Koreshan Unity Collection (Part Nine)

What did the Koreshans believe exactly?

Up to this point we have discussed Cyrus Teed’s illumination and subsequent events that led to the formation of the Koreshan Unity. We’d like to continue to delve further into the Unity’s core principles. This time, we move from the realm of Cellular Cosmogony to a much more basic idea: equality.

Among the truths that Teed derived from his illumination was the belief that God existed as both male and female. Teed believed that while God drew from his masculinity, it was not his permanent state. In order to maintain equilibrium in the spiritual sense, he would eventually assume his female side. If God captured both sexes evenly, Teed believed his followers should as well. As a result, Teed called for equality of the sexes within the Koreshan Unity, a notion largely unheard of at the end of the 19th century.

Female members were not valued solely as wives and mothers, but for their intelligence, resilience and work ethic. Koreshan women held officer positions within the Unity, often outnumbering men. In addition to traditional officer roles, seven women made up the governing body known as the Sisters of the Planetary Court. Living together in a building of the same name, these sisters helped to manage the Unity.

Sisters of the Planetary Court

Sisters of the Planetary Court

Teed acknowledged the difficulty of both attaining and sustaining equality. This reality is apparent in his manuscripts and speeches. Teed explained, “I speak now for the human structure. If the two were now placed side by side as equals in government, there would still be no equality, because men have ruled so long there will be no righteous government until a woman stands at the head of affairs.”

This belief is most readily shown in the role of one Koreshan in particular: Annie G. Ordway. Ordway, one of the earliest followers of Koresh, acted as the first President of the Koreshan Unity. She operated as Teed’s counterpart in the managerial and supervisory senses, and in 1891 Teed pronounced her Victoria Gratia, Pre-Eminent of the Koreshan Unity. He believed Victoria was destined to be his successor. Despite Teed’s overwhelming faith in Victoria, not all Koreshans were convinced. After Teed’s death, many opposed Victoria’s continued leadership. This led to her eventual resignation in 1909.

Cyrus Teed and Victoria Gratia in the Executive Chamber of the Koreshan Unity

Cyrus Teed and Victoria Gratia in the Executive Chamber of the Koreshan Unity

While Koreshan women received equal treatment, the struggle for women’s rights beyond Koreshan grounds did not go unnoticed. Victoria Gratia spoke to the disconnect between the sexes before the Koreshan Convention in her 1888 address titled “Woman’s Restoration to Her Rightful Dominion.” She explained,

“Woman, a natural born citizen of the cosmos, evolved through the same agencies which bring into being her brother, equally expert in all that pertains to juvenile sports and pastimes, as active in the discernment of specific means to any given end, as fertile in inventive genius, as dominant in will, more righteously and kindly disposed, more compassionate and humane than her masculine counterpart, finds herself at her majority the technical bondwoman of the most arbitrary and tyrannical prestige possible to conceive.”

In her speech, Victoria Gratia urged women to acknowledge the disparity between women and men. Both possess characteristics inherent to their sex. Only when the rights of women are protected can we truly benefit from our differences.

Title page of Woman’s Restoration to Her Rightful Dominion, 1893

Title page of Woman’s Restoration to Her Rightful Dominion, 1893

The State Archives of Florida’s in-depth processing of the Koreshan Unity Papers allows for a greater understanding of the Koreshan Unity’s convictions. Look to future posts for more on the fundamental beliefs of the Unity!

1977 Portable Folk Festival

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The 1977 Portable Folk Festival was organized by the National Folk Festival Association as a way to showcase musicians from the Southeastern United States. The tour, hosted by folklorists Guy Carawan and Cece Conway, featured bluesman Johnny Shines from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, coal miner and balladeer Nimrod Workman, Bessie and Vanessa Jones of the Georgia Sea Island Singers, and the North Carolina-based Red Clay Ramblers string band.

People dancing at the Portable Folk Festival - White Springs, Florida

People dancing at the Portable Folk Festival – White Springs, Florida

With a grant from the Florida Bicentennial Commission, the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center curated the Series of American Folk Music in 1977. In addition to the Portable Folk Festival, the series also brought Pete Seeger, Doc and Merle Watson, Jean Ritchie, and the Kingston Trio to the Stephen Foster Memorial amphitheater.

Johnny Shines (R) playing banjo with folksinger/guitarist Guy Carawan at the Portable Folk Festival - White Springs, Florida

Johnny Shines (R) playing banjo with folksinger/guitarist Guy Carawan at the Portable Folk Festival – White Springs, Florida

This podcast features performance highlights from Johnny Shines, Nimrod Workman, Bessie and Vanessa Jones and the Red Clay Ramblers recorded April 16, 1977, at the Portable Folk Festival.