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Black Nationalism and
the Nation of Islam
Review: Strategies vs. Tactics
Activists must determine the strategies (long-term plans) they will use
to achieve their goals and the tactics (tools) by which they will advance
their chosen strategies.
Proponents of black freedom have historically had to address these
questions:
How do you know when you are free?
What does freedom look like?
Review
• How did groups like the SCLC and SNCC define
“freedom”?
•What strategies did they use?
• What tactics did they employ to advance their
chosen strategies?
Black Nationalism as a Strategy for Black Freedom
Three Dimensions:
•Economic—self-sufficiency through economic
empowerment and separate institutions
•Cultural—racial pride as an antidote to
assimilationist views of racial difference and
“politics of respectability”
•Political—political separatism (definitions and
tactics have varied widely)
Early 20th c. Black Nationalism
Marcus Garvey and the United
Negro Improvement Association
(UNIA) advocated Black economic
independence and Black pride,
urging Black Americans to “return to
Africa” during the 1920s and early
1930s. The UNIA was among the
most popular mass movements of
the 20th century.
Founded in 1930, the Nation of Islam, which
draws on the teachings and beliefs of both
Islam and Black nationalism, sought to create
an independent Black nation on land in the
U.S. South. As leader of the NOI, Elijah
Muhammad emphasized economic self-
determination and moral propriety as keys to
Black liberation. The NOI had great social and
economic influence and was particularly
effective in reaching and mobilizing poor and
underserved Black communities in Northern
cities like Chicago, Detroit, New York, and
Boston.
The Nation of Islam (NOI)
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad
(1897-1975)
• Born in rural Georgia to sharecroppers in 1897; attended school
only through fourth grade.
• Reported witnessing three lynchings as a child.
• Migrated with his family to Detroit in 1923.
• Battled alcoholism and depression during long periods of
unemployment.
• Struggled to provide for his growing family and therefore relied
on public assistance during the Great Depression.
• Was attracted to the message of Black nationalism; converted to
Islam and assumed leadership of the NOI after its founder,
Wallace Fard, disappeared in 1934.
• Convicted of draft resistance in 1942; served five years in
prison.
• Realized political and social potential of incarcerated Black men
and sought to reach them with NOI’s message.
Self-proclaimed
Messenger of Allah,
Muhammad led the NOI
from 1934 until his death
in 1975.
Nation of Islam Racial Theology
• Positioned Black Muslims as Allah’s “original” chosen people.
• Asserted the ancestral origins of Black Americans to be “Asiatic” rather than
“African.”
• Sought to explain the state of the modern world through the story of Yakub, a
mad Black scientist who had grafted the white race from the Black race as an
evil trick.
• Taught that heaven and hell coexisted on earth: the “white devil” used
“tricknology” to subordinate members of the Black race through slavery,
sharecropping, and lynching but also through such vices as gambling, alcohol,
drugs, fornication, adultery, and poor diet.
• This message was especially powerful in reaching poor and working class
Black men, particularly Southern migrants living in Northern cities, as it made
sense of their lived realities in a society ruled by white supremacy.
Nation of Islam Racial Theology (cont’d)
• Goal of white society: to encourage poverty, ignorance, and subservience
among Black people.
• Central precept of NOI theology: Black oppression by white society would last
for 6,000 years. Promised that Allah would overturn white rule at a
predetermined time in the near future.
• Muhammad therefore deemed political participation or political activism futile
and explicitly prohibited the NOI faithful from voting or otherwise
participating in U.S. electoral politics.
• Racial separation, not integration, was the key to Black liberation.
Life (31 May 1963)
Muhammad’s Message to the Blackman in America (1965)
“We must stop relying upon the white man to care for us. We must become an independent people. So-
called Negroes should:
1. Separate yourselves from the slave-master.
2. Pool your resources, education and qualifications for independence.
3. Stop forcing yourselves into places where you are not wanted.
4. Make your own neighborhood a decent place to live.
5. Rid yourselves of the lust of wine and drink and learn to love self and your kind before loving others.
6. Unite to create a future for yourself.
7. Build your own homes, schools, hospitals, and factories.
8. Do not seek to mix your blood through racial integration.
9. Stop buying expensive cars, fine clothes and shoes before being able to live in a fine home.
10. Spend your money among yourselves.
11. Build an economic system among yourselves.
12. Protect your women.”
(Chapter 76, “A Program for Self-Development”)
The television documentary The Hate That Hate Produced (1959) offered millions of white Americans their first look at
the Nation of Islam, which by that point already had about 30,000 members. In it, white journalist Mike Wallace
characterized the organization as “Black supremacists” preaching a “gospel of hate.” The sensational film catapulted
Malcolm X, the NOI’s chief spokesperson, to national fame and won the attention and admiration of many Black
Americans previously unaware of the Nation’s existence. Its membership quickly grew. Historian Garrett Felber writes of
the documentary, “Its cautionary message to a largely white audience was that white racism would inevitably produce its
black variant.”
The Hate That Hate Produced (1959)
Here, Elijah Muhammad speaks with Malcolm X at a 1961 rally in
Harlem. Malcolm X was the national spokesperson and the most
influential minister of the Nation until his expulsion from the
organization and conversion to Sunni Islam in 1964.
Q: Why was the message of
the Nation of Islam so
effective in reaching
incarcerated Black men in
America?
The Appeal of the Nation’s Message
“The thinking American Negro realizes that only Elijah Muhammad offers him a
solid, united front. He is tired of the unfulfilled promises of the lethargic, so-
called Negro leaders who have been so thoroughly brainwashed by the American
whites. ‘Have patience,’ they say, ‘everything is going to be all right.’
…The black man in this country has been sitting on the hot stove for nearly 400
years. And no matter how fast the brainwashers and the brainwashed think they
are helping him advance, it’s still too slow for the man whose behind is burning
on that hot stove!”
--Malcolm X to photographer Gordon Parks, 1963
Source: Gordon Parks, “‘What Their Cry Means to Me’—A Negro’s Own Evaluation,” Life
Magazine (31 May 1963), pg. 31.
Economic Self-Sufficiency
NOI business enterprises catered to
NOI members and spread the NOI
message to non-believers while creating
jobs and generating wealth within
Black communities. In 1972, Elijah
Muhammad estimated the NOI’s net
worth at $75 million.
Malcolm X was a visible presence at NOI
businesses in Harlem.
Cultural Nationalism
Muhammad’s emphasis on racial pride, self-respect, communal
discipline, and Black righteousness offered an antidote to
assimilationist views that implicitly prized white values and norms.
(1963)
Self-defense class (Chicago, 1963).
The Fruit of Islam (FOI) was the paramilitary arm of the NOI that
offered protection to NOI leadership and members. Pictured here in
1966 is the FOI, including Muhammad Ali, who converted to the
Nation of Islam in 1964.
How to Eat to Live, Muhammad’s primer on
the prescribed diet of the Nation of Islam, was
published in two volumes (1967, 1972). In it,
Muhammad explained his prohibition of pork
(“grafted from rat, cat, and dog”), but also
many common elements of “soul food,”
Southern cuisine brought North during the
Great Migration, which was increasingly
celebrated in the 1960s. He rejected soul food
as remnants of the “slave diet,” constructed
from scraps and the cheapest cuts of meat,
accessible to enslaved Black people only
because white enslavers did not want them.
Muhammad expressly forbade consumption of
items like cornbread, turnips, black-eyed peas,
and sweet potatoes, and emphasized the
dangers of processed foods. In this way, he
linked dietary transformations with spiritual
ones while denouncing the significance of
Black foodways.
(April 1962)
(July 1969)
Political Nationalism
Muhammad made vague rhetorical
demands for land to establish a Black
state in the U.S. South, but never
forcefully followed up on those
demands. Instead, he worked to
purchase farmland (esp. in Georgia
and Michigan) for the NOI, which it
used to provision its many food
enterprises.
NOI rally in Harlem, led by Malcolm X, 1963.
FBI monograph on Nation of Islam - Map of Temples of Islam (1965)
Significance of the NOI to the Black Freedom Struggle
• Emphasis Black nationalism and self-determination.
• Normalized rhetoric of defensive violence.
• Promulgated language of Black pride and self-love.
• Demonstrated potential for Black economic empowerment
through capitalist enterprises.
• Focused efforts on recruiting members of the Black poor
and working classes, including those in prison.

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2.22.24 Black Nationalism and the Nation of Islam.pptx

  • 1. Black Nationalism and the Nation of Islam
  • 2. Review: Strategies vs. Tactics Activists must determine the strategies (long-term plans) they will use to achieve their goals and the tactics (tools) by which they will advance their chosen strategies. Proponents of black freedom have historically had to address these questions: How do you know when you are free? What does freedom look like?
  • 3. Review • How did groups like the SCLC and SNCC define “freedom”? •What strategies did they use? • What tactics did they employ to advance their chosen strategies?
  • 4. Black Nationalism as a Strategy for Black Freedom Three Dimensions: •Economic—self-sufficiency through economic empowerment and separate institutions •Cultural—racial pride as an antidote to assimilationist views of racial difference and “politics of respectability” •Political—political separatism (definitions and tactics have varied widely)
  • 5. Early 20th c. Black Nationalism Marcus Garvey and the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) advocated Black economic independence and Black pride, urging Black Americans to “return to Africa” during the 1920s and early 1930s. The UNIA was among the most popular mass movements of the 20th century.
  • 6. Founded in 1930, the Nation of Islam, which draws on the teachings and beliefs of both Islam and Black nationalism, sought to create an independent Black nation on land in the U.S. South. As leader of the NOI, Elijah Muhammad emphasized economic self- determination and moral propriety as keys to Black liberation. The NOI had great social and economic influence and was particularly effective in reaching and mobilizing poor and underserved Black communities in Northern cities like Chicago, Detroit, New York, and Boston. The Nation of Islam (NOI)
  • 7. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975) • Born in rural Georgia to sharecroppers in 1897; attended school only through fourth grade. • Reported witnessing three lynchings as a child. • Migrated with his family to Detroit in 1923. • Battled alcoholism and depression during long periods of unemployment. • Struggled to provide for his growing family and therefore relied on public assistance during the Great Depression. • Was attracted to the message of Black nationalism; converted to Islam and assumed leadership of the NOI after its founder, Wallace Fard, disappeared in 1934. • Convicted of draft resistance in 1942; served five years in prison. • Realized political and social potential of incarcerated Black men and sought to reach them with NOI’s message. Self-proclaimed Messenger of Allah, Muhammad led the NOI from 1934 until his death in 1975.
  • 8. Nation of Islam Racial Theology • Positioned Black Muslims as Allah’s “original” chosen people. • Asserted the ancestral origins of Black Americans to be “Asiatic” rather than “African.” • Sought to explain the state of the modern world through the story of Yakub, a mad Black scientist who had grafted the white race from the Black race as an evil trick. • Taught that heaven and hell coexisted on earth: the “white devil” used “tricknology” to subordinate members of the Black race through slavery, sharecropping, and lynching but also through such vices as gambling, alcohol, drugs, fornication, adultery, and poor diet. • This message was especially powerful in reaching poor and working class Black men, particularly Southern migrants living in Northern cities, as it made sense of their lived realities in a society ruled by white supremacy.
  • 9. Nation of Islam Racial Theology (cont’d) • Goal of white society: to encourage poverty, ignorance, and subservience among Black people. • Central precept of NOI theology: Black oppression by white society would last for 6,000 years. Promised that Allah would overturn white rule at a predetermined time in the near future. • Muhammad therefore deemed political participation or political activism futile and explicitly prohibited the NOI faithful from voting or otherwise participating in U.S. electoral politics. • Racial separation, not integration, was the key to Black liberation.
  • 10. Life (31 May 1963)
  • 11. Muhammad’s Message to the Blackman in America (1965) “We must stop relying upon the white man to care for us. We must become an independent people. So- called Negroes should: 1. Separate yourselves from the slave-master. 2. Pool your resources, education and qualifications for independence. 3. Stop forcing yourselves into places where you are not wanted. 4. Make your own neighborhood a decent place to live. 5. Rid yourselves of the lust of wine and drink and learn to love self and your kind before loving others. 6. Unite to create a future for yourself. 7. Build your own homes, schools, hospitals, and factories. 8. Do not seek to mix your blood through racial integration. 9. Stop buying expensive cars, fine clothes and shoes before being able to live in a fine home. 10. Spend your money among yourselves. 11. Build an economic system among yourselves. 12. Protect your women.” (Chapter 76, “A Program for Self-Development”)
  • 12. The television documentary The Hate That Hate Produced (1959) offered millions of white Americans their first look at the Nation of Islam, which by that point already had about 30,000 members. In it, white journalist Mike Wallace characterized the organization as “Black supremacists” preaching a “gospel of hate.” The sensational film catapulted Malcolm X, the NOI’s chief spokesperson, to national fame and won the attention and admiration of many Black Americans previously unaware of the Nation’s existence. Its membership quickly grew. Historian Garrett Felber writes of the documentary, “Its cautionary message to a largely white audience was that white racism would inevitably produce its black variant.” The Hate That Hate Produced (1959)
  • 13. Here, Elijah Muhammad speaks with Malcolm X at a 1961 rally in Harlem. Malcolm X was the national spokesperson and the most influential minister of the Nation until his expulsion from the organization and conversion to Sunni Islam in 1964.
  • 14. Q: Why was the message of the Nation of Islam so effective in reaching incarcerated Black men in America?
  • 15. The Appeal of the Nation’s Message “The thinking American Negro realizes that only Elijah Muhammad offers him a solid, united front. He is tired of the unfulfilled promises of the lethargic, so- called Negro leaders who have been so thoroughly brainwashed by the American whites. ‘Have patience,’ they say, ‘everything is going to be all right.’ …The black man in this country has been sitting on the hot stove for nearly 400 years. And no matter how fast the brainwashers and the brainwashed think they are helping him advance, it’s still too slow for the man whose behind is burning on that hot stove!” --Malcolm X to photographer Gordon Parks, 1963 Source: Gordon Parks, “‘What Their Cry Means to Me’—A Negro’s Own Evaluation,” Life Magazine (31 May 1963), pg. 31.
  • 16. Economic Self-Sufficiency NOI business enterprises catered to NOI members and spread the NOI message to non-believers while creating jobs and generating wealth within Black communities. In 1972, Elijah Muhammad estimated the NOI’s net worth at $75 million.
  • 17. Malcolm X was a visible presence at NOI businesses in Harlem.
  • 18. Cultural Nationalism Muhammad’s emphasis on racial pride, self-respect, communal discipline, and Black righteousness offered an antidote to assimilationist views that implicitly prized white values and norms.
  • 21. The Fruit of Islam (FOI) was the paramilitary arm of the NOI that offered protection to NOI leadership and members. Pictured here in 1966 is the FOI, including Muhammad Ali, who converted to the Nation of Islam in 1964.
  • 22. How to Eat to Live, Muhammad’s primer on the prescribed diet of the Nation of Islam, was published in two volumes (1967, 1972). In it, Muhammad explained his prohibition of pork (“grafted from rat, cat, and dog”), but also many common elements of “soul food,” Southern cuisine brought North during the Great Migration, which was increasingly celebrated in the 1960s. He rejected soul food as remnants of the “slave diet,” constructed from scraps and the cheapest cuts of meat, accessible to enslaved Black people only because white enslavers did not want them. Muhammad expressly forbade consumption of items like cornbread, turnips, black-eyed peas, and sweet potatoes, and emphasized the dangers of processed foods. In this way, he linked dietary transformations with spiritual ones while denouncing the significance of Black foodways.
  • 23. (April 1962) (July 1969) Political Nationalism Muhammad made vague rhetorical demands for land to establish a Black state in the U.S. South, but never forcefully followed up on those demands. Instead, he worked to purchase farmland (esp. in Georgia and Michigan) for the NOI, which it used to provision its many food enterprises.
  • 24. NOI rally in Harlem, led by Malcolm X, 1963.
  • 25. FBI monograph on Nation of Islam - Map of Temples of Islam (1965)
  • 26. Significance of the NOI to the Black Freedom Struggle • Emphasis Black nationalism and self-determination. • Normalized rhetoric of defensive violence. • Promulgated language of Black pride and self-love. • Demonstrated potential for Black economic empowerment through capitalist enterprises. • Focused efforts on recruiting members of the Black poor and working classes, including those in prison.

Editor's Notes

  1. Jamaican immigrant
  2. Had seven chidlren by 1933; eighth child born in 1936
  3. USA. Chicago. Malcolm X's visit to various enterprises owned by Black Muslims. Grocery shop. 1962. $75 million in 1972 = $562,800,000 in 2024
  4.  African American women dressed in white at a Nation of Islam meeting in New York City. Behind the women a sign reads, 'We Must Protect Our Most Valuable Property, Our Women.' July 26, 1963.
  5. Malcolm X’s Fiery Speech Addressing Police Brutality (1962): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_uYWDyYNUg https://www.vnews.com/How-Ali-found-home-in-Nation-of-Islam-his-start-as-Muslim-2722975 FILE - In this Feb. 28, 1966 file photo, Muhammad Ali listens to Elijah Muhammad as he speaks to other black Muslims in Chicago. Two days after the 1964 fight with Sonny Liston, Cassius Clay announced he was a member of the Nation of Islam and was changing his name to Cassius X. He would later become Muhammad Ali as he broke away from Malcom X and aligned himself with the sect's leader, Elijiah Muhammad. "What is all the commotion about?" he asked. "Nobody asks other people about their religion. But now that I'm the champion I am the king so it seems the world is all shook up about what I believe." (AP Photo/Paul Cannon)
  6. When Malcolm X held this Nation of Islam rally in Harlem in 1963, his loyalty to the group’s leader was weakening. The man who had once punctuated his speeches with “The Honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches us ...” now did so less often. Disillusioned by Muhammad’s political strategy and personal morals, he began to share the doubts of followers who were leaving the Nation. (Bruce Davidson / Magnum) https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/11/the-making-of-malcolm-x/616481/