Yogacharya Oliver Black
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John Oliver Black was born in 1893 in Grover Hill, Ohio. He spent his youth in Illinois, where as a young man, he had established a carriage works in 1917. He married his wife Ethel in 1920. Upon seeing the potential of the automobile, Mr. Black moved to Detroit where he founded Peninsular Metal Products, a manufacturing firm that provided parts to car manufacturers such as Studebaker, Hupmobile, Maxwell-Chalmers, and Saxon. He was president of the company when he met Paramahansa Yogananda, a yoga master from India, in 1932. That meeting, he often said, changed his life. In an interview in 1966, he said, “Yogananda set me straight. When I first met him…I was afraid to get a half a mile away from a drug store. I was a regular hypochondriac…a victim of inner pressures…like all my colleagues.” From Yogananda he began to learn the yoga techniques that helped him change, improve, and grow.
In 1952, Mr. Black retired, but stayed on the board of directors of his company. Yogananda told him his true work was to teach, and advised him to give up his business responsibilities. But Mr. Black hesitated, thinking he was not competent enough to teach yoga. Yogananda told him, “That’s what you think, Oliver.” Eventually he took Yogananda’s advice, left the business world and began teaching classes at the Detroit Institute of Arts. He attracted numerous students from as far away as Chicago, Cleveland, New York and Toronto. During those years Yogananda bestowed upon him the title “Yogacharya,” which means yoga teacher.
In 1970, guided by Yogananda, Yogacharya Black founded Song of the Morning, a yoga retreat affectionately known as The Ranch, on 800 acres (3.2 km2) of land in northern Michigan. A one-time hunting and fishing club, it is located in the Pigeon River State Forest area. Today, Song of the Morning is a spiritual sanctuary for thousands of visitors annually. True to Yogananda and Yogacharya Black’s ideals, the Ranch blends eastern and western cultures, and promotes the science of yoga and meditation.
During his life, Mr. Black was an avid inventor and held patents on a number of inventions. He was a friend of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, whose influence was reflected in some of Mr. Black’s furniture designs. At various times Mr. Black also operated a farm, bred show dogs and horses, explored for oil and gas, and was a painter and artist.
Yogacharya Oliver Black passed on in September 1989 at the age of 96. He outlived his wife, who died in 1970, his son Robert, a pilot who died in World War II, and his daughter Phyllis who died in 1987.
Biography is from the book Sayings of Yogacharya by Richard A. Bowen, published by Ariadne Publishers, Milwaukee, WI 53222