Black History At The Shore. Father Devine and Brigantine Hotel

Father Divine’s Peace Mission in Brigantine.

From FATHER DIVINE Facebook page:

Desegregation of the Atlantic Ocean. Here’s a rare, historically valuable photo showing swimming at the Brigantine Hotel, Brigantine Beach, NJ, taken during Peace Mission cooperative ownership, c. 1941-42. ( see pic above )

The Brigantine Hotel at 14th st was the first large hotel purchased by Followers through FATHER DIVINE’s Cooperative Economic Plan.

Father Divine

Father Divine created a philosophy that merged elements of Catholicism, Pentecostalism, Methodism, and positive thinking.

From the beginning, Father Divine had ministered to the whole person, body as well as soul, and that approach found an eager reception among the impoverished. The movement rapidly built up a network of businesses, including restaurants, gas stations, grocery and clothing stores, hotels, farms, and many other enterprises.

All provided high-quality goods and services inexpensively. Created jobs for Father Divine’s faithful. By the end of the Depression decade, the Peace Mission had accumulated savings in excess of $15 million.

But his success created problems. Father Divine lived large, dressed ostentatiously, and challenged the status quo. As his empire grew, so did the investigations by journalists and government officials.

He bought the Brigantine Hotel near Atlantic City, so that blacks could access the beach. He married white women and lived openly with them. To most of black America, he was doing things no other black man could have gotten away with at that time.

In 1931, the local authorities arrested Father Divine and dozens of his disciples in Sayville, Long Island, for “invading the county with his religious practices,” which included black men and white women living in the same house together. Divine was convicted and sentenced to a year in jail.

In 1997, Peace Mission followers gather for a lunch and bike ride at the Brigantine Hotel in NJ. Father Divine initiated the end of hotel segregation in 1941.

The trial and its consequences brought a great deal of popularity to Father Divine. Over 150 Peace Missions sprang up around the country, with one quarter of them located in New York. The largest Mission formed in Harlem, then trapped in the deepening Great Depression.

At one point, the Peace Mission was the largest property owner in Harlem. And during the Depression, Father Divine fed tens of thousands food and his vision of racial equality. They venerated him as a deliverer from Heaven.

Brigantine Hotel: first desegregated hotel of its caliber in New Jersey. 

With the advent of WWII and as a patriotic gesture, the Peace Mission turned it over to the Coast Guard for the nominal lease fee of $1.00 per year (the minimal amount required by law) on condition that when used as barracks, it remain racially integrated.

Local opposition to Peace Mission ownership and consequent integration included a tax reassessment that revalued the property at 10x the prior rate. This was likely an attempt to drive the Peace Mission out.

New Jersey had previously attempted to enforce archaic 19th century anti-blasphemy laws to bar FATHER DIVINE from activity in the state, but those attempts met with no success in the courts. FATHER moved freely, and though the Brigantine Hotel was let go, many other properties were acquired throughout the Garden State.

(Above) Rare photograph of the Brigantine Hotel, Brigantine Beach, NJ, taken during Peace Mission cooperative ownership, c. 1941-42.

The Peace Mission was the first large hotel purchased by Followers working under FATHER DIVINE’s Cooperative Economic Plan, and was the first desegregated hotel of its caliber in New Jersey. This ownership also integrated the accompanying beachfront, allowing anyone to swim in a desegregated context.