Henry A. Rhodes
David H. Bennett, author of
The Party Fear
, suggests that nativist movements resulted at times when there were major social, economic, or political upheavals taking place in the U.S. It was at these times American nativists would blame recent arriving immigrants or ethnic/religious groups different from their own for the troubles that America was experiencing. As a result, it was not uncommon for racist attitudes to develop against these scapegoats. Bennett attributes, and I agree, the impetus for these nativist groups was their perception that their chosen scapegoat was un-American and harbored alien ideas which were a threat to the American way of life. Those threats had to be dealt with even if it meant violating the Constitution or an American’s basic civil rights. As a consequence, a major focus of my curriculum unit will address the history of two nativist movements in the U.S. Because of the enormous number of nativist groups in the United States it would be impossible to give an account of each group. The two groups I wish to focus on are the Know Nothings and the Ku Klux Klan. These movements had a profound effect on American society. Students will be asked prior to beginning my unit to search out as many definitions of the terms ‘racist and nativist’ as they can find. After which we will develop a working definition of these terms that we will use throughout our discussion of this subject matter.
Another focus of my unit will be to examine the reactions of the ethnic and religious groups which felt the brunt of these American nativist movements. The reactions of these scapegoat groups will be chronicled along side of the nativist group of which they were a target. In addition, I intend on exploring two organizations (one political in nature, the other religious in nature), the Chicano “Mexican-American Youth Organization”(MAYO) and the Nation of Islam. I am not trying to insinuate that these organizations resulted as consequence of a particular nativist movement but rather as a consequence of certain nativist philosophies which attempted to dictate to these groups the so-called American religious or political beliefs these ethnic groups should adopt in order to be ‘true’ Americans. Thus, another objective of my unit will be to examine the history and responses of these two organizations to nativist religious and political beliefs.
In one of our earlier seminar meetings our discussion evolved around a question which sparked a lively conversation among the Fellows in my seminar. The question asked was,”What is an American?” The responses to this question were varied to say the least, ranging from “it’s an attitude” to the legal definitions of what is an American citizen. We were not able to reach a consensus on what constituted an American citizen. I believe most students give little thought to the question of what does it mean to be an American because they never experienced the brunt of a nativist attack. However, as most of my students are made up of minorities they are familiar with racial prejudice, which I believe is linked strongly to American nativism. In order for my students to deal effectively with the racial turmoil affecting their lives today they need to have a full understanding of how this racial hatred evolved in the U.S. Offering slavery as an explanation is too simplistic in nature, for slavery does not explain the racial/ethnic prejudice felt by other groups. Also, students need to understand how deep-rooted prejudice is in American society and that the struggle for equality is far from over and that they have a critical role to play in its eradication.
I intend on beginning my unit by posing the question, which elicited varied responses from the Fellows in my seminar, “What is an American?” to my students. If necessary, I will play the role of devil’s advocate in order for my students to understand that answering this question is not as easy as it appears initially. Afterwards, I will explain to students that there were certain groups and movements throughout U.S. history who had very little trouble in answering this question and went as far as to attempt to force others living in the U.S. to accept their beliefs on what an American was. Unfortunately, some of the members in these groups were in positions of power which gave their definition of what an American was legal backing. These groups and individuals were known as nativists.
American nativists felt that if you did not conform to their ideas you were un-American. At this time I will ask my students how they feel about nativism. One response I expect to hear is that it’s not right to impose your beliefs on other people, it’s un-American! The school I work in is comprised of a substantial number of Hispanics. I have heard many non-Hispanic students comment negatively on their perception on the reluctance of certain Hispanics to learn the English language. I have heard even staff members with immigrant ancestry make similar comments, such as, “My parents/grandparents had to learn English, what makes Hispanics so different or special?” The purpose behind this little discussion is for my students to realize how easy it is to espouse nativist philosophies without being conscious of it.
One of the first groups to experience the wrath of American nativism was the American Catholic during colonial times. Even to this day Catholicism is still a target of animosity, fear, and hatred. I think students will be surprised to find out that we have only had one elected Catholic President, and that was John F. Kennedy. As popular a public figure as Kennedy was back in 1960 there were many Americans who were reluctant to support Kennedy because of their fear of Catholicism and the influence it would exert on the Presidency. According to David H. Bennett Kennedy was finally able to allay these fears in a speech made on September 12, 1960 to the Ministerial Association of Greater Houston when he stated, “I am not a Catholic candidate for President, I am the Democratic Party’s candidate . . . who happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters, and the Church does not speak for me.” The question that needs to be addressed is, ‘How and why did this anti-Catholicism come into existence during colonial times? The answer to this question will shed light on why this nemesis was still plaguing an Irish Catholic presidential candidate in 1960.
The American nativist feelings toward Catholicism was not something that had its birth on American soil during colonial times but something that was transported here by the early Protestant immigrants from England.(i.e. Pilgrims, Puritans) It takes but a brief examination of English history to understand how this hostility toward the Catholic church started. With the establishment of the Church of England, the ties with Roman Catholicism were permanently severed prior to pre-colonial times. This schism was caused by King Henry VIII desire for autonomy from the Roman church and his desire to be the head of the church in England. As time went on prejudices developed toward the Catholic church and its practices. It should be noted that there were several incidents in England that helped fuel this anticatholicism. The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 in which Guy Fawkes led a conspiracy to blow up the King and Parliament, the imaginary Popish Plot of 1640, the Irish Massacre of 1641, the tale that it was the papists who burned London in 1666, and the Popish Plot of Titus Oates in 1678 caused many Protestants in England to loath Catholics. This Catholic hatred would not be lost in the voyage to the New World by the early English settlers.
One early American nativist group that adopted and helped perpetuate Catholic hatred were the Know Nothings. Their bigotry was directed also toward all immigrants, except those with Anglo-Saxon ancestry. The Know Nothing political party/movement owes its existence to two nativist organizations according to David Bennett. They were the Order of United Americans(OUA) and the Order of the Star Spangled Banner(OSSB). To introduce this part of my unit I plan to do an introductory activity that I hope will peak my students curiosity about the Know Nothings. The activity is as follows. I intend on informing my students that what they are about to learn about they must keep secret and if anyone should ask them what they are learning about they must reply, ‘I know nothing’. Why, because we are going to study about a nativist movement known as the Know Nothings whose members replied in the same manner when someone inquired about their secretive organization. At this time we will briefly review our working definition of nativist we developed earlier.
The Order of United Americans would have a tremendous effect on the Know Nothing movement. The OUA began as a nativist fraternity in New York City in December, 1844 with thirteen original members. Their “code of principles” had a clear objective, “ . . . to release our country from the thralldom of foreign domination.”(p.105, Bennett) Catholicism and the Pope were included in this group that the OUA feared were trying to dominate American society. The OUA was very popular in the United States. In four years, twenty-one chapters had been established in the state of New York. Within a decade of its existence the nativist fraternity could boast that it had chapters in sixteen states and a total membership of at least fifty thousand.(p.106, Bennett) Even though the OAU published its meeting times and membership list in the local papers, it was a secret society whose procedures and rituals were kept private. The OAU believed the Protestant church and its Anglo-Saxon followers were the ‘true’ Americans. The OAU would eventually become involved in politics. First, in support of its members who had political ambitions. Later, the political activism of the OAU would be fostered by the fact that many conservative Whigs joined during its existence.
In 1850 in New York City a new nativist fraternity would emerge that would attract many members of the OAU. This group was founded by Charles B. Allen. The name of this organization was the Order of the Star Spangled Banner. In order to join the OSSB the man had to be twenty-one, a Protestant, a believer in God, and willing to obey without question the dictates of the order.( p.111, Bennett) Like the OAU, the OSSB feared and hated Catholics and immigrants who were not Anglo-Saxon. The OSSB also was secretive in nature. OSSB members were instructed to reply to any one inquiring about their organization that they ‘know nothing’. Horace Greely would label them the ‘Know Nothings’ in the New York Tribune in November , 1853. The widespread use of this nickname according to Bennett marked the transition of this organization from fraternity to party.
Many prominent northern and southern politicians joined the Know Nothing organization. For example— John Bell, presidential candidate of the Constitutional Union party in 1860; John J. Crittenden, senior senator from Kentucky; Henry Winter Davis and Andrew Jackson Donelson, powerful Whigs from Baltimore; Nathaniel P. Banks, Speaker of the House; Jerome C. Smith, mayor of Boston; Henry Wilson, Vice President of the United States under Ulysses S. Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes; Edward Everett, Secretary of State in 1852; Edward Bates, Lincoln’s Attorney General; Millard Fillmore, President of the United States in 1850 .(p.115, Bennett) At the middle school level the library resources are somewhat limited. However, most middle school libraries house a set of encyclopedias. I intend on asking my students to choose one or two of the politicians listed above and write a brief biography of the individual(s) using encyclopedias. At this time I will also pose the following questions to my students. One, ‘Do you think any politician nowadays would join an organization like the Know Nothings? Why or why not?’ Two, ‘Why do you think politicians back then joined the Know Nothings?’ Three, ‘What group today is similar to the Know Nothings might today’s politician avoid joining?’ (I’m hoping one of the responses to the third question is either the Ku Klux Klan or the Nation of Islam because this would serve as an excellent lead-in for me to inform my students that we will be studying these groups later in the unit.
The Know Nothing movement became so popular that its name began to be used as prefix on many U.S. products(i.e. Know Nothing candy, Know Nothing tea, Know Nothing toothpicks).The Know Nothing movement thanks to its popularity had become the American Party. Millard Fillmore would run on the American Party ticket for the Presidency in 1856. Know Nothings, regardless of the region in which they lived, shared the party’s anti- Catholic and anti-alien beliefs.
The issue which would contribute greatly to the demise of the Know Nothing movement was slavery. The slavery issue was so decisive that it not only caused a schism between different regions but also within some states, for example New York. Slavery was not the only nemesis of the American Party. The Know Nothing movement was a victim of its own popularity. The movement attracted so many political opportunists that pleasing one faction meant alienating another. As Lincoln said, “ A house divided against itself cannot stand.” In 1854 the Know Nothing Party was the second major political party in the United States, but by 1856 the party was already in decline.(p. 153, Bennett) It is sort of ironic that the demise of the Know Nothing movement would be attributed to the slavery question and the organization’s popularity rather than from the actions of the groups which it targeted. This is not to infer that there were not other factors which contributed to the demise of this movement. For there were politicians, newspapers, and other civic leaders who spoke out against the Know Nothings. Their secrecy and bigoted beliefs caused the Know Nothings to be the target of protest in many states.
The next nativist group I would like my students to study is the Ku Klux Klan. In 1989 I wrote a unit entitled ‘Lynch Law—An American Community Enigma’. The focus of this unit was lynching, thus writing about the Klan was unavoidable. Based on the lynching statistics I uncovered, most lynchings which occurred in the United States took place in Southern states. It is not surprising that the South also served as the birthplace for the Ku Klux Klan. The statistics I used were derived from the NAACP publication, Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States, 1889-1918 During this period 2,522 Black were lynched An examination of the mob mentality associated with the lynchings during this period was a major aspect of this part of my 1989 unit. I think by discussing this mob mentality with my students will result in them gaining some insight into the mentality of Klansmen at that time because the Klan played an active role in many of these lynchings.
Charles C. Alexander, author of Ku Klux Klan in the Southwest, states that there were three different Klan movements. One first appeared during the Reconstruction period. It was secretive, political, and violent in nature. Its main purpose was to nullify the effects of the Radical Republicans. The second Klan movement was known as the Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. It was ultra patriotic and nativistic in its outlook. The third Klan movement was composed of a multitude of anti-Black societies from about 1945-to the present. Because of their racial stance they are commonly associated with the Klan.
My 1989 lynching unit focused on the second Klan movement because of its popularity. Alexander asserts that beside the nativistic appeal of the Klan doctrines at this time its appeal can be attributed to two factors. One being, the media at the time in its attempt to expose Klan atrocities unwittingly introduced the Klan to people who were unaware of this organization. The other factor which helped popularize the Klan movement was the marketing strategies of Edward Young Clark and Elizabeth Tyler.
There are several points that I would like to add to the discussion of the 1920s Klan and the third Klan movement that I failed to make in my 1989 unit. In respect to the Klan of the 1920s I sighted as a major factor for its decline the media coverage of two lynchings, that of Claude Neal in Marianna , Florida in 1934 and that of Mack Charles Parker in 1959 in Poplarville, Mississippi. The accounts of these lynchings did much to sway public opinion against the Klan and lynching. However, there were also other incidents which occurred in several states that had an adverse effect on the Klan.
First, in Alabama the Klan declined as a result of the opposition of Senator Oscar W. Underwood and the stories in the Birmingham papers concerning Klan plots to kidnap and whip its opponents. In the state of Louisiana the Mer Rouge murders would account for the dissolution of the Klan in this state. In the Klan’s attempt to rid the region surrounding Bastrop, Louisiana of immoral people, two murders would occur at the hands of the local Klan in the neighboring village of Mer Rouge. One of the individuals killed was the son of a wealthy resident of Mer Rouge. The anti-Klan sentiment that resulted from this incident would cause the Klan to dissolve in Louisiana. In Oklahoma anti-Klan activists were successful in pressuring the state legislature to pass antimasking statutes. As a consequence, once the veil of secrecy was lifted the appeal of the Klan declined. In Texas with the Klan membership reaching two hundred thousand it would take a monumental effort to dissolve this Klan chapter. Fortunately “Ma and Pa” Ferguson(Governor James Ferguson and his wife Miriam) were up to the task. Their ridicule of the Klan and their success in getting antimasking laws enacted, especially a statute calling for the death penalty for hooded assaults, led to the decline of the Klan in Texas. The accounts of the decline of the Klan in several other states beared a similar resemblance to the stories cited previously. The Klan was its own worst enemy. Its violence, scandals, misuse of funds, and corruption along with the other factors cited would cause the Klan to lose its appeal by the 1930s.
Before concluding my discussion of the Klan a word or two needs to be said with respect to the third Klan movement. Students need to understand that this movement remains an aggregation of competing sects under jealous and inept “leaders’.(p.347, Bennett) Some of the rival factions were—the United Klans of America in Alabama; the Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Louisiana; the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan based in Georgia; the Independent Northern and Southern Klans of Indiana. It should be noted that in Louisiana a former imperial wizard, David Dukes made a serious attempt to capture the governor’s office on the GOP ticket. Sad to say there are several splinter Klan groups that are located in Connecticut and several other New England states. On Friday, July 29,1994 a federal judge, T.F. Gilroy Daly, sentenced the grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Southern New England to five years and three months on a bomb possession charge. There are three other Klansmen awaiting sentencing, including two individuals from Wallingford, Connecticut, on weapon charges involving the purchase of a silencer. One of these individuals is William Dodge, head of the Unified Ku Klux Klan of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. In my class we will construct a bulletin board with newspaper articles concerning Klan activities in Connecticut. We will call this bulletin board the ‘Klan Watch’. We will make a trip to the public library to obtain past newspaper articles about the Klan in Connecticut.
Students need to be made aware that even though the Klan groups of today do not enjoy the following that the 1920s Klan had, they still need to be monitored closely. For some Klan groups have formed ties with some factions of the neo-Nazi movement. Another reason to keep a close eye on these splinter groups of the Klan is that some of these groups are employing violent tactics to achieve their objectives. One group in particular that did this was known as the Order. The Order has been associated with murder(i.e. the 1984 murder of the Denver talk show host Alan Berg) and assassination plots directed toward individuals such as Henry Kissinger and David Rockerfeller. The Order in seeking ways to finance its revolutionary objectives was involved also in armor car robberies and counterfeiting. The Order would dissolve as a result of a lengthy trial in Seattle in 1985 when many of its members would be convicted and jailed. Students need to understand that even though many white Americans abhor the violent activities of the Klan, they share some of their racial beliefs. The frightening aspect is that some of these white Americans are in positions of power in business and government and they do not publicly express their racist thoughts. But their actions in their occupations can not help but reflect their feelings.
The focus of my unit will now be directed towards the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO) and La Raza Unida Party(RUP-United People’s Party). MAYO and RUP were two separate organizations that were linked closely. MAYO was a socio-cultural oriented organization, whereas RUP was a political oriented organization. Though different in orientation these organizations shared several bonds which make it impossible to study one and not the other. First, many MAYO activists would become leaders of RUP. Second, MAYO and RUP were both concerned with improving conditions for Mexican Americans. Finally, some of the activist tactics employed by the Mexican American Youth Organization in the rural districts of the Southwest, especially South Texas, to get school boards to address Mexican American concerns would be adopted by the La Raza Unida Party to gain political control or influence in government and education.
Prior to beginning my discussion of the Mexican American Youth Organization I wish to inform the readers of my unit of two lessons I wish my students to learn from studying MAYO and RUP. One, it is possible to make government responsive to your needs if you organize and use the electoral process. Even though some of the accomplishments of MAYO and RUP were short-lived and limited, they still can serve as a model for my students to emulate if they wish to effectuate a change in their community at some future date. Two, an organization can be irreparably harmed by in-fighting and trying to do too much, too soon. According to Ignacio Garcia, author of United We Win, The Rise and Fall of La Raza Unida Party, there were five founding members of the Mexican American Youth Organization. The founding members were Jose Angel Gutierrez, Juan Patlan, Willie Velasquez, Ignacio “Nacho” Perez, and Mario Compean. Gutierrez was a graduate political science student at St. Mary’s University, a small Catholic liberal arts college in San Antonio, Texas. Jose was the heart and soul of MAYO and was responsible in great part for bringing this group together. Juan Patlan was an old friend of Gutierrez from high school and junior college. Willie Velasquez worked for the Catholic Bishop’s Committee on the Spanish Speaking. He was also a community activist and student. “Nacho” Perez was a non student who was active raising money for the Texas chapter of the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee. Mario Compean, the last to join this group, was a former migrant worker who was entering his freshman year as a political science student in 1967. According to an interview that Ignacio Garcia had with Jose Gutierrez on September 13,1985 in Independence, Oregon Gutierrez stated that they(the founding members) came to discuss politics, the Chicano student movement in California, and the conditions of Mexican Americans in general, and to drink beer. It was this group that would be the driving force behind the Mexican American Youth Organization. This group first met at a local bar, the Fountain Room, situated a few blocks from St. Mary’s University.
As time went on this group started to meet on a regular basis and their rap sessions turned into study sessions. Garcia in his book asserts that this group studied different political theories and examined the works of black nationalists such as Stokely Carmichael, Elderidge Cleaver, and Malcolm X. This nucleus of MAYO also followed the actions of the Alianza de Pueblos Libres movement led by Reies Lopez Tijerina in New Mexico and the Crusade for Justice movement in Colorado headed by Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzalez. These Mexican American activists were not satisfied with just reading about the works and political philosophies of U.S. activists. Members of this group were sent into the South to talk to Stokely Carmichael and associates of Dr. King. Tijerina was interviewed also. After the interviews were completed, reports were made back to the group. As a result of these travels and the study sessions the Mexican American Youth Organization came into being. These activists concluded that an organization needed to be formed to get involved in issues of discrimination, police brutality, labor organizing, and education and the treatment of Mexican American students in public schools. In addition, MAYO would attempt to foster a new pride in being Chicano.
In order to accomplish this task young activists needed to be recruited who could subsist with very little resources. The first recruits of MAYO were young Mexican American high school dropouts who had become disenchanted with the public school system. Others recruited were high school students mostly from the poorest districts from the west side of San Antonio. This should illustrate to my students that you do not have to be an adult to work for social change. These recruits were exposed to rigorous study sessions. Guadalupe Youngblood, a prominent young activist from Robstown, Texas, recalled the long study and discussion sessions in which they talked about what MAYO wanted for Mexican Americans and how they were going to accomplish these goals. It was a philosophy based on cultural nationalism.(p.18, Garcia)
MAYO was not interested in pursuing the tactics of the League of United Latin American Citizens(LULAC) or the G.I.Forum. I intend on inviting a representative from the New Haven LULAC office to come to my class to talk about their organization and the tactics it employs. Mario Compean in an interview with Ignacio Garcia in Tucson, Arizona on September 10, 1985 stated that MAYO activists wanted to discard what they referred to as the “lone wolf approach” of the old Mexican American political guard—writing letters, calling press conferences, using the style of diplomacy which raises substantive issues in a nice voice. The approach that MAYO would adopt would be echoed also in Compean’s September interview. Mario stated, “What we needed was an approach similar to what the Black Movement was using . . . demonstrating, marching in the streets. To that we incorporated a Saul Alinsky component of confrontational politics. And we said that was going to be the strategy MAYO was going to be using. Use of confrontational politics based on information well researched but foregoing the use of nice language.”
There were several events which would introduce MAYO type activism to the Chicano people and the media and legitimize this fledgling new organization in the eyes of the Mexican American. The Chicano people and the media were introduced to MAYO activism when Jose Gutierrez, Ignacio Perez, and Mario Compean set up an informational picket line outside the Alamo during a 4th of July celebration. For the most part the picket line was ignored according to Ignacio Garcia, but it did serve notice of the style of activism that would be employed by this Mexican American organization.
MAYO activists became involved in a farm workers’ strike in the Rio Grande Valley to support Cesar Chavez’s people unionizing efforts. MAYO assisted in establishing food banks for farm workers in Austin, Texas. Probably the most important step taken by MAYO under the urgings of Willie Velasquez was the calling of Raza Unida(United People)conferences throughout Texas. These conferences played an integral part in the development of the Chicano Movement in Texas. Prominent Mexican American scholars and activists across the United States were featured as speakers at these conferences. Being on the stages with these prominent individuals who were urging Mexican Americans to get involved in the social revolution, the Chicano movement, that was taking place in the Southwest legitimated the MAYO leaders in the eyes of Mexican Americans.
It was shortly after a Raza Unida unity conference in March, 1968 in Laredo, Texas that the name Mexican American Youth Organization was officially adopted by the five founders Gutierrez, Patlan, Velasquez, Perez, and Compean. For a short time the organization was referred to as Raza Unida because of the Raza Unida conferences it helped organize. The symbol adopted by MAYO was the Aztec warrior inside a circle which was copied from the Mexican national airline, Aeronaves de Mexico.(I am going to try to reproduce and enlarge a picture of this symbol found in Ignacio Garcia’s book) This symbol illustrates the importance of Chicano culture to the Mexican American Youth Organization. MAYO became incorporated and by-laws were established. This organization was controlled by a board of directors made up of one representative from each chapter. From the board a chairman, vice-chairman, secretary, and treasurer were elected. Individuals could serve only one year in their elected positions. This would assure that MAYO could not become dependent on one person who could be the target of pressure by political opponents. This also prevented any one individual from becoming too powerful.
On the surface MAYO gave the appearance of being very democratic. Nothing could be further from the truth as was made evident by a statement made by Gutierrez in his 1985 interview when he stated, “[MAYO] was not democratic at all. I remember that Mario [Compean] pretty much hand-picked the leaders he was going to work with, because they were already naturally emerging as leaders in gangs or other groups in the west side [of San Antonio]. I picked Carlos[Guerra], Efrain Fernandez, and [Alberto] Luera because they were people who were working with groups in areas I knew.[Juan] Patlan did the same, Willie [Velasquez] did the same, and Nacho [Perez] did the same. It was more like mentoring . . . as opposed to electing. You were there as the organizer and that was not subject to election, it was a confirmation from me, Mario, Willie, Nacho, or Juan.”(p. 21, Garcia)
I think my students will find some of the requirements for joining MAYO similar to those of joining a gang. The requirements were as follows: 1. Members were expected to place La Raza first and foremost in their lives. 2. To be alert but with a closed mouth. 3. To have a desire to study, learn, and articulate, but at the same time be ready to attack. 4. To support fellow MAYO members in time of crisis.(p.557, Navarro)
In order for any organization to function and grow it needs a financial base from which to build, MAYO was no exception. Most of the Mexican Americans to which this Mexican American organization appealed to were poor, hard working people, thus either private or federal funds had to be sought. MAYO claimed that it did not receive or accept direct money from the federal government.(p.23, Garcia) Which was true, however MAYO benefited and flourished by indirectly accepting federal funds. Mario Compean, a MAYO founder, was a recruiter for Volunteers in Service to America(VISTA)Minority Mobilization Project in Austin, Texas. Many of the volunteers recruited by Compean were MAYO members. MAYO grew from one chapter to more than thirty chapters in South Texas as a result of this recruitment.
MAYO leaders, according to Garcia, wanted more than jobs for its members. As a result, MAYO helped form the Mexican American Unity Council(MAUC) whose objective was to create an economic stimulus for the Mexican American community. This organization was founded with a grant from the Southwest Council of La Raza which received money from the Ford Foundation. Another organization(founded by Ignacio Perez, a MAYO founder), the Texas Institute for Educational Development(TIED) received state and federal funds to provide health care to farm workers and other disadvantaged groups. Both MAUC and TIED employed many MAYO members. As much as MAYO claimed that it did not accept government funds directly and that it rejected the influence of the Anglo, it is quite evident that MAYO could not have maintained its early existence if it were not for the indirect assistance it received from government and Anglo sources. In my opinion these funds never influenced MAYO or its activism leaving its nationalistic stance intact.
Everyone did not have a noble perception of MAYO in the Chicano community. One person in particular was Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez of Texas. Gonzalez was a liberal Mexican American Democrat. Congressman Gonzalez stated his feeling toward MAYO in the Congressional Record on April 3, 1969 when he stated the following—”MAYO styles itself the embodiment of good and the Anglo-American as the incarnation of evil. That is not merely ridiculous, it is drawing fire from the deepest wellsprings of hate. The San Antonio leader of MAYO, Jose Angel Gutierrez, may think himself something of a hero, but he is, in fact, only a benighted soul if he believes that in the espousal of hatred he will find love. He is simply deluded if he believes that the wearing of fatigues . . . makes his followers revolutionaries . . . One cannot fan the flames of bigotry one moment and expect them to disappear the next.”(p. 27, Garcia) It is understandable that Gonzalez would take this position toward MAYO which he felt was a threat to a political system which he used several times to get elected to Congress.
Henry Gonzalez pressured any organization or funding source that directly or indirectly aided MAYO. Fuel was added to his attack when it was reported that in a MAYO press conference Gutierrez had called for the elimination of the Gringo. In an interview with a reporter form the San Antonio Express and News on April 11, 1969 Gutierrez attempted to clarify his ‘elimination of the Gringo’ statement. Gutierrez stated that Gringo referred to a person or institution that reflected bigotry and racism. Gutierrez stated that MAYO did not want to literally kill the Gringo but eliminate the Gringo’s economic, political, and social base of support. This clarification did little to sway Gonzalez and many of Mayo’s opponents. Congressman Gonzalez’s attack coupled with the controversial Gutierrez statement damaged MAYO’s economic base. MAUC and TIED distanced themselves from MAYO in order not to jeopardize their government and private funding.
There are two focuses of MAYO activism I wish to discuss before concluding my discussion of this organization. The first one involves the attack it made on the educational systems of the Southwest. MAYO leaders stated in their constitution that, “We seek to control local school districts or individual schools in order to make the institution adapt itself to the needs of the [Chicano] community rather than making the . . . student adapt to the school. Even in communities where Mexican Americans were in the majority the school boards were usually controlled by Anglos. At one time in San Antonio 98% of the teachers without degrees were concentrated in schools that served the barrio(the Chicano neighborhood). And these poor schools, like many others in the Southwest received less money per pupil than the predominately Anglo schools in the same town. In San Antonio Chicano schools received three hundred dollars less per pupil than their Anglo counterparts.
The most feared weapon MAYO used to effectuate change was the student boycott. The boycott was effective because school funding was contingent on student attendance. The more absenteeism meant the less money a school district could receive. Sidney Lanier High School would be the first target of MAYO activisim. Lanier on the surface did not seem like the place that deserved the attention of this Mexican American organization. Lanier had a Mexican American principal. Its student body was 97% Chicano. The school was located in a stable working class neighborhood. Lanier was considered academically the best high school in San Antonio. It was not plagued by problems that were common for most urban high schools(i.e. violence, vandalism, absenteeism) This should illustrate to students that appearances can often time be misleading. Lanier despite its good reputation had very few college preparatory courses. The school had a large dropout rate. Also, Lanier students were punished for speaking Spanish. It will be interesting to see how my students will view this no ‘speaking Spanish’ rule. It must be noted that MAYO did not act alone in giving Lanier students encouragement and support. There were a number of Mexican American politicians and several Catholic priests who also joined this student protest. However, there was no mistaking the leadership role being played by MAYO. Lanier students had three major demands. One, they wanted college preparatory courses instituted. Two, they wanted culturally relevant courses made available. Three, they wanted the elimination of the no ‘Spanish speaking’ rule. The student boycott was effective in the Lanier students receiving all of their demands.
After the success of Lanier, boycotts spread like wildfire and MAYO activists were always there coaching these student activists. Students walked out at Edgewood High School and Junior High complaining of classrooms without window screens, water fountains without water, teachers without certification, and a host of other problems. My students should be able to relate to some of these problems because they also exist in our school This student protest was successful once they gained the attention of the media. Another major walkout that must be noted that was inspired by the two successful student protest previously cited was the walkout in the Rio Grande Valley at Edcouch-Elsa High School in November, 1968. This walkout was noteworthy because it led to the striking down of the no ‘Spanish speaking’ rule as being unconstitutional by a federal judge.(pp.70-80, Navarro) Walkouts were not unique to Texas, for spontaneous walkouts occurred in other states, however, the walkouts in Texas were unique in the sense that they were initiated , supported, and directed by a single organization[MAYO].(p. 32, Garcia) Many of the student leaders involved in these protests would join the Mexican American Youth Organization. I intend on having my students write these schools mentioned above, if they still exist, and establish pen pal relationships so they can find out what school life is like now in these schools.
The other focus of MAYO activism I wish to discuss was the role this organization would play in politics. Jose Gutierrez first broached the idea of forming a third political party in 1967 but due to the lack of support in MAYO the idea was shelved. However, at the national MAYO convention in 1969 a resolution would be adopted by this organization calling for the formation of a third political party. As was stated earlier MAYO was a socio-cultural organization, thus a new organization had to be created.
There was a grassroots Mexican American political organization, Ciudadanos Unidos, which was founded in Gutierrez’s hometown of Crystal City which would form the basis of this new party. Ciudadnos Unidos wanted the new party to be called El Partido de la Raza Unida but due to word-limit requirements of the Texas Election Code the party was known as La Raza Unida Party(RUP). Crystal City had gained national attention when Mexican Americans had won a stunning victory at the polls in 1963. Victory was short-lived because in 1965 the Anglos would regain control. But in five years Crystal City would come under the control of La Raza Unida Party. RUP’s victory in Crystal City in 1970 symbolized what Chicanos everywhere could achieve with hard work and well planned strategies.(p. 60, Garcia) Crystal City became responsive to the Mexican American community after the Chicano party victory.
La Raza Unida Party inspired by its victory in Crystal City turned its attention to selecting candidates to run for office in the counties of Dimmit, La Salle, Zavala, and Hidalgo. In all, the party filed for sixteen positions in these four counties. The local Democratic Party had been caught off guard by the 1970 Crystal City victory but this was not to happen again. The Democrats who still controlled the county government were successful in preventing these RUP candidates from getting their names on the ballot claiming that RUP did not hold precinct conventions as mandated for political parties in Texas to select its candidates. Thus, these candidates had to revert to write-in ballots. This would pose as a serious obstacle for the Mexican American who were either illiterate or migrant workers. RUP still confidently proceeded on in this electoral process. Even when La Raza won legal battles in respect to the electoral process, they were hollow victories. For example, when a federal court had ruled that the illiteracy provisions of the Texas Election Code were unconstitutional, the court failed to order election officials to provide any help for illiterate voters, adding that it was up to the legislature to rectify the situation.(p. 68, Garcia) It is not surprising that fifteen of the sixteen RUP candidates were defeated in the election. La Raza tried to regroup from these devastating defeats at its state convention in October, 1971 in San Antonio by deciding to get involved in the statewide elections. The party proceeded with this strategy despite the objections of Gutierrez. Gutierrez felt that the Chicano party was trying to accomplish too much, too fast and that its members did not realize how much time and effort had been expended to obtain the victory in Crystal City. Ramsey Muniz was chosen as their gubernatorial candidate. Muniz was a tireless campaigner, but that was not enough because he was easily defeated in the 1972 election. The results would be the same in the 1976 governor’s race. Muniz would later be indicted on drug trafficking charges after the 1976 election. La Raza Unida Party would come to an end when Gutierrez left Texas and moved to Oregon in 1982.
As I conclude this part of my unit I am going to ask my students to think about what they have learned from the experiences of La Raza Unida Party and the Mexican American Youth Organization and to write a one to two page paper. In this paper I want my students to include their thoughts on whether MAYO was racist based on the definition we developed at the onset of this unit. Also, I want them to think about if some of the tactics MAYO used to better their schools could work in New Haven. Also, I want my students to think about whether the opposition that was directed at RUP by the Democratic Party was politically motivated or racially motivated. I will remind my students that the school boards and local governments that were unresponsive to the needs of the Mexican American community were usually controlled by either the Democrats or the Republicans. I want my students to understand that racist actions can be hidden sometimes behind the smoke screen of politics.
As I reviewed the history of the Nation of Islam (NOI) two interesting points were revealed to me that I would like to bring to the attention of my students. One, the Nation of Islam was more of a social-economic movement than it was a religious movement based on the teachings of Islam. Wallace D. Muhammad, the son of Elijah Muhammad who was to take charge of the Nation of Islam upon his father’s death, stated in an interview with Clifton Hugo Marsh(author of
From Black Muslims to Muslims; The Transition from Separatism to Islam, 1930-1980
) on July 25, 1979 in Chicago that ,”the [Nation of Islam] was a religious and a social movement organization. In fact, the religion as it was introduced to the Nation of Islam was more a social reform philosophy than orthodox Islam. Two, only a small percentage of Muslims in the United States are affiliated with the NOI. In an interview with a long-time New Haven Muslim Mustafa Abdul Salaam, director of New Haven’s Family Alliance, this fact was confirmed.
To introduce this segment of my unit I intend on having Mr. Abdul Salaam visit my class as a guest speaker to discuss the differences between the Nation of Islam and orthodox Islam. I also intend to invite Mustafa back to my class after we complete this section of my unit so my students can discuss some of the things they have learned about the NOI.
Before discussing the history of the Nation of Islam it is important to examine the Moorish Science Temple because of the profound influence this religious order had on NOI. The time period between 1900 and 1930 in the history of the United States served as an excellent time for an organization like the Moorish Science Temple to originate and grow in a Northern urban center. Approximately 2,250,000 Blacks left the rural south; most emigrated to large northern cities.(p. 27, Lee) The North acted as carrot stick to these African American who traveled to this region in search of jobs and a better life. Such was the case with my parents. Most Blacks, however, suffered severe economic hardships during this period.(p. 28, Lee) The economic hardships and sudden social changes these recent arrivals would face would provide a fertile environment for a religious/social movement to take hold. Martha Lee in her book
The Nation of Islam, An American Millenarian Movement
states that economic pressure often moves individuals to focus on their religious faith with greater urgency.
One religious movement which came into existence during this time period was Noble Drew Ali’s Moorish Science Temple. Drew Ali’s former name was Timothy Drew. He changed his name in 1913 upon returning from a mission in Morocco. Even though the Moorish Science Temple was short-lived and faded away with the death of its founder many of its beliefs would be adopted by the Nation of Islam. The Moorish Science Temple originated in 1913 in Newark, New Jersey. Members were referred to as Moors and were required to follow a strict moral code. The Moorish Science Temple was primarily religious in its orientation.. It stressed obedience and loyalty to the American flag with the hope that devine intervention would bring an end to white rule. Therefore, the Temple cultivated a political peaceful adherence to the status quo.(p.29, Lee) This did not stop this order from making overt political statements on the part of Black religion. In addition, its central tenets were political in nature.
The Moorish Science Temple influenced the Nation of Islam in many ways. Wallace D. Muhammad stated that Fard Muhammad (the founder of the NOI) studied Noble Drew Ali’s approach to introduce the Qur’an to the black community. It should be noted that the Qur’an used by Ali was a sixty-four page pamphlet consisting of principles Ali had gleaned from the Islamic Qur’an. This version was referred to as the Holy Qur’an. The NOI also developed a strict moral code similar to the Temple’s moral code. Fard taught his followers, as did Ali, that they were Black Asiatics who descended from a great Islamic kingdom. The Fruit of Islam’s uniform strongly resembled that of the male members of the Moorish Science Temple. The Fruit of Islam(FOI) was the police segment of the Nation of Islam. I plan on having my students research the type of attire worn by the FOI by speaking to a follower of the Nation of Islam. These members are easily found selling their paper the Final Call on street corners. Finally, the connection was made between these two religious orders by Fard himself during the summer of 1930 in the Detroit community of Paradise Valley when he claimed to be Noble Drew Ali reincarnated.(p. 51, Marsh)
Another organization that would have a lasting effect on the Nation of Islam was Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association(U.N.I.A.) which originated in the United States in 1916. This would fill the void left by the Moorish Science Temple in the black community. The U.N.I.A. was political in nature unlike Drew Ali’s Temple. The goal of Garvey’s organization was to make Africa the homeland of all Blacks. The idea of American Blacks emmigrating back to Africa did not originate with the U.N.I.A. I would be remissed if I did not inform my students of these previous back to Africa efforts. Clifton Marsh cites five individuals/organizations that were involved in back to Africa emmigration prior to Marcus Garvey. They were: 1. Paul Cuffee who used four thousand dollars of his own money to transport 38 African Americans to Sierra Leone. 2. The American Colonization Society founded in 1825 played an integral role in the founding of the settlement Monrovia, which was named after President Monroe. 3. Henry Highland Garnet, president of the African Civilization Society, had a goal of establishing a center of Negro nationality in West Africa. 4. Martin R. Delaney merged his National Emigration Conference with Garnet’s organization in May, 1861 with hopes of establishing a settlement in the Niger valley. 5. Finally, a word has to be said about Edward Wilmont Blyden, a West Indian, who urged African Americans to leave the U.S. because any hopes of achieving equality in the U.S. were dim at the most and that Africa was a better alternative. Even though all the back to Africa movements ultimately failed in achieving their objective, including the U.N.I.A., the U.N.I.A. has received the most notoriety because of Marcus Garvey and his appeal.
The Universal Negro Improvement Association had a tremendous influence on the Nation of Islam. Both organizations shared the philosophy that stressed Black independence through self-sufficiency. The phrase originated by Marcus Garvey ‘Up you mighty race, you can accomplish what you will’ was a rallying cry often used by Elijah Muhammad.(p. 61, Lincoln) The U.N.I.A. faded from existence when Marcus Garvey was exiled in 1927.
The man attributed with the founding of the Nation of Islam was Wallace D. Fard. During his tenure as leader of the NOI he was referred to by a variety of names. Some of them were- Professor Fard, Professor Wali, Wali Fard, Farrad Mohammad, Mr. F. Mohammad Ali, Professor Ford, Farad. Fard proclaimed himself the leader of the Nation of Islam with remedies to cure problems in the African American community(i.e. social problems, lack of economic development, undisciplined family life, alcoholism). (p.51, Marsh) Professor Fard spread his message while being a street peddler selling silks door to door. Fard beliefs were outlined in two documents he published,
Teaching for the Lost-Found Nation in a Mathematical Way; Secret Ritual of the Nation of Islam
. Fard felt that Blacks could not achieve freedom, justice, and quality in the United States until Blacks gained their true religion(Islam), their language(Arabic), and a separate autonomous state. Two of these objectives are still being pursued by today’s NOI , the separate autonomous state and the pursuit of Islam.. It will be interesting to see if my students think that the demand for a separate state is feasible.
Fard’s ancestry posed an interesting dilemma to the Nation of Islam. It was quite evident by Fard’s fair complexion that he was a product of an interracial relationship. Yet in the face of this fact Fard claimed that all Whites were devils. This belief can be traced directly to the teachings of Drew Ali. Ali interpreted a passage in the book of Revelations about the rider(Death) on a pale horse to mean that the horse represented Whites. Fard took this interpretation a step further, he concluded that the pale horse represented the devil and thus he came to the belief that all Whites were devils. If this were true, Fard must have been part devil himself. This belief that Whites were devils would be a rallying cry by many of NOI leaders. Under the leadership of Wallace D. Muhammad the Nation would distance itself from this belief.
Between 1930 and 1933 Wallace D. Fard recruited 8,000 followers in the Detroit area. It is not surprising that so many African Americans were attracted to Fard’s teachings due to the harsh economic and social conditions which existed at the time. Fard offered them hope and a venue to express their anger against a group which they felt was responsible for their plight . With this growth in his following Fard needed to train more ministers to help him spread his message. The recruitment of Elijah Poole, a son of a Baptist minister and sharecropper, would have a tremendous effect on the Nation of Islam and its growth. A very interesting exchange occurred between Poole and Fard when they first met. While talking to Fard after the meeting Poole said, “I know who you are, you’re God himself.” Fard was to whisper back, “ That’s right, but don’t tell it now. It is not yet time for me to be known.”(Muhammad Speaks, Special Issue, April, 1972) This belief that Fard was a deity is still a mainstay of the Nation of Islam. Students should be made aware that this belief is not shared by orthodox Muslims.
Elijah Poole would eventually change his name to Elijah Muhammad. Elijah moved to Chicago in 1932 to establish Temple #2. During this time Wallace Fard was arrested and imprisoned. A controversial Fard teaching caused the Nation of Islam and Fard to come under the close scrutiny of the Detroit police. Elijah said that Fard had taught them that anyone who kills four devils at the proper time will have free transportation to Mecca.(p. 34, Lee) This belief was only taught during the early years of the NOI and there is no evidence that anyone acted out this teaching. I think students need to know about this teaching because it will give them some insight into the person the NOI considered to be Allah in human form. Wallace D. Fard mysteriously disappeared. This bolstered the thought that Fard was Allah. Elijah Muhammad became the leader of the Nation of Islam with Fard’s disappearance.
In order to join the Nation of Islam a potential member had to submit the following letter—
Mr. E. Muhammad
4847 So. Woodlawn Ave.
Chicago 15, Illinois
Dear Mr. Muhammad,
I have been attending the teachings of Islam by one of your Ministers. I believe in It, and I bear witness that there is no God But Allah and that Muhammad is Thy Servant and Apostle. I desire to reclaim my Own. Please give me my Original name. My slave name is as follows:
City and State(pp. 54-55, Marsh)
Once the letter requesting admission had been submitted, a short screening process occurred in which a prospective member’s marital status, number of children, and age was requested. After which, members received their ‘X’ for their last name because they had to rid themselves of their “slave names”. In cases where two individuals in the same Temple had the same first name a number was affixed to their ‘X’’ to distinguish these individuals. For example if there were two Henrys, one would be Henry X and the other would be referred to as Henry 2X.
Traditional Islam links the Old and New Testaments with the Qur’an, but the heavy emphasis that the Nation of Islam placed on the documents in the Bible are in part a consequence of the background of Fard and Elijah Muhammad. They were better versed in the teachings of the Bible than they were in the Qur’an. Many of Fard’s and Elijah’s teaching were strongly linked to the Bible. Both of these leaders quoted passages of the Bible and referred to books of the Bible for various prophecies(i.e. the passage in the Bible mentioned earlier concerning ‘Death’ riding the pale horse in Revelations). As will be shown later, the NOI would change drastically in this respect, especially under the leadership of Wallace D. Muhammad when the Qur’an would become focal point of the Nation of Islam.
There are several beliefs that I wish to acquaint my students with of the Nation of Islam under the leadership of Fard and Elijah Muhammad. First, was the belief that Allah was not a spiritual being but a living being whose promises are as material as his presence on Earth in the person of Wallace Fard. (p. 39, Lee) This belief could be appealing to individuals who were not satisfied with the Christian doctrine of waiting for salvation and the better life to happen after death. The NOI was offering salvation and the better life now while the individual was still alive. Another interesting belief of the Nation of Islam was that Elijah Muhammad was viewed as the last Messenger of Wallace Fard, whereas, traditional Islam views the last Prophet of Allah as Mohammad. This NOI belief would be changed under the leadership of Wallace D. Muhammad. Elijah Muhammad would be viewed as a wise man who brought the Qur’an to America and Fard would be regarded as the founder of the movement and not as Allah in human form.
As discussed earlier, the Nation of Islam believed that all Whites were devils. I think my students would like to know the reason the followers of the NOI used to explain the evil behavior of Whites. This belief resulted from the myth of Yakub or Yacub. According to this myth the world was first inhabited by the all Black tribe of Shabazz. Then about 6,000 ago years Yacub was born. They believed it was his destiny to break the peace, kill, and destroy his own people with a made enemy. Yacub wanted to rule Mecca. Yacub and his followers were exiled to an island called Pelan or Patmos. While on this island Yacub conducted genetic experiments with his followers. According to the legend Yacub continued to breed his followers until a white child was created. All of the dark offspring were killed at birth. His objective was to create a white enemy which was evil in nature that he could use to control the tribe of Shabazz. Once Yacub had completed his experiment his by-products would cause disruption wherever they went. This myth asserts that Yacub’s white enemy would be banished to Europe where they continued to procreate and spread their evilness around the globe. The NOI of Islam attributes some of the most heinous crimes committed against mankind to this group(i.e. taking Blacks into slavery) Finally, this myth claims that Yacub’s group would rule for 6,000 years until 1914. I found this myth in two sources—Clifton E. Marsh’s
From Black Muslims to Muslims: The Transition from Separatism to Islam, 1930 to 1980
(pp.56-57) and Martha F. Lee’s
The Nation of Islam, An American Millenarian Movement
(pp. 39-41). I mention these sources because I intend to have my students take these excerpts and create their own version of the Yacub myth. The purpose of this exercise is to illustrate to students how it is possible for myths to be interpreted differently by different individuals but at the same time maintain a common theme.
Another tenet that Elijah’s NOI preached was that before the White race could be overthrown in America that American Blacks would have to come into a knowledge of self by becoming aware of their history and destiny. Elijah referred to this process as the “Resurrection of Black Americans” in his book
Message to the Blackman In America
. (p. 41, Lee) As mentioned earlier, the NOI had adopted a strict moral code similar to the Moorish Science Temple to insure spiritual cleanliness. Elijah Muhammad and the NOI extended this desire of cleanliness to include internal cleanliness, thus Elijah’s followers were forbidden from eating what Muhammad referred to as the “slave diet”. (p. 42, Lee) Cornbread, black-eyed peas, chitlins, and pork were to avoided. Also followers of the NOI could not drink alcohol, smoke, take drugs, or gamble. Interracial marriages were forbidden also.
Economic self-sufficiency is not specifically a part of orthodox Islamic doctrine, however, Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam linked it to the Muslim’s religious faith. Elijah taught that economic success would follow from proper Islamic behavior. Elijah laid out a 5 step “blueprint” in his
Message to the Blackman in America
. It went as follow: 1. Recognize the necessity for unity and group cooperation 2. Pool your resources, physically as well as financially 3. Stop wanton criticisms of everything that is black-owned and black-operated 4. Keep in mind jealously destroys from within 5. Observe the white man. He is successful in ..(p. 44, Lee) Under the leadership of Elijah the NOI of was successful in many of its economic ventures, but this came at a cost. These ventures forced the NOI to become more involved with White society. Elijah felt this was a necessary evil because economic self-sufficiency was necessary to the NOI if their dream of a separate state was to materialize.
Elijah Muhammad taught his followers that the fall of America would occur in 1965 or 1966. The beginning of this fall supposedly began with the onset of WWI in 1914. To say the least ,this did not happen. Elijah started to posture himself for the possibility that his prophecy might not occur by pushing back the date to 1970 in the February 12th edition of the Muhammad Speaks. As deadlines came and passed, members were instructed that the date for the fall would occur at a later date. Catastrophes such as record levels of traffic deaths, tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods which occurred in the U.S. were used as signs that the fall was in process. A discussion will occur at this time to discuss these failed prophecies.
While preparing for the fall of America the Nation of Islam went through a period of growth and schism.(p. 50, Lee) Both of these occurrences can be attributed to in a major part to Malcolm Little. I plan on introducing this part of my unit by showing Spike Lee’s movie ‘Malcolm X’. This movie will serve as a basis for discussing the material that will follow. Malcolm Little while in prison joined the Nation of Islam in 1947 and became known as Malcolm X. Upon his release from prison Malcolm X became a recruiter in Detroit. Eventually he would be sent to New York to establish a Temple in Harlem. Malcolm was a charismatic person. Besides establishing a Temple in New York Malcolm X was also a catalyst for establishing many Temples across the United States. Malcolm’s popularity and success caused jealousy among the other ministers. Eventually even Elijah Muhammad would succumb to this jealousy, despite the fact that Malcolm never wavered in his loyalty to Elijah Muhammad. Between 1961 and 1963, Herbert Muhammad, another of Elijah’s sons, ordered that very little coverage be afforded to the activities of Malcolm X in the Muslim publication Muhammad Speaks. The gap between Malcolm and Elijah would widen farther in 1963 when Malcolm became aware of Elijah’s infidelities.. Adultery was considered one the most serious moral offenses that a Muslim could commit.(p.. 55, Lee)
On March 8, 1964 Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam and formed the Moslem Mosque, Inc. The political wing of this new organization was known as the Organization of Afro-American Unity(O.A.A.U.) Malcolm’s departure from the NOI was not taken well by the followers of Elijah. Louis Farrakhan on June 5, 1964 stated in Muhammad Speaks that Malcolm was fulfilling the prophetic role of Korah, the wealthy (popular) one who rebelled against the leadership of Moses because he coveted Moses’ position. The year 1964 also marked the year Malcolm X would make his pilgrimage to Mecca and convert to traditional Islam. It was at this point Malcolm X changed his name to El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.
On February 21, 1965 Malik Shabazz would be assassinated while addressing the O.A.A.U. at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. Mystery still surrounds who was responsible for Malcolm’s death. The three men convicted of his murder were former members of the Nation of Islam. This has led to the speculation by some people that a government agency such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation might have been involved in the assassination plot. The convicted murderers were Talmadge Hayer, Thomas 15X (Johnson), and Norman 3X (Butler). The Nation of Islam denied any role in the assassination. Another interesting twist in this incident occurred in 1977 when Hayer confessed that Butler and Johnson were innocent and that four Muslims from New Jersey were responsible for the death. Nothing was to come of this revelation. I think my students would find it interesting to know that the three convicted murderers converted to orthodox Islam while in jail. Talmadge Hayer is now called Majahid Abdul Halim, Norman Butler is called Muhammad Abdul-Azia, and Thomas 15X is called Khalil Islam.
It is ironic that during Elijah Muhammad’s last years of life that he tempered his hatred of Whites and moved closer to orthodox Islam.(p. 73, Lee) When Elijah Muhammad died the nation of Islam came under the control of his seventh child, Wallace D. Muhammad. The Nation of Islam would undergo major changes under Wallace’s leadership. In the July 4, 1975 edition of Muhammad Speaks Wallace stated that “What was good teaching for yesterday was good for yesterday . . . the same is not good for today”. One of the most drastic changes instituted was that Whites would no longer be referred to as white devils and that they would be considered fully human. This belief was more in line with traditional Islam. Another change occurred in 1975 when Wallace chose the term Bilalians to represent the Black American community. The Nation of Islam’s publication Muhammad Speaks changed its name to the Bilian News. In a step to honor Malcolm X Wallace renamed the Temple in Harlem the Malcolm Shabazz Temple. In February of 1976 the Nation of Islam dropped its demand for a separate autonomous state. Also in this month an article in the Chicago Tribune on February the 19th reported that Whites had been admitted to the Nation. As stated earlier the way in which the NOI viewed Elijah and Fard changed. On October 18, 1976 Wallace changed the name of the NOI to the World Community of al-Islam in the West(W.C.I.W.) This name would be eventually changed to the American Muslim Mission. Wallace also changed the names of the Temples to Masjids which was more in line with orthodox Islam. The Fruit of Islam was disbanded also under the leadership of Wallace. On September 10, 1978 Wallace Muhammad announced his resignation stating that he wanted to travel as the organization’s ambassador. The American Muslim Mission would be directed by a democratically elected council of six Imams(Imams were the ministers of the Masjids). (Chicago Tribune, September 10, 1978)
These changes did not sit well with some of the Nation of Islam members, in particular Louis Farrakhan. On March 7, 1978 Farrakhan severed all ties with the W.C.I.W. and stated that discipline and separatism would be reinstated. Louis Farrakhan would become the leader and spokesperson for the new Nation of Islam. This Nation of Islam would be based on the teachings of the Elijah Muhammad. Followers of Farrakhan can be seen on the street corners selling his newspaper, the Final Call. As the name of this publication infers the belief of Elijah Muhammad that America will fall was adopted by Farrakhan’s NOI. I intend on using chapters three to six of Clifton E. Marsh’s book as a student resource for the discussion of the Nation of Islam from its birth to Louis Farrakhan. In addition, I will have my students listen to tapes of speeches by Mr. Farrakhan. The list of the tapes we will listen to are listed in the resource section of my unit. We will discuss the messages of the tapes afterwards. For additional listings of tapes on different subjects one just needs to obtain a copy of the Final Call from a NOI follower on one of New Haven’s street corners. After listening to the tapes my students will write another one to page paper similar to the one they wrote concerning MAYO and RUP in which they will use our definition of racism to determine if the Nation of Islam’s beliefs were racist. At the conclusion of my unit I will invite Mr. Abdul Salaam back to visit my class so they can discuss what they have learned about the Nation of Islam.