By Charles Alexander
On several sporty occasions I’ve dined at Angelina’s Restaurant in Downtown Detroit with BTL co-publishers Jan and Susan, loyal Tiger baseball fans.
From our window side table, the Comerica Park pre-game fireworks are spectacular to watch (as are many of the attendee pitch hitters parading by in cutoffs for my out fielder benefit).
Grrrrrr! The Tigers got close this year, but not close enough. (I was downtown when the team won the ’68 World Series. The celebration was wild; pitcher Denny McClain a hero, whose future seemed bright, promising, a natural for the Baseball Hall of Fame.)
On our last visit I cashed a twenty at the bar and recalled that Angelina’s was once the Madison Theater. Where I stood was its lobby, and there, years ago in my late teens, I got a special “blessing” from Rev. James Francis Jones. Prophet Jones (1908 – 1971).
When I approached Prophet Jones he was alone. I hadn’t a clue why he was unescorted, but I recognized him from TV and newspaper pictures. “Aren’t you Prophet Jones?” I boldly asked. He was cordial, gracious, conservatively dressed. Soft spoken in voice, cultured in diction.
As a lark I asked for a blessing. He gave me a Who-is-this-presumptive-white-kid look, and said, “Thirty years fallow, twenty years a harvest of your good.” He also invited me to call his secretary and make an appointment to visit his fabulous 54-room Arden Park mansion. I never did.
Jones’s flamboyant lifestyle as a preacher was both praised and damned in Time, Newsweek, Saturday Evening Post, Ebony, Pittsburgh Courier, Detroit mainstream and African-American newspapers. He was controversial. Flamboyant! Possibly, well, you know …
Although he received birthday greetings from Michigan Governor G. Mennen Williams and was an invited guest at Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1952 presidential inauguration, many African-American civil and religious leaders called him a con artist.
Jones wore one gold earring (God whispered into his right ear), ruled from an ornate $5300 throne, wore a full-length mink coat – price tag $13,500 – a gift from Chicago schoolteacher sisters whose mother he had healed before coming to Detroit in 1938.
He held court at the Universal Triumph, the Dominion of God, Inc., with his flock of lords, ladies, princesses and princes (and presumably queens) at the Oriole Theater, a renovated movie house. Doors were locked to keep drowsy royalty and commoners from sneaking away during the three-hours-long midnight telecast services. He preached that Mary was black, that she was turned away from the inn because of racial discrimination, and that Jesus was not crucified but lynched.
Jones’s followers couldn’t join social clubs, drink coffee or alcohol, or bear children out of wedlock. They could, however, be patriotic. (They purchased over $12,000 in Victory Bonds during World War ll.) The Prophet was suspected of dealing in the numbers racket, and an undercover cop was assigned to gather details.
The novice vice cop, John Henry, a butch 24, uncovered little evidence of numbers involvement by Jones, other than giving out three-digit Bible verses for donations of $5, $10, and $20. Unfortunately, Jones blessed Henry’s exposed ripcord when they were alone during a private healing service, or so the paratrooper-turned-vice-cop alleged.
“Prophet Jones Jailed on Morals Charge” blared the Feb. 21, 1956 banner Free Press headline, with other papers gleefully tooting in. Thanks to a smart lawyer, the jury found Prophet Jones not guilty. It was a case of entrapment, pure (but not so simple).
As Jones left the courtroom in dark glasses his followers chanted, “All is well, prophet.” But they were wrong. No matter who you bailout with, you can’t walk on water without sinking. (Especially in high heels.) Oh, yes! The Prophet’s late-60s church venue is the Fine Arts building, currently housing the Detroit ACLU office. (Glory Be!)