Part 2—United States of America
The incarceration of these Christian witnesses of Jehovah was a figurative deathblow, much to the delight and relief of their enemies. Fulfilled were the words of Revelation 11:10: “And those dwelling on the earth rejoice over them and enjoy themselves, and they will send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those dwelling on the earth.” Religious, judicial, military and political foes of the “two witnesses” did “send gifts” to one another, in that they congratulated one another for the part they played in gaining a victory over their tormentors.
In his book Preachers Present Arms, Ray H. Abrams considered the trial of J. F. Rutherford and his associates and observes:
“An analysis of the whole case leads to the conclusion that the churches and the clergy were originally behind the movement to stamp out the Russellites. . . .
“When the news of the twenty-year sentences reached the editors of the religious press, practically every one of these publications, great and small, rejoiced over the event. I have been unable to discover any words of sympathy in any of the orthodox religious journals. ‘There can be no question,’ concluded Upton Sinclair, that ‘the persecution . . . sprang in part from the fact that they had won the hatred of “orthodox” religious bodies.’ What the combined efforts of the churches had failed to do the government now seemed to have succeeded in accomplishing for them—the crushing of these ‘prophets of Baal’ forever.”
OPTIMISM DESPITE ‘BABYLONISH CAPTIVITY’
From 607 to 537 B.C.E. the Jews languished as captives in ancient Babylon. Comparably, dedicated worshipers of Jehovah anointed with his holy spirit were brought into a Babylonish captivity and exiled during the World War I period of 1914-1918. Especially were the depths of their captive state felt when the eight faithful brothers from the Society’s headquarters were incarcerated in the federal penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia.
But during this entire period of difficulty, not one issue of The Watch Tower failed to appear in print. An appointed editorial committee kept the journal in circulation. Furthermore, despite the hardships encountered at that time, the attitudes displayed by faithful Bible Students were exemplary. Brother T. J. Sullivan remarked: “It was my privilege to visit Brooklyn Bethel in the late summer of 1918 during the brothers’ incarceration. The brothers in charge of the work at Bethel were in no wise fearful or downhearted. In fact, the reverse was true. They were optimistic and confident that Jehovah would give his people the victory ultimately. I was privileged to be at the breakfast table on Monday morning when the brothers sent out on weekend appointments gave their reports. A fine picture of the situation was obtained. In every case the brothers were confident, waiting for Jehovah to direct their activities further.”
Interestingly, one morning after the trial of Brother Rutherford and his associates, R. H. Barber received a call from Rutherford asking him to come to the Pennsylvania Station, where the brothers were waiting for several hours for a through train to Atlanta. Brother Barber and some others rushed to the station. There Brother Rutherford said that if the brothers at headquarters were harassed too much by the police, they should sell Bethel and the Brooklyn Tabernacle and move either to Philadelphia, Harrisburg or Pittsburgh, since the Watch Tower Society was a Pennsylvania corporation. Prices of $60,000 for Bethel and $25,000 for the Tabernacle were suggested.
How did matters turn out? Well, those then in charge of the Society did encounter many problems. For instance, there were shortages of paper and coal. Patriotism ran high and many improperly viewed Jehovah’s Christian witnesses as traitors. In Brooklyn there was great animosity against the Society, and it appeared impossible to continue operations there. Hence, the executive committee that was in charge at headquarters consulted with other brothers and it was decided that it was best to sell the Brooklyn Tabernacle and to close the Bethel home. Eventually the Tabernacle was sold for $16,000, according to R. H. Barber’s recollection. Later, all necessary arrangements for the sale of Bethel to the government were made except the transfer of cash. But something interfered—the armistice. The sale never was fully accomplished.
August 26, 1918, however, had begun the transfer of the Society’s headquarters from Brooklyn, New York, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “As I look back,” comments Hazel Erickson, “I can see that though the Bible Students were stunned because of the brothers’ having been imprisoned, they never stopped witnessing. They were just a bit more cautious, perhaps.” Sister H. M. S. Dixon recalled that “the faith of the friends remained strong and the meetings were held regularly.” Jehovah’s Christian witnesses continued to display faith in God. True, they were in a crucible of hardship and persecution. Yet, God’s holy spirit was upon them. If only they could endure, surely the Divine One would save them from their persecutors and grant them deliverance from their state of ‘Babylonish captivity’!
THE MONTHS IN PRISON
By mid-1918 J. F. Rutherford and his seven associates found themselves in the federal penitentiary at Atlanta, Georgia. A letter written by A. H. Macmillan on August 30, 1918, enables us to look behind those prison walls. A copy submitted by Melvin P. Sargent reads, in part:
“No doubt you would like a word as to our condition in prison. I will briefly tell you a few things about life there. Brother Woodworth and I ‘cell together.’ Our cell is very clean, well aired and lighted. It is about 10 x 6 x 7 feet, has two berths with straw ticks, two sheets, blankets and pillows, two chairs, a table and plenty of clean towels and soap. We also have a cabinet in which to keep our toilet articles. . . .
“All the brethren work together in the tailor shop. This room is a well-aired, well-lighted room 60 x 40 [feet]. Brother Woodworth and I make buttonholes and sew buttons on shirts and prison suits. Brothers Van Amburgh, Robison, Fisher, Martin and Rutherford make, or rather help make, prison coats and pants. About one hundred men in all work in this department. From the place I work, I can see all the brethren, and I assure you it is interesting to see Brother Van Amburgh at a sewing machine, sewing seams that join the eastern and western portions of a pair of trousers together. . . . Brother Rutherford almost gave up hope of ever learning how to put a coat together. I don’t think he has finished one yet, although he has been at work about three weeks. When I look at him he seems to be busy, but I really think he spends most of his time trying to thread a needle. [A guard dealt so unreasonably with him that some other prisoners took the jacket and completed it. Eventually, Brother Rutherford was transferred to a place where he was more ‘at home’—the library.] . . .
“The first thing we do after reaching our cells after supper is to read the afternoon papers. Then for an hour, six to seven, everyone who wishes to may play on any musical instrument he may have. What a variety! I think that they play at every kind that is made except the Jew’s harp, and I am thinking of getting me one of those, as that is the only thing that I can play except the ten-stringed harp. During this, that Brother Woodworth calls ‘Dante’s Inferno,’ we play dominoes. After this we read the Dawns or Bible until bedtime, at 10:00 p.m., when the lights go out. The next day we do the same thing, and so on until Saturday. On Saturday afternoon all the inmates go out into the yard. There is a baseball game which is well played, in which the men take a deep interest. I usually spend the afternoon playing tennis. The other brethren walk around talking. The different classes of men gather in little groups—anarchists, socialists, counterfeiters, ‘moonshiners,’ pro-Germans, bank cashiers, lawyers, druggists, doctors, train robbers, burglars, ministers (of whom there are a goodly number), etc., etc., etc. The prison band plays several selections during the afternoon.”
The eight incarcerated Bible Students had opportunities to preach the good news of God’s kingdom to other inmates. All prisoners were required to attend chapel service on Sunday morning and those so desiring could remain for Sunday school thereafter. The eight brothers formed a class for study and fellowship. In time other inmates joined them and the brothers took turns teaching the class. Some of the officers even drew near to listen. Interest increased until ninety persons were in attendance.
The transforming power of God’s truth had a profound effect on some of the inmates. For example, one remarked: “I am seventy-two years of age, and I had to get behind prison bars in order to hear the truth. I am glad for this reason that I was sent to the penitentiary. For fifty-seven years I have asked questions of the ministers, and never could get satisfactory answers. Every question I asked these men [the imprisoned Bible Students] has been answered to my satisfaction.”
The Spanish influenza then was raging and this brought the Sunday-school classes to an end. However, just before the eight Bible Students were released from the Atlanta penitentiary, all the groups they had instructed were united and J. F. Rutherford spoke to those assembled for about forty-five minutes. Some officers were present, and many of the inmates shed tears of joy over the hope of liberty to come for mankind under Kingdom rule. When freed, the Bible Students left in prison a small group that remained faithful.
EXPRESSIONS OF CONFIDENCE
The armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, and World War I came to its end. But the eight Bible Students were still in prison. There they remained while their fellow believers held a convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, January 2-5, 1919. This assembly was combined with the very significant annual meeting of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society on Saturday, January 4, 1919.
J. F. Rutherford realized that at this corporation meeting opposers within the organization would try to have him and the other officers of the Society replaced by men of their choice. That Saturday, January 4, A. H. Macmillan was playing out at the prison tennis court. Rutherford approached him, and, according to Macmillan, this is what took place:
“Rutherford said, ‘Mac, I want to talk to you.’
“‘What do you want to talk to me about?’
“‘I want to talk to you about what’s going on at Pittsburgh.’
“‘I’d like to play this tournament out here.’
“‘Aren’t you interested in what’s going on? Don’t you know it’s the election of officers today? You might be ignored and dropped and we’ll stay here forever.’
“‘Brother Rutherford,’ I said, ‘let me tell you something perhaps you haven’t thought of. This is the first time since the Society was incorporated that it can become clearly evident whom Jehovah God would like to have as president.’
“‘What do you mean by that?’
“‘I mean that Brother Russell had a controlling vote and he appointed the different officers. Now with us seemingly out of commission the matter’s different. But, if we got out in time to go up to that assembly to that business meeting, we would come in there and would be accepted to take Brother Russell’s place with the same honor he received. It might look then like man’s work, not God’s.’
“Rutherford just looked thoughtful and walked away.”
That was an eventful day at Pittsburgh. “When the hour arrived for the business meeting, tensions were high,” recalls Mary Hannan. “We observed that some of the opposition were present, they hoping to get their man in office.”
A letter from Brother Rutherford was read to the audience. In it he sent love and greetings to all and warned against Satan’s chief weapons of pride, ambition and fear. Showing a desire to submit to Jehovah’s will, he even humbly suggested suitable men in the event that other officers of the Society should be elected.
Discussion had continued for quite some time, when Brother E. D. Sexton spoke up, saying:
“I just arrived. My train was forty-eight hours late, having been snowbound. I have something to say and for my own comfort I better say it now. My dear brethren, I have come here, as the balance of you have, with certain ideas in mind—pro and con. We might say, with all due respect to our legal friends, that we have been talking to some other lawyers. I find they are very much like doctors. They disagree sometimes. But I presume what I say will be in perfect agreement with what they have said. There is no legal obstacle in the way. If we desire to reelect our brethren in the South to any office they can hold, I cannot see, or find from any advice I have received, how this will, in any shape or form, interfere with the aspect of their case before the Federal Court or before the public.
“I believe that the greatest compliment we can pay to our dear Brother Rutherford would be to reelect him as president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. I do not think there is any question in the mind of the public as to where we stand on the proposition. If our brethren in any way technically violated a law they did not understand, we know their motives are good. And before Almighty God they have neither violated any law of God or of man. We could manifest the greatest confidence if we reelected Brother Rutherford as president of the Association.
“I am not a lawyer, but when it comes to the legality of the situation I know something about the law of the loyal. Loyalty is what God demands. I cannot imagine any greater confidence we could manifest than to have an election and reelect Brother Rutherford as president.”
There were nominations, a vote was taken and J. F. Rutherford was elected as president, C. A. Wise, as vice-president, and W. E. Van Amburgh, as secretary-treasurer. Looking back, Anna K. Gardner remarks: “There was a deep happiness after that meeting to see again Jehovah’s visible guidance of his people.”
The scene changes to Atlanta penitentiary. It is Sunday, January 5, 1919. J. F. Rutherford raps on Brother Macmillan’s cell wall and says: “Poke your hand out.” At that, he hands Macmillan a telegram. Its message? Rutherford has been reelected president. Later that day Brother Rutherford said to A. H. Macmillan: “I want to tell you something. You made a remark yesterday that is working in my mind about our being put in Brother Russell’s place and we would have influenced the election if we had been in Pittsburgh and the Lord would not have had the chance to show whom he wanted. Why, brother, if I ever get out of here, by God’s grace I’ll crush all this business of creature worship. What’s more, I’ll take the dagger of truth, and I’ll rip the innards out of old Babylon. They got us in here, but we’ll get out.” Rutherford meant it. From the time of his release down to his death in early 1942, he carried out that promise by exposing the wickedness of false religion.
EFFORTS TO SECURE RELEASE
In February 1919 nationwide agitation was started by certain newspapers to bring about the release of J. F. Rutherford and his incarcerated associates. Thousands of letters were written by the Bible Students to newspaper editors, congressmen, senators and governors, urging action in behalf of the eight imprisoned Christians. Many who received such requests made expressions in favor of the release and indicated that they would do something to help.
For instance, a letter from Congressman E. W. Saunders of Virginia read: “I am in receipt of your letter relating to the case of the Bible Students now in confinement at Atlanta. I beg to say that I favor the pardon of these men, and will be very glad to join in a recommendation to that effect. These people are not criminals in the ordinary sense of the word, though they may have been guilty of a technical violation of the law. But the war is over now, and we ought to try to put it beyond us as rapidly as possible.” And Mayor Henry W. Kiel of Saint Louis, Missouri, wrote to United States President Woodrow Wilson, stating: “Allow me to add my individual request to those already forwarded to you asking that Messrs. Rutherford et. al., of the International Bible Students Association be admitted to bail pending a final decision of their case by the higher courts, and if possible that pardon be granted in these cases.”
March 1919 saw a new effort to secure the release of Brother Rutherford and his associates. A nationwide petition was circulated and in a short time 700,000 signatures were obtained. The petition was the largest in its time. It never was presented to President Wilson or the government, however, because before that occurred action had been taken to release the eight Bible Students. Nevertheless, the petition served as an outstanding witness.
Regarding work with that petition, Sister Arthur L. Claus says: “Of course, we had all kinds of experiences. Some would sign gladly and we could give a witness, while others were hostile and would say, ‘Let them stay there and rot.’ Ordinarily this would have been humiliating work, but we felt Jehovah’s spirit was directing us; so we enjoyed it all and kept right on to the finish.”
RELEASE FROM PRISON
On March 2, 1919, the trial judge, Federal District Judge Harland B. Howe, sent a telegram to Attorney General Gregory in Washington, D.C., recommending “immediate commutation” of the sentences imposed on the eight imprisoned Bible Students. Gregory had sent Howe a telegram requesting that he make this move. It appears that this step was taken because the incarcerated brothers had entered an appeal and neither the attorney general nor Howe desired to have this case go to the higher courts. (The eight brothers were in prison while their appeal was pending only because Judge Howe and later Judge Manton had denied bail.) Interesting, too, was Judge Howe’s letter of March 3, 1919, to the attorney general. It read:
“The Honorable Attorney General,
“Answering your telegram of the 1st inst., I wired you that evening as follows:
“‘Recommend immediate commutation for Joseph Rutherford, William E. Van Amburgh, Robert J. Martin, Fred H. Robison, George H. Fisher, Clayton J. Woodworth, Giovanni DeCecca, A. Hugh Macmillan. They were all defendants in same case in Eastern District of New York. My position is to be generous now that the war is over. They did much damage by preaching and publishing their religious doctrines.’
“The severe sentence of twenty years was imposed upon each of the defendants except DeCecca. His was ten years. My principal purpose was to make an example, as a warning to others, and I believed that the President would relieve them after the war was over. As I said in my telegram, they did much damage and it may well be claimed they ought not to be set at liberty so soon, but as they cannot do any more harm now, I am in favor of being as lenient as I was severe in imposing sentence. I believe most of them were sincere, if not all, and I am not in favor of keeping such persons in confinement after their opportunity for making trouble is past. Their case has not yet been heard in the Circuit Court of Appeals.
(signed) HARLAND B. HOWE,
United States District Judge.”
On March 21, 1919, United States Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis ordered bail for the eight imprisoned brothers and directed that they should be given the right to an appeal on April 14 of that year. They were released promptly and on Tuesday, March 25, they left Atlanta penitentiary by train. Back in Brooklyn on March 26, 1919, federal authorities released the brothers on bail of $10,000 each, pending further trial.
“There was great joy among the brothers on being notified of their release and they were present to welcome them home,” recalls Louise Paasch, adding: “They quickly arranged for a big banquet at the Bethel home in Brooklyn. I remember my father went to Brooklyn to help get the rooms ready and share their joy in welcoming the brothers back.”
What a happy time that was! Mabel Haslett writes: “I remember making a hundred doughnuts, which the brothers seemed to enjoy . . . I can still see Brother Rutherford reaching out for them. It was an unforgettable occasion as he and the others related their experiences. I also remember short-statured Brother DeCecca standing on a chair so that all could see and hear him.” Giusto Battaino remarks: “A chicken dinner was prepared and there were so many of us that we had to stand up to eat. Then what a thrill to hear the experiences of the brothers! . . . One of the things Brother DeCecca said was, ‘Brothers, the greater the trouble, the greater the blessing.’ And truly I could see Jehovah’s rich blessing upon His people.”
On the evening of April 1, 1919, another banquet was held for the released brothers by the Watch Tower office force at Hotel Chatham in Pittsburgh. T. J. Sullivan observed: “The joy that came to Jehovah’s people with the release of our brothers from the Atlanta Federal Prison on Tuesday, March 25, 1919, knew no bounds . . . Their further devotion to Jehovah was shown in the fact that they immediately set to work to herald forth to the people of God everywhere the knowledge of Jehovah’s deliverance, by means of the 1919 Cedar Point convention.”
The case of the eight Bible Students was due to be heard on appeal on April 14, 1919. They then had a hearing before the Federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals at New York city. On May 14, 1919, their erroneous convictions were reversed. Then presiding were Judges Ward, Rogers and Manton. Judge Ward said in the opinion when remanding the case for retrial: “The defendants in this case did not have the temperate and impartial trial to which they were entitled, and for that reason the judgment is reversed.”
Judge Martin T. Manton dissented. On July 1, 1918, this Catholic judge, without assigning a reason, had refused bail to Rutherford and his fellow defendants, resulting in a nine-month unjust imprisonment while their appeal was pending. Incidentally, Pope Pius XI later made Judge Manton a “knight of the order of St. Gregory the Great.” Ultimately, however, Manton’s disregard for justice was revealed. On June 3, 1939, he was sentenced to the maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment plus a fine of $10,000 for shamefully misusing his high federal judgeship by accepting bribes in the amount of $186,000 for six decisions.
Reversal of the eight Bible Students’ erroneous convictions on May 14, 1919, meant that they were free unless the government chose to reprosecute. But the war was over and the authorities realized that on the basis of the facts it would be impossible to get a conviction. Hence, in open court at Brooklyn, on May 5, 1920, the government’s lawyer announced withdrawal of the prosecution. The indictments were dismissed by action of nolle prosequi. So it was that all eight of these Christian men were cleared completely of an illegal judgment.
Reversal of the decision and dismissal of the indictments meant that J. F. Rutherford and his seven associates were totally exonerated. Some have spoken of Judge Rutherford as an “ex-convict,” but absolutely without basis. The court action of May 14, 1919, definitely established that he and his associates had been imprisoned on an illegal conviction. That Brother Rutherford was not considered an ex-convict is decisively proved by the fact that he later practiced as a lawyer before the Supreme Court of the United States, an impossibility for an ex-convict. Twenty years after his unjust imprisonment, or in the autumn of 1939, the nine justices of the Supreme Court listened to the argument presented by Rutherford in the case of Schneider v. New Jersey. The court ruled eight-to-one in favor of Rutherford’s client, Clara Schneider, a Christian witness of Jehovah.
During the climactic years of 1918 and 1919 Jehovah’s people faced great hardships. But with God’s aid they endured. (Rom. 5:3-5) Satan, through various means, had failed to still the lips of those praising God. How very fitting was the yeartext of the Bible Students for 1919! It was: “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper . . . This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD.”—Isa. 54:17, King James Version.
A NEW OUTLOOK
After their trialsome period of 1917-1919, Jehovah’s people subjected themselves to scrutiny. Realizing that they had acted in ways that did not meet with God’s approval, they sought forgiveness in prayer repenting of their former course. This led to Jehovah’s forgiveness and blessing.—Prov. 28:13.
One compromise had been the cutting of pages from The Finished Mystery, this to please those who had assumed the position of censor. Another occurred when The Watch Tower of June 1, 1918, stated: “In accordance with the resolution of Congress of April 2nd, and with the proclamation of the President of the United States of May 11, it is suggested that the Lord’s people everywhere make May 30th a day of prayer and supplication.” Subsequent comments lauded the United States and did not harmonize with the Christian position of neutrality.—John 15:19; Jas. 4:4.
During World War I questions arose among the Bible Students as to the position they should take regarding military service. Some refused to participate in any way, whereas others accepted noncombatant service. Related questions arose about whether to buy war bonds and stamps. Failure to do so sometimes resulted in persecution, even brutal treatment. When Jehovah’s servants of today consider any program or activity of the nations, they act in harmony with such Scriptural principles as that set forth at Isaiah 2:2-4, which concludes with the words: “And they will have to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore.”
A new outlook. That is what Jehovah’s people had as they entered the 1920’s. They had gone through difficult years, but Christ’s anointed followers, the symbolic “two witnesses,” were alive again spiritually and ready for action. What led up to this? What took place in the months immediately following the release of Brother Rutherford and his seven associates from prison?
A SUCCESSFUL TEST
When Rutherford was released from prison, there was a big question in his mind: Just how much interest is there in the Kingdom message? He was an ailing man, who might reasonably be expected to be concerned primarily with his health, but he just had to have an answer to that important question.
As it is, during the months of their incarceration in the Atlanta penitentiary, Brothers Rutherford and Van Amburgh had shared a cell having no air circulation due to a fan malfunction. Being unable to get sufficient oxygen, their systems had been filled with poisons. While Rutherford was imprisoned, in fact, a lung condition had developed that stayed with him for the rest of his earthly life. Shortly after his release he contracted pneumonia. Brother Rutherford became so ill that his survival was in question. Because of his physical condition and owing to the fact that his family was in California, he went there.
Trying to determine just how much interest there actually was in the Kingdom message, Brother Rutherford arranged for a public meeting at Clune’s Auditorium in Los Angeles on Sunday, May 4, 1919. Through extensive newspaper advertising, he promised to explain in this discourse just why the Watch Tower Society’s officers had been convicted illegally.
The local clergy thought the Bible Students and the Society were finished, that no one would show up for the advertised talk “The Hope for Distressed Humanity.” But they were wrong. Three thousand five hundred were present, and about six hundred had to be turned away for lack of space. Rutherford promised to speak to them on Monday evening. Though he had been sick all day, he delivered that talk to an audience of 1,500. He was so ill, however, that after about an hour he had to be replaced by an associate. Yet, the test in Los Angeles had been a success. There was notable interest in the Kingdom message.
“WILL THE BETHEL HOME BE RESTORED?”
That was another big question. The Brooklyn Tabernacle had been sold. Though Bethel still belonged to the Society, it was practically unfurnished and headquarters operations had been transferred to Pittsburgh. There the brothers had little money and their Federal Street quarters were far from adequate for expansion. Printing facilities were lacking, and even many of the plates from which the Society’s literature was printed had been destroyed. Prospects were bleak.
During J. F. Rutherford’s stay in California, however, an interesting thing happened at the Society’s Pittsburgh headquarters. One morning a Christian, George Butterfield, a person of considerable means, walked into the office. A. H. Macmillan spoke with him in the parlor, informed him that Brother Rutherford was in California, and then this is what happened, according to Macmillan’s own report:
“He said, ‘Have you got a private room here?’
“‘Well, we’ll lock this door, this is private. What do you want to do, George?’
“He began to take his shirt off as I talked to him. I thought he had gone crazy. He looked a little dirty and travel-worn, whereas ordinarily he was a tidy and well-kept man. When he got down to his undershirt he wanted a knife. Then he cut out a little patch he had on there and took out a bundle of money. It was about $10,000 in bills.
“He put it down and said, ‘That’ll help you to get this work started. I wouldn’t send a check because I didn’t know who was here. I didn’t travel in a sleeper because I didn’t want anybody to come and take this away from me if they suspected I had it, so I sat up all night. I didn’t know who was in charge of the work, but now that I see you brothers here whom I know and I trust, I am glad that I came!’ . . . It was a pleasant surprise and certainly an encouragement.”
Upon Brother Rutherford’s return to the Society’s Pittsburgh offices, he instructed the Society’s vice-president, C. A. Wise, to go to Brooklyn and see about reopening Bethel and renting premises where the Society could begin printing operations. The conversation went like this:
“Go and see whether it is the Lord’s will for us to return back to Brooklyn.”
“How will I determine as to whether it is the Lord’s will for us to go back or not?”
“It was a failure to get coal supplies in 1918 that drove us from Brooklyn back to Pittsburgh. Let’s make coal the test. You go and order some coal.” [In New York coal was still being rationed at the end of the war.]
“How many tons do you think I should order to make the test?”
“Well, make it a good test; order five hundred tons.”
That is just what Brother Wise did. And upon making application to the authorities, he was granted a certificate to get five hundred tons of coal. Immediately he wired J. F. Rutherford. That much coal would ensure operations for a number of years. But where could they put it all? Large sections of the Bethel home’s basement were converted into coal storage space. This successful test was taken as an unmistakable indication that it was God’s will that the move to Brooklyn be made. So it was, as of October 1, 1919.
Not long before Bethel reopened, Jehovah’s people in general had a joyous reunion, a truly outstanding event. Shortly after Brother Rutherford’s successful public meetings at Los Angeles in May of 1919, he decided to hold a large convention. Ultimately the site chosen was Cedar Point, Ohio. This assembly of September 1-8, 1919, proved to be one of unusual spiritual benefit.
Hotels at Cedar Point could house some three thousand, and the Bible Students had arranged to take over all their facilities by noon of the convention’s opening day, Monday, September 1. There was a little disappointment when only a thousand persons showed up for the opening session. But people kept coming, on special trains and by other means. Soon long lines of elated delegates were awaiting accommodations. And who were busy behind the counter handing out room assignments? Why, none other than two former inmates of Atlanta penitentiary—A. H. Macmillan and R. J. Martin! Now look there. Brother Rutherford and many others are having a great time as bellhops, toting suitcases and helping fellow conventioners to their rooms. Things kept humming till after midnight.
Happy delegates kept right on coming. From about 3,000 on hand by evening of the first day, attendance climbed to 6,000 on Friday. And for the Sunday public lecture about 7,000 were present. At this joyous assembly over 200 symbolized their dedication to God by submitting to water baptism.
Concerning the public discourse “The Hope for Distressed Humanity,” Arden Pate writes: “They arranged to have the public talk outside and Brother Rutherford spoke. . . . With that small number it wasn’t too hard to hear.”
THOSE PUZZLING LETTERS “GA”
As soon as conventioners arrived in Cedar Point they noted something very intriguing. Ursula C. Serenco recalls: “We observed a large banner across the hall above the speaker’s platform with two capital letters, ‘GA.’ We all were in expectation all week, guessing the meaning of those two initials. Brother Macmillan came on the stage and in his usual way told the audience that he too had been puzzling all week as to the meaning of those two letters, ‘GA.’ He had come to one conclusion: ‘Friends, I have concluded that it means “Guess Again.”’ Well, the audience responded in laughter.”
For relief from nagging curiosity, the assembly delegates had to wait till Friday, September 5—“Colaborers’ Day.” Imagine yourself among those happy throngs as J. F. Rutherford gave the address “Announcing the Kingdom.” In it he announced the publication of a new magazine, The Golden Age.
The mystery was over. Those letters “GA” stood for Golden Age. Brother Rutherford was followed on the program by R. J. Martin, who outlined methods for a new work of obtaining subscriptions for The Golden Age. Published every other week, this thirty-two-page magazine would carry much religious matter explaining present-day events in the light of divine prophecy. Its first issue, dated October 1, 1919, contained material on such topics as labor and economics, manufacturing and mining, finance, commerce and transportation, agriculture and husbandry, science and invention and religion, including a Scripturally based article entitled “Talking with the Dead?”
As its editor The Golden Age had one of the brothers who had been imprisoned with Brother Rutherford. He was Clayton J. Woodworth. His son, C. James Woodworth, fills in these interesting details: “My father reestablished a home for us in Scranton [Pennsylvania], and when, in 1919, The Golden Age was begun as a companion magazine to The Watch Tower, the Society appointed him its editor. It was necessary for him to spend a large part of his time actually in Brooklyn, so the Society kindly made an arrangement whereby he worked for two weeks in Brooklyn and two weeks at home—an arrangement that went on for quite a few years. I well remember my dads typewriter going busily at five o’clock many mornings—as he wrote or edited material for The Golden Age and sent it to Brooklyn by early mail.”
Clayton J. Woodworth faithfully served as editor of The Golden Age and its successor Consolation (published from October 6, 1937, through July 31, 1946, inclusive). Because of advancing years, he was relieved of this work when the new journal Awake! replaced Consolation, with the issue of August 22, 1946. However, Brother Woodworth remained faithful at other duties in God’s service until death, on December 18, 1951, at eighty-one years of age.
“WE WERE GOING TO WORK”
The 1919 Cedar Point convention brought about a greater awareness of the worldwide scope of the preaching work that was to be done by Jehovah’s people. As A. H. Macmillan put it: “So the idea began to take hold, ‘Now we have something to do.’ We were not going to stand around any more and wait to go to heaven; we were going to work.”
God’s people certainly “were going to work.” Positive action was taken in connection with advancing true worship. For instance, the year 1919 saw the revival of the colporteur work. In the spring of that year 150 were active in this branch of God’s service, but by autumn, 507.
The pilgrim service also was revived. Full-time traveling representatives of the Society rose to the number of eighty-six and were sent to congregations to gather together those who had been scattered during the wartime persecution. They also stimulated interest through this close contact with the headquarters of Jehovah’s earthly organization. Here again the interests of true worship were making advancement.
TO THE FIELD!
The Watch Tower of August 1 and 15, 1919, carried the two-part article “Blessed Are the Fearless.” Plainly it showed the need for faithful and fearless action in God’s service. The response to this call to fearless action on the part of Jehovah’s people was enthusiastic and courageous. They zealously undertook the Kingdom publicity work that was now set before them. They became spiritually alive again in Jehovah’s active service as his ambassadors. Thus was fulfilled the prophetic picture of the resurrection of God’s “two witnesses” as described in Revelation 11:11, 12.
In 1920 personal responsibility for preaching was more keenly felt as participants in the witness work turned in a weekly report of activity. Prior to 1918 only colporteurs made field service reports. Also, to facilitate the preaching activity, congregations were given specific territory assignments. What were the effects? In 1920 there were 8,052 “class workers” and 350 colporteurs. By 1922, of more than 1,200 congregations in the United States, 980 had been fully reorganized to engage in the field service. These had 8,801 workers who placed Bible literature with householders on a contribution. The weekly average was 2,250.
When work with The Golden Age was starting, it was outlined in this way: “THE GOLDEN AGE work is a house-to-house canvass with the kingdom message, proclaiming the day of vengeance of our God and comforting them that mourn. In addition to the canvass, a copy of THE GOLDEN AGE is to be left at each home, whether a subscription is taken or not. Samples will be supplied gratis. . . . Class workers will procure their samples from the Director.” Congregations wishing to participate registered with the Watch Tower Society as service organizations. In turn, the Society appointed one in the local congregation to serve as the “Director.” Being an appointee, he was not subject to local yearly election, as were the elders at that time.
Suppose we join briefly in the Golden Age work. Elva Fischer tells us this about it: “In 1919 we received our first consignment of the new magazine The Golden Age. . . . None of us owned automobiles at this time, so my husband and his fleshly brother, Audie Bradshaw, loaded our little one-seated buggy with the magazines and off they went to preach the good news from a horse and buggy. My sister-in-law stayed home to care for the livestock and our children, as we all lived on farms. The boys spent two whole days placing these magazines, as they were to place a Golden Age in each home. We were all very happy for this opportunity to have a part in the preaching work.”
“Volunteers were called to obtain subscriptions for the magazine,” remarks Fred Anderson, adding: “I responded and felt the first real joy of doing active witnessing. Since then I have obtained many subscriptions and placed hundreds of copies of the magazine, now called Awake! It has been a powerful instrument to awaken persons to the critical times and has given them a marvelous hope of life and peace in a cleansed earth.”
THE “ZG” WORK
On June 21, 1920, a paper edition of The Finished Mystery was released for distribution. It was commonly called the “ZG.” (“Z” stood for Zion’s Watch Tower, the original name of The Watchtower, and “G,” the seventh letter of the English alphabet, designated this seventh volume of Studies in the Scriptures.) This special edition of The Watch Tower (March 1, 1918) was stored while the book was banned and could now be placed with the people for twenty cents a copy.
Recalling her work with the “ZG,” Beulah E. Covey says: “There was a full-page picture inside of a church with . . . two preachers, each going down an aisle with a gun in one hand and a collection plate in the other. All we had to do to place this ‘ZG’ was to show this picture, and it was very common to place forty or fifty a day in the field.”
Work with this magazine edition of The Finished Mystery was fruitful. For example, Annie Poggensee writes: “I called on a lady who took the ‘ZG’ and closed the door. Little did I realize then the results that this placement would bring. A few weeks later a handbill was left at her door. She recognized this as being the same thing, so she attended the talk advertised on the handbill. She continued coming to the meetings, and finally her husband and two daughters began attending. Soon the whole Andreson family was in the truth.”
“GA” NO. 27
In time Golden Age No. 27 made its appearance. “It was the September 29, 1920, issue, detailing the persecution and abuse of the brothers and sisters during the period of oppression,” writes Roy E. Hendrix, who had part in distributing it. Amelia and Elizabeth Losch add: “It exposed the ungodly persecution heaped upon the International Bible Students during World War I by the religious clergymen of Christendom and their allies, political and military. . . . Nine in the congregation refused to participate in this work and signed a petition not to do so. They lacked faith in the ‘faithful and discreet slave.’ As a result, we, along with three others, maintaining faith, distributed 25,000 copies in only two weeks. The end of the campaign saw us tired but happy, knowing we were faithfully walking in the light of God’s Word.”
Four million copies of Golden Age No. 27 were printed. These were given away free or were placed on a voluntary contribution of ten cents a copy. Principally, distribution was from house to house.
THE WORK ABROAD
Increasing demands for Bible literature arose. This was true in Canada, for example, where the censorship that had been imposed on Watch Tower publications was removed on January 1, 1920. Persecution in that country seemed to stir God’s people to greater zeal in preaching and advancing true worship.
On August 12, 1920, J. F. Rutherford and a few associates set sail for Europe. Assemblies were held in London, Glasgow and other British cities. With some others, Rutherford journeyed to Egypt and Palestine. Various offices and Bible classes were visited and strengthened spiritually. A branch office of the Society was established in Ramallah. In a year-end report, Brother Rutherford disclosed that the Society was setting up a Central European Office to supervise the preaching work in Switzerland, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria and Italy.
THE “MILLIONS CAMPAIGN”
Contributing to disciple-making work in those days was a new preaching activity—the “Millions Campaign.” It featured distribution of the 128-page book Millions Now Living Will Never Die, placed with the people on a contribution of 25c a copy. The book was used in conjunction with a public-speaking program that began on September 25, 1920, and that centered around a lecture (originally entitled “The World Has Ended—Millions Now Living May Never Die”) given by J. F. Rutherford in Los Angeles on February 24, 1918, and published in the new book in 1920.
In retrospect, Lester L. Roper says: “Then came my time for a public talk on the subject ‘Lift Up a Standard for the People, Millions Now Living That Will Never Die.’ I was accustomed to dealing with the public, but that was different. I felt the floor would come up and hit me in the face any time. And I guess it did take intestinal fortitude, as then we had only a very small number in the truth in all the world—and to tell them ‘Millions now living would never die’!”
Millions Now Living Will Never Die eventually was translated and published in various languages. Unlike the “pastoral work,” which had consisted of lending books to the people, copies of the “Millions” book were placed with them on a contribution, and interested persons could later obtain volumes of Studies in the Scriptures. The “Millions Campaign” lasted for some time, and a great witness was given by this means. Newspaper notices and billboards with the words “Millions Now Living Will Never Die” were used to bring it to public attention. So extensive was the campaign that the slogan has been remembered through the years.
Recalling the effect of the “Millions Campaign,” Rufus Chappell writes: “We had offered the publication Millions Now Living Will Never Die in and around Zion [Illinois] and the results were of interest. I remember a large, flashing electric sign over the Waukegan Dry Cleaners building on North Sheridan Road about five miles from Zion, which said, ‘We Dye for the Millions Now Living Who Will Never Die.’ This was a very popular subject at that time, and many people had questioned the phrase and learned the truth from this publication.”
A NEW BOOK PROMOTES PROGRESS
For years volumes of Studies in the Scriptures had been read and widely distributed by the Bible Students. In 1921, however, a new book was published—The Harp of God, written by J. F. Rutherford. Eventually it had a circulation of 5,819,037 copies in 22 languages. “When The Harp of God came out, that was really a blessing, an answer to our prayers,” says Carrie Green, continuing: “It simplified the truth, the whole truth, all the different subjects being illustrated as the ‘strings of the harp.’”
This publication outlined the purpose of Jehovah as “ten strings of the Harp of God, the Bible.” The book’s ‘ten strings’ or headings were: Creation, Justice Manifested, The Abrahamic Promise, The Birth of Jesus, The Ransom, Resurrection, Mystery Revealed, Our Lord’s Return, Glorification of the Church, and Restoration. A beginner’s book, it contained questions for individual and class study. When working from house to house, the Bible Students offered with this publication a complete correspondence course. The twelve questionnaire cards making up the course were mailed, one card a week. The average congregation might have as many as 400 to 500 cards to handle weekly in connection with this course. This work was carried on for a number of years and was highly beneficial. Hazel Burford says: “Studies were also held in the homes of interested persons, similar to our home Bible study work of today, except a whole group of publishers would attend, as in our congregation book studies.”
FACILITIES TO FURTHER THE PREACHING WORK
In the year following World War I the Watch Tower Society wanted to buy a large rotary press in order to do some printing. There were only a few in the country and all of them were busy. Apparently, there was no chance of getting one for many months. But Jehovah’s hand is not short, and an installed large rotary press went into operation by workers at headquarters in 1920. Fondly called the “old battleship,” through the years it produced millions of magazines, booklets and other publications.
Upon acquiring the “old battleship,” the Society rented factory space at 35 Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn. Upon arriving at Bethel on January 22, 1920, W. L. Pelle and W. W. Kessler were assigned to work in that building. Brother Pelle tells us: “Our first job was washing walls on the first floor at 35 Myrtle Avenue. It was the dirtiest job I had ever had, but it was different. We were happy. It was the Lord’s work and that made it worth while. It took us about three days to get all the cleaning done and then it was ready for the mailing department to be set up. Downstairs in the basement the rotary press (the ‘battleship’) was being assembled and upstairs on the second floor the flatbed press, the folder and the stitcher were being made ready.”
Soon the equipment was in operation. Brother Pelle continues: “Two brothers, experienced machinists and pressmen, operated the flatbed press, Brother Kessler the folder, and I the stitcher. Then came the very first copy of The Watch Tower off our own press—February 1, 1920—a thrilling moment, a very happy occasion! Not too long thereafter came The Golden Age No. 27 from the ‘battleship’ press in the basement. A small start, but it has never stopped growing!”
The preaching work was on the increase. By 1922 there was a much greater demand for literature. So, as of March 1, 1922, the Society moved its factory into a six-story building at 18 Concord Street in Brooklyn. First it occupied four floors and eventually all six. There the Society first undertook the printing of its own bound volumes. The Myrtle Avenue building was used for paper and literature storage.
One sizable task involved in making the transfer from Myrtle Avenue to Concord Street was moving the “old battleship.” Here is how that was handled, according to an account once given by Lloyd Burtch:
“On March 1, 1922, we moved our printing equipment from Myrtle Avenue to larger quarters at 18 Concord Street in Brooklyn. With a small truck we moved most of the heavy things. When we came to the big cylinders of the ‘battleship’ press, we found them to be too heavy for the truck to carry. We were stumped. We did not know how we would be able to get them to the new quarters, but when we awoke the next morning our problem was solved.
“Two inches of snow fell unexpectedly during the night, and it solved our problem. We made a skid and rolled the cylinders onto it. Hooking the truck to the skid, we dragged it to the new location, with the skid sliding smoothly on the snow. The cylinders were then lowered through the basement window at the place on Concord Street. For years thereafter, the plant manager, R. J. Martin, found pleasure in telling the brothers at conventions about this unexpected snowfall that solved our moving problem.”
Soon the “old battleship” was rolling again, in the Concord Street factory. And how it made that old structure shake! Why, it is said that plant manager Martin would remark, ‘The angles are holding up this building.’
ONLY WITH JEHOVAH’S HELP
“The successful printing of books and Bibles on rotary presses by persons of little or no previous experience is evidence of Jehovah’s oversight and the direction of his spirit,” remarks Charles J. Fekel. He has been in Bethel service since 1921. Brother Fekel has shared in the developments at the Society’s headquarters for half a century and assures us: “Persons to perform each task were always found without any duplication or wasteful effort. Vast tasks planned ahead of time were completed as required in spite of Satan’s opposition.”
When the Society moved its factory to 18 Concord Street, Brooklyn, back in 1922, a complete outfit of typesetting, electroplating, printing and binding machinery, most of it new, was obtained. The president of one important printing concern that had been doing much of the Society’s work saw the equipment and said: “Here you are with a first-class printing establishment on your hands, and nobody around the place that knows a thing about what to do with it. In six months the whole thing will be a lot of junk; and you will find out that the people to do your printing are those that have always done it, and make it their business.”
True, there were formidable problems. But with divine aid the brothers made wonderful progress. Note this example: Not many years ago it took an expert mechanic from Germany and several helpers two months to erect a large press obtained by the Society. Within the next two years another press of the same size and make was erected at headquarters by one brother and assistants at Bethel in only three weeks.
The brothers at the Society’s headquarters applied themselves. They learned, and before long they were making good books. At first they could bind only 2,000 a day. By 1927, however, they were producing 10,000 to 12,000 books daily.
RETURN TO CEDAR POINT
The Society had not been operating its Concord Street printing plant in Brooklyn, New York, very long when God’s people gathered for an international assembly on September 5-13, 1922. The place? Cedar Point, Ohio, location of the Bible Students’ general convention in 1919. There had been growth in the intervening three years. Delegates to the 1922 assembly came from the United States, Canada and Europe. The average daily attendance was 10,000, with between 18,000 and 20,000 present on Sunday. Those baptized numbered 361. English and foreign-language meetings were held simultaneously, as many as eleven being in progress at one time.
Imagine yourself at Cedar Point for that spiritually rewarding assembly. Notice the large banners, the little wooden signs on the trees and the white cards on posts and elsewhere. All of them bear the letters “A D V.” What do they mean? Some say they stand for “After Death Victory,” as the anointed remnant still are very concerned about ‘going home’ to heaven. Others think these letters mean “Advise the Devil to Vacate.”
The suspense lasted until Friday, September 8, known as “The Day.” Judge Rutherford then spoke on “The Kingdom.” T. J. Sullivan remarked: “Those who were privileged to attend that meeting can even yet visualize Brother Rutherford’s earnestness when he told the few restless people that were walking around because of the intense heat to ‘SIT DOWN’ and ‘LISTEN’ to the talk at any cost.” Among other things, Brother Rutherford spoke about the end of the Gentile Times in 1914 and cited the blasphemous statement by the Federal Council of Churches hailing the League of Nations as the “political expression of the kingdom of God on earth.” Imagine yourself in that audience as Rutherford works toward the dramatic conclusion of his discourse. You listen intently as he says:
“ . . . Since 1914 the King of glory has taken his power and reigns. He has cleansed the lips of the temple class and sends them forth with the message. The importance of the message of the kingdom cannot be overstated. It is the message of all messages. It is the message of the hour. It is incumbent upon those who are the Lord’s to declare it. The kingdom of heaven is at hand; the King reigns; Satan’s empire is falling; millions now living will never die.
“Do you believe it? . . .
“Then back to the field, O ye sons of the most high God! Gird on your armor! Be sober, be vigilant, be active, be brave. Be faithful and true witnesses for the Lord. Go forward in the fight until every vestige of Babylon lies desolate. Herald the message far and wide. The world must know that Jehovah is God and that Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. This is the day of all days. Behold, the King reigns! You are his publicity agents. Therefore advertise, advertise, advertise, the King and his kingdom.”
At that very moment a three-colored, thirty-six-foot-long banner is unfurled above the speaker’s stand. On it appear a large center picture of Christ and the words “Advertise the King and Kingdom.” Now it is clear. The enigmatic letters “A D V” mean “ADVERTISE.” Advertise what? Why, “Advertise the King and Kingdom”! “You can imagine the enthusiasm,” exclaims George D. Gangas, “the joy and the excitement of the brothers. Never had anything like that happened in their lives. . . . It was something that was written indelibly in my mind and heart, that will never be forgotten as long as I live.” C. James Woodworth, then a sixteen-year-old lad in the assembly orchestra, recalls: “That was a dramatic moment. How the audience applauded! Old Brother Pfannebecker waved his violin above his head and, turning to me, said loudly: ‘Ach, Ya! Und now ve do it, no?’”
MOTIVATED TO ADVERTISE THE KINGDOM
And they did it! In fact, God’s servants have been doing it ever since. Boldly they have been advertising the King and Kingdom. When the Bible Students left Cedar Point they were aglow with the spirit, burning with enthusiasm for the preaching work ahead of them. “Words cannot describe the feeling of moving ahead, to go home and advertise,” declares Ora Hetzel. Sister James W. Bennecoff adds: “We were aroused to ‘advertise, advertise, advertise the King and his kingdom’—Yes, with more zeal and love in our hearts than ever before.”
For that matter, conventioners were afforded opportunity to advertise the Kingdom before they ever left Cedar Point. Monday, September 11, 1922, was “Service Day.” Several hundred automobiles were used, each carrying five or more passengers and a good supply of Bible literature, all ready to advertise the King and Kingdom in the field service. “My card of ‘Instruction to Workers’ was No. 144,” says Dwight T. Kenyon. “My card read: ‘Autos will line up along lake front (Cedar Point) according to number on radiator at 6:30 a.m. prompt. Your Auto No. is 215, Worker No. is 5, . . .’ I was in a group of seven. We went by housecar, operated by two colporteurs. Our assignment was Milan, Ohio, some miles away. I recall that Brother Rutherford was at that rendezvous at that early hour to see us off.”
Yes, J. F. Rutherford was there to ‘see them off.’ But there was more to it than that. “Brother Rutherford was in the first automobile that started that morning,” remarks Sara C. Kaelin. John Fenton Mickey adds: “Brother Rutherford’s car was the first one. He had invited my wife and me, her sister, Clara Myers, and Richard Johnson and his wife. I was unable to go, as our little girl had become ill . . . Well, the territory for the first car was the road between Cedar Point and Sandusky, Ohio. Brother Rutherford took the first house, Clara Myers the next, and so on till service was completed and they returned to the convention.”
RESPONDING TO CALLS FOR GREATER KINGDOM SERVICE
Jehovah’s servants had done some house-to-house preaching for years. Now, however, this work was accelerated. After October 1922 the door-to-door preaching was greatly facilitated through information appearing in the monthly service instruction sheet, the Bulletin.
Meetings of the Bible Students continued to supply rich spiritual food. Group studies of The Watch Tower were first organized in 1922. Questions were printed as an aid to study. Christian meetings also kept pace with increasing emphasis on the field service. Especially, affected was the mid-week Prayer, Praise and Testimony Meeting. Long had it been an occasion for singing songs, giving testimonies and engaging in prayer. But in the early 1920’s a change came about that was linked with house-to-house Kingdom proclamation. Regarding this, James Gardner writes: “An important advancement began on May 1, 1923. The first Tuesday of each month was set aside as Service Day, to enable class workers to engage in the field service with the ‘Director’ appointed by the Society. As a stimulus to this work and to further encourage the brothers, it was arranged that from this time forward congregational prayer meetings held every Wednesday night were to devote one half of the program to relating testimonies of experiences in the field work.” T. H. Siebenlist adds: “The Wednesday night meeting later on included a consideration of the Society’s printed field service sheet, the Bulletin. So when field service began to be stressed, the Shattuck, Oklahoma, company [congregation] got busy with the preaching work and memorized the canvasses [testimonies] as they came out in the Bulletin.”
Also in 1923 the Society began setting aside several Sundays a year for a “world-wide witness.” This involved a united effort in holding simultaneous public meetings throughout the earth. All the Bible Students were encouraged to advertise such lectures as “Satan’s Empire Falling—Millions Now Living Will Never Die.”
During early 1927 in the United States the work of distributing books and booklets from house to house for a contribution began to be carried on every Sunday. “Some were wondering how it would go, knowing the world was against us,” comments James Gardner, adding: “It did set off a wave of persecution in some places. But it was a call from the ‘faithful and discreet slave,’ so why hesitate? How gladly we went forth, and while some were complaining about ‘coming around on Sundays with books,’ and so forth, it soon was seen that Jehovah was directing his people throughout the world. Even to this day Sunday is a good day to go forth, and we do so constantly.”
AT THE DOORS
Would you like to join some Kingdom publicity agents in their house-to-house preaching work of the past? Explaining the activity, Myrtle Strain says: “We mostly explained what the books contained and we used quite a bit of salesmanship too. Often, however, we were invited into the homes and then when the householder showed interest, we would give the whole outline of God’s purpose, beginning with Adam’s fall and going on to man’s restitution. Sometimes we would take an hour or so at a house.”
“Those early days in association with Jehovah’s people are filled with many never-to-be-forgotten memories,” remarks Martha Holmes. “I recall our little group of five working the outlying towns in the Des Moines, Iowa, area. At times we would leave before daylight and stay until after dark. In those days our auto had no hard top, no power brakes, no power steering, no air conditioner, nor a heater. Most of the time we had to drive on unpaved roads. We would get stuck in the mud and would have to shove boards under the wheels to get going again. Our car had button-on side curtains that were used when it rained or snowed. We took box lunches and ate in the cold car. One day, after spending several hours in the work at Newton, Iowa, about thirty miles from Des Moines, a severe windstorm came up. It was difficult to keep the car on the road, as the winds were of gale force. Additionally, the canvas top had blown back and kept flopping in the wind. We finally made it back into Des Moines, all of us drenched through to the skin. I’m quite sure that onlookers thought, ‘What a crazy bunch of people!’”
Often their efforts were rewarded with fine results, however. For instance, Julia Wilcox has not forgotten one day back in the 1920’s when she was a new Kingdom publicity agent working alone from house to house in Washington, North Carolina. She met a woman who manifested great interest in the Society’s booklet Talking with the Dead and accepted some literature. Sister Wilcox says:
“Not wanting to detain her, I started to leave, but she wouldn’t let me go. This is her story:
“‘I know the Lord sent you here today. You are the answer to our prayers. My mother and I have been praying that God would lead us to the light. We have been members of the Methodist Church all our lives, but recently we have stopped going to church because we are not getting anything there. All we hear is money, money and more money. The other day my mother saw an ad in a magazine telling about a book on “spiritism” and how one could talk directly to God. She told me to order the book and see what we could learn from that. Well, I have the letter written ordering the book, but for some reason I forgot to mail it. [That letter never was mailed.] Now I’ll read these books I got from you first, and when mother comes to stay with me again she will read them too. Will you please promise to come back to see us again soon?’
“Of course, I promised. That was to be my first back-call [return visit]. The back-call work was not encouraged then. Covering territory and leaving literature was stressed. At any rate, I went back as I had promised, when her mother was there. They had ‘devoured’ the literature I left on the first call and wanted more. From that time on they accepted every piece of literature published by the Society. . . . It affords me great joy to be able to report that Sister [Sophia] Carty, my first back-call, was faithful in service and in meeting attendance until her death in 1963.”
SEVEN ANGELS SOUND THEIR TRUMPETS
Back in the 1920’s, Jehovah’s servants were busy advertising the King and Kingdom, with fine results. Moreover, though God’s people did not realize it at the time, they then became involved in the thrilling fulfillment of apocalyptic prophecies. As seven angelic trumpeters blew their horns, true Christians played a part in dramatic events on earth and they continue to share in them right down to the present.—Rev. 8:1–9:21; 11:15-19.
From the time that the first angel blew his trumpet, Christendom has been pelted by a figurative devastating hail, heavy exposés based on Bible truth. (Rev. 8:7) It all began during the Bible Students’ Cedar Point convention in September 1922. There God’s people enthusiastically adopted a resolution entitled “A Challenge.” Boldly it exposed the clergy’s disloyalty to God by participating in the war and thereafter repudiating His Messianic kingdom by holding that the League of Nations was the political expression of that kingdom. That October in 1922 45,000,000 copies of the resolution and supporting material began to be distributed earth wide. From that time onward, Christendom (her Catholic and Protestant clergy and her church members) has been laid bare as false in her claim to being real followers of Jesus Christ.
Under the direction of the second angelic trumpeter, the Bible Students held a regional convention in Los Angeles, California, on August 18-26, 1923. There they overwhelmingly approved the historic resolution entitled “A Warning.” It exposed the failure of Christendom’s clergy to aid in proclaiming the Kingdom message and appealed to sheeplike persons to turn, not to the clergy-supported League of Nations, but to God’s kingdom as the “only remedy for national and individual ills.” The failure of the clergy in this regard has been a major factor in the rise of radical, revolutionary elements, pictured by the restless “sea.” But those radical elements cannot give life to mankind either, no more than blood poured out from the human body can give life. In December 1923 printing began on the tract “Proclamation—A Warning to All Christians,” which contained the convention resolution. Besides the millions of copies published abroad, 13,478,400 were printed in the United States. Mass distribution of that Proclamation was only the beginning. To this day, Jesus’ anointed followers have made many proclamations advocating God’s kingdom.—Rev. 8:8, 9.
When the third angel blew his trumpet, a third of the waters were turned to wormwood. (Rev. 8:10, 11) Significantly, at the Bible Students’ convention of July 20-27, 1924, in Columbus, Ohio, God’s people enthusiastically adopted a resolution termed “Indictment.” It exposed the false and God-defaming doctrines taught by Christendom’s apostate clergy and showed the deadliness of the religious course in which they and their political associates were leading the people. Indeed, the clergymen were making the people drink something bitter as wormwood that would result in their spiritual death and eventual destruction. The convention resolution was incorporated in the tract entitled “Ecclesiastics Indicted,” 13,545,000 copies of which were printed in the United States. Millions more in foreign languages were published abroad. In time, 50,000,000 copies were distributed. The Indictment also was published in The Watch Tower. Again, that was just the beginning. By radio, books, booklets, magazines and verbal testimonies Jehovah’s servants have continued to point out that the teachings of Christendom’s clergy are not waters of life, but lead to death.
Came the year 1925 and the fourth angelic trumpeter stood poised for action. His trumpet was blown and a third of the sun, moon and stars were smitten and darkened. (Rev. 8:12) During a regional convention at Indianapolis, Indiana, on August 24-31, 1925, God’s servants heartily endorsed a resolution under the title “Message of Hope.” It made loving expressions, but also showed that the people had fallen into darkness in Christendom, which claims to be the world’s spiritual light. Besides the resolution’s publication in The Watch Tower and The Golden Age, ultimately many millions of copies of it in tract form were circulated in various languages. Thus the people were informed that Christendom was not enjoying the light of heavenly truth and divine favor.
The attack of symbolic locusts was heralded when the fifth angel sounded his trumpet in the spring of 1926. (Rev. 9:1-11) On May 25-31 of that year the Bible Students held an international convention in London, England. There they wholeheartedly adopted a resolution entitled “A Testimony to the Rulers of the World.” It and the supporting public address “Why World Powers Are Tottering—The Remedy,” delivered on Sunday, May 30, by Brother Rutherford to a vast audience in Royal Albert Hall, exposed the Satanic origin of the League of Nations and pointed out the clergy’s failure to support God’s Messianic kingdom. Similar information appeared in the newly released book Deliverance and in the booklet The Standard for the People. On Monday morning, The Daily News of London devoted a full page to the resolution and a synopsis of Sunday’s public lecture, along with an advertisement of Rutherford’s Monday night speech. The newspaper space had been purchased for a considerable sum, and a million or more copies of this edition reached the public.
In time, some 50,000,000 copies of the resolution “A Testimony” were distributed throughout the earth in tract form in many languages. This exposure of human schemes devised against God’s kingdom in the name of religion stung like the sting from a scorpion’s tail, and it continues to do so.
When the sixth angel blew his trumpet, four symbolic angels were untied and 200,000,000 symbolic horses went forth “to kill a third of the men.” Those “horses” picture the means of publicizing a terrifying judgment message, particularly by the printed page. The action began with a notable event of 1927—an international convention of the Bible Students in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Rev. 9:13-19) There, in the Coliseum on Sunday, July 24, about 15,000 persons heard J. F. Rutherford read a resolution addressed “To the Peoples of Christendom,” which makes up approximately a third of mankind. It urged sincere persons to abandon Christendom so as not to be destroyed with it. The peoples were urged to give their heart’s devotion and allegiance wholly to Jehovah God and to his King and kingdom. At the conclusion of Rutherford’s supporting speech “Freedom for the Peoples,” a thunder of ayes burst forth from those present, as they stood and shouted their approval of the resolution. Millions of persons heard the proceedings by radio over an international chain of fifty-three stations, the largest network to that time. “Giant radio chain hears Rutherford,” declared the New York World of Monday, July 25, 1927. “Greatest hook-up spreads to all parts of the world speech condemning organized clergy.”
How supporters of Christendom must have agonized under the fiery heat of certain statements in that stirring resolution! It and the accompanying public discourse were published in the booklet Freedom for the Peoples. In time millions of copies were placed in the hands of the common people and the rulers. Thus millions of symbolic horses began making an assault against Christendom, doing so under the control of the anointed remnant, the “four angels.” Through the years, such Christian publications have been produced by the hundreds of millions, and thousands of persons have responded favorably, abandoning Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion.—Rev. 9:13-19; 18:2, 4, 5.
Dramatic events took place when the seventh angel blew his trumpet. “Loud voices occurred in heaven, saying: ‘The kingdom of the world did become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will rule as king forever and ever.’” Although the kingdom of the world of mankind rightly belongs to God, from 607 B.C.E. onward he permitted kingship by an anointed descendant of King David to lapse or be interrupted for “seven times,” or 2,520 years. That period ran out around October 4/5, 1914 C.E. The people needed to know that through the Messianic kingdom then established Jehovah was ruling as king, that he would soon “bring to ruin those ruining the earth” and that persons fearing his name would be colaborers with him in making the earth a paradise.—Rev. 11:15-18.
When would such things be heralded world wide as by the pealing of the ‘seventh angel’s’ trumpet? That globe-encircling announcement began in 1928, when the Bible Students gathered in convention at Detroit, Michigan, July 30-August 6. Especially noteworthy was Sunday, August 5, for then the delegates heard the stirring resolution “Declaration Against Satan and for Jehovah,” as well as J. F. Rutherford’s supporting public talk “Ruler for the People.” Among other things, that resolution declared that because Satan will not surrender his wicked rule over the nations and peoples, Jehovah, with his executive officer Jesus Christ, will act against the Devil and his forces of evil, resulting in Satan’s full restraint and the complete overthrow of his organization. Furthermore, it pointed out that God by Christ will establish righteousness in the earth, will emancipate mankind from evil and bring everlasting blessings to all the nations of the earth. “Therefore,” the resolution concluded, “the due time has come for all who love righteousness to take their stand on the side of Jehovah and obey and serve him with a pure heart, that they may receive the boundless blessings which the Almighty God has in reservation for them.”
Reports of that “Declaration Against Satan and for Jehovah” and the supporting public discourse were published in The Golden Age and The Watch Tower. Furthermore, the resolution and speech also were circulated in a number of languages by the millions in the booklet The Peoples Friend. Thus a message supporting God’s kingdom by Jesus Christ and in defiance of world rule by Satan and his instrumentalities was trumpeted forth more than four decades ago. But, by printed page and public discourse, it has been sounded throughout the whole earth since then with increasing volume as Jehovah’s servants continually carry the message of God’s kingdom to the peoples of earth.
A RADIO PIONEER LIFTS UP ITS VOICE
“Radio Tells the World Millennium Is Coming,” declared the Philadelphia Record of April 17, 1922, continuing: “Judge Rutherford’s Lecture Broadcasted from Metropolitan Opera House. Talks into Transmitter. Message is Carried Over Miles of Bell Telephone Wires to Howlett’s Station.” So began a newspaper report of J. F. Rutherford’s first radio address, given on Sunday, April 16, 1922, at the Metropolitan Opera House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The subject? “Millions Now Living Will Never Die.” His visible audience was a mere handful compared with an estimated 50,000 residents of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware who heard the speech on primitive radios in their homes.
Those were the early days of radio communication. In the United States it was not until 1920 that regular commercial radio broadcasts were made from Pittsburgh’s station KDKA and WWJ of Detroit, Michigan. A person could then buy a factory-built crystal set with earphones, but not until the 1930’s were radios with built-in loudspeakers and aerials produced.
Jehovah’s servants of the early 1920’s were relatively few in number. By 1924 in the United States there were, on the average, only 1,064 Bible Students preaching from house to house weekly. So, during that period God’s people recognized the far-reaching effects of radio and considered it a fine means of reaching the masses with the Kingdom message.
In 1922 J. F. Rutherford and a few advisers first took claim to some twenty-four acres on Staten Island in New York city’s Borough of Richmond. Taking us back to that interesting time, Lloyd Burtch once stated: “One Saturday afternoon the president of the Society, Brother Rutherford, took some of us with him to Staten Island. Upon arriving at the property that had been purchased, he pointed to a spot in the heart of the woods on the land and said: ‘All right, boys. Here is where we start digging. We are going to build a radio station on our land.’ And did we dig! Every weekend during that summer we were at it.” Throughout the winter and on into the summer of 1923 construction went on apace, many young men from the Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn assisting on weekends.
In 1923 Ralph H. Leffler was teaching radio theory at the Alliance, Ohio, high school. One day he received a letter from the president’s office of the Watch Tower Society. It asked: “Noting that you are a teacher of radio . . . would you consider devoting all your time in the Lord’s service in this behalf?” Brother Leffler clearly saw Jehovah’s hand in this and could not refuse to accept this opportunity. By mid-October he arrived at Bethel and was put to work washing dishes! “Had I not had enough of washing dishes in the army? thought I,” he later wrote. “Then I remembered the scripture: ‘The LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.’ (Deut. 13:3, AV) Yes, this is another test, I concluded.” But a month later he got started on radio work. “A 500-watt composite radio transmitter was located in the city and purchased for the station,” Brother Leffler recalls. This he quickly installed and all was ready for the first broadcast.
“Emotions were running high,” admits Brother Leffler. “Would the first broadcast be a success? Would anyone be able to hear us? License from the government to broadcast had been obtained. And the call letters assigned were WBBR. All was now ready for the first broadcast. That occurred on Sunday evening, February 24, 1924. It was my privilege to throw the power switch on for that first broadcast and away we went, hoping for the best.”
That first program over WBBR continued for two hours, from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. There were piano solos, singing, and in between was the feature of the program, the lecture by the Society’s president, J. F. Rutherford, on the subject “Radio and Divine Prophecy.” Each evening thereafter, from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m., and on Sundays, from 3 to 5 p.m., programs with good music and educational talks were radiocast.
Opportunities for dramatic work over WBBR presented themselves. Maxwell G. Friend shared in this. He had undergone intense dramatic training at the renowned City Theater in Zurich, Switzerland. Years later Jehovah favored Brother Friend with the unexpected privilege of producing and directing Biblical dramas and realistic reproductions of court trials of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses by clergy-influenced, prejudiced judges and prosecutors in America. These dramas exposed them to public shame and exonerated God’s servants. The trained performers and musicians who worked in these presentations made up “The King’s Theater.”
In 1928 at South Amboy, New Jersey, some of Jehovah’s servants were arrested for preaching the good news on Sunday. That marked the beginning of the decade-long “Battle of New Jersey.” “The King’s Theater” played a part in this. During court trials of true Christians, often local judges were Catholics who manifested prejudice in the courtroom, using uncouth language and even betraying ecclesiastical allies who sought to remain in the background. Courtroom exchanges were recorded in shorthand. Trained performers attended the trials and studied the voice and intonations of the judge, the prosecuting attorney, and so forth. A few days later “The King’s Theater” duplicated the courtroom scenes with astounding realism. Thus the air waves were used to expose the foe, and eventually the judges became so frightened that the spotlight had been turned on them, as well as upon misguided policemen and prosecutors, that many became more astute in handling cases involving Jehovah’s people.
For some thirty-three years WBBR brought glory to Jehovah and spread Bible truth far and wide. It began broadcasting with a 500-watt transmitter. Three years later, a new 1,000-watt transmitter was purchased. In 1947 the Federal Communications Commission granted WBBR permission to increase its power to 5,000 watts, providing this would not interfere with other stations operating on the same frequency in widely scattered parts of the United States. Installation of a three-tower directional antenna system solved that problem and this array increased the 5,000-watt power to more than 25,000 watts in the northeasterly direction where the population was the greatest. WBBR was heard in the area of metropolitan New York and the adjoining states of New Jersey and Connecticut. However, letters concerning its programs were received from England, Alaska, California and other distant places.
The Society sold the station on April 15, 1957. Why? Well, when the station began to operate in 1924, there was only one congregation of about 200 Bible Students covering all five boroughs of New York city, as well as Long Island and even parts of New Jersey. By 1957, however, there were 62 congregations within New York city and a peak of 7,256 proclaimers of the Kingdom, besides 322 full-time publishers of the good news. So a good witness was being given. Also, it is much more effective to speak to the people in their homes, where they can ask questions and receive further instruction from the Word of God. The money spent in connection with radio operations could be used in some other way to advance the interests of God’s kingdom.
There was more to the radio work of the Society, however. One day J. F. Rutherford came into Ralph Leffler’s room, laid a map of the United States on the table, and, pointing with his finger, he said: “I have in mind locating broadcasting stations here and here and here. Would you be willing to engineer the construction of these stations?” “I’d be happy to do so,” was the reply. So, when November 1924 arrived, Brother Leffler was on his way to the Chicago area to work on the construction of another Society-owned radio station, this one with the call letters WORD. Brother Leffler also installed transmitters for other stations, not directly owned by the Society but managed by its representatives.
MAKING RADIO HISTORY
During the 1920’s Jehovah’s people not only pioneered in establishing one of the early radio stations, WBBR. As already noted, radio history was made by Jehovah’s servants on Sunday, July 24, 1927, when J. F. Rutherford spoke over a network of fifty-three stations from Toronto, Ontario, Canada—the largest radio chain forged up to that time.
What led to this unprecedented network broadcast? A series of events. An agreement had been made between WBBR and the owner of New York city station WJZ to share time, but the agreement was not kept. Later, WBBR was assigned to broadcast on another wavelength, and still later reassigned to one less favorable. Under the Radio Act of 1927 the Society’s station began a proceeding before the Federal Radio Commission to be assigned a more desirable wavelength. At the hearing (June 14, 15, 1927) President Merlin Hall Aylesworth of the National Broadcasting Company testified to the great service rendered by New York radio stations WEAF and WJZ, apparently to show that it would not be right to permit WBBR to occupy part of the time, although both WJZ and WEAF had separate wavelengths. During cross-examination by J. F. Rutherford, this question was propounded to Mr. Aylesworth: “Your purpose is to give to the people by radio the message of the greatest financiers, the most prominent statesmen, and the most renowned clergymen in the world?” The reply was affirmative.
“If you were convinced that the great God of the universe will shortly put in operation his plan for the blessing of all the families and nations of the earth with peace, prosperity, life, liberty and happiness, would you arrange to broadcast it?” It would have been quite difficult to say No, and so the answer was Yes. Then Mr. Aylesworth voluntarily said that he would be pleased to broadcast a lecture by the president of the International Bible Students Association. Naturally, J. F. Rutherford accepted the offer.
So it was that as Brother Rutherford spoke to a convention audience of some 15,000 at Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on Sunday, July 24, 1927, millions more heard him by means of a hitherto unparalleled radio network. In a letter received by the Society from the National Broadcasting Company, it was stated: “I imagine that Judge Rutherford had as large an audience yesterday afternoon as any man living has had over the radio.”
The Bible Students were involved in another notable radio event in 1928. In Detroit, Michigan, on Sunday, August 5, when J. F. Rutherford delivered the public lecture “Ruler for the People” to an audience of 12,000, it was carried by a radio network that linked 107 stations, required 33,500 miles of telephone lines and 91,400 miles of telegraph lines, and it was rebroadcast by short wave to Australia and New Zealand.
The Watchtower or “White” network was organized in 1928, especially to serve that Detroit convention. It was so successful that the Watch Tower Society decided to operate a weekly network of radio stations throughout the United States and Canada. A one-hour program was arranged and it emanated from WBBR. These were live broadcasts, featuring a lecture by Brother Rutherford, with introductory and concluding music furnished by an orchestra maintained by the Society. Every Sunday from November 18, 1928, through the year 1930 radio listeners thus could tune in to “The Watch Tower Hour.”
Radio programs occupied much of Brother Rutherford’s time. A fine witness was given, but he was unable to travel or organize conventions in various parts of the earth. So in 1931 the Society decided to present transcribed programs. Two hundred and fifty stations were organized to present these fifteen-minute transcriptions, made by Rutherford at his convenience and played by the radio stations at times they chose. In 1932 this radio service (called the Wax Chain) was expanded to 340 stations. By 1933, the peak year, 408 stations were being used to carry the message to six continents, and 23,783 separate Bible talks were broadcast, most of them being these fifteen-minute electrical transcriptions. In those days, one might spin the radio dial and tune in Watch Tower broadcasts emanating from widely scattered stations at the same time. Often the air waves were filled with words of truth that glorified God.
A FACTORY TO CALL THEIR OWN
More and more Jehovah’s people were attracting public attention. Their historic radio hookups of the late 1920’s could not be ignored. Nor could the people disregard these Kingdom proclaimers, for their house-to-house preaching work was increasing in tempo. Greater demands were being made for Bible literature and the Society’s publishing facilities had to keep pace. Looking back to the latter half of the 1920’s, C.W. Barber remarks: “The factory building at 18 Concord Street [Brooklyn, New York] had now become too small and inconvenient for our needs.”
It was clear. The Bible Students needed another factory. They decided to build. Since sufficient money for the factory’s construction was not available without crippling the work in other parts of the earth, the Society decided to raise funds by mortgaging and bonding its real estate to an amount not exceeding one half of its actual value. Bonds were issued in denominations of $100, $500 and $1,000, and they bore five-percent interest, payable annually. Through a supplement in The Watch Tower the Bible Students were afforded opportunity to subscribe for these bonds, rather than their being sold in the public market.
Back in 1926 and 1927, members of the Brooklyn Bethel family were delighted to see the factory at 117 Adams Street begin to take shape. Before long, all eight floors of this excellent reinforced-concrete structure, with numerous windows, stood ready for use. A modern fireproof building, it had more than 70,000 square feet of floor space. By February 1927 it was time to move from 18 Concord Street. “I remember Brother R. J. Martin [the factory manager] dancing for joy with the boys as the machinery was moved,” says Harry Petros. Brother Martin’s enthusiasm over the new plant was evident in his report to the Society’s president as published in the 1928 Year Book to the International Bible Students Association. Therein he remarked that even the factory’s critics now admitted it to be “one of the finest printshops in the center of the world’s printing business, namely, New York City.” The report included this description of plant operations:
“The general plan of the building is perfect for our work. The work all moves downward from floor to floor by gravity, and in the natural order: Offices on the top floor, where they belong; typesetting on the next floor, where it logically follows; the plates go down to the next floor, the sixth, where the printing is done; mailing and booklets take up the fifth; binding comes on the fourth; storage, on the third; shipping, on the second; paper stock, garage and power-plant, on the first. Nothing could improve on it.”
As the headquarters staff was nearing 200, expansion of the Bethel home got under way. During December 1926 the Society purchased the lot next to its property at 124 Columbia Heights in Brooklyn. Early in January 1927 the three buildings numbered 122, 124 and 126 were removed and construction began on a nine-story structure containing some eighty rooms. It was tied in with the Society’s building completed in 1911 to the rear and fronting on Furman Street.
“TAUGHT BY JEHOVAH”
Jehovah certainly blessed his people back in the 1920’s and provided the things they needed to advance the interests of the Kingdom. He also proved himself to be a God of progressive revelation. The Bible Students, in turn, found it necessary to adjust their thinking to some extent. But they were grateful for God’s guidance and were eager to be “taught by Jehovah.”—John 6:45; Isa. 54:13.
God’s people had to adjust their thinking about 1925, for instance. Expectations of restoration and blessing were attached to it because they felt that that year would mark the end of seventy jubilees of fifty years each since the Israelites had entered Canaan. (Lev. 25:1-12) A. D. Schroeder states: “It was thought that then the remnant of Christ’s anointed followers would go to heaven to be part of the Kingdom and that the faithful men of old, such as Abraham, David and others, would be resurrected as princes to take over the government of the earth as part of God’s kingdom.”
The year 1925 came and went. Jesus’ anointed followers were still on earth as a class. The faithful men of old times—Abraham, David and others—had not been resurrected to become princes in the earth. (Ps. 45:16) So, as Anna MacDonald recalls: “1925 was a sad year for many brothers. Some of them were stumbled; their hopes were dashed. They had hoped to see some of the ‘ancient worthies’ [men of old like Abraham] resurrected. Instead of its being considered a ‘probability,’ they read into it that it was a ‘certainty,’ and some prepared for their own loved ones with expectancy of their resurrection. I personally received a letter from the sister who brought me the truth. She advised me that she had done wrong in what she had told me. . . . [But] I was appreciative of my liberation from Babylon. Where else could one go? I had learned to know and love Jehovah.”
God’s faithful servants had not dedicated themselves to him only until a certain year. They were determined to serve him forever. To such persons the unfulfilled expectations concerning 1925 did not pose a great problem or affect their faith adversely. “For the faithful ones,” remarks James Poulos, “1925 was a wonderful year. Jehovah through his ‘faithful and discreet slave’ brought to our attention the meaning of the twelfth chapter of Revelation. We learned about the ‘woman,’ God’s universal organization; the war in heaven and the defeat and expulsion from the heavenly courts of Satan and his demons, by Jesus Christ and his holy angels; the birth of the kingdom of God.” Evidently, Brother Poulos has in mind the very noteworthy article “Birth of the Nation,” appearing in The Watch Tower of March 1, 1925. Through it, God’s people clearly discerned how these two great opposing organizations—Jehovah’s and Satan’s—were symbolized. They then learned, too, that the Devil has had to confine his operations to the earth since his ouster from heaven as a result of the ‘war in heaven’ beginning in 1914.
CELEBRATIONS AND HOLIDAYS
“At our early conventions, between sessions as the friends were chatting together,” writes Anna E. Zimmerman, “you might have seen some friends hand you their ‘Manna’ book [Daily Heavenly Manna for the Household of Faith], asking you to please write your name and address in their ‘Manna.’ You would write it on the blank page opposite the date of your birthday, and when your birthday came along and they read their text that morning for the day they might decide to write you a card or letter, wishing you a happy birthday.”
Yes, in those earlier days, dedicated Christians commemorated birthdays. Well, then, why not celebrate the supposed birthday of Jesus? This they also did for many years. In Pastor Russell’s day, Christmas was celebrated at the old Bible House in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Ora Sullivan Wakefield recalls that Brother Russell gave members of the Bible House family five- or ten-dollar gold pieces at Christmas. Mabel P. M. Philbrick remarks: “A custom that certainly would not be carried on today was the celebration of Christmas with a Christmas tree in the Bethel dining room. Brother Russell’s usual ‘Good morning, all’ was changed to ‘Merry Christmas, all.’”
What caused the Bible Students to stop celebrating Christmas? Richard H. Barber gave this answer: “I was asked to give an hour talk over a [radio] hookup on the subject of Christmas. It was given December 12, 1928, and published in The Golden Age #241 and again a year later in #268. That talk pointed out the pagan origin of Christmas. After that, the brothers at Bethel never celebrated Christmas again.”
“Did we mind putting those pagan things away?” asks Charles John Brandlein. “Absolutely not. This was just complying with new things learned, and we had never known before they were pagan. It was just like taking a soiled garment off and throwing it away.” Next, birthday celebrations and Mother’s Day were discarded—more creature worship. Sister Lilian Kammerud recalls: “How readily the brothers all dropped these holidays and admitted they were glad to be free. New truths always make us happy and . . . we felt we were privileged to know things that others were ignorant about.”
OTHER CHANGES IN VIEWPOINT
Advancement in understanding God’s Word brought about some other adjustments in Christian thinking. According to Grant Suiter, the late 1920’s were noteworthy along these lines. He says: “Modification of viewpoints respecting scriptures and matters of procedure seemed to be constant during these years. For example, it was in 1927 that The Watch Tower pointed out that the sleeping faithful members of the body of Christ were not resurrected in 1878 [as once thought], that life is in the blood and that the matter of somber dress would properly be modified.” (See The Watch Tower for 1927, pages 150-152, 166-169, 254, 255, 371, 372.) For that matter, the year before, during the London, England, convention of May 25-31, 1926, Brother Rutherford spoke from the platform while attired in a business suit, instead of the formal black frock coat that had long been worn by public speakers among Jehovah’s Christian witnesses.
Another change in viewpoint involved the “cross and crown” symbol, which appeared on the Watch Tower cover beginning with the issue of January 1891. In fact, for years many Bible Students wore a pin of this kind. By way of description, C. W. Barber writes: “It was a badge really, with a wreath of laurel leaves as the border and within the wreath was a crown with a cross running through it on an angle. It looked quite attractive and was our idea at that time of what it meant to take up our ‘cross’ and follow Christ Jesus in order to be able to wear the crown of victory in due time.”
Concerning the wearing of “cross and crown pins,” Lily R. Parnell comments: “This to Brother Rutherford’s mind was Babylonish and should be discontinued. He told us that when we went to the people’s homes and began to talk, that was the witness in itself.” Accordingly, reflecting on the 1928 Bible Students convention in Detroit, Michigan, Brother Suiter writes: “At the assembly the cross and crown emblems were shown to be not only unnecessary but objectionable. So we discarded these items of jewelry.” Some three years thereafter, beginning with its issue of October 15, 1931, The Watchtower no longer bore the cross and crown symbol on its cover.
A few years later Jehovah’s people first learned that Jesus Christ did not die on a T-shaped cross. On January 31, 1936, Brother Rutherford released to the Brooklyn Bethel family the new book Riches. Scripturally, it said, in part, on page 27: “Jesus was crucified, not on a cross of wood, such as is exhibited in many images and pictures, and which images are made and exhibited by men; Jesus was crucified by nailing his body to a tree.”
“YE ARE MY WITNESSES, SAITH JEHOVAH”
For the world a shock came on “Black Tuesday,” October 29, 1929. The stock market had collapsed. In the New York Times, news of this appeared under the headline “Stock Prices Slump $14,000,000,000 in Nation-Wide Stampede to Unload; Bankers to Support Market Today.” So began the Great Depression that ran through the 1930’s. Yet, during this time of grave economic distress, Jehovah furnished rich spiritual provisions for his people. And he also made them very much aware of the deep significance underlying the words, “Ye are my witnesses, saith Jehovah, and I am God.”—Isa. 43:12, AS.
Increasing emphasis was being placed on the divine name. For instance, consider the principal articles in the January 1st issues of The Watch Tower for several years. They were: “Who Will Honor Jehovah?” (1926) “Jehovah and His Works” (1927), “Honor His Name” (1928), “I Will Praise My God” (1929) and “Sing Unto Jehovah” (1930).
In exalting Jehovah’s name, however, the convention of God’s people at Columbus, Ohio, July 24-30, 1931, was a milestone. It was unique in that extension conventions were scheduled for 165 other places throughout the earth. But that was not the most important factor. There was something much more significant. It was linked with the enigmatic letters “JW” appearing on the printed assembly program and the title page of The Messenger, the convention newspaper—in fact, seen in many places. “When we got near the assembly grounds,” remarks Burnice E. Williams, Sr., “we saw ‘JW’ all over the place. But not knowing what it stood for, we were all wondering, ‘What is this JW for?’” Sister Herschel Nelson recalls: “Speculations were made as to what JW stood for—Just Wait, Just Watch, and the correct one . . .”
The meaning of “JW” was revealed on Sunday, July 26, 1931, when thrilled conventioners heartily adopted a resolution presented by J. F. Rutherford and entitled “A New Name.” It said, in part:
“NOW, THEREFORE, in order that our true position may be made known, and believing that this is in harmony with the will of God, as expressed in his Word, BE IT RESOLVED, as follows, to wit:
“THAT we have great love for Brother Charles T. Russell, for his work’s sake, and that we gladly acknowledge that the Lord used him and greatly blessed his work, yet we cannot consistently with the Word of God consent to be called by the name ‘Russellites’; that the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and the International Bible Students Association and the Peoples Pulpit Association are merely names of corporations which as a company of Christian people we hold, control and use to carry on our work in obedience to God’s commandments, yet none of these names properly attach to or apply to us as a body of Christians who follow in the footsteps of our Lord and Master, Christ Jesus; that we are students of the Bible, but, as a body of Christians forming an association, we decline to assume or be called by the name ‘Bible Students’ or similar names as a means of identification of our proper position before the Lord; we refuse to bear or to be called by the name of any man;
“THAT, having been bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ our Lord and Redeemer, justified and begotten by Jehovah God and called to his kingdom, we unhesitatingly declare our entire allegiance and devotion to Jehovah God and his kingdom; that we are servants of Jehovah God commissioned to do a work in his name, and, in obedience to his commandment, to deliver the testimony of Jesus Christ, and to make known to the people that Jehovah is the true and Almighty God; therefore we joyfully embrace and take the name which the mouth of the Lord God has named, and we desire to be known as and called by the name, to wit, Jehovah’s witnesses.”
It was obvious now. Those puzzling letters “JW” stood for Jehovah’s Witnesses. “I will never forget the tremendous shout and applause that vibrated through that meeting place when the information was finally made known,” declares Arthur A. Worsley. Herbert H. Boehk adds: “All over the city of Columbus the signs in store windows—‘Welcome I.B.S.A.’—came down and they now read, ‘Welcome, Jehovah’s Witnesses.’”
It was a thrill to receive the name Jehovah’s witnesses. Not only was that resolution entitled “A New Name” joyously adopted by the thousands of Christ’s anointed followers assembled in Columbus. The individual congregations later adopted the same resolution. Jehovah’s witnesses had a name no one else in the world wanted. But God’s servants were deeply grateful for it.—Isa. 43:12.
When he was eighty-eight years old A. H. Macmillan attended the “Fruitage of the Spirit” Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the same city. There, on August 1, 1964, Brother Macmillan made these interesting comments on how the adopting of that name came about:
“It was my privilege to be here in Columbus in 1931 when we received . . . the new title or name . . . I was amongst the five that were to make a comment on what we thought about the idea of accepting that name, and I told them this briefly: I thought that it was a splendid idea because that title there told the world what we were doing and what our business was. Prior to this we were called Bible Students. Why? Because that’s what we were. And then when other nations began to study with us, we were called International Bible Students. But now we are witnesses for Jehovah God, and that title there tells the public just what we are and what we’re doing. . . .
“In fact, it was God Almighty, I believe, that led to that, for Brother Rutherford told me himself that he woke up one night when he was preparing for that convention and he said, ‘What in the world did I suggest an international convention for when I have no special speech or message for them? Why bring them all here?’ And then he began to think about it, and Isaiah 43 came to his mind. He got up at two o’clock in the morning and wrote in shorthand, at his own desk, an outline of the discourse he was going to give about the Kingdom, the hope of the world, and about the new name. And all that was uttered by him at that time was prepared that night, or that morning at two o’clock. And [there is] no doubt in my mind—not then nor now—that the Lord guided him in that, and that is the name Jehovah wants us to bear and we’re very happy and very glad to have it.”
“THE KINGDOM, THE HOPE OF THE WORLD”
During the Columbus convention—on Sunday, July 26, 1931, at noon—J. F. Rutherford began his highly significant public discourse “The Kingdom, the Hope of the World.” Both the National Broadcasting Company and the Columbia Broadcasting System had denied the use of their radio facilities. However, Jehovah’s worshipers built up a radio chain to send the message from Columbus, and the American Telephone and Telegraph Company said, in a nutshell: “This particular network is the largest individual network that has ever been on the air.” The message went out over 163 radio stations in the United States, Canada, Cuba and Mexico.
Immediately after the radio-chain address “The Kingdom, the Hope of the World,” and as part of that broadcast, Brother Rutherford read a resolution styled “Warning from Jehovah—To the Rulers and to the People.” Among other things, it plainly declared: “The hope of the world is God’s kingdom, and there is no other hope.” It urged the people to take their stand on the side of God’s kingdom. When Brother Rutherford called upon his audience, seen and unseen, to adopt the resolution, the conventioners rose en masse and shouted “Aye.” Telegrams from all parts of the land showed that many of the radio audience likewise rose and endorsed the resolution.
Leaders of the world, including the clergy, were going to receive the information in Brother Rutherford’s convention address “The Kingdom, the Hope of the World,” and they would be in position to know the contents of the resolution “Warning from Jehovah.” Furthermore, they needed to be informed that God’s true servants had adopted the resolution entitled “A New Name” and would henceforth be known as “Jehovah’s witnesses.” Distribution of the booklet The Kingdom, the Hope to the World made all this possible. Besides calling on the general public, Jehovah’s witnesses visited clergymen, politicians, financiers and military men, distributing this publication. Within two and a half months, more than five million had been circulated and still work with the booklet was not nearly completed.
Reflecting on that booklet campaign, Fred Anderson writes: “I called upon the bishop at La Crosse. He invited me into his parlor very cordially. Then I told him why I had called. I presented the booklet to him. He looked at it and said nothing. I thanked him and took my leave. He became furious. As I passed through the doorway he threw it at me. It fell on the floor. He picked it up and threw it again just as I closed the screen door. The door closed right on the booklet. I only hope that he read it, since he couldn’t get rid of it.” Sister C. E. Bartow tells us: “One minister, when he realized what I had given him, screamed at me and said: ‘You little know-nothing! You come here to tell me, an eight-year theologian!’ How happy I was to serve the true God!”
A BARTERING SYSTEM AT WORK
During the 1930’s great hardship was brought about by the Depression. Factories closed their doors. By 1932 over 10,000,000 residents of the United States were without employment. Farmers, city dwellers—the populace in general—felt the effects of the Great Depression.
Money was scarce, but honest-hearted ones needed the joyous message of Scriptural truth. If individuals were unable to contribute for Bible literature, Jehovah’s witnesses often left it with them free. But this could not always be done. What was an alternative? Margaret M. Bridgett recalls: “We traded for produce such as eggs, butter, fresh and canned fruits, chickens, maple syrup; and I traded for needlework—quilt tops, cushion tops, tatting and homemade rugs. Sometimes I could trade some of these things for my room rent. . . . [Years later] I attended a Gilead [missionary school] graduation and a sister was there who had gotten a set of books from me by trading quilt tops. She got the truth and was then a pioneer [full-time preacher] and her son was interested.”
Arden Pate and John C. Booth recall having small coops on the back of their cars so that they could carry the chickens they traded for literature placed with individuals lacking money. Of course, bartering publications for chickens was not always a simple matter. Lula Glover writes: “We covered lots of territory in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North and South Carolina, and some in Tennessee and Mississippi. Can you visualize Sister Green and myself chasing chickens over those big farmyards?”
Trading literature for produce and other things was not done for selfish reasons. The people needed the good news and this was a way to receive it in printed form. “We always thanked Jehovah for sustaining us,” says Maxwell L. Lewis, “and we always had what we needed in the way of food, shelter and clothing.”
This also was an era of considerable opposition to the Kingdom-preaching work. By 1928 Jehovah’s people were witnessing from house to house on Sundays, and immediate opposition arose. As arrests rose in number during the 1930’s, Jehovah’s witnesses were charged falsely with such things as selling without a license, disturbing the peace and violating Sunday sabbath laws. The Watch Tower Society established a legal department to render counsel, and an “Order of Trial” was issued to help Kingdom proclaimers defend themselves in court. Adverse decisions were appealed.
But something else also was done. In 1933, 12,600 Witnesses in the United States volunteered to respond on short notice for house-to-house preaching on special missions in areas of civic opposition. They were organized into seventy-eight divisions, each division supplied with a number of cars, five workers to a car, and from 10 to 200 cars were sent to a trouble spot. When some Christians were arrested in the field service, this was reported to the Society. A call went out and on a Sunday soon thereafter all car groups in a division met at a prearranged rendezvous point, generally in the country, received instructions and territory assignments and then “besieged” the town like “locusts,” giving the whole community a witness, sometimes within as little as thirty to sixty minutes. (Rev. 9:7-9) In the meantime, a committee of brothers called on the police and gave them a list of all the Witnesses preaching there that day. Any Kingdom publisher arrested during the campaign was to call a certain telephone number upon arrival at the police station. Attorneys were on hand with bail money to come to his rescue.
One campaign first got under way by sending ten cars of Witnesses to the territory, according to Burnice E. Williams, Sr., who continues: “After a little while those that went into the territory would be calling back saying they had been arrested. Then ten more cars were sent in until the jail was filled up. Then, after the jail was full, we would swarm in. You see, they wouldn’t have any place to lock us up. . . . after they saw we were determined to work the territory, they would just give up so that we could go in and work it whenever we wanted. We would always win out.”
Nicholas Kovalak, Jr., says that the Witnesses expected to be arrested. “When the police would arrest us and take away our ‘valuables,’ every Witness would have a toothbrush!” he recalls. “The policeman would ask, ‘Why does everyone have a toothbrush?’ All of us would say, ‘We expected to be arrested and put in jail, so we came prepared!’ They would throw up their hands and say, ‘What’s the use?’ They knew they couldn’t intimidate the Witnesses or stop their preaching.”
Though decades have passed since those campaigns in 1933 to 1935, they are recalled fondly by their participants of times gone by. “Indeed,” says John Dulchinos, “those were thrilling years and their memories are precious. Jehovah’s spirit made us fearless.”
BATTLE OF THE AIR WAVES
Despite mounting opposition, Jehovah’s witnesses of the early 1930’s boldly declared the Kingdom message from house to house. But the good news also found its way into millions of homes through the medium of radio, much to the consternation of the clergy. Internationally, the Watch Tower Society then was using 408 radio stations. In the spring of 1933, United States Catholics launched a nationwide campaign led by cardinals, bishops and priests. Its objective? To “drive Rutherford off the air.”
Pope Pius XI proclaimed a “holy year” in 1933. On April 23, 1933, Brother Rutherford broadcast over fifty-five radio stations the historic lecture “Effect of Holy Year on Peace and Prosperity.” In it the vain hopes set out for the people by the Roman Catholic Hierarchy were branded a counterfeit of the peace and security promised through God’s kingdom. The same lecture was scheduled for rebroadcast over 158 stations on June 25, 1933. In preparation for that broadcast, five million leaflets were distributed from house to house. The Hierarchy’s reaction was bitter and intense. Catholic intimidation increased, and some radio managers refused to carry any more Watch Tower programs.
In late 1933 and early 1934, Jehovah’s people circulated a nationwide petition protesting these Catholic acts. Addressed to Congress, it finally bore 2,416,141 signatures. On October 4, 1934, J. F. Rutherford appeared before the Federal Communications Commission. He cited specific instances and statistics showing that Catholic pressure had seriously impaired the freedom of worship of Jehovah’s witnesses and the use of the radio in public interests. Despite the facts, after receiving the testimony, the Federal Communications Commission did little. Hence, Jehovah’s servants circulated another petition throughout the United States. Also addressed to Congress, it was presented in January 1935 with 2,284,128 signatures. The second petition went unheeded. Subsequent developments ultimately led to the circulating of a third national petition. Its 2,630,000 signers protested actions of intimidation and boycott and requested a public debate between a high official of the Roman Catholic Church and Judge Rutherford. In working with this petition, Leonard U. Brown, Sr., says he “found many Catholics who said they would be happy to hear this debate.” The petition was filed with the Federal Communications Commission on November 2, 1936, but it also went unheeded.
Though no Catholic official would debate with Rutherford, in 1937 the Society published the booklet entitled “Uncovered.” It presented basic Bible doctrines, particularly in refutation of false Catholic teachings. While the householder followed along in the publication, a Witness would play on a portable phonograph Brother Rutherford’s record series “Exposed.” With the aid of the question booklet Model Study No. 1, a Bible study could be held. Regarding this, Melvin P. Sargent writes: “I was invited to bring this series into one man’s home and he invited three other couples of his relatives in for the studies. It took several weeks to cover this and other subjects, such as ‘Religion and Christianity.’ Of the eight people attending, six made their dedication to Jehovah.”
After October 31, 1937, Jehovah’s people voluntarily withdrew from commercial broadcasting. On later occasions the Society’s president delivered public lectures over a network of radio stations, and, of course, WBBR continued operating to God’s glory. But from late 1937 onward into the 1940’s, increased use was made of the portable phonograph and recordings of Bible talks to carry the Kingdom message to the homes of millions.
WHO MAKE UP THE “GREAT MULTITUDE”?
That had been a burning question among Jehovah’s people for years. Long had they viewed the “great multitude” (“great crowd,” NW) as a secondary spiritual class who would be associated with the 144,000 anointed ones in heaven, like bridesmaids or “companions” of this Bride of Christ. (Ps. 45:14, 15; Rev. 7:4-15; 21:2, 9) In addition to this, as early as 1923 the “sheep” of Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats were identified as a present-day earthly class who would survive Armageddon into God’s promised new order. (Matt. 25:31-46; Rev. 16:14, 16) The 1931 volume Vindication (Book One) identified the persons marked on the forehead for preservation (Ezek. chap. 9) as the “sheep” of Christ’s parable. In 1932 it was concluded that this present-day class of “sheep” had been prefigured by Jehu’s associate Jonadab. First in 1934 was it made clear that these “Jonadabs” with earthly hopes should “consecrate,” or enter a dedicated relationship with Jehovah, and be baptized. But the identity of the “great multitude” referred to in Revelation chapter 7 was still understood the same as previously held.
Uncertainties about the “great multitude” were removed when Brother Rutherford discussed that subject during the assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses on May 30 to June 3, 1935, in Washington, D.C. In that discourse it was shown Scripturally that the “great multitude” was synonymous with the “other sheep” of the time of the end. Webster L. Roe recalls that at a climactic moment J. F. Rutherford asked: “Will all those who have the hope of living forever on the earth please stand?” According to Brother Roe, “over half of the audience stood,” and the speaker then said: “BEHOLD! THE GREAT MULTITUDE!” “There was at first a hush,” recalls Mildred H. Cobb, “then a gladsome cry and the cheering was loud and long.”
Soon the convention was over, but it had started something—a search. “With enthusiasm running high and renewed spirituality, we went back to our territories to search for these sheeplike people who were yet to be gathered,” says Sadie Carpenter.
After the 1935 convention, some who previously partook of the emblematic bread and wine at observances of the Lord’s Evening Meal ceased partaking. Why? Not due to unfaithfulness, but because they now realized that their hopes were earthly, not heavenly. And whereas the Society’s publications of former years had been designed primarily for Jesus’ anointed followers, from 1935 onward The Watchtower and other Christian literature provided spiritual food to benefit both the anointed class and their companions having earthly prospects.
LET TRUTH RING OUT!
During the 1930’s Kingdom proclaimers used transcription machines in their search for sheeplike ones. Henry Cantwell tells us this about them: “In 1933, as the Society began to expand the preaching work, arrangements were made to have recordings of lectures by Brother J. F. Rutherford presented in all parts of the country. To do this the Society produced what were called electrical transcription machines. These were large spring-wound phonographs with an electrical pick-up or tone arm and amplifier and loudspeaker that operated from batteries. . . . We had a variety of these recordings. Some were complete within themselves; others took two or four records to complete a lecture. So we had talks for 15 minutes, 30 minutes and one hour. In this way we were able to hold public meetings in the various territories we worked.”
Explaining this work further, Julia Wilcox writes: “We would first locate a home, or at times a public building, an old barn or even a church, where we could put on an hour talk. Then most of the day would be spent going from house to house advertising the talk, arranging to go back and get those who had no transportation.”
During one series of twelve transcription meetings, the same territory was covered three times with Bible literature and four times with announcements. Placards in store windows and signs for the Witnesses’ cars also advertised the meetings. Fine results were attained, with many coming together in permanent studies and even joining in the preaching work.
“The Society used hundreds of these 33 1/3-rpm transcription records to broadcast the Kingdom message,” according to Ralph H. Leffler, who also remarks: “Many were used by sound cars and trucks. . . . The words ‘Kingdom Message’ were seen on the side of many a horn and, of course, that was the theme. Up and down the streets and over the countryside the message was heard. . . . Sometimes on a quiet evening with the sound car stationed on the top of a hill overlooking a small city in the valley below the sound could be heard miles away.”
Giving his recollections, Henry A. Cantwell states: “We would go into an area, play some musical recordings to attract attention, make a brief announcement through the microphone and then play one of the talks. Then we would announce that individuals would be calling at the doors to present further information to those who desired it.” There were sound boats, too, and their operations were similar.
The sound service performed by Jehovah’s witnesses was not without its opposers, however. For instance, Lennart Johnson writes:
“At one location in the 11th Street suburbs south of Rockford [Illinois] one person did not enjoy the sound-car work nor the Kingdom message. Overwhelmed with uncontrollable emotion, this woman drew up in her car beside the sound car and, as if to drown out the words of the speaker, kept her own loud car horn blasting wide open for three or four minutes. The only result was to run down her own battery, evidenced by her car horn getting weaker and weaker.”
On the other hand, some sound-car experiences were on the humorous side. “At first some people got frightened,” remarks Julia Wilcox, adding: “They might be out in the field at work, far away from the sound car, and they said it sounded like a voice coming out of the heavens talking about God. We even heard of some families leaving the farm work and going to their homes, thinking judgment day had come.”
WIND UP THE PHONOGRAPH!
For years the portable phonograph played an important part in Kingdom-preaching. In the development of this work the general convention of Jehovah’s witnesses, September 15-20, 1937, at Columbus, Ohio, was significant. Elwood Lunstrum gives us this comment on that gathering:
“At this assembly the work using the portable phonograph on the doorstep was introduced. Formerly we had been carrying the phonograph with us in the service, but we had only played it when invited inside. . . .
“An organization of ‘Special Pioneers’ was outlined at the Columbus convention to spearhead the use of the doorstep setup with the phonograph and the follow-up work with interested persons (first then called ‘back-calls’) and Bible studies with an arrangement called ‘model study.’”
Shortly after that assembly about 200 specially chosen pioneers throughout the United States were sent into the large cities where there already were congregations of God’s people. Equipped with portable phonographs, these full-time publishers went to work. Soon Jehovah’s witnesses in general became “phonograph-minded” and more than 20,000 of these machines had to be manufactured at the Society’s Brooklyn plant in just two years. Even then, demand exceeded supply as thousands of Kingdom proclaimers wound up the phonograph and let truth ring out for all to hear!
The phonographs used by Kingdom publishers themselves underwent change with the passing of time. About 1934 there was a strong, compact model, with a spring-wound motor and carrying space for several discs. With 6 discs, it weighed twenty-one pounds. The publishers got some exercise with that one. About two years later the Society had one of lighter weight. Then, at conventions in 1940, a new vertical-type phonograph was introduced. Designed and built by brothers at the Society’s headquarters, the phonograph played in an upright position. It even had a cubbyhole for literature, and perhaps a little lunch. This model greatly facilitated the house-to-house preaching work.
Now imagine yourself in the field service as a Kingdom proclaimer some three decades ago. “When the householder opened the door, we would say, ‘I have a message for you.’ Down the needle went and Brother Rutherford’s voice boomed out,” recalls L. E. Reusch. “At the end of the message,” remarks Angelo C. Manera, Jr., “the speaker would mention the book we were featuring and how much it cost. Then we would present the book and place it, if there was interest.” “We were never rude,” comments George L. McKee, “but we were sure that everyone needed to hear the good news of the Kingdom.”
The phonograph work was not carried on without opposition. Ernest Jansma tells us: “There were cases of some having their phonographs literally and viciously smashed right before their eyes. Others had them ruthlessly thrown off porches. One brother in the Middle West stood by and watched an angry farmer blow his machine into oblivion with a shotgun, then heard pellets whine past his auto as he left the scene. They were vicious and religiously fanatical in those days.” Amelia and Elizabeth Losch tell of an occasion when the recording “Enemies” was played for a crowd on the porch of a certain home. After the talk ended, one woman took the record off the machine and broke it, saying, “You can’t talk about my pope like that!”
Despite opposition, the phonograph work went on. Gradually, use of this instrument in the field service dropped off in the 1940’s. After 1944 this decade-long preaching campaign with the phonograph began to be replaced by oral witnessing at the doors.
Among witnessing devices employed in past years was the testimony card, introduced late in 1933 and used well into the 1940’s. John and Helen Groh explain: “Publishers of the good news were not so numerous as they are today and not so well trained. To assist us in our work and for better coverage of the territory, we used what was known as a testimony card. These were short printed sermons, which people were asked to read. Where people refused to read it, or became annoyed because of not having their glasses handy, we would relate to them the equivalent of what was on the card.”
ANOTHER WAY TO ADVERTISE THE KINGDOM
A significant work that brought Jehovah’s people to public notice, while advertising the King and Kingdom, had its start at a convention in Newark, New Jersey, during 1936. Further development of it came at an assembly in London, England, in 1938. Years later, this work was given the dignity that it deserved by being called information marching. Thinking back to the Newark convention in 1936, Rosa May Dreyer remarks: “‘Sandwich signs’ or placards hung from one’s shoulders, front and back, were used to advertise the main talk. [The publisher was “sandwiched” between the placards.] Handbills were also distributed.”
During the 1938 London convention, at J. F. Rutherford’s suggestion, some information marchers carried very thought-provoking signs mounted on sticks. In part, A. D. Schroeder (who then had oversight of the Society’s branch office in England) tells us:
“. . . The next night Brother Knorr and I led the first spectacular parade that came to be about six miles long, with nearly a thousand brothers marching through the central business section of London. Every other marcher would carry the ‘Face the Facts’ placard [advertising the public talk to be given at Royal Albert Hall], while the next would carry the sign ‘RELIGION IS A SNARE AND A RACKET.’ My, what a spectacle that was that night!
“The next morning Brother Rutherford called me to his office for a report as to what happened. I reported that we aroused much attention, that many called out after us, ‘Communists.’ So he thought for a few minutes, doodling again with his pen. Another sheet was peeled off and given to me, reading: ‘SERVE GOD AND CHRIST THE KING.’ He asked me whether I thought putting such a slogan on a third sign might not neutralize that catcall reaction of the previous night. I said, ‘Yes.’ So, he instructed that this slogan be printed and used for the next parade two nights later. That we did, with fine results. Accordingly, in this way with the three signs alternated we conducted several remarkable parades before the dates of the assembly, September 9-11. Since the British government for years had denied us the use of the radio for our educational programs and announcements, this parade method proved most effective for notifying the public.”
For Gladys Bolton, information marching was “the hardest work of all.” She also says: “Each placard read differently, but the one that stands out in my mind is ‘Religion is a Snare and a Racket!’ My, how the clergy ‘loved’ that!” Concerning the sign “Religion is a Snare and a Racket,” Ursula Serenco observes: “This was the time when we did not designate ‘true religion’ and ‘false religion’; all religion in totality was bad. The true we referred to as ‘worship,’ while the false was ‘religion.’”
At times there was open hostility to information marching. “In some towns like Pittston [Pennsylvania] we were not received hospitably,” says John H. Sovyrda. “Many people would spit on us, call us all kinds of dirty names and say we were Communists. They would throw things at us, and some would actually strike us with their fists.”
Why, then, did Jehovah’s witnesses engage in information marches? “Mostly because we felt it important for the people to know the facts pertaining to false worship and the opposition it was showing toward our Christian work,” remarks Charles C. Eberle. Angelo C. Manera, Jr., comments: “We looked at each new feature of service that would be outlined for us to do as another way to serve Jehovah, another way to prove our loyalty to him, as another test of our integrity, and we were anxious to prove ourselves willing to serve him in any way he asked.”
Grant Suiter reminds us that, by Watchtower announcement, information marching was discontinued after October 1939, but he adds: “This unusual and successful means of directing the attention of many persons to the ministry of Jehovah’s witnesses was unique in its time. Its termination, as well as its use, shows Jehovah’s direction in the matter. At this late date [the 1970’s], public demonstrations of all kinds are carried on, but we are not participating therein in any way, nor can anything that we are doing be confused with such demonstrations.”
SPREADING “TRUE WISDOM” THROUGH MAGAZINES
Kingdom publishers had excellent opportunities to help gather the “great crowd” and spread true wisdom by offering subscriptions for The Watchtower and Consolation in their house-to-house preaching. During the first Consolation subscription campaign, in April, May and June 1938, 73,006 new subscriptions were obtained in the United States. The first annual Watchtower subscription campaign took place from January through May of 1939, when Jehovah’s witnesses in the United States alone obtained over 93,000 new subscriptions.
But The Watchtower and Consolation were yet to come to public attention in a special way. “True wisdom” would virtually ‘cry aloud in the streets.’ (Prov. 1:20) How? Through magazine street work, which had its start in February 1940. In this activity, Jehovah’s servants took positions on busy street corners, wearing over their shoulders specially designed and lettered magazine bags that identified the two journals and indicated the suggested contribution—five cents a copy. Holding Consolation aloft, the Kingdom proclaimer might call out, “Publishes facts no other magazine dares to print.” Other slogans included “Exposes the religious racket” and “The Watchtower explains the Theocratic Government.” Magazine publishers were urged to be moderate in speech on the street, pursuing a dignified course. Needless to say, passersby were attracted and many responded favorably.
Would you like to know how the idea of magazine street work developed? S. E. Johnston recalls that in 1939 the Society wrote to all zone servants (predecessors of today’s circuit overseers) asking them to try different ways of getting The Watchtower and Consolation into the hands of the people. Brother Johnston thought about newsboys with bags over their shoulders. “Why not try something like that?“ he reasoned. Dave and Emma Reusch agreed to make magazine bags and their daughter, Vera Coates, put colorful silkscreen inscriptions on them—“Watchtower on one side, Consolation on the other.” When Brother Johnston visited the little congregation in Concord, California, a group joined him in street witnessing. He writes: “The following week the Reusches made us more magazine bags, and this time we tried it on the business streets of Oakland. Some brothers were a little timid at first, but the street work caught on and we started getting orders from other companies [congregations] for magazine bags. At this point, I made my report to the Society, sending them a sample bag . . . The Society wrote me, thanking me and all of us for the experiment, and saying that they would make announcement in the Informant soon. They did.”
The Society made arrangements to provide magazine bags. Nicholas Kovalak, Jr., tells us: “The publishers of the Passaic, New Jersey, congregation had the privilege of making the magazine bags for the Society. We cut the cloth and sewed it into magazine bags. On Saturday and Sunday all who qualified and volunteered would assemble at Brother Frank Catanzaro’s pants factory and have the privilege of sewing the magazine bags for our brothers throughout the country. . . . the Society would do the printing. So every time we saw a magazine bag, we felt we had had a little share in advertising Jehovah’s kingdom.”
What was it like to make one’s first appearance on the street corner with The Watchtower and Consolation back in February 1940? Peter D’Mura answers: “How well I recall February 1, 1940! . . . How were we going to be received? What would be the reaction of our neighbors and townspeople? We were excited. We were going to do this for two hours. . . . Were we surprised! As we called out the proper slogans and approached people we had success. We each placed many magazines.”
Recalling public reaction, Grace A. Estep states: “At first there was a kind of stunned surprise mingled with amusement and sometimes anger, and then a great deal of embarrassment as people scuttled from one side of the street to the other in an effort to dodge the neighbors to whom they didn’t want to speak and yet were ashamed to ignore. After the first few weeks, however, they just gave up and were conveniently engrossed in conversation or window-shopping as they ran the gauntlet of street publishers.”
At times mob violence erupted while Jehovah’s servants engaged in magazine street work in those earlier days. For instance, H. S. Robbins recalls an angry mob that assaulted him and other Kingdom publishers while they were doing magazine street work in San Antonio, Texas, some years ago. As things turned out, the Witnesses were not injured, but they, not the mobsters, were arrested. Brother Robbins adds:
“When we were released we went back to the Kingdom Hall to reorganize and see what we would do next. . . . We reorganized and went right back.
“By the time we got back downtown there was an ‘extra’ newspaper out and the cry of the newsboys was: ‘Jehovah’s witnesses are run out of town,’ and here we were all over the streets again. . . . We were certainly not run out of town and were not about to go.”
In Scripture, God’s people are characterized as sheep having Jehovah as their heavenly Shepherd. (Ps. 28:8, 9; 80:1; Ezek. 34:11-16) In addition to his tender care, they enjoy the aid and direction of the Fine Shepherd, Jesus Christ, as well as the assistance of other shepherds within the Christian congregation. (Matt. 25:31-46; Luke 12:32; John 10:14-16; 1 Pet. 5:1-4) Among God’s people from the 1870’s down into 1932, men who had been voted into the office of elder congregationally supervised congregational Bible studies and lectures. Men who were voted into the office of deacon congregationally assisted them. According to C. W. Barber, elders “would lead in spiritual matters, conducting meetings, giving talks and taking the general oversight,” whereas deacons “would be used as ushers, taking care of the seating arrangements and helping out in material ways.”
The elders and deacons were elected congregationally each year by a showing of hands on the part of persons associated with each congregation. “As to voting,” explains Herbert H. Abbott, “then it was thought that at Acts 14:23 the Greek word rendered ‘ordained’ [King James Version; “appointed,” New World Translation] related to stretching forth the hand and meant to be a voter at those elections of class leaders. [See Acts 14:23, Rotherham.] We did not then know that it came to be used in the sense of appoint or designate by the apostles or governing body.”
“What determined the spiritual caliber of those selected for congregational oversight?” asks Henry A. Rheb. In part, he answers: “Well, for one thing, no novice was selected, and that certainly was Scriptural. Prior to the business meeting, the qualifications for office were read from 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9.” “When the list of nominees was completed,” says Edith R. Brenisen, “we were earnestly admonished to consider carefully and prayerfully the qualifications and capabilities of each one nominated, according to the Bible, asking for the guidance of the holy spirit in making our decisions. . . . we met again at the appointed time to elect those who had been nominated.”
In some places, problems arose in electing elders. “Electioneering and rivalry” are remembered by Sister Avery Bristow, who says: “This caused division and factions among the brothers and sisters in some congregations and some would not even speak to others of another group.” James Rettos remarks: “Some would even become very angry if they were not voted in.”
Problems sometimes arose in connection with field service. Ursula C. Serenco writes: “All went along well until the announcement came of all taking part in house-to-house witnessing with literature and particularly the Sunday house-to-house work—this in 1927. Our elective elders opposed and tried to discourage the whole class from taking up or engaging in any part of such work. The class began to take sides and division began to manifest itself.” The attitude of some of the elders toward the house-to-house preaching work was of vital concern. So a specific point might be made of that in the yearly voting. For instance, according to H. Robert Dawson, back in 1929 candidates for elder and deacon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, had to answer this question: “Are you willing to participate in service work?”
Certain elders had a feeling of superiority and wanted only to give talks, according to Sister J. M. Norris. She adds: “Others were critical of the articles in The Watchtower, not wanting to accept it as still God’s channel of truth, always trying to influence others in their way of thinking.”
It should never be concluded, however, that all elected elders had the wrong attitude or spirit. Many faithfully discharged their responsibilities as Christian shepherds of God’s people. (1 Pet. 5:1-4) “Only a few were always throwing stumbling blocks in the way of the preaching work,” says James A. Barton. According to Roy E. Hendrix, “many of them were truly dedicated Bible Students, really witnesses of Jehovah.” Clarence S. Huzzey observes: “Many of these elders were fine mature Christian brothers concerned with the welfare of the congregation.” Jehovah was shepherding his people, and he was pleased to use such men for the benefit of his dedicated worshipers.
“Elective elders” supervised congregational activities for many years. With the coming of 1932, however, a ‘temporary change took place. Older members of the Brooklyn Bethel family still recall the meeting held on Wednesday evening, October 5, 1932, at Apollo Hall in Brooklyn. Some 300 members of the New York congregation then passed a resolution ending the electing of elders in New York city. (See The Watchtower of September 1, 1932, pages 265 and 266, as well as the issue of October 15, 1932, page 319.) Nearly all other congregations promptly stopped electing elders, passing similar resolutions. Thus the year 1932 witnessed the replacement of “elective elders” with a group of mature Christian men called a “service committee,” elected by the congregation to assist the local service director who had been appointed by the Watch Tower Society.
Instituting the new arrangement in 1932 led to some problems, and certain individuals left the organization. However, the vast majority of the congregations and those associated with them accepted the organizational adjustment gratefully.
OTHER DEVELOPMENTS IN ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE
For many years only brothers who were anointed followers of Jesus Christ filled positions of responsibility in the Christian congregation. But in 1937 there was a change. Writes Grant Suiter: “Organizationally we were assisted by the counsel of The Watchtower of May 1, 1937, to the effect that those who were of the Jonadab class [having earthly prospects] might be appointed to positions of service in the congregations. . . . The August 15 issue of The Watchtower pointed out that Jonadabs could serve on service committees and in other similar capacities in the companies [congregations].” According to The Watchtower, “Jonadabs” could become “company servants,” or presiding overseers, if qualified members of the anointed remnant were not available to serve. “We see how Jehovah was paving the way in preparation for the great increase that was yet to come in,” said Norman Larson, adding: “It certainly opened new horizons for those, like myself, who were of the earthly class.”
In 1938 there was another significant organizational development. The Watchtower articles “Unity in Action” (May 15) and “Organization” (June 1 and 15) showed that authority to appoint overseers and their assistants did not rest with individual congregations. It was suggested that congregations throughout the world consider a resolution presented in The Watchtower, requesting that “The Society” organize the congregation for service and “appoint the various servants thereof,” that is, all those who would fill the positions of responsibility locally. (See The Watchtower for 1938, pages 169, 182, 183.) Most congregations adopted this resolution, and the few that did not soon lost their spiritual vision and the privileges they had in connection with Kingdom service.
THE “KINGDOM HALL”
Jehovah, the heavenly Shepherd, makes rich spiritual provisions for his people. A great part in feeding them is played by Christian meetings. (Heb. 10:24, 25) Often God’s modern-day servants have met in private homes and rented public buildings. But the heavenly kingdom was born in 1914 C.E. So, in time God’s people began calling their principal meeting places the “Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
According to Domenico Finelli, the first Kingdom Hall was built at Roseto, Pennsylvania, in 1927, and he says that it “was inaugurated with a public talk by Brother Giovanni DeCecca.” However, the general use of the name “Kingdom Hall” came into vogue from 1935 onward. During that year, the Watch Tower Society’s president, J. F. Rutherford, visited the Hawaiian Islands and initiated the establishment of a branch office in Honolulu. Arrangements were made for an assembly hall in connection with the branch building. This auditorium was designated “Kingdom Hall.”
From 1935 onward, Jehovah’s witnesses in various places have rented buildings, fitted them for assembly and used them as Kingdom Halls. Often congregations have purchased property, renovated buildings or erected new structures to serve as places to meet for Bible study and worship of God. W. L. Pelle fittingly remarked not long ago:
“The Kingdom Halls are attractive on the outside, cozy and practical on the inside. Besides, since they are attractive in appearance, they give a silent witness as well as make persons of new interest feel ‘at home’ when they enter. By far the greater amount of labor in building has been contributed by our own brothers and those deeply interested. We have not had to resort to ‘building and loan’ organizations (of the Devil’s world). The capital and assets remain within the use of Jehovah’s people. The same was true with respect to the Israelites’ ‘tent in the wilderness’ many years ago. [Acts 7:44] I was asked not long ago, ‘Why do you people call your building a “Kingdom Hall”?’ I replied that the very first meaning given in my dictionary is: ‘Hall: an edifice devoted to public business.’ Our Kingdom Halls are devoted exclusively to the business of the Almighty God and his kingdom. So, there could not be a more appropriate name.”
ZONE SERVICE STRENGTHENS JEHOVAH’S PEOPLE
As increasing numbers of the “great crowd” streamed into Kingdom Halls back in the 1930’s, an activity began that was designed to strengthen the congregations of God’s people. (Rev. 7:9) It was the zone work, counterpart of circuit work today. About twenty congregations in a particular area of the country formed one zone. The Society appointed a zone servant to visit each congregation and generally spend one week with it. His purpose was to strengthen the congregation organizationally and also to aid it in the preaching work. From time to time, the congregations in a zone gathered for a zone assembly, there to receive Biblical instruction and spiritual aid. Special servants were sent out from the Society’s headquarters to serve at these assemblies. The zone work got under way as of October 1, 1938, and continued through November of 1941.
Edgar C. Kennedy shows how Christians responded to the zone work, saying: “Their spirit was strong and their appreciation for our visits was lovingly expressed. All of the companies [congregations] were small, but you could see a stirring among them. Because of their willing acceptance of the theocratic instructions, their love for the truth, their response to group service and their work with the model studies, signs of growth were beginning to appear. Several new companies began to be formed.”
“SALVATION BELONGS TO JEHOVAH”
A strong Christian organization certainly was needed in those days because Jehovah’s witnesses were the objects of intense persecution. Much of this had its start in 1935. How so? Well, at the Washington, D.C., convention, on Monday, June 3, Brother Rutherford responded to a query on the flag salute by children in school. He told the convention audience that to salute an earthly emblem, ascribing salvation to it, was unfaithfulness to God. Rutherford said that he would not do it.
H. L. Philbrick remarked that Rutherford’s answer “must have been heard by some young people, for when the schools opened that fall suddenly headlines appeared in the Boston newspapers about a young boy in Lynn, Massachusetts, who refused to salute the flag in school at the beginning of the school term. His name was Carleton Nichols. A young girl, Barbara Meredith, took the same stand at her school in Sudbury, Massachusetts, the same day.” But her situation did not reach the press, as she had a teacher who was tolerant and did not make an issue out of it.
It was on September 20, 1935, that young Carleton B. Nichols, Jr., declined to salute the flag. The incident was publicized throughout the country. As president of the Watch Tower Society, J. F. Rutherford was approached by the Associated Press and asked for an official statement regarding the view of Jehovah’s witnesses on this matter. The statement was furnished, but the press declined to publish it. So, during a nationwide radio broadcast on October 6, 1935, Rutherford spoke on the subject “Saluting a Flag.” This discourse was published in the 32-page booklet Loyalty, distributed by the millions. In this reply to the press, Rutherford showed that while Jehovah’s witnesses respect the flag, their Biblical obligations and relationship to God strictly forbid them to salute any image. To Jehovah’s servants this would be an act of worship contrary to the principles set forth in the Ten Commandments. (Ex. 20:4-6) The reply also showed that Christian parents primarily are responsible for teaching their children and that the children must be taught the truth according to their parents’ understanding and appreciation of the Holy Scriptures.
While many school officials and teachers were broad minded, others acted arbitrarily and expelled children of Jehovah’s witnesses from school for refusal to salute the flag. For instance, on November 6, 1935, two Witness children were expelled for this reason from a public school at Minersville, Pennsylvania. Their father, Walter Gobitis, instituted a suit against the board of education, Minersville School District. The suit was begun in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and was decided in favor of Jehovah’s witnesses. When this decision was contested, the Witnesses also won a favorable decision in the Circuit Court of Appeals. But the case next went to the Supreme Court of the United States. There, in June 1940, by a decision of eight to one, the Court reversed the favorable judgment, with disastrous consequences.
In one place after another Christians were persecuted because of their Biblical position on flag saluting. For instance, a mob joined by some policemen attacked Jehovah’s witnesses during a Bible meeting in Rockville, Maryland, on June 20, 1940. Having gained entrance to the Kingdom Hall, the mob leader held up a flag and said, “I will give you people two minutes American time to salute this flag or there will be bloodshed here.” Sotir K. Vassil reports: “There was silence for about a minute, when all of a sudden one man who had come to the meeting for the first time became very frightened, jumped up, saluted the flag and went out . . . No one else saluted the flag. When the two minutes were up, the leader knocked everything out of my hands and gave orders to the mob to ‘break up everything,’ chairs, and so forth, and articles began to fly. The two policemen with their pistols on their hips were inside with them and I went over to them and asked if they couldn’t do something. They did not even open their mouths or begin to take any action to stop the mob.” The situation became worse. “They began acting like a pack of demons,” says Brother Vassil, “pushing and shoving us out of the hall. They kept crying out: ‘Kill them! Kill them! They are Nazis.’ Some of the children in the hall began to cry and some in the mob called out to ‘throw those brats out of the window.’ They literally booted us out of the building and into the street and were now yelling: ‘Run them out of town! Run them out of town!’”
Later, having escaped the mob, Brother Vassil contacted the zone servant, Charles Eberle, who immediately reported the incident to the Attorney General of the United States. The Federal Bureau of Investigation began looking into the matter the next day. Eventually, there was a court case, and Brother Vassil tells us: “After the trial, which was decided in our favor and to Jehovah’s glory, Rockville Township placed a policeman to guard our Kingdom Hall each time we held a meeting so that another such incident could not occur. This time Satan’s instrument to destroy our newly formed congregation and Kingdom Hall had failed.—Isa. 54:17.”
This account is merely an example. There were many other incidents. For instance, in Connersville, Indiana, a lawyer of the Witnesses was beaten and driven from town. God’s servants were enduring such violent persecution because they were adhering strictly to the Holy Scriptures and courageously maintained that their salvation and deliverance from foes and perils comes, not from any nation, but from God. Indeed, “salvation belongs to Jehovah.”—Ps. 3:8; compare American Standard Version.
Compulsory flag salute in schools resulted in the expulsion of many students who were Jehovah’s witnesses. However, the Watchtower Society aided true Christians to provide education for their children. As early as 1935 this was done by opening private “Kingdom Schools.” At these, qualified teachers from among Jehovah’s witnesses devoted their time and energy, instructing Witness children who had been expelled from public schools. God’s people organized and financed these private schools in various places.
One of the Kingdom Schools was located in Lakewood, New Jersey. According to a former student there, C. W. Erlenmeyer, the Lakewood congregation’s Kingdom Hall was on the first floor, as well as the school classroom, a kitchen and the dining area. Bedrooms for the girls were on the second floor, and those of the boys on the third. “Of course,” says Brother Erlenmeyer, “most of us boarded right there and only went home on weekends, at the most. Those who lived farther away went home every second weekend, and the last year of school, because of wartime gas rationing, we went home every third weekend.”
With plenty of work to be done, a cook and a housekeeper were on hand. But the children had their assignments too—helping in the kitchen, washing and drying dishes, taking out the garbage, and so forth. There was a discussion of the daily Bible text at the breakfast table, and every school day began with a half-hour Bible study. So the children were fed spiritually. Furthermore, they had opportunities to use what they learned, in the field service on Saturdays and Sundays.
Another Kingdom School was established at Gates, Pennsylvania. Instructing there was Grace A. Estep, a public school teacher who had been dismissed because she would not conduct the pledge of allegiance and flag salute in her classroom. Sister Estep recalls the school’s first year as a “tumultuous one,” with every sort of “official” trying to find some reason to close it. She also states: “The schoolroom was often invaded by some official, school or otherwise, for the purpose of finding fault or adding further harassment. Additionally, patriotic fervor was not missing among many of the populace. A crowd gathered at one time with the purpose of bombing or burning the school, angrily remonstrating with the owner for having rented to us. But since the owner was a leading citizen of the town, and since they couldn’t figure out how to bomb the school without bombing the barber shop [in the same building], they gave up the idea.” Eventually, the student body increased, calling for kindergarten, eight grades of elementary school and four of high school.
How did Kingdom School students fare as far as their education was concerned? Lloyd Owen, who taught at the one in Saugus, Massachusetts, reports: “We used to give the achievement test to see how well we had been doing. Most of the time the students rated one half to a whole grade better than the grade they were supposed to be in. . . . We tested the students at least twice a year, and they persisted in having this very high rating.”
A fine spirit prevailed among those involved with Kingdom Schools. “The friends were so very wonderful, always offering help in so many ways,” says Sister Estep. “It was all a sort of community thing, the ‘community’ being everyone involved in any way with the Kingdom Schools. My heart swells with love and appreciation when I review all the marvelous things the dear friends did in those days, their love for Jehovah knowing no bounds. And though there was little money, they supplied the needed things to the limit of their time and strength.”
SUPREME COURT REVERSES ITSELF
On June 8, 1942, by a vote of five to four, the United States Supreme Court ruled against Jehovah’s witnesses in the license tax case Jones v. Opelika. Interestingly, however, besides their dissenting opinion, Justices Black, Douglas and Murphy recanted their votes in the 1940 Gobitis flag salute case. With that the Watchtower Society’s lawyer filed an injunction suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia against the West Virginia State Board of Education. Why? To restrain the enforcement of the compulsory flag salute statute. A three-judge court unanimously decided in favor of Jehovah’s witnesses, but the West Virginia State Board of Education appealed. On Flag Day, June 14, 1943, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed its position in the Gobitis case by holding (in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette) that the school board did not have the right to expel from school and thus deny education to children of Jehovah’s witnesses who would not salute the flag.
That decision reversed the holding of the Supreme Court in the Gobitis case. Though this did not end all problems associated with the Christian stand regarding the flag salute, Kingdom Schools no longer were necessary. Hence, for the first time in about eight years children of Jehovah’s witnesses could return to the public schools.
‘DEFENDING AND LEGALLY ESTABLISHING THE GOOD NEWS’
Jehovah’s Christian witnesses, whether young or old, expect to be persecuted. After all, Jesus told his disciples: “You will be objects of hatred by all people on account of my name.” (Matt. 10:22) “In fact,” wrote Paul, “all those desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus will also be persecuted.” (2 Tim. 3:12) At times persecution has led to arrests of Christians on false charges—perhaps selling without a license or disturbing the peace. Statistics were not kept at first, but, in 1933, there were 268 arrests reported throughout the United States. By 1936 the number had risen to 1,149. Improperly, Jehovah’s witnesses were classed as solicitors or itinerant merchants, rather than as proclaimers of the gospel.
Jehovah’s witnesses did not suffer arrest, trial and imprisonment without a fight, however. They adopted a policy of appealing adverse decisions rendered in the courts. With Jehovah’s aid they were able to ‘defend and legally establish the good news.’—Phil. 1:7.
It would be impossible, in but a few pages, to restage the thrilling drama, to recreate the many scenes of valiant theocratic warfare as Jehovah’s servants fought for liberty to preach. But we do well to begin with the raging “battle of New Jersey.” The ‘opening gun’ was fired in 1928, when some of God’s servants were arrested in South Amboy, New Jersey. But Plainfield became the center of the Catholic battlefield against the Witnesses in that state.
THE PLAINFIELD INCIDENT
In view of Plainfield’s prominence in connection with the persecution of Jehovah’s people, J. F. Rutherford decided to hold a public meeting there on the subject “Why is Religious Intolerance Practiced in This Country Today?” For this special program on July 30, 1933, some fifty uninvited, unwanted and unneeded policemen moved in, supposedly to guard the theater. Doubtless they were there at the instance of the Catholic hierarchy, which was looking for a way to prevent the meeting and perhaps do away with the speaker.
Arriving at the theater, Brother Rutherford notes that behind the drapes the police have two machine guns, trained on him and the audience. He protests, but this does not budge the policemen or their weapons. They say they have been ‘tipped off’ that there is going to be a riot and they are present to maintain order. George Gangas says that during the entire talk the atmosphere was tense. Especially was he stirred by these statements, near the conclusion of Rutherford’s talk:
“But shame upon the priests and clergymen who have connived at and caused the persecution of Jehovah’s witnesses in order that they might keep the people in ignorance of the truth and thus shield themselves from exposure; shame upon those public officers who have been ready and willing to class Jehovah’s witnesses as selfish peddlers and hawkers in order that they might serve their own selfish ends; shame upon the lawyers who practice upon the bench and before the bar, who because of fear of losing some personal advantage have side-stepped the issue and failed and refused to decide squarely the question as to whether or not men can be prevented from preaching the gospel of God’s kingdom by the enactment and enforcement of municipal ordinances leveled against peddlers and hawkers.”
Brother Gangas admits: “I was saying to myself: ‘Now they will shoot him! Now they will arrest him!’ But, as it is stated in the introduction of the booklet Intolerance, ‘The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.’” (Ps. 34:7) Despite the trying situation, Brother Rutherford’s discourse was delivered without incident. It was received enthusiastically. So was the booklet Intolerance, published later and distributed widely.
A DICTATOR HEARS FROM THE WITNESSES
Not only in the United States were Jehovah’s witnesses having a battle for freedom of speech and worship. In June of the so-called “Holy Year” of 1933 Adolf Hitler’s regime seized the Watch Tower Society’s property in Magdeburg and banned the activities of Jehovah’s people in Germany as regards meetings and literature distribution, though the property was returned that October. On October 7, 1934, the Witnesses in Germany met in groups and, after solemn prayer, they dispatched a protest by telegram to officials of Hitler’s government. However, God’s servants in other lands did not stand by idly.
“At the service meeting one night in the year of 1934, we were asked to be at the meeting place at 9:00 a.m. Sunday for something special,” recalls Gladys Bolton. “Everyone was excited! What could it be? Sunday morning the house was full. The speaker announced that congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses world wide were meeting today in order to send cablegrams to Hitler, all at the same time, asking him to refrain from persecuting Jehovah’s witnesses in Germany.” After praying to Jehovah, each group sent the following cablegram: “Hitler Government, Berlin, Germany. Your ill-treatment of Jehovah’s witnesses shocks all good people of earth and dishonors God’s name. Refrain from further persecuting Jehovah’s witnesses; otherwise God will destroy you and your national party.” The message was signed “JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES” and the city or town where the congregation was assembled was cited.
Those cablegrams caused quite a stir, even at some telegraph offices in the United States. “In Keysville, Virginia, as well as other places, says Melvin Winchester, “the telegraph operator almost fainted when the friends came in with the cable message.”
How did the Nazi regime respond? Persecution of Jehovah’s witnesses was intensified. But God’s people in Germany and elsewhere had been prepared for the opposition and hardships ahead of them. At the right time, Jehovah saw to it that they received needed Scriptural counsel and encouragement. It had come late in the year 1933 by means of the Watchtower article “Fear Them Not.” The enmity of the Roman Catholic Church was exposed, and the article warned that opposition might lead to the death of some faithful servants of God. But it urged God’s people to continue bearing testimony to his name with boldness and joy, that they might have a part in the vindication of that holy name.
AIDS IN THEIR DEFENSE
For Christians those were faith-testing times. Of course, not every incident of overt opposition, or even every arrest, led to a court trial. But many times Jehovah’s servants did find themselves in need of aid so that they might make a successful defense in the courts of the United States. To help Kingdom proclaimers, the Watchtower Society established a legal department at its headquarters in Brooklyn, New York.
Looking back, Robert E. Morgan recalls: “At our weekly service meetings we studied Order of Trial prepared by the Society, and endeavored to equip ourselves to deal with the police and judges who were constantly harassing us in the field service. Our service meetings would teach us how to respond when accosted by the police, what our rights as citizens were, and what procedures we must not fail to follow in order to establish a sound basis for legal action in defense of the good news in the event convictions would require our going to the appellate courts.”
“Demonstrations in service meetings enacted procedure from time of arrest to the conclusion of trial and disposition of the case,” recalls Ray C. Bopp, adding: “Servants in the congregation would act as prosecution and defense attorneys, and some ‘trials’ would last for weeks.”
ARRESTED AND OFF TO JAIL
Legal aids provided by the Society and fine training at service meetings helped God’s servants greatly. But for the rigors of life behind bars only Jehovah himself could strengthen his people. As Paul said, “For all things I have the strength by virtue of him who imparts power to me.”—Phil. 4:13.
Jehovah’s Christian witnesses by the hundreds were arrested and jailed during the turbulent years of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Homer L. Rogers says this regarding legal problems encountered by Jehovah’s people in one area: “The city of La Grange [Georgia] had framed an ordinance that forbade anyone calling at a home in La Grange to offer the householder any piece of printed matter. This was aimed at Jehovah’s witnesses and was only enforced against Jehovah’s witnesses.” How could he be sure of this? The city’s residents testified that all other printed matter was distributed freely in La Grange without hindrance from the authorities.
On May 17, 1936, 176 Witnesses were arrested for preaching in La Grange and were jailed. The next day the women were released, but 76 men were detained for fourteen days in the Troup County Prison and Stockade, four miles outside the city. The regular inmates there were chain-gang prisoners, who actually were shackled while working on roads from sunup to sundown. When the Witnesses were tried, they were pronounced guilty and fined one dollar each or thirty days in jail, according to C. E. Sillaway. Because the city attorney ordered the city clerk not to sign the bond on appeal by certiorari, the brothers lost their appeal rights and 57 returned to complete the thirty-day sentence in the stockade on May 28, 1937. Despite their innocence, these Witnesses now wore prison garb, two persons had to share one blanket during the cold nights, and they did hard labor on streets and elsewhere.
Many were the sufferings of these imprisoned ones. Yet, they also had opportunity to do good spiritually. Brother C. E. Sillaway writes: “Near the end of our thirty days my group and another, twelve in all, were assigned a colored cemetery, almost rural for isolation. Near midmorning a funeral procession came in the main gate and stopped while the undertaker approached us. It seemed that this family was too poor to pay the preacher his going fee for a funeral and they had had no sermon or prayer. Would one of us ministers say a few words? It was a privilege to tell the handful of people the true condition of the dead and the hope of a resurrection. They didn’t mind the jail clothes.”
Theresa Drake says that her first taste of intolerance against God’s people was in the early 1930’s when she was first arrested in Bergenfield, New Jersey. She continues: “I was first fingerprinted in Plainfield, New Jersey. It was in Plainfield where I was held overnight with 28 other sisters. We were held in a small cell and, with 29 of us there, this made it impossible to lie down to sleep. Finally, they took us to the gym in the same building and there they had mats for us to lie on. I remember one policeman opening the door and looking in at us and saying, ‘Like sheep led to the slaughter.’”
Citing another case, Sister Drake writes: “In Perth Amboy we were arrested and held from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. It was at this time that I met Brother Rutherford. He came to bail out 150 of us that were arrested. We were held in one big room at the courthouse. Outside, the people were taking our books and literature from our cars and throwing them all over the courthouse lawn. There were a half-dozen men that were in the rear of the courtroom that were waiting to get Brother Rutherford. They threatened him, but they never got the chance, for as we left the courthouse he was surrounded by us and then went quickly to a waiting car, not his usual one.”
Of Ohio and West Virginia towns, Edna Bauer says: “Many of the friends would be arrested and taken to jail on fire trucks with sirens blowing, loudly calling attention to arrests being made.” Often many would be jailed at once, and no consideration might be shown for age. For instance, Sister James W. Bennecoff recalls an incident in Columbia, South Carolina, “when 200 of us were put in jail, the youngest being six weeks old.”
Conditions in jail could be quite distressing. Earl R. Dale remembers his unjust confinement as a Christian at Somersworth, New Hampshire, and writes: “I slept that night, or tried to. The prison was not too clean. At night there were some little creatures crawling over us and I did not like them, but they liked me.” For preaching the good news at Caruthersville, Missouri, in 1941, Brother and Sister R. J. Adair were jailed for seventy-eight days. Sister Adair describes the place of her confinement as a “dungeon.” Sister Adair’s health was impaired during that incarceration. “It was not a pleasant thing to sleep on a concrete floor with a blanket and pillow for seventy-eight days,” she admits. “But to stay faithful to Jehovah was the important thing.”
Though Jehovah’s witnesses in the United States were jailed often for preaching the Kingdom message, that did not still their lips. As prisoners they kept right on declaring the good news. For example, Dora Wadams had various opportunities to preach while in jail. Once, when news of the Witnesses’ release circulated in a Newark, New Jersey, jail, this is her recollection of what happened: “One night when we were locked in our cells we heard prisoners around us saying: ‘The Bible people are going to leave us tomorrow. This place will never be the same. They are just like angels sent to us.’”
THEIR DAY IN COURT
Jehovah’s servants were ready to defend themselves and their God-given work if their arrests led to court trials. Sometimes they were not even represented by lawyers. For instance, back in 1938 Roland E. Collier, associated with the Orange, Massachusetts, congregation, obtained a permit to use a sound car in nearby Athol. He and another brother were in the sound car playing the record “Enemies” while other Kingdom publishers were preaching from door to door. Brother Coilier was arrested and charged with going from house to house, although he had not done so on that occasion. He tells us: “With interest we waited and prepared for the trial. I studied carefully the Order of Trial published by the Society for preparation for court trials. The day of the trial some brothers came into the courtroom to give me courage. I followed the proper court procedure outlined by the Society, even to the point of cross-examining the chief of police. When all the evidence was in after a complete court trial I was found not guilty and the newspaper carried a headline reading ‘ORANGE MAN PREACHES WAY OUT OF JAIL.’”
Some lawyers who were not Jehovah’s witnesses worked hard to defend God’s people. Often, however, Witness lawyers represented their fellow believers in court. Among them was Victor Schmidt. His wife Mildred says, in part: “After the adverse decision by the United States Supreme Court in the flag case, there was what seemed like an avalanche of mobs and arrests that descended upon our brothers in so many places outside Cincinnati [Ohio]. It became necessary for me to drive my husband to these various places, as he did not drive. For a while there was a different place to go to almost daily. Therefore, I had to give up working with the pioneers. . . . Victor had great faith in Jehovah and this strengthened me to have like faith. As we would near these towns where he was to represent our brothers in court, he would have me pull off the road and he would pray to Jehovah to open the way for him to bring some help to our brothers, and also, if it was Jehovah’s will, to kindly give us protection and to help us never to yield to the fear of men. Many are the times that we saw the evidence of the mighty power of Jehovah’s angelic forces working in our behalf.”
ON TO UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT
Various legal cases involving Jehovah’s witnesses eventually reached the Supreme Court of the United States. One of these was Lovell v. City of Griffin. Though God’s people often had been arrested for preaching the good news in Griffin, Georgia, on one occasion a number of them were placed under arrest for alleged violation of a city ordinance that forbade “the practice of distributing . . . literature of any kind, . . . without first obtaining written permission from the City Manager of the City of Griffin.” Brother G. E. Fiske comments: “There were several brothers over six feet tall and the officials asked if they would be willing to let them pick one to represent the group, and our overseers were willing. So they picked a small, slim sister because they thought she would be easy prey. But she [Alma Lovell] had studied the Order of Trial . . . Not one of the men had prepared as this little sister had, and when the case came up for trial, she spoke to the court for over an hour, giving a wonderful witness. However, the judge was not even interested and he had his feet up on the desk. When she sat down, the judge took his feet down and said, ‘Are you through?’ She said, ‘Yes, Your Honor.’ Then he pronounced them all guilty. The Society’s lawyer immediately appealed the case.” On March 28, 1938, the Supreme Court unanimously held that the ordinance in question was invalid on its face.
While engaging in the Kingdom-preaching work on April 26, 1938, Christian witness Newton Cantwell was arrested with his two minor sons while playing the phonograph record “Enemies” and distributing the book of the same name. The case was carried into Connecticut courts on the complaint of two Roman Catholics. Involved were an alleged breach of the peace and also supposed violation of a Connecticut statute prohibiting the solicitation of donations to charities or a religious cause without approval of the secretary of the state’s public welfare council. Convictions followed in Connecticut courts, and R. D. Cantwell writes: “The case was appealed by the Society and went to the United States Supreme Court . . . the conviction was reversed and the Connecticut statute requiring a permit to offer religious literature for sale, or accepting donations for a religious cause, was found to be unconstitutional as applied to Jehovah’s witnesses. Another victory for Jehovah’s people!”
But Jehovah’s witnesses lost an important case in the United States Supreme Court by a five-to-four decision on June 8, 1942. It was Jones v. City of Opelika. This case involved magazine street work and raised the question of whether Rosco Jones was properly found guilty of violating an Opelika, Alabama, ordinance for “selling books” without having obtained a license and paying the required tax.
A “FIELD DAY” FOR GOD’S PEOPLE
Then came May 3, 1943. It could well be called a “field day” for Jehovah’s witnesses. Why? Because twelve out of thirteen cases were then decided in their favor. Outstanding was Murdock v. Pennsylvania, a license tax case. This decision of the United States Supreme Court reversed its own position in the case of Jones v. City of Opelika. In the Murdock decision the Court held: “It is contended, however, that the fact that the license tax can suppress or control this activity is unimportant if it does not do so. But that is to disregard the nature of this tax. It is a license tax—a flat tax imposed on the exercise of a privilege granted by the Bill of Rights. A state may not impose a charge for the enjoyment of a right granted by the federal constitution.” Concerning the Jones case, it was said: “The judgment in Jones v. Opelika has this day been vacated. Freed from that controlling precedent, we can restore to their high, constitutional position the liberties of itinerant evangelists who disseminate their religious beliefs and the tenets of their faith through distribution of literature.” The favorable Murdock decision did away with the flood in regard to license tax cases involving Jehovah’s people.
Their efforts have had an effect on the law. Fittingly, it has been said: “It is plain that present constitutional guaranties of personal liberty, as authoritatively interpreted by the United States Supreme Court, are far broader than they were before the spring of 1938; and that most of this enlargement is to be found in the thirty-one Jehovah’s Witnesses cases (sixteen deciding opinions) of which Lovell v. City of Griffin was the first. If ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,’ what is the debt of Constitutional Law to the militant persistency—or perhaps I should say devotion—of this strange group?”—Minnesota Law Review, Vol. 28, No. 4, Mar., 1944, p. 246.
VIOLENT MOBS FAIL TO SILENCE PRAISERS OF JEHOVAH
While Jehovah’s witnesses were waging legal battles for freedom of worship and their right to preach the good news, in the field they sometimes came face to face with violent mobs. This was not without parallel, however, for Jesus Christ himself had experiences of that kind. (Luke 4:28-30; John 8:59; 10:31-39) Faithful Stephen suffered martyrdom at the hands of an angry crowd.—Acts 6:8-12; 7:54–8:1.
The worldwide Christian convention held on June 23-25, 1939, was viewed by hoodlums as an opportunity to harass God’s people. Direct wire connections linked New York city, the key city, with other assembly locations in the United States, Canada, the British Isles, Australia and Hawaii. While J. F. Rutherford’s discourse “Government and Peace” was being advertised, Jehovah’s servants learned that Catholic Action groups planned to prevent the public meeting on June 25. So, God’s people were ready for trouble. Blosco Muscariello tells us: “Like Nehemiah raising the wall of Jerusalem and supplying his men with both instruments to build and instruments to fight (Neh. 4:15-22), we were so armed. . . . Some of us young men received special instructions as ushers. Each was supplied with a sturdy cane to be used in the event of any interference during the main talk.” But R. D. Cantwell adds: “We were instructed not to use it unless it was a matter of being cornered in final defense.”
Though it was not known generally, Brother Rutherford was in poor health when he ascended the platform at Madison Square Garden in New York city that Sunday afternoon, June 25, 1939. Soon the talk was under way. Among the latecomers were about 500 followers of Roman Catholic cleric Charles E. Coughlin, renowned “radio priest” of the 1930’s, to whose regular broadcasts millions listened. Since the lower level of the auditorium had been reserved and filled with the Witnesses, Coughlin’s followers, including priests, had to occupy a top section of the balcony behind the speaker.
“There was no smoking elsewhere in the auditorium,” wrote a Consolation correspondent, “but eighteen minutes after the discourse began one man to the left front in this crowd lit a cigarette, and then another to the right front lit one; then the electric lights in this section only were blinked, and then in this one section only there were booings, screams and catcalls.” “I sat tense,” says Sister Edward Broad, “waiting for the confusion to spread all over the Garden. But as a few moments passed I saw that the trouble was confined to a group directly behind the speaker. ‘What will he do?’ I wondered. It seemed impossible for anyone to keep on speaking with things being thrown down on the platform and not knowing at any moment when the microphone might be taken away.” Esther Allen recalls that “wild howling and expressions of ‘Heil Hitler!’ ‘Viva Franco!’ and ‘Kill that damn Rutherford!’ filled the air.”
Would ailing Brother Rutherford yield to those violent foes? “The louder they yelled to drown out the speaker’s voice, the stronger Judge Rutherford’s voice became,” says Sister A. F. Laupert. Aleck Bangle remarks: “The Society’s president did not become afraid but courageously said: ‘Note today the Nazis and Catholics would like to break up this meeting, but by God’s grace cannot do it.’” “That was the opportunity we needed to break into heartfelt applause, giving the speaker our enthusiastic support,” writes Roger Morgan, adding: “Brother Rutherford held his ground to the end of the hour. We later thrilled every time we played recordings of that lecture in the homes of the people.”
C. H. Lyon tells us: “The attendants did their work well. A couple of the more obstreperous Coughlinites were rapped on the head with a cane, and all of them were unceremoniously hurled down the ramps and out of the auditorium. One of the Coughlinites rated some publicity in a daily tabloid the next morning, as they printed a picture of him with his head wrapped, as with a turban.”
Three Witness ushers were arrested and charged with “assault.” They were tried before three judges (two Roman Catholics and a Jew) of the Special Sessions Court of the City of New York on October 23 and 24, 1939. In court it was shown that the attendants had gone into the section of Madison Square Garden where the disturbance broke out in order to remove the disturbers. When the rioters attacked the ushers, they resisted and dealt firmly with some of the radical group. Witnesses for the prosecution made many contradictory statements. Not only did the court acquit the three ushers. It also found that the Witness attendants had acted within their rights.
WORLD WAR FANS THE FLAMES OF VIOLENCE
Mob violence had erupted at the 1939 assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses. But the flames of violence against them were yet to be fanned to greater intensity as the world went to war. It would be late in 1941 before the United States would declare war on Germany, Italy and Japan, but the spirit of nationalism was strong throughout the country long before that.
During these early months of World War II, Jehovah God made an outstanding provision for his people. In its issue of November 1, 1939, the English Watchtower carried an article entitled “Neutrality.” For a caption text it had these words of Jesus Christ concerning his disciples: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” (John 17:16, King James Version) That Scriptural study of Christian neutrality, coming when it did, prepared Jehovah’s witnesses in advance for the hard times ahead.
THREAT OF ARSON AT KINGDOM FARM
Kingdom Farm, near South Lansing, New York, served well in furnishing members of the Society’s headquarters staff with fruit, vegetables, meat, milk and cheese. David Abbuhl was working at Kingdom Farm when its peace and serenity were disrupted back in 1940. “On the eve of Flag Day, June 14, 1940,” says Brother Abbuhl, “we were put wise by an old fellow who would daily pass by on his way to buy his whiskey at the tavern in South Lansing to a plan by the townspeople and those of the American Legion to burn down all our buildings and wreck our machinery.” The sheriff was notified.
Finally the enemy was on the scene. John Bogard, who was then the farm servant, once gave this graphic account of the trouble: “About six o’clock in the evening the gangs started to gather, one car after another, until there were thirty or forty carloads. The sheriff and his men arrived and began stopping the car drivers and examining their licenses and warning them against any move against Kingdom Farm. They kept driving back and forth along the highway fronting our property till late into the night, but the presence of the police kept them on the highway and frustrated their plan to destroy the farm. It was a most exciting night for all of us there on the farm, but we were reminded vividly of Jesus’ assurance to his followers: ‘You will be objects of hatred by all people because of my name. And yet not a hair of your heads will by any means perish.’—Luke 21:17, 18.”
So it was that this threatened attack and premeditated arson were averted. An estimated 1,000 cars, carrying possibly 4,000 men, had come from all sectors of western New York state to destroy the Society’s Kingdom Farm property—but to no avail. Says Kathryn Bogard: “Their purpose failed, and some of the very people who made up the mob are now Witnesses themselves, yes, even in the full-time ministry!”