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Roy Elonza Davis, 1917

 

INTRODUCTION

 

1915 was a time of fear and unrest in the United States. In the months leading up to 1915, Britain had declared war on Germany for evading Belgium[1], and all eyes were on world events as World War I began to form. The New York Stock Exchange closed for several months[2] as a result of the stock exchanges closing down in Europe. For nearly four months, Americans discussed and debated the looming financial disaster while stock trade was halted as the global integration of capital markets was destroyed. By late 1914, the NYSE was reopened, but for how long no one could predict. [3]

Though still remaining neutral in the war, it was growing increasingly obvious that the United States would be joining in the fight overseas. The Port of Orange, Texas was being dredged to increase production of war vessels for the United States Navy.[4] U. S. Dreadnought warships were being built and retrofitted with turbo-electric drives, replacing the less powerful steam turbines.[5] To guard against and warn of incoming invasion by foreign nations, the United States Coast Guard was militarized after having been in operation for over a hundred years as the Revenue Cutter Service and the U.S. Lifesaving Service.[6] But invasion by sea was not the only concern German spies had recently bombed the Vanceboro international railroad bridge connecting the United States and Canada.[7] Though it did not destroy the bridge, it crippled incoming and outgoing supplies from that location, and put a halt to incoming supplies from the Canadian Pacific Railway.

When the Germans sank the British RMS Lusitania which left New York carrying 128 United States Citizens[8], Americans began to learn of a deadly new threat of war: submarines. In 1915, Sonar was severely limited as just a listening device, and only existed in prototype as a utility for detecting a submarine.[9] Because their targets lacked the ability to see the U-Boats, they were an invisible threat that struck fear into the hearts of freighters and passenger ships. Foreign trade was at risk, hindering a growing manufacturing industry.

Theodore Roosevelt began pushing for a further increase in the military strength of the United States forces. He and Chief of Staff, Leonard Wood, started the Preparedness Movement to inform Americans that even while remaining neutral, the survival of the country relied upon being prepared for battle.[10] Americans began reading his recommendations for building up both naval and land forces, which gave the immediate implication that the United States would be fighting. This feeling of impending war was unsettling, and quickly started the Antimilitarist[11] movement, which became popular among Protestant churches. Large protests and demonstrations quickly caught the attention of all eyes watching, and many began to feel that the United States was headed down a pathway that would eventually resemble militarized Germany.

While fearing the worst, Americans started learning of Christian persecution abroad. The Turkish Empire had started the Armenian Holocaust after having threatened to kill every Armenian Christian man, woman, and child.[12] As the death marches into the Syrian Desert began what would become the genocide of nearly 1.5 million people, newspapers in the United States began publishing horrific descriptions of the inhumane conditions. Americans were terrified as they read of mothers and small children enduring brutal conditions of beatings and starvation while a trail of corpses were left behind as they marched to their death.[13]

Religious leaders began to compare the details of global war and disasters of nature with Biblical prophecy. The history of each of the world powers was traced down to the ancient races that could loosely be considered their origins, and the forces of good and the forces of evil were given modern names of modern countries. Spiritualists such as Clarence Larkin were asked to give public addresses on the War and Prophecy[14], giving rebirth to John Darbys theology of Dispensationalism. The Book of Revelation was being re-written from its original symbolic representation of the seven Christian churches of Asia Minor to segments in the timeline on the path to the End of Days.[15] Similar spiritualist movements were springing up overseas.[16]

Modern technology was changing the landscape of America. Henry Ford had sold almost 250,000 automobiles the year before[17], and more sales were expected in 1915. By December, Ford would build its one millionth car. Streets were suddenly filled with a strange mixture of Model T Fords, Willys Model 82 Touring Sedan, and Dodge Brothers Model 30s sharing the streets with horses and buggies, bicycles, and riders on horseback. General Electric Company began publishing advertisements, silent films, and more, advertising The Home Electrical. Americans began to see a vision into a coming future of electricity in the home that would suddenly change their lifestyles. Along with simple lighting, modern science would soon produce vacuum cleaners, sewing machines, and washing machines. Electric ovens, toast machines, and kitchen appliances would be the life of the future. Advertisements for the San Francisco Worlds Fair began to fill newspapers, making businessmen, visionaries, and even average citizens anxious to see the electric inventions of the future.

But still less than fifty years since the end of the Reconstruction Era, the southern part of the nation was still struggling to abandon the old ways.[18] Northern politicians were pushing the idea of integration, and it was not going over well in many of the southern states. After slavery had ended, many black Americans had migrated north or west[19] to get as far away from their owners as possible, but those who remained often joined together in small communities. Many southern cities were divided, having a black section and a white. Eventually, Jim Crow laws were overturned and Amendments were passed[20] to help black Americans vote and enter into politics, and southern states began to see black faces running for official positions.

At the same time, the Jewish population in the South began to grow and thrive. When the manufacturing industry began to explode, southern men, women, and even children found themselves laboring under very harsh conditions while a growing percentage of Jewish men held white-collar jobs[21]. As poverty-stricken white workers watched their children abandoning their educations to provide food for the table, other races were starting to take management or executive-level positions. Southern white men started to see this as a rising threat to not only their culture and heritage, but to their very existence. Many poverty-stricken white families were migrating into cities to work in large factories, leaving behind their dreams and Southern pride. But their conditions were not much better after migration. Once-beautiful cities of southern culture suddenly became breeding grounds for homeless and destitute amidst an increasingly growing lower-class of people.

A nation of people witnessing an unpleasant change in culture quickly became an angered people wanting to revolt when Hollywood made its first political statement. The Birth of a Nation was released in February of 1915, glorifying the original Ku Klux Klan as a heroic force of justice that created a balance for this growing evil they faced. Adapted from a novel and play called The Clansman by Thomas Dixon, Jr., The Birth of a Nation focused on the time periods that many felt had caused their unfortunate situations: The Civil War and the Reconstruction.[22]

The silent film portrayed the events after Lincolns assassination in a way that appealed to many in the South. Radical congressmen rose to create a powerful force with a mission to eradicate southern heritage by punishing the South. Through politics and military force, they began to employ harsh measures to enforce compliance with abolishment of slavery and establishment of free black men, women, and children.

But the film carried it even further by creating racial profiles that were a catalyst to ignite the anger of an already irritated southern man. A mixed-race Silas Lynch became the evil villain of the film, a character created with psychopathic characteristics. His name, his personality, his race, and his behavior were specifically created to capture the fear of what would become when black Americans integrated with white. And while the film portrayed him as a liquor-drinking and fried chicken eating villain, it created a fictional scenario in Washington that angered most southern white males. In the film, laws were passed to require white citizens to salute black soldiers and allow mixed-race marriage. This turned to outrage when the evil villain kidnaps a white woman the hero was attracted to, creating the threat of further mixture of black and white blood.

The hero of the story suddenly had the inspiration to scare people with a white mask. Forming the Ku Klux Klan, a young Ben Cameron gathers a group of men to create a new army one wearing white hoods. The mixed-race, psychotic evil villain orders a crackdown on the Klan, and declares a new law forbidding men of owning a white mask, a crime punishable by death. Bens father is arrested, and Bens faithful black servants come to his rescue sending a message to viewers that black Americans were resigned to the slavery of the past and were very loyal to their owners.

In the end, the hero and his band of White Knights come to the rescue, save the girl, and the Klan is glorified. A giant warlike figure fades away in the background as the image of Jesus Christ brings peace to a small group of people. The title of the film asks the question: Dare we dream of a golden day when the bestial War shall rule no more? But instead the gentle Prince in the Hall of Brotherly Love in the City of Peace.

But peace was not what Americans were expecting with war looming over their heads. Many began to fear Armageddon. Only a few years before, on Azusa Street in Los Angeles, Texans Charles Fox Parham and William Seymour organized and initiated the Pentecostal Revival. In 1906, a meeting took place that was a strange display of dramatic worship services.[23] Many claimed that the meetings were filled with miracles beyond belief, and glossolalia quickly became the main attraction. As the Pentecostal Revival began to spread from Azusa Street through the nation, revivalists were quickly spreading the gift of speaking in tongues. The movement itself had grown and splintered into factions having different doctrinal beliefs, but its fundamental set of beliefs were spreading. By 1915, the Revival had spread through most of the country and was beginning to fade.[24] With talk of the entire world entering war, ministers influenced by the revival began to associate world events with the Pentecostal movement itself, teaching that the movement was the fulfillment of Joel 2.

 

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls. Joel 2:28-32.

 

Claiming that the movement itself was the pouring out of the Spirit on all flesh, ministers influenced by the Pentecostal revivalists began to compare the last verses of the chapter to current events. The wonders in the heavens could easily be compared to the massive explosions of war, and the blood and fire could easily describe the aftermath. Predicting that all nations would go to battle and meet a fiery end, ministers began teaching that World War I was a sign of the End of Days, when the Sun refused to shine. And there would be few survivors only those who joined into the Pentecostal movement would be saved.

But not all ministers in the movement were so willing to abandon their fellow man. Unwilling to accept the idea that only those with glossolalia could be saved, one Fred Francis Bosworth of Dallas Texas decided to create a new breed of Pentecostal. Leaving mainstream Pentecostalism and co-founding the Assemblies of God in 1914, he began to promote the idea that the tongues was just one of the gifts, and Christians could not ignore Gods gift of healing.[25] Bosworth began working to spread this idea throughout his home state of Texas before his campaigning across the nation in the Bosworth Brothers Campaigns.

All of this created the perfect storm for what was about to happen in the neighboring city of Fort Worth, Texas. While watching the Pentecostal Revival fade into a past memory, the Assemblies of God reached out to other Christian denominations of faith. The United States militarized, naval vessels began being manufactured in the Gulf, and citizens of Fort Worth began examining their fallen condition. A once thriving gambling city along the Old Chisholm Cattle Trail[26], Fort Worth had been through a quick rise and a sudden fall. After the Civil War and Reconstruction, the town almost became non-existent, but managed to survive as a city well-known for sin and vice. At its worst, it became a city of many bloodbaths after having attracted a motley crew of gunmen and crooks of all sorts. Part of the city became known as Hells Half Acre,[27] and that acre continued to grow. Over time, and as the morals of the townspeople continued to decline, the financial state of the city also began to decline. It quickly became less attractive to big-time preachers and crooks, and a lower class of villains began to fill the city. The glamour of the gambling halls and saloons started to turn into cheap entertainment, all while attracting a massive influx of very poor black residents. Eventually, the town itself was mostly filled with lower-class or homeless.

Fort Worth ministers continued to preach against the vice trade. After war broke out in Europe, their words had more impact. By 1915, many Protestants began wondering if they were living in the proverbial Sodom or Gomorrah, and began to fear impending doom and questioned the leadership of Fort Worth. This growing fear nearly exploded when the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth began to attack vice and prostitution by naming corrupt government officials and businessmen from behind the pulpit just a few years previously[28], but began to firmly resound with the world at war.

It was in 1915 when a single man decided to change the world. And he decided that it could not be changed through the corrupt political system. It must go deeper than politics. To change the world, it must be done through a power far greater than politics. It must be a silent invasion that the world is not expecting, and through a system that struck fear in even the most corrupt politician. If the world was going to survive, it must be uprooted, changed, and remolded through religion.