November 07, 1884 to October 20, 1968
- Founded the Gospel Spreading is Church of God
- Hosted gospel radio show “Happiness Hour”
- Coordinate with FBI to undermine Martin Luther King
- Erected a monument for Negro Progress
- Secured federally subsides housing called Mayfair Mansions
- Credited for song “Happy Am I”
- Pioneer in television and radio ministry
- Real Estate Mogul
- First Preacher to have his own TV show
Solomon Michaux was born in Newport News on November 7, 1884. His father owned a grocery that young Solomon would work in his younger years. Luckily, Solomon inherited his father’s business savvy and in 1906 he was able to land a government contract to supply the local defense department with groceries.
With the success from his early business venture, he was able to move him and his young wife Mary Eliza to Hopewell, VA. There he and a colleague founded Everybody’s Mission in 1917. The mission was affiliated with the Church of Christ which ordained him. Those tent revivals proved Michaux’s ability as an evangelist.
In 1919, Michaux founded the Gospel Spreading Church of God. This stout bible believing church that thought segregation had no place in the house of the lord. In 1929, Michaux and other congregants were arrested for having an integrated church service. After a short stint in jail Michaux was released with more religious zeal than ever. He went on to found seven more churches.
The revivals of the Church of God were mostly integrated. Michaux was one of the most popular preachers in the country. One revival in Berlin, PA was attended by 10,000 white men. The Washington Evening Star referred to him as a national power. He even packed DC’s Major League Baseball Stadium in 1951. So in many ways he was a pioneer in integration of worship.
Michaux’s business acumen was not satisfied with spreading the gospel. He embarked on a massive real estate venture in Virginia in 1936. At its peak, it encompassed 1,100 acres in a farmers co-op. The goal was to create cooperative complex that would have hundreds of five-acre farms black people could buy. It would be a stand-alone municipality with administration buildings, museums, schools, and entertainment. A monument to the Negro’s loyalty to the white man would be at the entrance. The project was never fully successful, but black farmers operated a few of the farms until early 2000.
His prominence as a church founder lead opportunities to spread the “good news” in many different forms. WJSV of Alexandria Va broadcast a gospel show “Happiness Hour” with Michaux as the host. The show was so successful it expanded to 50 CBS affiliates. His ultimate gospel broadcasting was a television show on the DuMont Television Network from 1947 to 1949. It was one of the first broadcasts hosted by a black man.
Michaux’s show was known for the jazzy gospel tunes such as “Happy Am I”. The show was upbeat and designed to improve the mood of a person going through hardship. A person was to serve G-d through being happy no matter what their circumstances.
A patriotic conservative pro-establishment theology undergrided Michaux’s show and preaching style. As a result of the conservative ideology Michaux came to oppose the March on Washington in 1963 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. He also lauded FBI director J. Edgar Hoover as a soldier of G-d. Martin Luther King was accused of being godless and a Communist stooge. G-d ordained the current order and man should not interfere with the divine order.
The “Happiness Hour” was popular in black America. However, blacks began to sour on Michaux after two public stunts. The first was an open letter 1964 lauding Hoover and demonizing King. In traditional fashion,Michaux defends the current order and those, like Hoover, work to preserve it. In the letter, Michaux praises the FBI’s work to find perpetrators of violence toward blacks and whites. King is characterized as a rabble-rouser causing more harm than good. Most of the black press defended King against Michaux and he began to loose popularity.
The last straw was Michaux’s protest against the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1965. The Baltimore conference was protested by more than 100 Church of G-d members. Black America viewed this protest as largely staged and saw Michaux as a puppet.
Washington, DC owes much of its history to Solomon Michaux. In addition, to owning the “Happy Times” restaurant, he was instrumental in the founding of Mayfair Mansions. This housing development was the only Federally subsidized middle-class housing development in the country. Opening in 1946 , Mayfair Mansions was declared a National Historic Site in 1989.
A stroke claimed Michaux’s life in 1968. Three thousand people attended his funeral. He was loved regionally in the DC area. But nationally he was seen as a sell-out. As the late 1960s made black liberation more militant and conservative preachers were seen as race traitors. Eventually, Michaux faded into obscurity.
Due to a freedom of information act request in 2017, it was discovered that Michaux was part of a FBI program to influence clergy. The landmark work of Lerone Martin was first published in Religion and Politics Fit for Polite Company and Religion and American Culture details Michaux’s role in the FBI plot. The story was also reported in the New York Times and Kolumn Magazine. These articles brought Michaux’s name back from obscurity.
The FBI realized religion is an important tool in social justice. Therefore, those that promoted a theology that supported the status quo needed to be promoted. The Bureau commission clergymen of many faiths and races to promote a conservative political agenda. Solomon Michaux was one of those pastors. His ability at evangelizing through television and radio made him a stand-out. His blackness validated the conservative theology in a way a white pastor could not. The fact a black man agreed that no social movement or change is needed meant that his life and social circle nobody was suffering.
Now it is important to realize Michaux actually was a conservative Christian. His theology before he began working for the bureau in 1939 was also conservative. He believed the Bible did not sanction segregation or discrimination. However, the black man as a group does exist at a lower state. Slavery was one mechanism to civilize black people and bring them up to par with with whites. Segregation and current discrimination was just part of that process. Because Michaux had this philosophy the Bureau recruited him for collaboration.
In Michaux’s theology, the races will only integrate with Jesus comes into the heart of all individuals. The primary unit of social change is the individual. So any attempts to force change on people was outside the will of G-d. All movements for social change including the Civil Rights Movement could only be led by godless communist.
To call Michaux a sell-out or Uncle Tom would be too easy. In Spiral Dynamics terminology, he is a Blue Meme Upper Left Reductionist. He sees the entire problem of segregation stemming from individual moral failings. King took a four quadrants approach. Upper Left represented by his spiritual growth. Upper Right represented by Nonviolent Direct Action. Lower Left represented by the foundations and philosophy of the various organizations started by King. The Lower Left represented by the left-wing policies he pursued.
Another difference between King and Michaux was what they believed caused the present racial hierarchy. King believed the present racial hierarchy was the result of the “fall of man”. Michaux saw it as a result of G-d’s divine providence. So both men saw integration as an positive end, but Michaux believed the current situation was needed to develop black people.
Christianity like all other religions is neutral in the fight for social justice. What makes a religion a force in the fight is the way it is interpreted. Giving spiritual leaders a proper political education and political leaders a proper spiritual education is key in proper leadership. The two fields can’t be separated. The general public must understand how all these elements factor into their ability to obtain freedom.
- “Bereau Clergyman: How the FBI Colluded with and African American Televangelist to Destroy Martin Luther King” by Lerone Martin Religion and American Culture Winter 2018 Cambridge University Press