“God is black. All black men belong to Islam; they have been chosen. And Islam shall rule the world” (Baldwin 319). This is the principal message of the Nation of Islam movement. Although the movement has existed since the early 20th century, it gained a lot of momentum in America in the 1960’s, according to African-American essayist and novelist James Baldwin. In his essay, Down At The Cross, Baldwin conveys that the movement reached more blacks during the sixties because time was ripe for it. During the 1960’s, black and white Americans began actively questioning and challenging the status quo. Baldwin believes the Christian world had become “morally bankrupt and politically unstable” (316), and that this opened the door to radical ideas which would have been considered madness in an earlier timeframe (316). Although he does not agree with Muslim doctrine, Baldwin recognizes the power of the Nation of Islam movement, particularly during a period of tremendous civil unrest.
Research supports that Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Black Muslims in the 1960’s, also found that time period to be very opportunistic for the Nation of Islam movement. In an article from the New York Times written by M.S. Handler in the early sixties, Muhammad quotes that he “…is confident that his organization, and his alone, stands to gain from the racial turmoil in the United States” (Handler 14). Like Baldwin, Muhammad recognizes that in a world where racial segregation is being challenged and the entire path of black history is being reevaluated and denounced, radical ideas are more likely to flourish.
Baldwin does not support the radicalism of the Nation of Islam movem...
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...rtheless, he recognizes that civil violence in post-war America might have provided an opportunity for a radical movement such as the Nation of Islam to reach more black Americans, since violence was considered to be an acceptable means to a desirable end. By the 1960’s, black Americans were better able to inure themselves to the violence that surrounded them daily and latch onto a new message of hope and freedom.
Baldwin, James. “Down At The Cross.” 1955. James Baldwin: Collected Essays.
Ed. Toni Morrison. New York: Library of America, 1998. 63-84.
Handler, M.S. (1963, June 17). Muhammad Predicts Final Victory for Muslims. Retrieved from Proquest Historical Newspapers The New York Times pg. 14
Lilyveld, J. (1964, June 29). Elijah Muhammad Rallies His Followers in Harlem. Retrieved from ProQuest Historical Newpapers The New York Times pg. 1
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