Man of the Century:
The Nation of Islam began in 1930, following the coming of Master Fard Muhammad in the city of Detroit. The Nation of Islam is the most fascinating and progressive black institutions in America; and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad is the most significant and misunderstood leader in the twentieth century.
This article focuses on the life and works of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad from 1950 to 1975. Elijah Muhammad (formerly named Elijah Poole) was born in Sandersville, Georgia in 1897. Master Fard Muhammad (Allah in Person) appointed him, Messenger of Allah, in 1934. “We believe that Allah (God) appeared in the Person of Master W. Fard Muhammad on July 4, 1930, the long awaited Messiah of the Christians and the Mahdi” of the Muslims”, according to point twelve of “What the Muslims Believe”. His mission was to give life to a mentally dead people, the so-called American Negro.
The 1950s for the Honorable Elijah Muhammad came on the heels of the Great Depression of the 30s and World War II of the 40s. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad had faced many trials and hardships in the early days. From 1935 to 1942, he fled the cities of Chicago and Detroit, running up and down the east coast of America evading two enemies. One enemy was the United States government and the other, former Nation of Islam members disgruntled at his selection as Messenger of Allah. These former Nation of Islam members, more popularly known amongst the Muslims as “hypocrites” sought to take the life of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad; among them, one of his own blood brothers.
On May 8, 1942, the police arrested him in Washington, D.C. on a false charge of draft evasion. At 45 years old, Muhammad exceeded the Armed Forces draft age of 44. He would serve 5 years in the Milan Michigan Federal Penitentiary. Later, he served another eleven months for teaching his children.
During the 1950s, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad began to reap the benefits of the seeds planted in prison and his journeys throughout the east coast. Muhammad’s Temples of Islam began to spring up in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, Hartford, New York, New Jersey, Cleveland, and San Diego to name a few. In 1957, he published an easy to read booklet, The Supreme Wisdom. He continued to write his column, “Mr. Muhammad Speaks”, in the Pittsburgh Courier and Chicago Crusader newspapers while on the road. His teachings had taken root in the lives of his followers. The Messenger’s program for self-development and his economic blueprint had come into fruition. The opening of a variety of small businesses such as dry cleaners, clothing shops, barbershops, restaurants, and bakeries demonstrated the faith and work of the followers.
Prior to 1959, the masses of Blacks in America viewed the Muslims as strange people in America. They dressed differently; lived clean lives, didn’t use tobacco or alcohol, and didn’t eat pork. That image changed following an address at the Uline Arena in Washington, D.C. on May 20, 1959. He returned to a city that the police arrested him 17 years earlier. The city provided him with a presidential escort down Pennsylvania Avenue by the capital police; an honor never given to a Black man. In a thunderous and authoritative voice, he delivered an electrifying speech to a capacity crowd of ten thousand Black men and women. He challenged the manhood of Black leadership in America: “Don’t demand a job! Demand some earth!” he exclaimed.
Alarmed by the growing number of blacks attending Muslim rallies and conventions, the Nation of Islam became the victim of an onslaught of attacks launched by the government and the mainstream media. Many in the white media began to label Muhammad and his followers as hate-teachers. Leading the charge was journalist Mike Wallace, hosting the television special “The Hate That Hate Produced”. Other programs soon followed, such as specials on News Magazine, and NBC’s “No Whites Allowed”. Orthodox Muslims and Negroes received forums for the sole purpose of denouncing him.
In December of 1959, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad made the pilgrimage to Mecca Arabia. Received with love and admiration for his works, Muhammad traveled throughout the Muslim World, visiting Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Egypt; where Egyptian President Abdel Nasser offered to build the Messenger a palace, if he would move to Egypt. It was in the country of Sudan where Muhammad received his warmest reception. After speaking for only fifteen (15) minutes through an interpreter, the Sudanese people joy-filled frenzy nearly crushed the five feet seven inches and one hundred thirty-five pound Elijah to death, trying to shake his hand and hug him. He destroyed the lie that the Muslims in the East do not recognize the Nation of Islam. “The common Muslim may not recognize us, but the scholars and scientists of Islam, they recognize us,” Muhammad told Chicago journalist Irv Kupcinet.
Returning to his headquarters in Chicago in 1960, the Nation of Islam leader published the first edition of “Mr. Muhammad Speaks”, a weekly newspaper. In 1968, the Nation of Islam purchased a massive four-story, sixty thousand square foot building that served as the newspaper printing plant, cold storage, and tractor-truck storage. In the same year, the Salaam Restaurant and Your Supermarket opened. The Nation’s farms in Michigan, Georgia, and Alabama supplied most of the products. The Muslim followers of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad flourished during the 1960s. But their success was not without persecution at the hands of armed local police officers most notably in the Louisiana and California mosques. In Los Angeles, a Muslim brother, Ronald T. X was shot down in cold blood.
The influence of Muhammad could indirectly be seen and felt outside the Nation of Islam as new Black radical and nationalist groups dissatisfied with the progress of integration began to form, advocating self-help and Black power. People from around the world found their way to the doorsteps of Muhammad. Visitors from China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the continent of African came to see for themselves the miracles being formed by the man from Sandersville, Georgia with a third grade education. The F.B.I. in a document dated January 7, 1969, concluded that the Nation of Islam was the personal fielder of Elijah Muhammad and that they should wait until he dies and then infiltrate the Nation and change the philosophy.
The world would witness the Nation of Islam reach it’s apex of glory and success during the 1970s. During this time, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad entered into international trade with the government of Peru. Up to three million pounds of fish per month were imported and stored in the Nation’s storage facilities. It was the Messenger’s plan and desire to feed the masses good food at economical prices.
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s love for his people extended beyond his followers and he demonstrated this in his hiring practices. Many non-Muslims managed Muslim ventures and businesses. One such venture was the Guaranty Bank & Trust Co. acquired in 1973 and managed by Oscar Williams. John Woodward became Editor-in-Chief of Muhammad Speaks Newspaper, and Christine Johnson became the principal of the University of Islam. He also provided financial support to numerous Black political candidates he felt had the Black community’s interest at heart.
His love and friendship with President Naseer of Egypt convinced Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi to loan the Honorable Elijah Muhammad three million dollars to purchase a mosque on Chicago’s Southside at 7351 S. Stoney Island Avenue. Governors and Mayors of major cities throughout the United States began to pay homage to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Most notable, here in the City of Chicago, Mayor Richard J. Daley’s proclamation of 1974 declaring March 20th, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad Day.
During his last sermon, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad urged his followers to respect those who respected them. He also stated that if we qualified ourselves and attempted to do something for ourselves, the world would respect the Black community. Stating that the white man was no longer hindering us as a people, he urged the Black Nation to “Get Up and Go to Work!”
At the time of his departure on February 25, 1975, the news reports stated, the empire amassed by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad estimated at eighty million dollars. While the monetary value of the Messenger is significant, it is more important to place him in the proper context in which he operated. The commission by Allah (God) to raise a mentally dead people and bring them into the knowledge of themselves, God, and others was the prime directive. The monetary accomplishments were incidental. Provided with the foundation; the acquisition of land, money, good homes, friendship, banks, hospitals, restaurants, international trade and commerce automatically followed. For the followers of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, they bore witness to these and many other miracles.
As many discuss the
men and women of the Millennium, a name has not been mentioned that accomplished
what the Messenger achieved single-handedly with the knowledge he received
from whom he said was Allah (God) in Person. His belief and commitment
to his God raised a mentally dead people. I humbly submit that my man
for the Millennium and beyond is the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
© 2011 The Coalition for the Remembrance of The Honorable Elijah Muhammad (CROE)