Elijah Muhammad

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Elijah Muhammad
Elijah Muhammad NYWTS-2.jpg
Elijah Muhammad speaking in 1964.
Leader of the Nation of Islam
In office
1934–1974
Preceded by Wallace Fard Muhammad
Succeeded by Warith Deen Mohammed
Personal details
Born Elijah Robert Poole
(1897-10-07)October 7, 1897
Sandersville, Georgia, United States
Died February 25, 1975(1975-02-25) (aged 77)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Spouse(s) Clara Muhammad
Occupation Leader of the Nation of Islam
Religion Islam

Elijah Muhammad (born Elijah Robert Poole; October 7, 1897 – February 25, 1975) was an African-American religious leader, who led the Nation of Islam (NOI) from 1934 until his death in 1975. He was a mentor to Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, Muhammad Ali, and his son, Warith Deen Mohammed.

Early years and life before Islam[edit]

Elijah Muhammad was born Elijah Robert Poole in Sandersville, Georgia, the seventh of thirteen children to William Poole, Sr. (1868–1942), a Baptist lay preacher and sharecropper, and Mariah Hall (1873–1958), a homemaker and sharecropper.

Elijah's education ended at the fourth grade to work in sawmills and brickyards.[1] To support the family, he worked with his parents as a sharecropper. When he was sixteen years old, he left home and began working in factories and at other businesses.

Poole married Clara Evans (1899–1972) on March 7, 1917, eventually having eight children together. Facing increasing mechanization of simple labor, pests attacking important crops, the stagnation and depression of the Southern agricultural economy, and hatred and violence from prejudiced whites, many poor African Americans were forced to move to the northern states in search of opportunities in more industrialized cities. The Poole family was among the hundreds of thousands to migrate from the Jim Crow South, seeking safety and employment.[2] Poole later recounted that before the age of 20, he had witnessed the lynchings of three black men by white people. He said, "I seen enough of the white man's brutality to last me 26,000 years".[3]

Moving his own family, parents and siblings, Elijah and the Pooles settled in Hamtramck, Michigan. Through the 1920s and 1930s, Poole struggled to find and keep work as the economy suffered during the Great Depression. During their years in Detroit, the Pooles had eight children, six boys and two girls.[4][5]

Conversion and rise to leadership[edit]

Main article: Nation of Islam

While he was in Detroit, Poole began taking part in various Black Nationalist movements within the city. Most prominently, he joined the Universal Negro Improvement Association founded by Marcus Garvey.[6] In August 1931, at the urging of his wife, Elijah Poole attended a speech on Islam and black empowerment by Wallace D. Fard. Afterward, Poole said he approached Fard and asked if he was the redeemer. Fard responded that he was, but that his time had not yet come.[3][4] Fard taught that Blacks, as original Africanites, had a rich cultural history which was stolen from them in their enslavement. Although some have interpreted this as a doctrine of black elitism, the NOI essentially sought to dismantle the legitimization of white superiority through the articulation of a history of civilization by providing an alternative empowering history to black people which based their identity beyond slavery. Fard stated that African Americans could regain their freedoms through self-independence and cultivation of their own culture and civilization.[7] Poole, having strong consciousness of both race and class issues as a result of his struggles in the South, quickly fell in step with Fard’s radical ideology. Poole soon became an ardent follower of Fard and joined his movement, as did his wife and several brothers. Soon afterward, Poole was given a Muslim surname, first "Karriem", and later, at Fard's behest, "Muhammad". He assumed leadership of the Nation's Temple No. 2 in Chicago.[8] His younger brother Kalot Muhammad became the leader of the movement's self-defense arm, the Fruit of Islam.

Fard was arrested during a police investigation of a ritual murder and later released on the condition that he leave Detroit. He relocated to Chicago and continued to oversee the movement from Temple No. 2. He turned over leadership of the growing Detroit group to Elijah Muhammad, and the Allah Temple of Islam changed its name to the Nation of Islam.[9] Elijah Muhammad and Wallace Fard continued to communicate until 1934, when Wallace Fard disappeared. Elijah Muhammad succeeded him in Detroit and was named "Minister of Islam". After the disappearance, Elijah Muhammad told followers that Wallace Muhammad had literally been Allah on earth.[10][11][12]

In 1934, the Nation of Islam published its first newspaper, Final Call to Islam, to educate and build membership. Children of its members attended classes at the newly created Muhammad University of Islam, but this soon led to challenges by boards of education in Detroit and Chicago, which considered the children truants from the public school system. The controversy led to the jailing of several University of Islam board members and Elijah Muhammad in 1934 and to violent confrontations with police. Muhammad was put on probation, but the university remained open.

Leadership of the Nation of Islam[edit]

Elijah Muhammad took control of Temple No. 1, but only after battles with other potential leaders, including his brother. In 1935, as these battles became increasingly fierce, Muhammad left Detroit and settled his family in Chicago. Still facing death threats, Muhammad left his family there and traveled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he founded Temple No. 3, and eventually to Washington, D.C., where he founded Temple No. 4. He spent much of his time reading 104 books suggested by Wallace Fard at the Library of Congress.[3][13][14]

On May 8, 1942, Elijah Muhammad was arrested for failure to register for the draft during World War II. After he was released on bail, Muhammad fled Washington D.C. on the advice of his attorney, who feared a lynching, and returned to Chicago after seven years' absence.[citation needed] Muhammad was arrested there, charged with eight counts of sedition for instructing his followers not to register for the draft or serve in the armed forces. Found guilty, Elijah Muhammad served four years, from 1942 to 1946, at the Federal Correctional Institution in Milan, Michigan. During that time, his wife, Clara, and trusted aides ran the organization; Muhammad transmitted his messages and directives to followers in letters.[3][14][15]

Following his return to Chicago, Elijah Muhammad was firmly in charge of the Nation of Islam. While Muhammad was in prison, growth of the Nation of Islam had stagnated, with fewer than 400 members remaining by the time of his release in 1946. However, through conversion of his fellow inmates as well as renewed efforts outside of prison, he was able to redouble his efforts and continue growing the Nation.[6] From four temples in 1946, the Nation of Islam grew to 15 by 1955. By 1959, there were 50 temples in 22 states.[15]

Muhammad preached his own version of Islam to his followers in the Nation. According to him, blacks were known as the ‘original’ human being, with ‘evil’ whites being an offshoot race that would go on to oppress black people for millions of years. He preached that the Nation of Islam’s goal was to return the stolen hegemony of the inferior whites back to blacks across America.[2] Much of Elijah Muhammad's teachings appealed to young, economically disadvantaged, African-American males from Christian backgrounds.[16] Traditionally, Black males wouldn't go to church because the church did not address their needs. Elijah Muhammad's program for economic development played a large part in the growth in the Nation of Islam. He purchased land and businesses to provide housing and employment for young black males.[16]

By the 1970s, the Nation of Islam owned bakeries, barber shops, coffee shops, grocery stores, laundromats, a printing plant, retail stores, numerous real estate holdings, and a fleet of tractor trailers, plus farmland in Michigan, Alabama, and Georgia. In 1972 the Nation of Islam took controlling interest in a bank, the Guaranty Bank and Trust Co. Nation of Islam-owned schools expanded until, by 1974, the group had established schools in 47 cities throughout the United States.[17] In 1972, Muhammad told followers that the Nation of Islam had a net worth of $75 million.[5]

Death[edit]

On January 30, 1975, Muhammad entered Mercy Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, suffering from a combination of heart disease, diabetes, bronchitis, and asthma. He died of congestive heart failure on February 25, the day before Saviours' Day. He was survived by many children, including his two daughters and six sons by his wife, most notably future leader Warith Deen Muhammad.[18] His interment was at Mount Glenwood Memory Gardens.

Legacy[edit]

In his time as leader of The Nation of Islam, Muhammad had developed the Nation of Islam from a small movement in Detroit to an empire consisting of banks, schools, restaurants and stores across 46 cities in America. The Nation also owned over 15,000 acres of farmland, their own truck- and air- transport systems, as well as a publishing company that printed the country’s largest Black newspaper.[18] As a leader, Muhammad served as mentor to many notable members, such as Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Louis Farrakhan and his son Warith Deen Mohammed. The Nation of Islam is estimated to have between 20,000 and 50,000 members,[19] and 130 mosques offering numerous social programs.[20] Upon his death, his son Warith Deen Mohammed succeeded him. Warith disbanded the Nation of Islam in 1976 and started an orthodox mainstream Islamic organization, that came to be known as the American Society of Muslims. The organization would dissolve, change names and reorganize many times. In 1977, Louis Farrakhan resigned from Warith Deen's reformed organization and reinstituted the original Nation of Islam upon the foundation established by Wallace Fard Muhammad and Elijah Muhammad. Farrakhan regained many of the Nation of Islam's original properties including the National Headquarters Mosque #2 (Mosque Maryam) and Muhammad University of Islam in Chicago, IL.

Controversies[edit]

Schism with Malcolm X[edit]

In 1963, Malcolm X stated his approval of the assassination of John F. Kennedy as a case of “chickens coming home to roost.” As punishment, Muhammad ordered a suspension of Malcolm as spokesman for the Nation of Islam. This suspension along with claims that Mr. Muhammad had immoral sexual relations with his female secretaries caused a rift between the two men, with Malcolm eventually leaving the Nation of Islam in 1964 to form his own organization, Muslim Mosque Inc.[21] After dealing with death threats and attempts on his life for nearly a year, Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965. Many people suspected the Nation of Islam as the group behind the killing, which Muhammad denied. Still, the accusations would leave a permanent stain on the Nation of Islam and Muhammad himself.

George Lincoln Rockwell[edit]

Muhammad's pro-separation views were compatible with some white supremacist organizations in the 1960s.[22] He allegedly met with leaders of the Ku Klux Klan in 1961 to work toward purchase of farmland in the deep south.[23] He eventually established Temple Farms, now Muhammad Farms, on a 5,000 acres (20 km2) tract in Terrell County, Georgia.[24] George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party once called Muhammad "the Hitler of the black man."[25] At the 1962 Saviour's Day celebration in Chicago, Rockwell addressed Nation of Islam members. Many in the audience booed and heckled him and his men, for which Muhammad rebuked them in the April 1962 issue of Muhammad Speaks.[26]

Wives and children[edit]

Elijah married Clara Muhammad in Georgia in 1917, with whom he had eight children. Elijah also had three children with Lucille Rosary Muhammad, one child with Evelyn Muhammad, and four children with Tynnetta Muhammad and is rumored to have also fathered several children from other relationships. In total, it is estimated that he had 21 children.[27]

Malcolm X as well as other former believers in Nation of Islam theology were also indignant that Muhammad allegedly used the organization's funds to support his many children and their mothers, as well as his own family.[17][28] After Elijah Muhammad's death, nineteen of his children filed lawsuits against the Nation of Islam's successor, the World Community of Islam, seeking status as heirs. Ultimately the court ruled against them.[29][30]

Children with Clara Muhammad[edit]

They had eight children, including two daughters and six sons:

Honors[edit]

In the early 1990s the city of Detroit co-named Linwood Avenue "Elijah Muhammad Boulevard."[citation needed]

In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Elijah Muhammad on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.[31]

Portrayals in film[edit]

Elijah Muhammad was notably portrayed by Al Freeman, Jr. in Spike Lee's 1992 motion picture Malcolm X. Albert Hall, who played the composite character "Baines" in Malcolm X, later played Muhammad in Michael Mann's 2001 film, Ali.[32]

Muhammad was also thanked in the 1996 documentary When We Were Kings, and the film is dedicated to him.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.biography.com/people/elijah-muhammad-9417458#awesm=~oBHIKFiTWK9maw
  2. ^ a b Mamiya, Lawrence H. “Muhammad, Elijah”; http://www.anb.org/articles/08/08-2140.html; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000
  3. ^ a b c d Claude Andrew Clegg II, An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad, St. Martin's Griffin, 1998.
  4. ^ a b Richard Brent Turner, "From Elijah Poole to Elijah Muhammad", American Visions, October–November 1997.
  5. ^ a b Karl Evanzz, The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad Random House, 2001.
  6. ^ a b Bowman, Jeffrey. “Elijah Muhammad.” Elijah Muhammad (2006): 1. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 16 Dec 2013.
  7. ^ Nation of Islam. Nation of Islam in America: A Nation of Beauty and Peace. Nation of Islam. Tynetta Muhammad, 28 Mar. 1996. Web
  8. ^ The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad (2001). This source claims the first encounter between Poole and Fard took place at the Poole's dinner table.
  9. ^ The Messenger (2001) suggests the name was changed to convince the authorities that Allah's Temple of Islam had disbanded.
  10. ^ An Original Man: One NOI tenet states: “There is no God but Allah, Master W. D. Fard, Elijah, his prophet”
  11. ^ Charles Eric Lincoln, The Black Muslims in America, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994.
  12. ^ Chronology of the Nation of Islam, Toure Muhammad.
  13. ^ Richard Brent Turner, Islam in the African-American Experience, University of Indiana Press 1997
  14. ^ a b "A Historical Look at the Honorable Elijah Muhammad", Nation of Islam web site.
  15. ^ a b E. U. Essien-Udom, Black Nationalism, University of Chicago Press, 1962.
  16. ^ a b Edgerly, Adam. "Emergence of Islam in the African-American Community". ReachOut Magazine. Retrieved 13 December 2013. 
  17. ^ a b In the Name of Elijah Muhammad.
  18. ^ a b Fraser, C. Gerald. “Elijah Muhammad Dead; Black Muslim Leader, 77.” The New York Times 26 Feb 1975
  19. ^ Neil MacFarquhar, "Nation of Islam at a Crossroad as Leader Exits", New York Times, February 26, 2007.
  20. ^ "Nation of Islam", Intelligence Files, Southern Poverty Law Center.
  21. ^ X, Malcolm and Alex Haley. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Grove, 1965. Print
  22. ^ Herbert Berg, Elijah Muhammad and Islam, NYU Press, 2009, p. 41.
  23. ^ Marable, Manning, Along the Color Line, reprinted in the Columbus Free Press, January 17, 1997.
  24. ^ Rolinson, Mary, Grassroots Garveyism, p. 193, UNC Press Books, 2007.
  25. ^ "The Messenger Passes", Time Magazine, March 10, 1975.
  26. ^ George Lincoln Rockwell Meets Elijah Muhammad
  27. ^ MacFarquhar, Neil (February 26, 2007). "Nation of Islam at a Crossroad as Leader Exits". The New York Times. Retrieved February 8, 2013. 
  28. ^ The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Page needed.
  29. ^ "19 Children of Muslim Leader Battle a Bank for $5.7 Million". The New York Times. November 3, 1987.
  30. ^ "Court Gives Leader's Money to Black Muslims", The New York Times. January 2, 1988.
  31. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002), 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
  32. ^ Ali (2001) at IMDb.

Further reading[edit]

  • Berg, Herbert. Elijah Muhammad and Islam (NYU Press, 2009)
  • Clegg, Claude Andrew. An original man: The life and times of Elijah Muhammad (Macmillan, 1998)
  • Walker, Dennis. Islam and the Search for African American Nationhood: Elijah Muhammad, Louis Farrakhan, and the Nation of Islam (1995) online

External links[edit]

* Elijah Muhammad at Find a Grave
Preceded by
Wallace D. Fard
Nation of Islam
1934-1975
Succeeded by
Warith Deen Muhammad (1975),

Silis Muhammad (1977),

Louis Farrakhan (1978) (split)