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Clara James was raised in Magnolia, Mississippi and spent her adult life in New Orleans. Little is known about her childhood, but she was said to have healed a man in her hometown at the age of seven. Clara played a vital role as Mother Hyde in spreading Spiritualism in the 1920s. She opened St. James Temple of Christian Faith No. 2, named after her father, Edmond James, in 1923. Over the next decade, she established thirty-eight Spiritualist churches in five states.

Even though she was African American, many of her churches had white congregations. Her followers were proud to be her parishioners, despite the racial tensions and legal problems she endured at the time. She turned to prayer and spiritual guidance to fight the establishment.

Mother Hyde was not only an exceptional leader, but she was also well known for her healing abilities. She emphasized the role of scripture and prayer in the healing process. Those who wanted healing would leave the crowd and confess their need to her. She saw this as a recognition of the illness and a willingness to resist it. After their testimony, Mother Hyde read scriptures to invoke the spirits of the ancestors to identify the illness and provide a remedy. There was a laying on of hands, which combined with prayer, was successful for making a cure.

Mother Hyde also performed private healing rituals for people. This included burning candles and selling a bit of cake saturated with spirit oil enclosed in a small box. Her practice was a combination of Spiritualism, Catholicism, and New Orleans “hoodoo” rituals. This allowed her to treat a variety of people who didn’t associate themselves with Spiritualism.

One of her healing rituals included the following instructions, “In case of trouble, arise at dawn and face the east. Take the vial of spirit oil in one hand and the cake (in its box) in the other. Read the Twenty-third Psalm and let that be your prayer.” She instructed the patient to anoint her head with oil “Do this every time you want to conquer and accomplish.”

After Mother Hyde died in 1938, her protégé, Mother Keller-Morris continued her healing tradition into the 1940s. Mother Keller-Morris was a civil rights activist and delegate for the NAACP in New Orleans. She was also active in the People Defense Fund and voter registration. She used Mother Hyde’s ministry to not only heal the sick but to mount a political resistance to the social inequity of the day.

Additional Reading

Guillory, Margarita Simon (2017) Spiritual and Social Transformation in African American Spiritual Churches, more than conjurers. Routledge; 1st edition

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