An historical look at
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad
Thirty-four years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad was born on or about Oct. 7, 1897 in Sandersville, Georgia.
The exact date of his birth remains unknown because record keeping in rural Georgia for the descendants of slaves was not kept current, according to historians and family members. Nevertheless, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad said his birth took place some time in the first or second week of October in 1897 and set forth Oct. 7 as the anniversary date of his birth.
Indeed, life in the rural South at the turn of the century was quite hard. Poverty and survival were at war with each other. Elijah Poole, the son of a minister, and whose parents, William (later named Wali) and Marie Poole, had 12 other children, had to quit school after barely finishing the third grade to work in the fields as a sharecropper so his family could eat.
Just before the roaring twenties came in, Elijah Poole married the former Clara Evans, also of Georgia. They had eight children, Emmanuel, Ethel, Lottie, Nathaniel, Herbert, Elijah, Jr., Wallace and Akbar.
In April 1923, Elijah Poole moved his young family from Macon, Georgia, where he worked for the Southern Railroad Company and the Cherokee Brick Company to Detroit, Mich. Black families, like the Pooles, were leaving the south, at that time, in search of better economic and social circumstances. Detroit was a bustling upwardly mobile city with its burgeoning auto industry.
The stock market crash in 1929 was the gateway to economic misery that sparked the fuel of the "Great Depression" of the 1930s. Moreover, America's racial situation continued its downward spiral. Lynchings, race riots and other forms of terrorism against Blacks continued unabated.
But Detroit, with its huge population of 1.5 million people including 250,000 thousand Blacks, was beginning to see changes in its social scene. On July 4, 1930, the long awaited "Saviour" of the Black man and woman, Master W. Fard Muhammad, appeared in this city. He announced and preached that God is One, and it is now time for Blacks to return to the religion of their ancestors, Islam.
News spread all over the city of Detroit of the preachings of this great man from the East. Elijah Poole's wife first learned of the Temple of Islam and wanted to attend to see what the commotion was all about, but instead, her husband advised her that he would go and see for himself.
Hence, in 1931, after hearing his first lecture at the Temple of Islam, Elijah Poole was overwhelmed by the message and immediately accepted it. Soon thereafter, Elijah Poole invited and convinced his entire family to accept the religion of Islam.
The Founder of the Nation of Islam gave him the name "Karriem" and made him a minister. Later he was promoted to the position of "Supreme Minister" and his name was changed to Muhammad. "The name 'Poole' was never my name," he would later write, "nor was it my father's name. It was the name the white slave-master of my grandfather after the so-called freedom of my fathers."
Mr. Muhammad quickly became an integral part of the Temple of Islam. For the next three and one-half years, Mr. Muhammad was personally taught by his Teacher non-stop. The Muslim community, in addition to establishing religious centers of worship, began to start businesses under the aegis of economic development that focuses on buying and selling between and among Black companies. Mr. Muhammad establishes a newspaper, "The Final Call to Islam," in 1934. This would be the first of many publications he would produce.
Meanwhile, Mr. Muhammad helped establish schools for the proper education of his children and the community. Indeed, the Muslim parents felt that the educational system of the State of Michigan was wholely inadequate for their children, and they established their own schools.
By 1934, the Michigan State Board of Education disagreed with the Muslim's right to pursue their own educational agenda, and the Muslim Teachers and Temple Secretary were jailed on the false charge of contributing to the delinquency of minors. Mr. Muhammad said he committed himself to jail after learning what had happened. Ultimately, the charges were later dropped, and the officials were freed and Mr. Muhammad received six months' probation to take the Muslim children out of the Islamic school and put them under white Christian teachers. "This I did not do," he said. He moved to the city of Chicago in September of that same year.
His Teacher, Master W. Fard Muhammad, was also harassed by the police and was forced out of the city of Detroit and moved to Chicago where he continued to face imprisonment and harassment by the police.
Hence, on February 26, 1934, Master W. Fard Muhammad, departed the scene and left the Honorable Elijah Muhammad with the mission of resurrecting the Black man and woman.
By 1935, Mr. Muhammad faced many new challenges. His teacher had instructed him to go to Washington, D.C. to visit the Library of Congress in order to research 104 books on the religion of Islam, among other subjects.
Also, after assuming the leadership of the Temple of Islam by the order of the Founder of the Nation of Islam, Mr. Muhammad faced a death plot at the hands of a few disgruntled members. Mr. Muhammad avoided their evil plan and went to Washington, D.C. to study and build a mosque there. He was known under many names, "Mr. Evans," his wife's maiden name, "Ghulam Bogans," "Muhammad Rassoull," "Elijah Karriem" and "Muhammad of 'U' Street."
Consequently, Mr. Muhammad, while in Washington, D.C. Was arrested on May 8, 1942, for allegedly evading the draft. "When the call was made for all males between 18 and 44, I refused (NOT EVADED) on the grounds that, first, I was a Muslim and would not take part in war and especially not on the side with the infidels," he wrote in "Message To The Blackman." "Second, I was 45 years of age and was NOT, according to the law, required to register."
Many other male members of the Nation of Islam at that time were imprisoned for being conscientious objectors to World War II.
After World War II ended, Mr. Muhammad won his release from prison and returned to Chicago. From Chicago, the central point of the Nation of Islam, Mr. Muhammad expanded his membership drive to new heights. Among the many new members enrolled in the ranks of Islam included Brother Malcolm X and his family.
During the 1950s, Mr. Muhammad promoted Min. Malcolm X to the post of National Spokesman, and began to syndicate his weekly newspaper column, "Mr. Muhammad Speaks," in Black newspapers across the country. Membership was increasing when, in 1955, Minister Louis Farrakhan, then Louis Walcott, an entertainer, enrolled in the Nation of Islam after hearing Mr. Muhammad deliver a speech in Chicago.
Persecution of the Muslims continued. Members and mosques continued to be attacked by whites in Monroe, La., Los Angeles, Calif., and Flint, Mich., among others. Publicity in the white owned and operated media began to circulate anti-Nation of Islam propaganda on a large scale. By the early 1960s, the Readers Digest magazine described Mr. Muhammad as the most powerful Black man in America.
In Washington, D.C., Mr. Muhammad delivered his historic Uline Arena address and was afforded presidential treatment, receiving a personal police escort.
Subsequently, television commentator Mike Wallace, in conjunction with Louis Lomax, a Black journalist, aired the documentary, "The Hate That Hate Produced," on a local New York City station. The documentary misrepresents the message of the Nation of Islam, calling it a hate teaching. James Baldwin, a famous Black author, released the book, "The Fire Next Time," based largely upon his interview with Mr. Muhammad.
At the same time, white political leaders such as Senator Al Gore Sr., began to denounce the Nation of Islam and hold hearings on alleged "un-American" activities. Minister Louis Farrakhan and the ministers of Islam defended the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam against these attacks in mass media in their public speeches, written editorials and other public relations thrusts.
Meanwhile, by 1964, Minister Malcolm X decided to separate from the Nation of Islam and formed his own religious and political organization. His very public defection from the Nation of Islam was based on his misinterpretation of the domestic life of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad.
Nevertheless, the atmosphere of rancor on both sides made ripe the environment for the secret police to meddle in the affairs of the Nation of Islam, according the late attorney, William Kuntsler. Mr. Kuntsler cited a declassified memo obtained through the Freedom of Information Act that revealed that the U.S. Government played a role in the 1965 assassination of Brother Malcolm X.
After the assassination of Brother Malcolm X, the New York mosque was fire bombed and the Muslim community was reeling. Mr. Muhammad then dispatched Minister Louis Farrakhan to New York City to take over the mosque there and begin the rebuilding effort. In 1965, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad promoted Minister Louis Farrakhan to the post of National Representative.
By the mid-sixties, Mr. Muhammad's ever-growing Islamic movement extended itself to more than 60 cities and settlements abroad in Ghana, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America among others places, according to the Muhammad Speaks newspaper, the religion's chief information apparatus.
A host of Islamic and African governments all over the world received him and donated generously to his mission. He made Hajj, (holy pilgrimage) to Mecca on more than one occasion and advocated worldwide brotherhood and sisterhood.
Every February 26, he brought together the faithful for Saviour's Day conventions in Chicago to remember his Teacher's birthday, to re-emphasize his message of moral and spiritual renewal and to announce his plans and agenda for the upcoming year. Economic development combined with moral and spiritual renewal began to show signs of progress with the establishment of farms, livestock and vegetable cultivation, rental housing, private home construction and acquisitions, other real estate purchases, food processing centers, restaurants, clothing factories, banking, business league formations, import and export businesses, aviation, health care, administrative offices, shipping on both land, sea and air, and men's and women's development and leadership training units. In 1972, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad opened a $2 million mosque and school in Chicago. During this important grand opening of Mosque No. 2, he praised and let it be known who his top helper was in his work.
He asked Min. Farrakhan to come before the religious community and then the following announcement while digressing from his previously stated remarks: "I want you remember, today, I have one of my greatest preachers here-what are you hiding behind the sycamore tree for brother? (He chuckled)-c'mon around here where they can see you. (A rousing round of applause ensued).
"We have with us today," the Messenger continued, "our great national preacher. The preacher who don't mind going into Harlem, New York, one of the most worst towns in our nation or cities. It is our brother in Detroit and Chicago or New York. But, I want you to remember every week he's on the air helping me to reach those people that I can't get out of my house and go reach them like he.
"I want you to pay good attention to his preaching. His preaching is a bearing of witness to me and what God has given to me," he declared. "This is one of the strongest national preachers that I have in the bounds of North America. Everywhere you hear him, listen to him. Everywhere you see him, look at him. Everywhere he advises you to go, go. Everywhere he advises you to stay from, stay from. For we are thankful to Allah for this great helper of mine, Min. Farrakhan." (Another rousing round of applause ensued). "He's not a proud man," he said. "He's a very humble man. If he can carry you across the lake without dropping you in; he don't say when you get on the other side, 'You see what I have done?' He tells you, 'You see what Allah has done.' He doesn't take it upon himself. He's a mighty fine preacher. We hear him every week, and I say continue to hear our Min. Farrakhan. I thank you."
In watching Minister Louis Farrakhan and the followers of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, the legacy of the Nation of Islam continues to make unlimited progress as witnessed in the miracle of the Two Million Man March among other truly amazing accomplishments.
February 26, 1975
Elijah Muhammad Dead; Black Muslim Leader, 77
Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES
Chicago, Feb. 25--Elijah Muhammad, spiritual leader of the nation's Black Muslims, died here today of congestive heart failure.
The death of the 77-year-old "Messenger of Allah," as his followers called him, came as thousands of Muslims were gathering in Chicago for their biggest annual religious celebration, Saviour's Day, scheduled for tomorrow.
Mr. Muhammad suffered from heart trouble, bronchitis, asthma and diabetes. He entered Mercy Hospital Jan. 30.
Mr. Muhammad was considered by Black Muslims as the "Last Messenger of Allah." Strict adherence to that belief might cause some problems of succession, but it is expected generally that one of his sons will assume the leadership.
Mr. Muhammad is survived by six sons and two daughters.
Built Religious Body
By C. Gerald Fraser
In his 41 years as its spiritual leader, Elijah Muhammad molded the Nation of Islam into a significant religious body.
At the same time, he developed the Nation of Islam's empire of schools in 46 cities, restaurants, stores, a bank, a publishing company that prints the country's largest circulating black newspaper, and 15,000 acres of farmlands in three states that produce beef, eggs, poultry, milk, fruit and vegetables delivered across the country by Nation of Islam-owned truck and air transport.
Elijah Muhammad did not create the Nation of Islam but he built it on a number of principles. Among them: Islam is the true religion, "knowledge of self" is vital, "doing for self" is necessary, the black man is supreme and the white man is "the devil."
These principles caught the imagination of thousands of mostly young, male and female, lower-class black American former Christians who became followers of Mr. Muhammad. And recently, black professionals--physicians, police officers and the college-educated, for example--have joined the movement. Estimates of membership range from 25,000 to a high of 250,000 claimed by the movement.
These principles also brought down upon the Nation of Islam scorn from black and white Americans. But Elijah Muhammad contended that to call whites "blue-eyed devils" was neither to hate them nor to teach hate. "They say that I am a preacher of racial hatred," Mr. Muhammad once said, "but the fact is that the white people don't like the truth, especially if it speaks against them. It is a terrible thing for such people to charge me with teaching race hatred when their feet are on my people's neck and they tell us to our face that they hate black people. Remember now, they even teach you that you must not hate them for hating you."
Comments by Marshall
Many blacks did not buy that explanation. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, a black liberal and a civil rights lawyer in 1959, said then that Mr. Muhammad's organization was "run by a bunch of thugs organized from prisons and jails and financed, I am sure, by Nasser [Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt] or some Arab group." Justice Marshall added that followers of Mr. Muhammad were "vicious" and a threat to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and state law enforcement agencies.
The negative view was shared by most blacks described by the press as "black leaders." But a black conservative, George Schuyler, a columnist for The Pittsburgh Courier, held the view more common to many among the black masses. "Mr. Muhammad," Mr. Schuyler wrote in 1959, "may be a rogue and a charlatan, but when anybody can get tens of thousands of Negroes to practice economic solidarity, respect their women, alter their atrocious diet, give up liquor, stop crime, juvenile delinquency and adultery, he is doing more for Negroes' welfare than any current Negro leader I know."
There were thugs, dope addicts and prostitutes in the Nation of Islam. But their conversion from criminal to believer was viewed in black communities as a near miracle. Blacks were awed by the discipline, and admired the orderliness the followers displayed. Where home, school and church had failed many of the followers, Mr. Muhammad had succeeded.
The opportunity to be "somebody" was one of Mr. Muhammad's major offerings to black men and women who joined the Black Muslims--the name given the group by Dr. C. Eric Lincoln, chairman of the department of religion and philosophical studies at Fisk University and author of "The Black Muslims in America."
Dr. Charles V. Hamilton, a political scientist and member of the Columbia University faculty, said Elijah Muhammad "was one of the few who has been able to combine religion and race with a rather continuing economic influence."
Fard Founded Nation
Actually, the concepts preached and practiced by Mr. Muhammad were handed to him by the founder of the Nation of Islam, W. D. Fard, or Master Farad Muhammad. Where Mr. Fard came from and where he went when he dropped out of sight are unknown. But in a 1930 Depression-ridden Detroit, "The Prophet," as he was known to customers who bought the fabrics he peddled from door-to-door, created the Temple of Islam.
He told those who listened that he had come to "wake the Dead Nation of the West," that he would teach the truth about the white man, that blacks must get ready for Armageddon--the inevitable confrontation between black and white--that black men were not to be called "Negroes" and that Christianity was the religion of the slavemasters.
Mr. Fard established Temple No. 1 in Detroit, the University of Islam--the temple's elementary and secondary school, Muslim Girls Training Class and the Fruit of Islam-- the 鬩te corps of males assigned to protective and disciplinary functions.
As was his practice, Mr. Fard gave his followers their "original" name, and the man who came to him as Elijah Poole received the name Elijah Muhammad. Mr. Fard selected a Minister of Islam and a staff of assistant ministers. Elijah Muhammad, as one of the assistants, became very close to Mr. Fard, and after Mr. Fard disappeared in 1934, Elijah Muhammad became the Minister of Islam.
Mr. Fard has since been deified as Allah and his birthday, Feb. 26, is observed throughout the Nation of Islam as Saviour's Day.
Elijah Muhammad's ascent is another instance of a black man from a small Southern town who achieved national eminence as a religious leader. He was born in Sandersville, Ga., on Oct. 7, 1897. His parents were sharecroppers--and former slaves. His father, Wali Poole, was also a Baptist preacher, and Elijah was one of 13 children.
His formal education ended at the fourth grade, and at 16 he left home. In 1919 he married Clara Evans and in 1923, with two children, they moved to Detroit. A series of jobs included work on a Chevrolet assembly line.
The Detroit experience was as critical to his later activities as were his modest beginnings. Mr. Fard and Mr. Muhammad were building a Northern urban movement in bad economic times with predominantly Southern-born blacks.
At various times in Detroit during the nineteen-thirties Communists, anti-union, pro- Ethiopian and pro-Japanese elements tried to co-opt the movement. In this period Elijah Muhammad was arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor because he sent his children to the University of Islam instead of to Detroit's public schools. And finally, internal turmoil within the Detroit temple caused Mr. Muhammad to move to Chicago, where he established Temple No. 2.
Along with non-Muslims, Elijah Muhammad was arrested in Chicago in 1942 and charged with sedition and violation of the Selective Service Act.
Cleared of the sedition charges, he was convicted of exhorting his followers to avoid the draft and he was sent to Federal prison in Milan, Mich., for about four years. He was credited with controlling the Nation of Islam from his prison quarters.
Role of Malcolm X
It was a man who joined the Nation of Islam in prison, however, who gave the movement its greatest exposure. El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz--Malcolm X.
Malcolm X joined the Nation of Islam in a Massachusetts prison. He was released from jail in August, 1952, and his rise paralleled the period of most significant growth in black awareness.
Malcolm X was Elijah Muhammad's most prominent apostle. Malcolm X was the chief spokesman, the main recruiter; he brought the heavy-weight boxing champion Muhammad Ali into the movement. But by 1963 Malcolm X was disenchanted, while denying that he was a rival of Mr. Muhammad for top leadership. He believed Mr. Muhammad's religious interpretations that excluded Caucasian Moslems too narrow, and he was concerned by the Black Muslims' policy of non-engagement in civil rights and political affairs.
In the 10 years since Malcolm X's assassination by three said to be Black Muslims, Elijah Muhammad ruled his movement from its Chicago headquarters. (Occasionally, he spent time in Phoenix, where the climate relieved some of his asthmatic discomfort.)
Mr. Muhammad, a small man about 5 feet 5 inches tall with a high, thin voice, held court in his offices, listening to aides, weighing their reports by balancing what they said with the qualities he saw in them as individuals. He was serious but witty and verbally creative. He illustrated many of his spiritual lessons about the need of blacks to elevate their behavior, as he saw it, with little humorous dramatic sketches.
Although Mr. Muhammad personally enjoyed disasters that befell whites, seeing them as Allah's work, he sought to prevent any public expression of Muslim enjoyment of the event. Thus, he suspended Malcolm after Malcolm X had said of the assassination of President Kennedy that the "chickens had come home to roost."
He prevented Black Muslims from participating in the country's political process, including any political activity on behalf of a separate state, because, he contended, what was to be achieved by the Nation of Islam was to be achieved divinely, though natural catastrophes and warring among whites on a national and international scale.
Relations with American black Moslem groups have become increasing hostile since the assassination of Malcolm X. Black Muslims were accused of killing seven persons associated with the Hanafi Muslims in Washington two years ago. And Sunni Muslims in Brooklyn were said by the police to have tried to steal guns from a sporting goods store to prepare for a war with Black Muslims.
In recent years, Mr. Muhammad moderated the anti-white tone of the religion. He remarked last year that "The slavemaster is no longer hindering us, we're hindering ourselves. The slavemaster has given you all he could give you. He gave you freedom. Now get something for yourself."
Elijah Muhammad was a mystic. But his mysticism was applied; it always had a quite earthly purpose. Forerunning transcendental meditation and other modern popular sects, he saw the need for 20th-century religions to declare themselves based on science, not faith. Islam was a science and a "way of life," not a religion, he said. Yet, he would refer to the Mother Plane, a mysterious space ship with superior beings, giant black gods or something like that, that patrolled the universe, keeping an eye on the devil and ready to rescue Black Muslims from Armageddon.
Muhammad Speaks Newspaper
P.O Box 44261
Detroit, MI 48244
Audio and Video online listening and viewing
C.R.O.E.:: THE COALITION FOR THE REMEMBRANCE OF THE HONORABLE ELIJAH MUHAMMAD
Freedom of Information Act FBI investigation of Elijah Muhammad
The Last Messanger of Allah
BACK TO SPIRIT OF BLACKNESS 2003