Other Free Encyclopedias » Online Encyclopedia » Encyclopedia - Featured Articles » Contributed Topics from K-O » Michaux, Solomon Lightfoot(1884–1968) - Evangelist, Early Years, Business Opportunities and Marriage, Chronology, Religious Experience, Receives the Call to Preach

Organizes Church of God

michaux radio michaux’s religious

In 1922, when the Church of Christ (Holiness) met in Jackson, Mississippi, Michaux notified the bishop that he was seceding. When he returned he surprised the congregation with the news of their secession from the Church of Christ (Holiness). He proceeded to establish an independent church, calling it the Church of God. He chose this name, because in his view that was what holy assemblies were called in the Bible. This church, along with its other related operations, was incorporated under an umbrella grouping known as the Gospel Spreading Tabernacles Building Association. Michaux had been planning this move for some time; the corporation purchased the building, a three-story structure built by Benson Phillips, who was an acquaintance from Michaux’s childhood.

During this year Michaux experienced two personal losses, his father died and he no longer had the support and relationship that he had established with Bishop Jones, the man who had been his spiritual father for many years. Still, Michaux’s mission was to build this new church and establish a chain of churches, which would eventually be an empire unsurpassed by other religious groups. Also in 1922, Michaux and several of his members were arrested for singing on the streets of Newport News, during the early morning hours, while inviting people to join the church. For his action he was fined; he later appealed in vain to the Virginia Supreme Court.

As members migrated north in search of employment after World War I, Michaux began to establish branch churches in the cities along the east coast. In 1922, Michaux was a thirty-eight-year-old, mission-oriented preacher. His many successes in business, combined with the growth of his ministry, made him believe in himself and his purpose. He embarked upon a plan of action that merged the religious, social, and economic interests he had pursued before. He also discovered that he had the ability to appeal to the masses, articulating their most intimate feelings and concerns.

Michaux traveled from city to city as an evangelist. He, organized churches, and used the media and his talent for showmanship to spread the gospel, believing that combining religion with entertainment would result in the most conversions to his church.

In 1929, Michaux ventured into radio programming at station WJSV in Washington, D.C., and became famous as a radio evangelist, despite being denied an opportunity to broadcast by most stations. It was through determination and perseverance that he succeeded. The broadcast moved to the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) in 1932, the eve of radio’s golden era. As a result of the radio program’s signature song, “Happy Am I,” Michaux became known from coast to coast and overseas as the “Happy Am I Preacher.” His fundamentalist sermons of hope and good neighborliness caught the attention of millions, appealing to all classes of people. His wife continued to be a powerful influence in his ministry, an exhorter and the lead broadcast soloist. She was a regular on the radio program, too. The radio program became so popular that local, national, and foreign dignitaries attended his live, theatrically staged radio broadcasts. To Michaux’s surprise even the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) contracted with him for two broadcasts in the United Kingdom, in 1936 and 1938. A third broadcast was considered but because of Michaux’s legal problems it was cancelled. Michaux was sought after by booking agents and movie directors, who offered him contracts, but all were refused by Michaux. In 1942 he collaborated with Jack Goldberg to make one commercial film, We’ve Come a Long, Long Way .

Michaux’s political activities and other business endeavors continued to grow. He used his preaching via the radio to offer free housing and employment services to poor people, both black and white. In return for meals at the Happy News Café, he invited them to sell copies of Happy News , the church’s paper.

Michaux became actively involved in the political arena when President Herbert Hoover evicted the Bonus Army (fifteen thousand unemployed World War I veterans and their families who converged on the capital in 1932 to demand immediate payment of bonuses that were not due until 1945) for which Michaux had been holding worship services. Then too Michaux used the radio to campaign for Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932, 1936, and 1940. He is now credited with influencing some of the first African Americans to leave the Republican Party and enter the Democratic fold in 1932.

Yet, in 1952, Michaux switched sides and campaigned as vigorously for Republican candidate Dwight Eisenhower as he had for Roosevelt and Harry Truman. This led many to believe that Michaux was an exploiter and opportunistic in his religious and business practices.

Michaux’s annual baptisms were considered one of the highlights of the season. Crowds would attend these ceremonies. Because of his knack for taking advantage of entertainment opportunities, he moved the ceremony, from the Potomac riverbank in 1938 into Griffith Stadium until 1961. The significance of this move was that this was the first time that an all black organization was permitted to use Griffith Stadium. These patriotically elaborate stadium services were full of pageantry, fireworks, and enthralling precision drills and choral singing from the 156-voice Cross Choir. Singing was accompanied by the church band, while hundreds were baptized center field in a canvas-covered tank.

Michaux had made lucrative deals in real estate, such as the 1934 purchase of 1,800 acres of land along the beachfront in Jamestown, Virginia, where he intended to develop a National Memorial to the Progress of the Colored Race of America. His plans for selling investment shares, however, fell through when lawsuits that alleged mismanagement of monies were filed against him.

Michaux moved his church’s headquarters to the nation’s capital in 1929 mainly due to the success of his radio ministry there. He bought the old Benning Race Track in Washington sometime in 1940 and received $2.5 million from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to construct Mayfair Mansions, a 594-unit housing development. This project was completed in 1946. In 1964, he was granted $6 million in FHA loans to build Paradise Manor, a 617-unit apartment complex adjacent to May-fair Mansions. This growth shows just how well received and favored he was because in the 1950s he had come under investigation for favoritism from federal lending agencies. These successes were due in part to his friendship with prominent people in Washington, some of whom were honorary members of his church.

While Michaux initially preached race consciousness and stated that all races were brothers, he became more and more conservative as he aged. He criticized the civil rights and black nationalist movements in the 1960s, and preached that the activities of Elijah Muhammad and Martin Luther King Jr. contributed to racial polarization.

During the forty-nine years of his career he established seven churches and several branches, and membership numbered in the thousands. By the time he died in 1968, he had acquired and left to his church a considerable estate of temples, apartment dwellings, cafes, tracts of land, and private residences in several cities. His worth was estimated to be in excess of $20 million. When Michaux died in Washington, D.C., his radio program was estimated to be the longest continuous broadcast in radio history. The religious institution, the Church of God, which he founded, continued to operate into the early 2000s. He made a significant contribution in religious broadcasting by using electronic and print media for worldwide evangelism.

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about 6 years ago

When I was a child in the late 1950's and 60's in Washington, D. C., I remember Elder Michaux dressed a man up to look like a devel. He had on a black suit and a green face and he marched up Georgia Avenue scaring my friends and myself out of our wits. My grandmother told me it was Elder Michaux's devil. Do you have any recollection of this in your research or archives?