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. 7th 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 Detroit and moved to Chicago where he continued to face imprisonment and harassment by the police. In 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.
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.
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad hosted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at his home in Chicago in 1966. During this meeting, the two esteemed leaders discussed issues of mutual concern.
A host of Islamic and African governments received the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and donated generously to his mission. He visited the Holy City of Mecca where he performed “Umrah” (which is Pilgrimage to Mecca at a time other than the “Hajj season”) during his trip to the Middle East in 1959 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 to 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.
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