is equated with the principles of true Americanism, Brotherhood, Democracy, Christianity, Judaism, and all other true religions.
The Mission teaches that each person is equal in the sight of God and, thus entitled to basic rights (life, liberty, and happiness) and every convenience and comfort of modern society. Each individual also has the responsibility of protecting every other person's rights and privileges. One step in that protection would be the conviction of all members of a mob that commits murder as first-degree murderers.
Members of the Mission live communally. All possessions are owned cooperatively, and all properties are maintained by the members without compensation for their work on this endeavor. The Mission advocates full employment as a right and opposes life insurance, social security and credit and installment buying. The Mission admonishes members to pay cash for all purchases.
On a personal level, all members adopt Father Divine's International Modesty Code: No Smoking. No Drinking. No Obscenity. No Vulgarity. No Profanity. No Undue Mixing of the Sexes. No Receiving of Gifts, Presents, Tips, or Bribes. Within the group men and women live apart. Within their businesses, the principles are enforced. For example, guests at the hotels run by the Movement must adopt the code while staying at the hotel. Men and women stay on separate floors (even married couples). Women cannot wear slacks or short skirts. Men cannot wear short-sleeved shirts. Visitors are not allowed in the guest's room.
On a social level the Mission teaches the equality of the individual and the right to freedom of worship and voting. Education should be free and in English, the universal language. All racial references should be deleted from books.
The Mission believes in the Declaration of Independencce and the Constitution, particularly in the Bill of Rights. All people have a right to live safely and securely under the Constitution. Restitution is a basic step toward the ideal life as spelled out in the Constitution. The Mission advocates nations returning territory taken by force, governments restoring losses due to mob violence, and individuals returning all stolen possessions. It advocates mass production as the means of eliminating poverty and social inequality.
In putting his principles into action, Father Divine created a far-flung organization.