This is the 90th year since the Nation of Islam was born in Detroit. It was in the “Heavenly Valley” neighborhood of the city’s long-since gentrified “Black Bottom” district. The Nation was founded by the man known as “Master” W. Fard Muhammad, who revealed himself on July 4, 1930, to declare independence from the white man’s 400 years of oppression for Black people in America.
Fard Muhammad was a somewhat mysterious man from The East, the Holy City Mecca, Arabia. It is said of him that he visited all the places on earth inhabited by humans, that he spoke 16 languages and wrote 10, that he pictured and learned the language of the beings on Mars, that he spoke the language of the birds.
What is absolutely known of Fard Muhammad is that he went door to door selling silks, inviting people he met to attend meetings in the homes of their neighbors. In 1930 this man taught that Black people are not Negroes, or coons, but in fact descendants of the Original Man who created the heavens and the earth. He taught that Black people should come out of the names of their former slave masters, into their “original” names.
Before Fard Muhammad disappeared in 1934, he had given more than 25,000 names to Black Detroiters. And there, he also found his disciple — Elijah Poole, later named Muhammad, a Chevrolet plant worker originally from Sandersville, Ga. — who would teach the message of Islam: there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, of Freedom, Justice and Equality to the downtrodden. Muhammad Mosque No. 1 was born in the Motor City.
Elijah Muhammad moved with his family to Chicago, where Mosque No. 2 was established. Then, persecuted by authorities and hounded by unfaithful followers from within, Mr. Muhammad fled for seven years to Milwaukee, Mosque No. 3, and to Washington, D.C. Mosque No. 4.
In Washington in 1942, Mr. Muhammad was arrested by the FBI and imprisoned for five years for “draft evasion,” even though he was 45 years old, at the time and the draft ended for men at age 42.
Prison became a fertile recruiting ground, as many of men in the movement — the F.O.I. (Fruit of Islam) — volunteered to follow their leader to jail. Five years later, one of the movement’s most effective spokesmen heard the message from family members in jail, he used his time on lockdown to study, study, study, dictionaries, whatever sources of knowledge he could find. He emerged Malcolm X. Three years after that a wildly popular calypso singer known as “The Charmer” joined on to the movement and became Louis X.
Thanks to the time, the surge of the civil rights movement, and the brilliant leadership of Brother Malcolm, the Nation grew exponentially. By 1964, when Malcolm X left the movement, the name of the “Black Muslims” was known far and wide. Despite the controversy surrounding Brother Malcolm’s departure and assassination the movement continued to grow, with Louis X, now Louis Farrakhan as the chief deputy.
The Nation of Islam grew and grew, reforming some of the most recalcitrant members of the Black community — many from prisons — into upright, model citizens. It was an engine of economic development and progress, emphasizing Black Unity, and the demand that Blacks be separated from the authority of white America, into a separate state or territory of their own. That message still resonates today.
After 41 years of laboring in the vineyards, in February, 1975 Mr. Muhammad went away, some say he died, the faithful believe that he is alive and with Allah (God) Who is, according to the message a living man.
The most anticipated time of each year in the Nation is the celebration of Master W. Fard Muhammad’s birthday — Saviour’s Day, Feb. 26, 1877, the same day the treacherous Hayes-Tilden Compromise was agreed to which removed federal troops from the South, and left the newly freed slaves in the hands and at the mercy of the merciless former slavers, the Ku Klux Klan, the White Citizens Councils. Every year followers would flock to Chicago to see and hear Mr. Muhammad deliver his annual Saviour’s Day address. My first Saviour’s Day was in 1970, 50 years ago, at the Gen. Richard L. Jones Armory on the Southside of Chicago.
After Mr. Muhammad’s departure in 1975, the movement descended into chaos. His son and successor, Emam Warith Deen Muhammad, changed the religious message, dismantled the economic engine and changed the name to the World Community of Islam. By that time, all of the militant movements of the civil rights era had been taken down — SNCC, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, the Black Panthers, the Republic of New Africa, all gone.
In 1981, Minister Farrakhan reorganized the Nation of Islam, at a Saviour’s Day convention, at which he declared the NOI would “never fall again.” I also attended that Saviour’s Day event. In the 39 years since the The Minister has literally rebuilt the nation into a powerhouse again, and this year as the NOI enters its 90th year, he took the celebration back to its birthplace Detroit.
Despite his age — he’ll be 87 in May — Farrakhan spoke multiple times during the weekend, including his address Sunday, which looked to me like a miniature edition of the Million Man March, with 15,000 in attendance, including busloads of young men from around the Midwest, the Chair of the Detroit City Council, and the Mayors of Flint, and Benton Harbor, Michigan in attendance. It was awesome.
The minister spoke for three hours Sunday, even offering words of consolation to President Donald J. Trump, who is likely to be reelected. Comparing himself to Jonah, who preached to the King of Nineveh nearly 3,000 years ago, Minister Farrakhan said there is only one way America can be saved from the divine destruction that has been preached in the name of Master Fard Muhammad for nearly 90 years now: “Repent.”
America must repent and give justice and a land of our own to the Black man and woman in America. I believe that Farrakhan’s recitation of Mr. Muhammad’s message is true and correct. Time will tell.