A La Quinta man is launching a legal campaign for control of a religious movement worth millions of dollars. As the adopted son of the International Peace Movement’s late founder, Tommy Garcia of La Quinta says he wants to re-start the charities the movement was once famous for.
Little is known about the personal life of the International Peace Movement’s founder, Father Divine. We don’t even knowhis real name.
Divine was born around 1876. As an evangelical reverend, he gained a following in 1920s New York and Philadelphia. That began a movement called the International Peace Movement. Many of his followers thought he was the living form of God.
Divine’s charitable empire grew in money, buying up several hotels and businesses on the East Coast. Father Divine and his second wife, “Mother Divine” lived in an estate called Woodmont near Philadelphia in the 1960s.
That’s when the movement began to shrink and faced a succession crisis. And that’s when cult leader Jim Jones came in.
A 1970s TV movie, “Guyana Tragedy,” portrayed the meeting between Jim Jones and Father Divine, played by James Earl Jones, when Jim Jones tried to become Divine’s successor.
Instead, Father Divine chose a child. Because the International Peace Movement was built on interracial relationships, he chose a Mexican-American child to symbolize the uniting of the races. He chose Tommy Garcia, the eight-year-old son of one of his movement’s members.
Garcia recalls what Father Divine told him as a boy.
“He said, ‘Tommy, it’s come to my attention that no one wants you. I want you. And if you agree to live with me at Woodmont, I will take care of you the rest of your life.'”
Tommy and his sister lived an unusual and sheltered life at the Woodmont estate. Divine’s followers treated Tommy Garcia as “the son of god.”
But, when Father Divine died in 1965, his wife took control of the movement. She sent Tommy away. He made a life of his own. Garcia now runs a sportfishing business in his home in La Quinta, hardly ever sharing the story of his time with Father Divine’s movement, until now.
“I feel that I’m the voice of my mother, my sister, who is gone, and all the thousands of followers who are also disenchanted. Now, they have nothing now,” said Garcia.
The International Peace Movement charities that once gave food and shelter to thousands of people nearly disappeared under the leadership of Mother Divine.
“I’d like for her to fulfill Father’s Divine’s prophecy and his ideas and his foresight,” said Garcia. “He had incredible foresight. She said he was god. And, all through her teachings, they said he had incredible foresight. Then, when they asked her who is the successful heir, who is going to take over? She goes, ‘The spirit moves in mysterious ways.’ We have never planned that out.’ That makes no sense.”
So, Tommy Garcia has dedicated himself to research in an attempt to bolster his claim to the leadership role he says father divine wished him to have. If the Peace Movement’s headquarters at the Woodmont Estate can be described as palatial, Garcia’s recent actions are nothing short of a palace coup.
Our fellow ABC station in Philadelphia asked for a tour of the Woodmont Estate. The request was denied.
The war over the heart and soul of the International Peace Movement continues. And our investigation continues Friday night at 11 on News Channel 3.
To see the official site of Mother Divine and the International Peace Movement, visit www.libertynet.org/fdipmm/.
To find out more about Tommy Garcia and his life, click www.tommygarcia.com.