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The Nation Of Islam and Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975)

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Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad addressing a convention in Chicago; boxer Muhammad Ali sits on the left with other men, 1967.

A traveling silk salesman named W. D. Fard founded the Nation of Islam (NOI) in Detroit in 1930. A variant of traditional Islam, the NOI taught that God was black and whites were a race of devils whose dominion over the earth would soon end. Fard disappeared in 1934 and leadership passed to Georgia native Elijah Muhammad. The NOI began a period of explosive growth in the 1950s, attracting thousands with a doctrine of black pride, separation, and self-sufficiency. With Malcolm X as its chief spokesman, the NOI created its own school, restaurants, and a newspaper. But soon tensions between the two men surfaced. Boxer Muhammad Ali joined the NOI in 1964, while Malcolm X left to form his own organization. He was assassinated in 1965 by members of the NOI, an event for which Elijah Muhammad would always deny any responsibility.

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