Daddy Grace

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DADDY GRACE . Charles M. "Daddy" (18811960) Grace was the founder of the United House of Prayer for All People of the Church on the Rock of the Apostolic Faith. A combination of Daddy Grace's grandiosity, his followers' intense devotion, and popular confusion between Grace and the controversial Father Divine caused outsiders to be skeptical of the church for decades. After Grace's death, new leadership made superficial changes that allowed the United House of Prayer to move away from its marginal status and closer to the American religious mainstream. Early in the twenty-first century, its long-term stability invites an appreciation of the strength of the institutional foundations designed and laid by Grace.

Daddy Grace was born Marceline Manuel DaGraca on the island of Brava, Cape Verde (at that time a Portuguese territory), off the northwest coast of Africa. With his parents and four siblings, Grace immigrated to Massachusetts at the turn of the twentieth century. In his first years in the New Bedford area, Grace held odd jobs such as picking cranberries, dishwashing, and selling patent medicines. During this time he also Americanized his surname and began using the first name Charles. Grace had two brief marriages, from which one daughter and two sons were produced. He died from heart ailments at the age of seventy-eight.

Grace was baptized Roman Catholic in Brava, but his religious calling in the United States led him to Protestant forms of worship, particularly the holiness movement. His early attempts to start a church were unsuccessful. He found himself rejected from the pulpit of a Massachusetts Nazarene church and was unable to gain a following in southern states despite extensive travels in his "Gospel Car." Grace finally met with success when he returned to Wareham, Massachusetts, opening his first House of Prayer in 1919, with himself as bishop.

Grace's church grew quickly in its first two decades, spreading both south and west to over a dozen states. Regardless of its growth, the church was commonly perceived as an invalid organization in which the leader exploited the working-class membership for profit. Journalists attempted to make a mockery of the bishop because his flamboyant personal style made for good press. Not only did he have long hair, painted fingernails, suits of bright colors, and jewels on his wrists and fingers, but he also traveled with an entourage that included a chauffeur, bodyguards, and occasionally lawyers and other assistants. Grace's visibility as a man of means and power was certainly one element of the House of Prayer's early growth, but it also contributed to outsiders' skepticism.

The United House of Prayer, though remaining nondenominational during Grace's lifetime, is squarely in the Pentecostal tradition. It is charismatic by nature, and Grace's theological teachings were based on the ideas of one God, one faith, one baptism, and one leader. Although popular lore holds that Grace claimed to be God, evidence demonstrates that this is a misconstruction. Instead, the church's theology focuses on the coming of the end-time and the importance of church leadership in helping to prepare. Worship services include demonstrations of the gifts of the holy spirit, as well as music led by their popular brass shout bands. The House of Prayer's traditions, including annual festive convocations and group baptisms (first on beaches, later by fire hose in the streets) added to its visibility during Grace's reign. There has long been an emphasis on member participation in church auxiliaries, which once included such clubs as the Grace Flower Girls, the Grace Willing Workers Club, the Grace Gospel Choir, the Grace Soul Hunters, and the Grace Soldiers. Beyond the church, members are expected to conduct themselves with conservative behavior, and are encouraged to read and understand the Bible.

Grace was the figurehead of the church, supported by a vast number of individual ministers and a set of General Council Laws prescribing overall operations. Grace was not accountable to anyone, and likewise the many ministers operating under him had a large degree of independence in their practices and teachings. After opening each new church or mission, Grace's involvement with individual Houses of Prayer was primarily based on financial management. Originally, Grace performed healings, but in time he encouraged people to believe they would heal because of their faith rather than because of his direct touch. As he aged, Grace took decreasing roles in religious services, though he frequently traveled to make church appearances. His sermons and other speaking roles were not as important as his mere presence at church events, and as a result very few records of his sermons have been preserved.

Grace's innovative investments and business ventures allowed the church to flourish, and this is where his genius was put to best use. Though often perceived by outsiders as using his working-class followers' donations for his own ends, Grace quietly used the money to build a wealthy corporate empire for the church. The church offered a pension fund for ministers and elderly members, as well as a small insurance plan. It owned several manufacturing businesses that generated revenue for the church corporation. Grace increasingly invested in real estate. For example, when he first opened a House of Prayer in Harlem in 1938, Grace purchased the headquarters of Father Divine's Peace Mission Movement and evicted them. This building was one of the first pieces of a trophy real estate collection that grew to include the El Dorado on Central Park West, two apartment buildings in the Sugar Hill neighborhood, a large swath of property on 125th Street in Harlem, and other mansions, apartment buildings, and businesses in places as varied as Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Detroit, Newport News, Washington D.C., and Havana, Cuba.

Following Grace's death in January 1960, the church experienced confusion over questions of succession to the bishopric and the extent of church assets. Several issues had to be resolved by the courts, and at least one splinter group formed. When the dust cleared, "Sweet Daddy" Walter McCollough (19151991) of Washington, D.C., was elected bishop of the multimillion dollar organization that included approximately one hundred Houses of Prayer nationwide. Under McCollough, congregants' attention was turned to issues of social justice, and church investments expanded to include projects that were of direct benefit to members, such as affordable housing and scholarship programs. McCollough's less ostentatious style of leadership helped move the House of Prayer closer to the mainstream of African American religion. Just as it was under Daddy Grace, the church today continues as a thriving, forward-thinking organization that provides an example of the harmonious mix of otherworldly theology with present-world practicality.


Brune, Danielle E. "Sweet Daddy Grace: The Life and Times of a Modern Day Prophet." Ph.D. diss., University of Texas, Austin, 2002. A cultural biography of Grace that offers particularly good treatment of the early years of his church and a critical analysis of popular misconceptions about his leadership.

Damon, Sherri Marcia. "The Trombone in the Shout Band of the United House of Prayer for All People." Ph.D. diss., University of North Carolina, Greensboro, 1999. A history of the use of the trombone in the shout bands of the United House of Prayer for All People.

Davis, Lenwood G. Daddy Grace: An Annotated Bibliography. New York, 1992. This bibliography provides a sketch of many noteworthy incidents and other highlights of the church's history during the time of Grace's bishopric.

Fauset, Arthur Huff. Black Gods of the Metropolis: Negro Religious Cults of the Urban North. Philadelphia, 1944. This early source includes a chapter on the House of Prayer based on the author's doctoral fieldwork, and compares it to other marginalized African American churches of that time period.

Hodges, John O. "Charles Manuel 'Sweet Daddy' Grace." In Twentieth-Century Shapers of American Popular Religion, edited by Charles Lippy, pp. 170179. New York, 1989. A short and pithy essay on the history of the church and Grace himself.

Robinson, John W. "A Song, a Shout, and a Prayer." In The Black Experience in Religion, edited by C. Eric Lincoln, pp. 212235. Garden City, N.Y., 1974. A detailed essay on the House of Prayer including information about its changes after Grace's death; intended as an update to Fauset's work.

Marie W. Dallam (2005)