Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

November 6, 1948

Guest post by Tenaya Bien, undergraduate student at University of Richmond.

This article from November 6, 1948, a “special to the Journal and Guide,” titled “Burglars Break Into Tabernacle: Part of $30,000 Theft Of Bishop Grace Found” highlighted recent developments in the burglary case of Bishop “Sweet Daddy” Grace. Any burglary of this size ($303,237 in today’s dollar) was certainly sensational news, but to be stolen from a church figure provokes some critical questions. Who was Bishop Grace? Why did he keep possessions of such value in the tabernacle? How did Bishop Grace have so much material value in his possession?

“Sweet Daddy” Grace was a self-ordained minister who set up a network of “prayer houses” under the umbrella organization called The United House of Prayer for All People. These organizations practiced and preached Pentecostal-Holiness to a mostly poor, black congregation. Grace and his prayer houses became wildly popular and well known in the African-American community. He was known to give fiery sermons, carry out mass baptisms by fire hose, and even to be able to perform miracles, healing the sick. He was seen as a messiah, and his church was an institution. His congregations worshiped him and showed their affection through the giving of “love offerings.”125 The controversy surrounding Grace’s church had to do with the enormous amount of wealth they generated. Not only were the congregations funding the growth of the church, they allowed for Grace’s acquisition of multiple mansions and properties. Grace was known for wearing elaborate clothing and ornamental jewels.

This Norfolk Journal and Guide article, written in 1948, shows the incredible wealth the preacher of humble origins managed to amass by this point. In addition to “nearly $18,000 in cash,” the stolen briefcase also contained “a $5,000 platinum case watch; two diamond rings, one of which was valued at $3,500; a diamond-studded key encrusted with pearls; and the key to several safety-deposit boxes used by Bishop Grace.” The burglary of property worth $30,000 in a briefcase was stolen from one of Grace’s churches in Concord, North Carolina. The main suspect in the case was “a colored man identified as Clarence Jones” who “admits knowledge of the crime but maintains he sat outside in the getaway car.” Even in more recent years the church holds millions of dollars worth of property to its name, yet I had never heard of Sweet Daddy Grace or his United House of Prayer.126

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