who sought to find some sort of answers to their despised and subjugated condition in America up to that point in time, but he also gained a large block of organized member- ship from Marcus Garvey's now defunct organization, the "United Negro Improvement Association," after Garvey's conviction and imprisonment on the charges of mail fraud in 1923. Among this group of former Garveyites was a man named Elijah Poole.
Elijah Poole had been one of the multitudes who had migrated north in search of a better life and more equitable treatment from whites during the first three decades of the 20th Century.
Upon his arrival, Elijah, (and the vast majority of his contemporaries), found that while their economic situations improved somewhat, there was still no decrease in the degree of humiliation and subservience that they were forced to endure. Thus, Elijah joined the United Negro Improvement Association in an attempt to gain some sense of accomplish- ment and self-respect.
Having given his all to the UNIA, (even rising to the rank of Corporal), Elijah was crushed with the organizations rapid demise after Garvey's 1923 conviction, and his subsequent permanent expulsion from the United States in 1927. Add to this the crash of the New York Stock Exchange in 1929, and we find Elijah demoralize and barely making ends meet. It is at this point in his life that Elijah encounters Wallace Fard.
Unemployed, surviving by means of the soup lines, and seeking to bring purpose back into a life of increasing misery, Elijah began attending Fard's evening meetings at the request of his wife Clara. These meetings were being held in the basements of the various Paradise valley tenements. Believing Fard to be some sort of holy man, Elijah became one of his earliest converts.
Recognizing Elijah's natural leadership abilities, Fard quickly advanced him in this new fledgling religion, changing his name from "Elijah Poole" to "Elijah Muhammad." With the help of this new convert, Fard's organization grew to some 8000 members by the time of his disappearance in June of 1934.
In the months leading up to his disappearance, Fard had suffered repeated instances of harassment by the Detroit Police department. Responding to rumors that this new religion called the "Nation of Islam" practiced human sacrifice, the police ran Fard out of town. Seeking refuge, he set out for Chicago and the NOI's Temple #2, established by Fard's Chief Lieutenant, Elijah Muhammad in 1932. Upon reaching Chicago, Fard was immediately arrested and jailed by local authorities, who had obviously been tipped off as to his destination by the Detroit Police.
From his jail cell, Fard sent for Elijah and promoted him to the position of "Chief Minister," after which he instructed him to return to Detroit and assume the leadership of Temple #1. Further, he was instructed to take charge of all administrative functions of the entire movement. These are the last known instructions from Fard to Elijah prior to his disappearance.
When informed of Fard's mysterious disappearance, many in the movement assumed that he had met with foul play at the hands of the Chicago Police department. Other "more devoted" members contended that he had merely returned to Mecca to prepare himself for his impending return to redeem the "original (black) man," and to bring to an end the evil rule of the "white devil."
In an effort to quell the skeptics, Elijah began teaching that Fard, whom he now began to teach was Allah incarnate, had merely been deported, leaving him in charge of the organization. Many within the organization rejected Elijah's story as well as his claims to leadership. This rejection soon erupted into internal fighting which eventually fractured the movement into several divergent sects, with some of these groups even threatening the very life of Elijah. Realizing that his life was in danger, Elijah fled Chicago and spent the next seven years traveling the eastern portion of the United States honing his speaking skills whenever, and wherever he was permitted to speak.4 Elijah continues traveling this circuit until May 8, 1942, when he was arrested and imprisoned for failing to register for the military draft. This incarceration turned out to be a blessing in disguise for him.
While serving out his 5 year prison sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution at Milan, Michigan, Elijah skillfully succeeded in overcoming hostile prison officials, and an extremely oppressive prison environment to convert many of his fellow inmates to the teachings of Mr. Fard. This diligence didn't go unnoticed by adherents to the movement on the outside. Elijah's activities while in prison greatly exceeded anything that any of his critics and/or rivals were doing with their respective factions of the organization outside of prison. As a result of this, Elijah was finally accepted as the undisputed leader of a reunited Nation of Islam upon his release from prison in 1946.
On January 29, 1975, (one month before the NOI annual "Saviors Day" celebration),5 Elijah was admitted into Chicago's Mercy Hospital for what was supposed to be a routine medical examination. Instead, Mr. Muhammad's condition grew steadily worse until he was finally pronounced dead by Dr. Charles Williams at 8:10 am, February 25, 1975. At the Savior's Day convention held the next day, Mr. Muhammad's youngest son by Clara was chosen and installed as the next leader of the Nation of Islam.
After taking the reins of power, Wallace, who had ceased being a true believer of NOI theology years prior, moved swiftly over the next three years to systematically dismantle the religious superstructure that his father had built. The name of the organization was changed from the Nation of Islam to the "World Community of Al-Islam in the West." The power structure in Chicago was dismantled, with more power from the Chicago headquarters and given to spiritual leaders called "Imams" in newly developed local worship centers now called "mosques." The black man in America was no longer declared to be a "lost-found" member of the "Asiatic Nation." White people were no longer identified as "devils," and in fact were granted access to NOI temples. The final straw came when Wallace began to reinterpret his father's theology, reducing Wallace D. Fard from being "Allah incarnate," to merely being "another messenger of Allah."
During this period of reformation there were many of Elijah Muhammad's followers who were severely distressed by the goings on in Chicago, some accurately describing it as the sacking of a nation. Two leaders of note that rose to publicly challenge Wallace were Silas Muhammad and later that same year, Louis Farrakhan.
Silas moved quickly in his attempt reorganize the now defunct religion by forming the "Lost-Found Nation of Islam," and declaring himself to be the "spiritual son" of his "spiritual father," (Fard), and his "spiritual mother," (Elijah).
In December of 1977, Louis Abdul Farrakhan, who had held the position of "National Minister" at the time of Elijah's death, announced his resignation from an organization that looked less and less like the house that Elijah built. Shortly thereafter, at the prompting of one Jabril Muhammad and others, Mr. Farrakhan emerged as the charismatic head of the most popular branch of one of the many organizations extant that lay claim, in some form or other, to the name and legacy of The Nation of Islam.