The Black Muslims


May 18, 2001

Rapper Chuck D of the politically charged group Public Enemy once proclaimed that the Black Man did not land on Plymouth Rock as the white pilgrims are believed to have done, but instead Plymouth Rock landed on the Black Man. It had taken nearly four hundred years for the Black Man to climb from beneath this proverbial rock. Leading the climb during the civil rights movement was the Nation of Islam, the most influential and directional group in the history of Black America.

The history of the Black American begins not in America, but in the Black Mans native continent; Africa. Some four hundred years ago the first Black Man was kidnapped from his home and forced onto a ship taking him to the unknown wilderness of North America. The first Black and the many that followed were to serve one purpose; the white mans slave. Here in North America the Black Man was to pick the white mans cotton, and tend to his every need. Slavery continued up until January 1st, 1863 with the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation. The end of slavery was not the end of oppression, for another one hundred years the Black Man was forbidden to drink from the same fountain or even be educated in the same building as his white counterpart. These implications were due to America’s vicious segregation laws. Any Black man who chose not to comply with the rules of the South could expect harsh consequences, the worst of all being lynching. Elijah Muhammad often recalled his experience with lynching to crowds. “Young Elijah had come upon a group of white men trailing a Black man at the end of a rope … they kicked and insulted him unceasingly … when they reached a sturdy tree, one of the men untied the rope from the Black mans wrists and threw it over a branch. He formed the other end into a noose and slipped it around the Black mans neck … the group then hoisted the victim … from the ground. After the lynchers were sure the man was dead … then as if they had just concluded a days work … they strolled away.”(Perry 48) The time following the 1863 saw many former slaves and their families move from their brutally racist Southern homes to a more inviting although still racist Northern attitude. Cities like Boston, New York, Detroit and Chicago saw great increases in Black population during the years following the proclamation. “Between 1900 and 1930 nearly three million African Americans left the South … sending the Black population of the North soaring by four hundred percent. A 1910 census recorded that ninety percent of the nations Black population lived in the South … three quarters of them lived in rural areas … fifty years later the number reversed … three quarters lived in Northern cities.”(Banks 17)

The early part of the 20th century saw a rise in Black lead organizations, religious and secular that were able to reach out the to average Black citizen and provide some much needed strength to his severely damaged psyche. Years of slavery and abuse at the hands of his white slave masters had even the Black man believing he was inferior. A young Malcolm X grew up believing that because “I was called nigger so much I figured it was my name.” One teacher even went as far to dash young Malcolms ambitions to be a lawyer, for “a lawyer – that’s no realistic goal for a nigger … think about something you can be … why not … carpentry?”(Perry 42)

The Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A) was started in Jamaica in 1914. The founder of this movement was Marcus Garvey. Lack of interest in Jamaica forced Garvey to move his organization to Harlem, NY. Here he thrived, the U.N.I.A had found a home and family. By 1919 the U.N.I.A had claimed membership of over two million worldwide. Garveys driving desire was to see Blacks be self-educated. The self-education he believed would bring economic independence and power in political positions. He urged followers to have pride in being Black and to separate themselves from the oppressive white man. Garvey spoke endlessly of the need for universal Black unification and the