James Baldwin and Elijah Muhammad on The Nation of Islam

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The Nation of Islam

On October 7, 1897 in Sandersville, Georgia, a woman named Marie Poole gave birth to a boy who she named Elijah. Elijah’s parents were sharecroppers, and this father was a Baptist minister (Black Supremacists, 25). After an eighth grade education, in 1931, Elijah Poole moved to Detroit where, he says, he met “Allah in person”. This was a man named Fard Muhammad—“The first and only man born in Mecca who came to America for the express purpose of teaching the so-called Negro” (Mr. Muhammad Speaks, 103). Elijah studied under Fard Muhammad, after which, he acquired a new title and sense of purpose. Since then, Elijah referred to himself as “Elijah Muhammad, the messenger of Allah, to the Lost-Found Nation of Islam in North America” (Mr. Muhammad Speaks, 100). Elijah Muhammad’s own words state his new purpose very well, “I am doing all I can to make the so-called Negroes see that the white race and its religion, Christianity, are their open enemies” (Mr. Muhammad Speaks, 100). Elijah Muhammad, put quite bluntly, was a psychopath. His ideals parallel those of Adolf Hitler, leader of the Third Reich, the man most directly responsible for the systematic torture and annihilation of millions of innocent people during the Second World War. Elijah Muhammad’s ideals, taught through his cult, the Nation of Islam, are extreme, irrational, racist, and truly evil.

On November 17, 1962, 65 years after the birth of Elijah Muhammad, the New Yorker published an article written by James Baldwin called “Letter from a Region in My Mind. This article is an edited version of one of his now-famous essays, “Down at the Cross”. In this essay, Baldwin describes the encounter he had with Elijah Muhammad. During...

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... Muhammad was an evil man. We know he was evil because we have read about his teachings, and about the practices of the Nation of Islam. Baldwin knew he was evil in the same way. And we know that Baldwin knew Muhammad was evil because Baldwin wrote about Muhammad’s hatred in his essay, “Down at the Cross”. But Baldwin demonstrated wisdom by not sharing his views with Muhammad, and he demonstrated humbleness by not being consumed by his views and disagreeing with Muhammad. This helps us, readers of Baldwin, learn just that much more about this complex author.

Works Cited

“Black Supremacists.” Time 10 August 1959: 24-25.

Black Supremacy Cult in the U.S.” U.S. News & World Report 9 November 1959: 112-114.

Haley, Alex. “Mr. Muhammad Speaks.” Readers Digest March 1960: 100-104.

Hentoff, Nat. “The Black Muslims in America.” The Reporter 27 April 1961: 24-52.

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