It’s not too often I run across a character that (i) is this colorful, (ii) is from Michigan, and (iii) I’d never even heard of. The following might be the most interesting passage about 20th century history that I’ve read in a few years.
It’s a about a preacher named “James Francis Jones”:
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Prophet Jones headed the two largest Pentecostal congregations in Detroit during this period. He also broadcast a live weekly sermon over Canadian station CKLW, whose fifty-thousand-watt signal reached several Midwestern cities with sizable African American populations, and in 1955 began hosting a Sunday-night program on WXYZ-TV, making him the first African American preacher in Detroit to host a weekly television program. The radio and television shows, were, according to several sources, the most popular programs among the city’s African American population. With the help of sustained national mainstream media attention, including feature articles in Life, Time, Newsweek, and the Saturday Evening Post, by the mid-1950s, Jones’s admirers made up a substantial portion of the African American population as a whole. And he was almost certainly the most popular minister among Detroit’s black working class.
Jones reveled in materialist self-aggrandizement. He spoke not from a pulpit but from a $5,000 throne. In public he often wore a full-length white mink coat draped over European suits, and at home he liked to relax in satin slippers and a flowing robe decorated with sequins and an Elizabethan collar. He was doused with cologne and festooned with enormous jeweled rings, and drove a massive white Cadillac. But most impressive of all was his fifty-four room mansion, called Dominion Residence, which included a perfume parlor, barber shop, ballroom, and shrine to his longtime companion, James Walton, who died in 1951. Jones had the mansion painted a different color each season of the year. Perhaps most astonishing, nearly all of his wealth came from gifts he received from his followers, whose devotion to Jones was never cooled by the press’s constant exposure of his homosexuality.