The Mystery of Cora Tinsley Martin
Cora Tinsley Martin, circa 1916
My Great Grandmother Cora Tinsley was born in 1893 in Leesburg, GA. She married my Great Grandfather Cleveland Martin somewhere between 1910 - 1911. In 1930 Cora became disillusioned with her life at home with her husband and ten (10) children in rural Georgia.
She arranged a trip to Connecticut to visit her parents, Robert & Susanna Tinsley, who had long since left Georgia. She left cryptic instructions to her older children as to who should care for whom in the event of her demise. She carefully paired the older kids children with the younger children, based on who had the personality and resources to care for which little one.
Hours grew into days. And days grew into weeks. Still no one heard from Cora. Fearing the worst, her brothers set out to retrace her path from Georgia to Connecticut. Driven by a love for their sister, they discovered Cora never made it to Connecticut. Apparently, she got off the train in New Jersey. The brothers could not confirm, but heard rumors that she had joined the followings of a Charismatic evangelical preacher who went by the name of Father Divine.
Dumbfounded and distraught, Cora's brothers carried their findings back to the family, who were equally distressed. No one understood how or why Cora could leave her husband of twenty (20) years and her children, the youngest, not even one year old.
Unbeknownst to them Cora had fallen under the hypnotic spell of a highly controversial man who some claimed to be God. Yet others credited him with being one of the first African American Cult Leaders. Father Divine and the International Peace Mission Movement was a secretive and elusive religious organization, which has become the subject of many a heated debate.
Eventually, the family confirmed that Cora, who now had taken on a "movement name" was indeed a follower of the Movement. Although letters back home were not permitted, it is believed that Cora, who now allegedly went by “Sister Angel”, was able to secretly mail a short letter to her eldest daughter. She assured them she was okay. The spoke without regrets, convinced that it was the will of God for her to be with Father Divine and the Movement.
Over the course of twenty-five (25) years, two more letters would follow. As Cora was a formidable seamstress, a few handmade garments were secretly sent to her younger girls. In or about 1965 Cora and a female friend, from the Movement exited the group. They continued in their missionary work, but due to the declining health and subsequent death of Father Divine, the internal struggle for power and numerous other factors, they chose to dissociate themselves from the Movement. This was a brazen and dangerous move, as it is rumored that members that left the group were sometimes met with harsh penalties to include death.
One final mysterious letter would reach the family, who now had relocated to Homestead, FL. It was from a woman named Ms. Mims who claimed to be the daughter of Cora’s friend and confidante from the movement. In it, she informed the family of Cora's untimely death. She claims Cora died peacefully, on the porch of her home, waiting for her dear friend, (Mims’ Mother, name unknown) to come pick her up. The two women had a type of mobile soup kitchen, where they would take food to those who were known to be ill in the community or needing prayer.
Unfortunately, no information from this final letter, including the author, could ever be substantiated. Interestingly enough, no proof of death (burial, cremation, death certificate, Social Security Death Index, obituary) was ever discovered.