By 1933, Michaux had several churches in many states and a radio show. He was one of the most prominent black men in the USA. He cast himself as a modern day prophet. One night in 1933, Michaux had a prophetic dream. He saw a white eagle representing the church. There was a blue eagle, the New Deal reforms. Both teamed up to fight the Red Eagle of communism. Michaux talked about this dream on his radio broadcast.
One of the listeners was Hugh Johnson of the National Recovery Administration. He had been looking for a way to outreach to black voters. Michaux could be the perfect person to accomplish this task. At the time most blacks voted Republican. Johnson sent Michaux an invitation to join the Good Neighbor League.
Once America elected Michaux in 1932, Michaux became a Washington insider. He accompanied Major Richard Wright on a goodwill mission to Haiti with other prominent blacks. Wright owned a business that exported Haitian coffee. Most of the delegation was looking for business opportunities in Haiti. Michaux was there attempting to take his church international. Ultimately he felt Haiti was not a place to expand his congregation, but he and Major Wright struck a deal to sell coffee in Michaux’s “Happy Time Cafe.” Major Wright was instrumental in ending the US occupation of Haiti in 1934. The goodwill trip happened in 1938.
In 1934, The Gospel Spreading Church of God bought a farm that would become the National Memorial to the Progress of the Colored Race. Williamsburg was the place the first African slaves landed in 1619. Michaux had a plan to build a farmers co-op, memorial, and a church on this land. He began fundraising in 1937.
In the 1930’s Williamsburg was building their tourist attraction, a recreation of the colonial settlement. Town officials felt the Monument to Progress would be an eye-sore. So the town called into question Michaux’s methods of fundraising. There was also a move to claim eminent domain on Michaux property and force him to move to another area. The questions about Michaux’s ethics in fundraising caused the decline of his radio show and the cancellation of the national broadcast in 1939.
So Michaux had prominence and pull before working with the FBI in 1939. He did not become a propaganda agent out of desperation. It was a calculated move he made because he felt it was the right thing to do. The Bureau Clergyman, the organization Michaux became a part of pushed a conservative theology to support the status quo. Often Bureau Clergyman would disparage Civil Rights leaders. Michaux will be one of the first men to put forth the rumors that Dr. King was having affairs.
Michaux also needed to have as much influence as possible. He was having legal troubles building his monument to black progress in Williamsburg, VA. The town did not want a black statue creating a blemish on their colonial Williamsburg project. Michaux was also eyeing a sizeable real estate venture in DC called Mayfair Mansions. As the Mayfair Mansions project moves on, Michaux will become further and further in debt. The White House influence will be instrumental in keeping the project afloat.
It is also true that no one could turn down J. Edgar Hoover. We now know Hoover would often manipulate presidents. A storefront preacher would never stand a chance against the FBI. Many black leaders were labeled communist in the era. The red scare ruined the careers of many Leftists, black and white. If Hoover approached him, there was no way he could say no.
A black architect named Albert Cassell had an idea for middle-income housing development in Washington, DC. Cassell had pushed for investors for over a year before contacting Solomon Michaux. Michaux had insider connections with government and wealthy individual. Cassell paid Michaux $12,500 to use his influence to find investors. Michaux brought on: George Allen, DC City Councilman, Harry Butcher, wartime aide to Eisenhower then working for CBS, and Marvin McIntyre aide to FDR. Cassell and Michaux rounded out the original shareholders, all holding 20%. The property that was the Old Benning Road Race Track was purchased in 1940 was used as the construction site.
The district outlawed gambling in 1908. A bill was currently in the City Council to bring the practice back. Luckily, an honorary deacon of the Church of God was on the council, George Allen. Michaux decides to write a telegram to Allen, reminding him of his religious duties. Allen was also ordered to sell his racehorse at a discount to prove his piety. No one can know if the letter influenced his vote, but one can be sure the one-fifth share he had in Michaux’s Mayfair Mansions project tipped the scale. No one knew then Allen was a Mayfair shareholder. Allen votes NO, and the District of Columbia upheld gambling prohibition.
The Federal Housing Authority approved a $ 2.5 million loan, and construction began in 1942. In 1943, Michaux realized he needs more money to complete the project. To secure more funds, he needs to influence the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. There is only one person Michaux knows with enough pull to get the supplemental loan, Mary McLeod Bethune.
The appeal to Bethune was based on the fact that this was the only middle-class federal housing project subsidized by the government for Negros. If the plan failed, blacks would not get another chance for a generation. Bethune agreed and talk to Eleanor Roosevelt. In 1944, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation approved another $682,000. It didn’t hurt the George Allen was in charge of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation at the time.
Mayfair Mansions was not the only project Michaux was constructing in the early 1940s. The commemoration of the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment with the holiday Freedom Day was a passion him and his friend Major Wright. They worked together to influence FDR into ratifying the holiday. Unfortunately, FDR would never make the holiday law. Wright and Michaux began the first unofficial celebrations in 1942.
Michaux “predicted” Truman would win in 1948. God had given Truman stewardship of America for seven years, according to Michaux’s prophecy. Because of Michaux’s enthusiastic support, Truman invited him to participate in the victory parade. Michaux also presented Truman with a painting of Major Wright after he died to commemorate the great Civil Rights Leader. Truman made National Freedom Day law in 1948.
A Senate investigation of Michaux’s business dealings in Mayfair Mansions began in 1951. During the investigation, it was proven that Allen and Butcher owned stock in the project. Allen claimed to have donated his share to the Gospel Spreading Chruch before assuming the role of director of the RFC. Butcher also gave his shares to the church as a result of this investigation. The Senate Committee never finished the investigation. In addition to the Senate investigation, Michaux was delinquent on loan payments. The Treasury Department investigated why Michaux had not paid taxes from 1948 to 1951. Again the investigation abruptly ends with no penalty to Michaux. It is only logical that either Truman or Hoover intervened. Anyone else would have had their property foreclosed on and been sent to jail.
Albert Cassell falls on hard times and has to sell his shares to Michaux for a paltry $40,000 to save the Cassell family farm in Maryland. In 1954, Cassell sued Michaux and the Mayfair association for back pay as the architect of the Mayfair and the money invested in the project. The results of the case could not be found, but it is known that Cassell lived in the Mayfair until he died.
Once Truman’s seven-year stewardship ended. Eisenhower takes up the presidency. Eisenhower was a Republican. So Michaux support was held with suspicion. Michaux made Eisenhower and honorary deacon of The Church of God and wrote him many letters. Staff answered most of the letters. Michaux did receive one invitation to the White House after he led an all-night prayer vigil for the president’s health after a heart attack.
Michaux was able to obtain a new loan to buy the property just north of Mayfair Mansion. The new project was called Paradise Manor and financed with a $6 million loan from Redevelopment Land Agency. By 1960, the only influence Michaux had in government was J. Edgar Hoover. The track record of Mayfair would not have justified an even larger loan, so again it is only plausible to think Hoover pulled some strings. Michaux would not live to see this project completed because he died in 1968, Paradise Manor would not be complete for months after his death.
Upon Solomon Michaux death in October of 1968 many factions attempted to gain control of his fortune. There were three wills. The first will filed in 1958 stated that his siblings would get his fortune, and after their death, it would go to the church. The second and third will gave all the wealth to the siblings in perpetuity. The estate consisted of $25,000 in life insurance, $200,000 in properties mainly in Virginia, and $8 million in shares of the $15 million Mayfair and Paradise complex.
The first contestant was Lewis Michaux, Solomon’s younger brother. His position was that no one would give their property to the church when they had a family. He vowed to take what was rightfully the property of the Michaux klan. Lewis was not named in the first will, but his ex-wife, Ruth, was named. Solomon more than likely left him out because he left the church to go to New York. Lewis files his petition to be executor in April of 1969.
There were also many church factions. One of the church contestants was Marion Butler, a church official in Virginia. He contended that the Virginia churches get the land in their state and operate autonomously.
The second church contestants were Raymond Willis and Robert Hampton both officials in the Washington DC branch. They contended that Solomon Michaux used church funds to keep all his real estate projects afloat, so the real estate should go to the church. They had canceled checks from the church bank account to prove their case. Also, Solomon Michaux said in many church sermons that members should will their wealth to the church upon death. The Willis-Hampton faction wanted the nine churches to split and become independent.
The third was James Taylor, who believed he should be overseer of the church and that the church should stay united. To be overseer he had to be licensed to marry people in every state the Gospel Spreading Church operated. He lacked licensure in Washington, DC at the beginning of the church dispute. Taylor only wanted to keep the church united; he didn’t care what happened to the outside real estate holdings.
Taylor’s first attempt at DC marriage licensure failed. He claimed to be an assistant pastor at the Washington, DC branch of Michaux’s church. Pastor Willis sponsored him at first, but once he found out Taylor was trying to take the church over, he pulled his sponsorship. On Taylor’s second attempt he claimed he founded a new church in the same spot with the same people as the current Washington, DC branch.
The church faction dispute ended on May 17, 1969, when James Taylor won in a court case and received a license to perform marriage in Washington DC. The fact that Taylor alleged to start a new church was never brought up in the hearing. Therefore the judge awarded James Taylor a marriage license. Taylor becomes the overseer of the church and decides not to challenge Lewis Michaux. Taylor demoted Willis, who was the pastor of the Washington, DC branch to giving sermons on Saturday night.
Lewis Michaux was named an executor in September of 1969. However, the fight was not over. A fourth will emerges that was allegedly created three months before Solomon Michaux died. Rabbi Abraham Abraham was named executor. The Rabbi did participate in baptism and secured holy water from Isreal for church events. Atty James Cally authored the fourth will. Cally claimed to be unaware that Solomon Michaux died until 1970. Upon learning, he filed a petition in Washington, DC.
During the deposition, Rabbi Abraham Abraham did not recall meeting Atty Jame Cally or the other witnesses that signed the will. Cally claimed that Solomon was in good health when he entered his office. The family testified that Solomon was too sick to clothe and drive himself. None of Solomons servants remembered driving him to a law office in July of 1968. Neither James Cally or Rabbi Abraham Abraham showed for the hearing. The judge ruled in favor of Lewis Michaux. Fortunately, Lewis gave the Gospel Spreading Church control of the Mayfair and Paradise later that year.
In the end, Michaux’s life is a mixed bag. He preached against Dr. King hurting the Civil Rights Movement. On the other hand, he did provide the only federal subsidized middle-class housing in the nation. The idea of slavery as a positive good was the basis of his theology. On the other hand, he had a soup kitchen that fed hungry black people in the depression. Instead of seeing Michaux as a sell-out, it is better to see him as someone that prioritizes helping those closest to him over the greater national Civil Rights Movement. His skewed priorities is not a justification for the damage he did, but a warning for those of us living today not to let personal ambition get in the way of the more significant fight for liberation. A nuanced look at his life could offer more guidance than writing him off as a sell-out.