On this day October 10, 1897 the Hon. Elijah Muhammad was born Elijah Poole in Sandersville, Georgia as one of 13 children of tenant farmers who were former slaves. Elijah left home at the age of 16 and traveled throughout the United States and finally settled in Detroit, Michigan in 1923 where he worked at an automobile factory.
In the early 1930s, a time of severe economic distress, he became acquainted with a white man W.D. Fard (Wali Farad, Master Farad Muhammad) and his life changed forever. Fard, had already established a Temple of Islam in Detroit. The beliefs taught by Fard though similar to "orthodox" Islam, spoke directly to Black people and attempted to meet their needs. It called for complete Black separation from whites whom were viewed as the sworn enemies of Blacks and humanity. The Nation of Islam (NOI) as it was known, demanded Black independence in economics, religion, and nationhood. The teachings of the NOI regularly denounced Black men especially for drinking, gambling, physical abuse of Black woman, moral wrongs, and the inability to protect one's family from attacks by violent white America. Upon Fard's disappearance in 1934, Elijah Muhammad became the successor to the NOI and became Supreme Minister.
The teachings of the NOI and Elijah Muhammad would have a profound impact on Black American life. In a small amount of time the small organization became well known throughout the United States, buying land, opening businesses, and increasing its growth. Its strict moral discipline, devout religious adherence, healthy lifestyle, and seemingly miraculous ability to convert even the lease among us, drew many to its ranks. One of those that Elijah would bring into the NOI light was an ex-convict who the world would come to know as Malcolm X. Soon Elijah would gain world recognition as his teachings were spread through his still well read book, Message to the Black Man.
With the transition of Elijah Muhammad in 1975, the NOI went through a brief period of unrest. Under the guidance of his son, Wallace Muhammad, the NOI was moved into the mainstream of "orthodox" Islam and even began to accept white members. Such shifts away from the original Black Nationalist religious teachings of Elijah Muhammad soon caused a split within the organization.
It was not long before splinter groups emerged to once again carry on Elijah's teachings. Though they number quite a few, the most well known are most likely the more "street-based" 5% Nation of Islam and the Nation of Islam under Minister Louis Farrakhan. The NOI under Minister Louis Farrakhan has been a driving force in Black Nationalistic political thought since the 1980s. Most noticeably, it was instrumental in the calling and organizing of the now historic Million Man March of 1995.
Through the decades Elijah Muhammad's messages of self-help, self-sufficiency, self-defense, and self-love have shaped deeply the path of Black Nationalism and to a lesser degree Pan-Africanism. His legacy continues today as his teachings create converts throughout America and the Black world.