No matter how strongly one feels about something, sometimes thoughts and actions can become too intense, too extreme, quite simply: too much. The idea of exceeding normal boundaries is a key idea in the Nation of Islam movement in America in the 1950s and 1960s. The Nation of Islam preached an idea that was very unfamiliar to common thought in America at that time. Ideology practiced by black Muslims, as those people of Islam were known as, was very intense, very driven, very narrow minded, but it made a lot of African Americans feel better about who they were and where they were at. On the other hand, many other African Americans believed that the practices of Islam were far too outrageous to be followed or trusted. James Baldwin, a very influential and respected African American author of the 1950s and 1960s, was a man of this belief. Baldwin had ties to the Nation of Islam movement, having been associated with Malcolm X when he appeared along side him on a television program. But Baldwin shared less ideology with the Muslims than one might expect. In his essay, “Down at the Cross,” (“Cross” for short), Baldwin recounts his encounter with the honorable Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam movement. Baldwin’s encounter with Muhammad shows the reader that although Baldwin certainly had ties to the Nation of Islam movement, some of the views of the movement were too narrow minded and too extreme for him to fully accept. Baldwin refused to believe that all white people are devils and as a result Baldwin depicts himself as a man who respects the efforts of the Black Muslim movement, but cannot be a member of it.
The Nation of Islam was a true extremist movement. Every thoug...
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...idn’t agree with Elijah. Baldwin acknowledges both sides of African American society, showing the reader that the Nation of Islam movement was good in the sense that it gave African Americans purpose, but that its views were too extreme to be fully followed and accepted.
Baldwin, James. “Down at the Cross.” 1955. James Baldwin: Collected Essays. Ed. Toni Morrison. New York: Library of America, 1998. 296-347.
Marsh, Clifton E. From Black Muslims to Muslims: The Resurrection, Transformation, and Change of the Lost-Found Nation of Islam in America, 1930-1995. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1996.
Slocum, John W. “Malcolm X Decides Not to Speak At Protest Rally in Englewood.” New York Times 8 August 1962: 45.
Teague, Robert L. “Negroes Say Conditions in U.S. Explain Nationalists’ Militancy.” New York Times 2 March 1961: 1+.
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