A HISTORIC LOOK AT THE MOST HONORABLE ELIJAH MUHAMMAD
Thirty-four years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad was born on or about Oct. 7, 1897 in Sandersville, Georgia. The exact date of his birth remains unknown because record keeping in rural Georgia for the descendants of slaves was not kept current, according to historians and family members. Nevertheless, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad said his birth took place some time in the first or second week of October in 1897 and set forth Oct. 7th as the anniversary date of his birth.
Indeed, life in the rural South at the turn of the century was quite hard. Poverty and survival were at war with each other. Elijah Poole, the son of a minister, and whose parents, William (later named Wali) and Marie Poole, had 12 other children, had to quit school after barely finishing the third grade to work in the fields as a sharecropper so his family could eat.
Just before the roaring twenties came in, Elijah Poole married the former Clara Evans, also of Georgia. They had eight children, Emmanuel, Ethel, Lottie, Nathaniel, Herbert, Elijah, Jr., Wallace and Akbar.
In April 1923, Elijah Poole moved his young family from Macon, Georgia, where he worked for the Southern Railroad Company and the Cherokee Brick Company to Detroit, Mich. Black families, like the Pooles, were leaving the south, at that time, in search of better economic and social circumstances. Detroit was a bustling upwardly mobile city with its burgeoning auto industry.
The stock market crash in 1929 was the gateway to economic misery that sparked the fuel of the “Great Depression” of the 1930s. Moreover, America’s racial situation continued its downward spiral. Lynchings, race riots and other forms of terrorism against Blacks continued unabated. But Detroit, with its huge population of 1.5 million people including 250,000 thousand Blacks, was beginning to see changes in its social scene.
On July 4, 1930, the long awaited “Saviour” of the Black man and woman, Master W. Fard Muhammad, appeared in this city. He announced and preached that God is One, and it is now time for Blacks to return to the religion of their ancestors, Islam. News spread all over the city of Detroit of the preachings of this great man from the East. Elijah Poole’s wife first learned of the Temple of Islam and wanted to attend to see what the commotion was all about, but instead, her husband advised her that he would go and see for himself.
Hence, in 1931, after hearing his first lecture at the Temple of Islam, Elijah Poole was overwhelmed by the message and immediately accepted it. Soon thereafter, Elijah Poole invited and convinced his entire family to accept the religion of Islam.
The Founder of the Nation of Islam gave him the name “Karriem” and made him a minister. Later he was promoted to the position of “Supreme Minister” and his name was changed to Muhammad. “The name ‘Poole’ was never my name,” he would later write, “nor was it my father’s name. It was the name the white slave-master of my grandfather after the so-called freedom of my fathers.”
Mr. Muhammad quickly became an integral part of the Temple of Islam. For the next three and one-half years, Mr. Muhammad was personally taught by his Teacher non-stop. The Muslim community, in addition to establishing religious centers of worship, began to start businesses under the aegis of economic development that focuses on buying and selling between and among Black companies. Mr. Muhammad establishes a newspaper, “The Final Call to Islam,” in 1934. This would be the first of many publications he would produce.
Meanwhile, Mr. Muhammad helped establish schools for the proper education of his children and the community. Indeed, the Muslim parents felt that the educational system of the State of Michigan was wholely inadequate for their children, and they established their own schools. By 1934, the Michigan State Board of Education disagreed with the Muslim’s right to pursue their own educational agenda, and the Muslim Teachers and Temple Secretary were jailed on the false charge of contributing to the delinquency of minors. Mr Muhammad said he committed himself to jail after learning what had happened.
Ultimately, the charges were later dropped, and the officials were freed and Mr. Muhammad received six months’ probation to take the Muslim children out of the Islamic school and put them under white Christian teachers. “This I did not do,” he said. He moved to the city of Chicago in September of that same year. His Teacher, Master W. Fard Muhammad, was also harassed by the police and was forced out of Detroit and moved to Chicago where he continued to face imprisonment and harassment by the police. In 1934 Master W. Fard Muhammad departed the scene and left the Honorable Elijah Muhammad with the mission of resurrecting the Black man and woman.