Victoria W. Wolcott is a professor of history at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, where she teaches urban, African American, and women's history. She is the author of Remaking Respectability: African American Women in Interwar Detroit (2001) and Race, Riots, and Roller Coasters: The Struggle over Segregated Recreation in America (2012). Her current book project, "Living in the Future: The Utopian Strain in the Long Civil Rights Movement," focuses on the emergence of experimental interracial communities in mid-twentieth-century America and their influence on the long civil rights movement. She is also researching the life of African American pacifist and civil rights activist Eroseanna Robinson.
African American religious leader, Father Divine, founded the twentieth century’s most successful utopian community. By 1939 his Peace Mission movement was the largest property owner in Harlem, founded extensions throughout the United States and abroad, and had nearly a million followers. This talk seeks to recover the political power of the Father Divine movement. Early twentieth century black religious movements, including Father Divine’s Peace Mission, offered alternative political and racial identities through religious teaching. Father Divine also created a cooperative empire during the Great Depression that provided ample food and housing for followers and other community members. Like other civil rights pioneers Father Divine drew from Gandhi’s teachings on nonviolence and promoted cooperatives as a just alternative to competitive capitalism. And utopian visionaries like Father Divine rejected segregation and nurtured interracial fellowship.