In 1901 a small group of parishioners led by Alma White split away from the Methodist church and formed an organization known as the Pentecostal Union. Their notoriety soon grew, and they quickly became known worldwide as “The Pillar of Fire.” The Pillar of Fire has, over the years, become associated with mystery, racism, and New Jersey.
Originally formed in Colorado, the Pillar of Fire later established a community three miles outside of Bound Brook, NJ. This area, known as Zarephath, was founded as a town by the Pillar of Fire in 1907 and soon became the international center for its religion. Thousands would flock to hear Alma White’s outdoor sermons every Sunday. The Pillar of Fire established a college (Alma White College) in Zarephath, and acquired their own radio station to spread the good word.
While this seems par for the course in terms of religious activity, there was something of a sinister underside to the Pillar’s early activities. Alma White wrote dozens of books, many of which promoted racial and religious intolerance. “Klansmen: Guardians of Liberty,” “Heroes of the Fiery Cross,” published in 1928, and “The Ku Klux Klan in Prophecy,” 1925, all obviously promoted the KKK as a divinely motivated and heroic organization. In fact, Zarephath was known as a haven for the Klan in the early 1900’s. Klan rallies occurred in the vicinity of Zarephath, and there was even a riot when 1,000 people attacked one of these rallies in Bound Brook in 1923.
The introduction to Alma White’s first book, The Ku Klux Klan in Prophecy, was written by Arthur H. Bell, a Bloomfield resident, who was the KKK’s official Imperial Representative of the Realm of New Jersey at the time.
What’s terribly strange about all this is that Ms. White, the founder of this Klan-supporting religious movement, fervently promoted feminism. This open-minded facet of her teachings would seem to contradict her ardent support of the KKK, but White herself actually wrote that she believed the KKK was the greatest hope for the success of the feminist cause. “We are looking to the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan to champion the cause of woman and to protect her rights,” she wrote.
In his introduction to Bishop White’s second book, Klansmen: Guardians of Liberty, KKK Grand Dragon Arthur Bell praises White and her unwavering support of the Klan: The author of the book, Bishop Alma White, has long been considered one of the foremost warriors in the battle between darkness and light and is well able to bring forth in an understandable manner the true status of the Roman Catholic hierarchy and the Ku Klux Klan as pointed out by the greatest book of the ages, the Holy Bible.
In the book, White portrays the Klan as heroes and defenders of the American people: The heroes of a new reformation are here, robed in white, emblematic of the purity of the principles for which they stand, to protect our homes and religious rights and to make a bulwark around our free institutions, which our enemies are doing all in their power to destroy. This view of the Klan went beyond mere prose, and expressed itself in poetry written by White.
OUR COUNTRY’S CALL
By Bishop Alma White
Klansmen now are coming,
Great and mighty throng,
To protect our country,
Standing ‘gainst the wrong.
Keep Old Glory Waving,
Heed the trumpet’s call,
Klansmen, to our country
Be true, one and all.
Over vale and hill,
Klansmen now are coming
God’s word to fulfill.
Aliens who would rob us
Of all that we hold dear
Must keep in their places
And appointed sphere.
Count their gold as dross,
Standing for their country
And the fiery cross.
While White may have had the ability to rhyme and maintain meter, she was not much good at predicting the future. She felt that the Klan, who even in her day were viewed as outlaws, would come to be hailed in the future as heroes. “Wholesale condemnation of the Klan shows a great lack of wisdom and is the height of folly,” she wrote, then prophesied: “Time will wear down the wall of opposition against any cause that is for the betterment of the human race. It will pay, therefore, to act with much deliberation before passing judgment on Klansmen.”
Perhaps some of the most confusing propaganda penned by Bishop Alma White was her revisionist history. In Klansmen: Guardians of Liberty, she claimed that the founding fathers of the United States were full-fledged members of the KKK. She seems oblivious to the well documented fact that Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest founded the Klan after the Civil War. White claimed that it was not her, but the facts and the people who believed them which were in error. “Many people today, like blind Samson grinding in the mill of the Philistines, are unable to trace the origin of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan back to the early settlers of our country, whose spirit and principles have been brought down from Revolutionary times to the present day.”
According to White, Paul Revere was also a Klansman. He even made his famous midnight ride in the robes and hood of the KKK. Who knew? (Alma knew, and that’s why she has a NJ college named after her and you don’t.)
Regardless of her hazy vision of history, Bishop Alma believed that the politics of her time should have been be pioneered by Klansmen. “The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan must assume the leadership and be eyes for the blind in this time of peril. They must name candidates who can be safely trusted, those who will not betray the public on questions of such vital importance as prohibition, restricted immigration, white supremacy, and other issues that are everywhere being discussed.”
Despite her all of her lip service paid to the Klan, White did not really seem to understand what the organization was all about. She writes, “The Klan is a white, Protestant, Gentile organization whose principles stand as much for the liberty and protection of the colored people as for the white race...The colored people have been made to believe that the Klan regalia was designed for the special purpose of intimidating and terrorizing them...the contagion has spread until the colored population is thoroughly imbued with the idea that the Klan is secretly watching their activities and planning to do them harm.” White never mentions that the Klan actually WAS intimidated and terrorized black Americans and DID plan on doing them harm.
Beyond even neglecting to mention the lynchings, cross burnings, and political strong arming the KKK inflicted upon African Americans, White went so far as to deny their existence. “The Klan is opposed to mob violence and lynchings,” she alleged, “and has succeeded in abolishing them in places where they were of frequent occurrence...Many accusations have been brought against the Klan as lawbreakers. These accusations against the order are newspaper propaganda. So far we have not heard of a single instance where the Klan, by an official act, has violated any law...I believe in white supremacy. The Klan believes that America is a white man’s country and should be governed by white men. Yet the Klan is not anti-negro; it is the negro’s friend.”
Today Zarephath is still a thriving town, and still the international headquarters for the Pillar of Fire. Their colleges aimed at educating people in Bible study are still running at full steam, and their radio broadcast can still be heard on WAWZ 99.1 FM. While they may not still espouse racist rantings, it cannot be denied that in earlier, darker days, their founder certainly did.