An original man : the life and times of Elijah Muhammad /
Claude Andrew Clegg III.
1st ed.
New York : St. Martin's Press, 1997.
xvi, 377 p. : ill. ; 25 cm.
More Details
New York : St. Martin's Press, 1997.
general note
Based on the author's doctoral dissertation, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references (p. [345]-366) and index.
A Look Inside
This item was nominated for the following awards:
First Chapter


26,000 YEARS

That which does not kill us makes us stronger. --Friedrich Nietzsche

    On the eve of the Civil War, Sandersville was a dusty village nestled in east-central Georgia. With a population of about five hundred people, the hamlet was a typical small Georgian settlement with roots in the colonial period. The first white settlers in the area started as yeomen, scouring the land of trees and verdure to create and homesteads. Increased European immigration into the region during the late eighteenth century led to frontier conflicts with Native Americans, who quickly found the early treaties--and their observance by white settlers--disappointing. Sandersville, as an official unit of government, was not legislated into existence until the 1790s when a Mr. Saunders, in response to an act of the state government, donated part of his plantation to Washington County for the establishment of the county seat, Saunderville. By 1812, the village, now known as Sandersville, had become a stagecoach stop and relay station, its importance largely tied to its proximity to the state capital in nearby Milledgeville.(1)

    During the early nineteenth century, Middleton Pool Jr., a white immigrant from North Carolina, was among the more notable settlers to arrive in Sandersville. Pool, along with his father, Middleton Sr., and brother, James, had come to the area primarily to claim land that was being doled out by the Georgian land lottery in 1805. Although the senior died in that same year, Middleton Jr. and James subsequently settled near Bold Springs in Washington County.(2)

    By the standards of the antebellum rural South, Middleton Pool Jr. fared well in the social and political milieu of central Georgia. In 1820, he was commissioned justice of the peace for the one hundredth Georgia Militia District and, four years later, served as an extra member of the Georgian House of Representatives. An attendee of the Darien Baptist Church, Pool had by the 1830s acquired a venerable status in the community and, commensurate with his influence, was one of five commissioners selected to supervise the construction of a new bridge in the area. His most significant achievements, however, were in finance and real estate, which undoubtedly enchanced his political and social prestige in Washington County. According to the 1850 census, Pool, at age seventy-two, owned thousands of dollars in assets, not the least of which were twenty-two slaves.(3)

    Only weeks after the State of Georgia formally seceded from the United States on January 19, 1861, Middleton Pool died and bequeathed the lion's share of his estate to his children. Among his survivors was his forty-one-year-old daughter, Jane Irwin Swint, who had become a widow following the death of her husband, John Swint, sometime earlier. Pool's will provided well for Jane and the others; she received 215 acres of land valued at $1,184.62. Additionally, Jane was given other valuables for her upkeep and comfort, including "Lucky a woman and her increaor offspring,e horse saddle and bridle two cows and calves a bed and furniture and also a negro woman named Easter and a boy named Irwin." The whole transaction, along with its financial and human implications, was a common one in the pre-Civil War South. Casually listed with cows and furniture, slaves and their prospective progeny were routinely passed from owner to owner just as other properties were. Georgian slavery was already a century old when Jane Swint received her inheritance. Nonetheless, she lived in interesting times when such perfunctory events as the reading of the wills of slaveholders fed the fires of sectional crisis and national disunity.(4)

    The Southern ancien regime that had allowed people such as Jane Swint to own people such as Lucky, Easter, and Irwin collapsed under the stress of four years of war. The denouement for Georgia's house of bondage came in the spring of 1864. With the avowed intention of making Confederates "so sick of war that generations would pass away before they would again appeal to it," Gen. William Sherman and his Union Army blazed a fiery swath from northern Georgia to Savannah, stopping in tiny Sandersville to impress upon rebels there the futility of resistance. When Sherman arrived in the village on November 25, he found only a handful of wooden shops, a few homes, three brick buildings, and a courthouse square. A Confederate cavalry unit under Joe Wheeler launched a brief defensive action, and Union prisoners taken from rebel stockades were massacred. Federal troops led by Sherman, however, brought superior force to bear on the town, compelling the defenders to quit Sandersville altogether on November 26. The triumphant Union general, who had frequently visited brutality and suffering upon civilians--ranging from freed blacks to ardent Confederate sympathizers--his army had encountered during the campaign, abstained from burning dwellings, but did allow his men to raze the courthouse ("a handsome Greek Revival building of stuccoed brick"), the local jail, and the railroad depot in the adjacent town of Tennille. Like so many other parts of Georgia, Sandersville was simply another refrain in Sherman's anthem to total war.(5)

    Irwin, the black youth passed down to Jane Swint as a perpetual servant, was fourteen years old when the army of General Sherman brought hell to Georgia. His experiences in slavery are lost to history, but he did apparently exhibit a pious disposition in his early adulthood and would eventually be "called" to preach. Following emancipation, Irwin courted and married a fair-skinned mulatto woman named Peggy, who bore him a son, William. At this time, African-Americans in Georgia, as well as the South in general, were testing the limits of their newly acquired freedom. Seven hundred blacks attended a Sandersville rally on July 4, 1867, organized by John T. Costin, an African-American minister, and Macon politician Jefferson Long for the purpose of shoring up support for the Republican Party. The presence of Union troops coupled with federal legislation made black suffrage, for the first time in Georgian history, a reality, though brief in duration and limited in scope. For Irwin Pool and other freedpeople in the South, however, freedom and power in an agrarian society stripped of liquid capital by four years of war were not so much based on access to the ballot box as on land ownership, credit, and markets. These prerequisites of economic empowerment and social mobility were, for the vast majority of African-Americans, unattainable given the federal government's lack of commitment to sweeping land reform. Even though the price of land in Georgia in 1870 was half that of 1860, hostile local governments, indifferent banks, and the smoldering ashes of white supremacy still managed to limit ex-slaves in almost all spheres of economic activity. Ten years after Sherman torched the Peach State, blacks, who constituted over 40 percent of the population, owned just 338,769 acres of Georgian land, or less than 1 percent.(6)

    Reconstruction was stumped out of Georgia by the Ku Klux Klan and other white redeemers by the early 1870s. Facing a future of closed ballot boxes and empty pockets, most African-Americans were forced into some kind of labor arrangement with either their former masters or other propertied whites. The Pools sharecropped as did 90 percent of black Georgians by 1890, when cotton production experienced a resurgence. William, like his father before him, received the call to preach sometime during the close of the nineteenth century and, for the next several decades, ministered to the spiritual needs of blacks who would listen. On January 9, 1887, William married Mariah Hall, a local woman whose family had roots in Washington County. Mariah's mother, Ellen, was a mulatto, fathered by a slave master who had raped her enslaved mother. Very light in complexion, Ellen had been separated from her mother through sale during slavery. Her white half-brother was reportedly a state senator in Georgia, and though she avoided discussing her lineage, later in life she periodically visited her white relatives. In describing her affinity for their father's descendants, one black relative said of Ellen, "She was half and half , and she looked it, and act it."(7)

    In a cosmetic way, Sandersville seemed to prosper during the turn of the century. Though a fire ravaged the downtown area in 1888 and again in 1893, many of the town's buildings were redesigned in brick, and several residents rebuilt their homes with second floors. These architectural touches hardly masked the gnawing poverty that gripped the majority of the 25,237 inhabitants of Washington County, especially the African-American community, which made up 59 percent of the population. For them, the emergence of Jim Crow, a devastating depression, and lynching turned poor prospects into an even worse predicament. Declining cotton prices strengthened the chains of peonage and penury for both sharecropper and cash renter alike. While a few more blacks managed to secure titles to land, their share of Georgian real estate, even at its peak in 1920, never accounted for more than 5 percent of the available land, though African-Americans made up over two-fifths of the state's population. As a morbid exclamation point to the misery endured by its black majority, Washington County experienced a record amount of snowfall and low temperatures in the winter of 1899. During February 12-13, twelve inches of snow blanketed the rustic town accompanied by temperatures below zero. In that same year, the state of Georgia itself set another kind of record: twenty-eight people lost their lives through lynchings, a ten-year high.(8)

    Mariah Poole believed in dreams.(9) When she was seven years old, she claimed to have had a vision that one day she would give birth to a male child of preeminent stature and importance. During his lifetime, this youth would come into contact with "a great power," perhaps a divine presence, which would change the course of human affairs. While life was hard in Sandersville, and matters of divine destiny seemed to carry little weight compared to the material reality of deprivation around her, Mariah held on to this preternatural vision, this prophecy, for a lifetime.(10)

    The Poole family grew quickly during the 1890s. First, there was Annie, born in 1889, followed by William Jr. (Billie), fornie (Tommie), Hattie, and Lula. A second male baby was born in October 1897, a child who seemed somehow different from the rest and who, at least temporarily, eased the rather vapid lives of the Pooles in bucolic Sandersville. The newborn, named Elijah by his grandfather, was pampered from the beginning and became the favorite among the other children. When Annie first held him a week after his birth, she was enamored of his appearance. "He was a beautiful baby," she recalled some years later. "He had beautiful black eyes. I just loved him." His grandfather teasingly called baby Elijah "the Prophet" and predicted that he would one day be just that.(11)

    As necessity required, William and Mariah labored assiduously to provide for their children. Between sharecropping for various local farmers and working in sawmills. William pastored Bold Spring Baptist Church and Union Baptist Church. His wife, like so many other black women, worked as a domestic for local white families, receiving only a fraction of the wages that working males commanded. Mariah was often paid in kind for her labor, and many days she came home with pig's feet, chitterlings, and other less desirable parts of slaughtered animals, instead of the cash wages that the family so sorely needed. By 1900, she was pregnant again with a seventh child.(12)

    For unknown reasons, the Pooles left Sandersville in 1990, probably during the latter part of the year. The departure, which was not necessarily abrupt, was perhaps related to William's occupation as a minister as well as conflicts in his personal life. Possibly the family relocated because of prospects for a more comfortable lifestyle elsewhere. William might simply have paid the family's debts, secured a pastorate in the new locale, and moved the family at the first opportunity. Unfortunately, it is equally possible that the family left Sandersville amidst rumor and scandal. Sometime during the turn of the century, William allegedly fathered a male child, Lonnie, by a local woman named Vinnie Poole. The details of the affair are elusive, but it seems substantiated by some evidence. The resulting opporbrium, high-lighted by a sparser attendance at church meetings and peculiar stares from neighbors and others, probably forced William's hand and led to a voluntary exile from Sandersville. Whatever the reasons for the move, the Pooles left Washington County for good and set our for move verdant pastures in south-central Georgia.(13)

    When the Poole family arrive in Cordele in 1900, the small town, located in Dooly (later Crip) County, was undergoing significant changes. Incorporated in 1888 with a population of three hundred, Cordele attracted both a national highway and a railway. By World War I, it boasted a Telephone Exchange building, a well-constructed water and sewerage system, electric lights, three newspapers, and other amenities as well as an expanding downtown area that included two cottonseed-oil mills, an ice factory, four hotels, three fertilizer plants, and two bottling plants, which serviced and employed the city's growing population of 8,250. Segregation in Cordele, as it had been in Sandersville, was de rigueur, and the African-American community was, of course, the worse off for it. Sharecropping and renting were the typical occupations of Cordele's black majority, but some limited opportunities in mills and factories attracted men like William Poole. The move to Cordele does not seem to have greatly improved the Pooles' economics status, but it perhaps rehabilitated the social standing of William Poole. Accordingly, the pastor found a new niche among the black Baptists of Cordele and mounted the pulpit once again.(14)

    Church attendance for the Poole children was mandatory and, for at least Elijah, often pleasurable. By age four, he was allowed to sit in the "preached set," where he was admired by members of the congregation as his father delivered his sermons. Elijah was deeply impressed by his father's orations and even more enraptured by the concept of "Hell's Fire," which the minister seemed to stress. On occasion, the younger Poole would find his father's messages "so frightening until I, Myself, being his son, would tremble....I would think and wonder, `Will I live to get to Heaven before this comes?'" Over time, Elijah acquired a will to preach and evangelize. Moreover, he was also determined to become a "corrector" of the discrepancies and non sequiturs he sometimes discerned in the lessons of his father and other ministers. Eventually, he found himself so emboldened that Monday mornings saw theological duels between father and son, the latter armed with scriptural proof for his arguments. When possible, William avoided the youth, commenting to his wife, Mariah, "You know, that boy gets on my nerves." While Elijah enjoyed his father's "jackleg" preaching and the power that he projected from the chancel, he felt that something was missing from the presentations, some hidden truth that had not been made clear.(15)

    Elijah's early interest in Christian doctrine and church affairs stemmed from a sincere curiosity about God, salvation, and the place of man in both the panorama of history and the larger divine plan. Having lost some confidence in his father's teachings, not to mention his qualifications as a minister, Elijah often pored over the Bible in solitude, looking for those gems of arcane knowledge that his father had missed the prior Sunday. Still unsure of his comprehension of the Scripture, he made himself two promises. First, he would not become an official member of the church before the understanding that he sought was revealed to him. Second, he would never allow those he suspected of insincerely presenting themselves as believers to continue to do so without an abrasive challenge from him.

    In fact, after one of his younger brothers joined the church, Elijah confronted him and taunted, "You say God told you to go and join the church?" The younger boy answered affirmatively. Elijah replied sardonically, "Man, you ought to stop lying....You do everything you did before you joined the church. How can you tell the preacher a lie and say you got a religion. Why didn't the religion stop you from doing the evil that you used to do?"

    At about age fourteen, Elijah did finally join the church, but not of his own volition. Apparently, he was pressured into doing so by the conformity of the other children or by his father, who had simply had enough of Elijah's interrogations and equivocation. Even though he was now "convinced" that he should become a member of the body of Christ, Elijah found it difficult to deceive the church into believing he was saved. Unlike his younger brother, who claimed God had told him to join, Elijah, deep in his conscience, was still nagged by what he knew to be the truth: "God had not told Me anything."(16)

    During his youthful struggles with theology, Elijah did manage to acquire some education, though incomplete and brief. He attended the public school for blacks in Cordele, walking as far as five miles to get to the languishing facilities provided for the less fortunate of Crisp County. Sources disagree on when Elijah left school, perhaps as early as the fourth grade but definitely not past the eighth. Like other African-American children in Cordele, Elijah had to work at home to help with the family's survival. For the foreseeable future, he would have to be satisfied with the rudimentary lessons one of his sisters taught him at night. In the end, Elijah numbered among the 25 percent of Cordele blacks who stood at the chasm of illiteracy.(17)

    Elijah's experiences as a laborer started as early as age ten, when he and one of his sisters chopped firewood and sold it for fifty cents to customers in town. The work was time-consuming, and their pay hardly compensated them for their efforts. The family, however, needed whatever hard currency it could get, including the coins earned by the children. Poverty was a constant for the Pooles regardless of whether they were in Sandersville or Cordele. During the winter months when their business prospered most, Elijah and his sister, as well as their other siblings, still knew well the face of privation. Typically, they each wore the same "rough garment for the whole season," even when they made their periodic treks into town to sell firewood.(18)

    The excursions into town not only exposed Elijah and the other children to a quasi-urban setting distinct from the countryside they were used to, but also marked the beginning of their training in the harsh school of Southern race relations. Elijah had already learned much about blacks and their history in Georgia from his parents and grandparents. On several occasions, he had sat and paid rapt attention to his grandmother's tales of beatings that her sister had received during slavery. His grandfather shared poignant details about how religion had been used to reconcile slaves with their bondage and thus make them more manageable. During his early years, Elijah heard of systems of debt slavery and peonage that still exited throughout Georgia where whole families could not leave their white creditors' farms for years due to unsettled accounts. Worse still were the macabre rumors that "certain rivers, lakes, and wooded wilderness-like places carry the bones and skulls of many Black slaves from these plantations in so-called freedom times." All of these stories sickened and grieved Elijah to the point that he promised himself to do something for his people when he became a man.(19)

    For a while, Elijah was able to ignore--or at least keep himself from overtly responding to--the racial slurs and discrimination that he and his siblings encountered both in town and in rural areas. Most blacks, to exist within the uneasy peace of Crisp County, learned to cope with the hostile white community that dominated here. The family's needs necessitated that all the able-bodied Poole children work and thus face white Cordele at least periodically. For Elijah, however, the necessary journeys to Cordele and its environs became over time, unsafe and outright horrifying. Some threats became commonplace and even tolerable yet other instances of intimidation, such as when a white man coolly revealed to him the severed ear of a black person were unnerving not only in themselves but also due to the level of hatred and barbarity underlying them.(20)

    Few things in the history of the South set off the kind of shock waves in the black community that lynchings did. Emerging as a phenomenon during Reconstruction and lasting well into the civil rights era of the 1950s and 1960s, mob murders of African-Americans erested at the turn of the century. In Georgia, there had been 159 lynchings during the 1890s and as late as 1916, when blacks began leaving the state in droves, 16 people lost their lives to vigilante violence. Tales of lynchings and indiscriminate brutality unleashed upon blacks were plentiful in south-central Georgia, but Cordele seems to have had a special reputation for midnight kidnappings and mob violence. Just three years following the Pooles arrival in Cordele, a black man was found hanging from a tree on a public road close to the city. In time, Elijah Poole came face-to-face with the worst of the South's crimes.(21)

    The unspeakable happened sometime around the winter of 1907, when Elijah, now ten, had first begun taking firewood to Cordele for sale. As he approached the African-American section of town, he encountered a large crowd of whites. He moved closer to see what the crowd saw. There, for all who cared to see, the corpse of an eighteen-year-old black youth whom Elijah had known was "dangling from a tree limb." He had been accused of raping a white woman and, without a trial was seized and summarily reeled up a willow tree by the neck and riddled with bullets. Though a most savage object lesson, Elijah could not understand how this could have happen to a young man "in the midst of his own people" while "all our grown men right there in the section" watched and dared not intervene. The murder and the subdued reaction of the African-American community repulsed him and his tears flowed unencumbered. He cried for the dead youth and the rest of the blacks of Cordele, who had, in his view, allowed the killing to take place. No firewood was sold that day, and the pellucid impression of the hanging man gripped his entire consciousness as he made the four-mile trip back home.(22)

    This traumatic experience stayed with Elijah for the rest of his life and certainly made him more susceptible to black separatist doctrines. For now his response was to get out of Cordele, or at least to avoid it as much as possible. At age sixteen, Elijah left home to find work in Macon, Georgia, perhaps directly influenced by the lynchings of two African-American men in Cordele during 1912. Over the next few years, he worked in a variety of occupations, from laboring in sawmills to overseeing workers at the Cherokee Brick Company, where he served as a tramroad foreman and builder. His real desire was to become a dining boy for the railroad and to achieve this goal, he sought employment with a white farmer who turned out to be little more than a relic of the antebellum South. Elijah worked "from sun to sun" to save enough money to pay for the training necessary for the railroad job. Within a six-month period, however, he found the farmwork unbearable, having seen laborers flogged at gunpoint and offered only eight dollars a month in wages. The breaking point came when the farmer threatened to beat Elijah with a six-foot staff if he did not submit to every command. Elijah warned that if he was struck, he "would have no better sense than to strike hthe farmerck." Elijah, who had been favored and looked up to for leadership by his siblings and others, never became used to either ceding absolute authority to others or being cursed by employers who knew he needed the job. Ordered to leave this farmer's premises, he turned his back forever on working for white farm owners.(23)

    During the second decade of the twentieth century, black life in many Georgian cities underwent a series of adjustments in response to new circumstances. Poverty, racism, lynchings, and political disfranchisement remained relatively constant, but the outbreak of Work War 1 and 1914 and the swelling demand for labor in Northern industrial centers began pulling thousands of hopeful black migrants north, African-American began leaving Georgia in a trickle that eventually resembled a flood, as ten thousand left in late 1916, followed by at least fifty thousand more the next year. The loss of labor severely damaged Georgia's agrarian economy, the greatest blow perhaps coming during the period between 1920 nd 1922 when over 150,000 blacks quit the Peach State. The migration continued for decades, and the ill effects were not quickly absorbed.(24)

    The boll weevil, regarded by many as a plague of biblical proportions, helped many blacks to make up their minds about leaving Georgia. The infestation struck hard and extensively forcing Georgians to pay the price for depending so heavily upon a cotton monoculture. Immediately prior to the attack in 1916. Georgia's fields averaged 230 pounds of cotton per acre, and afterward 117 pounds. During the Great Migration, the destruction of cotton fields seemed to correlate with the departure of African-Americans from the state, with 10 percent of crops being damaged in 1918 and 40 percent by 1923, when the migration declined temporarily. To negate the effects of the boll weevil and the demands of wartime production in Northern cities on Georgia's demography, local governments placed restrictions on labor recruiters and intimidated blacks bent upon leaving the region. When these efforts proved largely ineffectual, politicians and editors resorted to antilynching lip service to superficially address one of the real causes of the migration. All to little avail. In a matter of years the largest African-American communities in the United States would be found in Northern and Midwestern cities, owing to the pestilence of war, boll weevils, and odious Southern traditions.(25)

    Like thousands of other blacks, Elijah switched from agricultural to industrial employment just as the United States decided that armed neutrality was impossible and that participation in the war in Europe was unavoidable. In 1918, he barely missed being among the thirty-four thousand Georgian blacks drafted for service in the conflict, the war having ended "one day before they were calling up the group that I was in." The following year, the Southern Railroad Company hired Elijah in Macon as a gang laborer on a section of the track. The Southern, which invested millions of dollars in trackage at that time, had a reputation for hiring African-Americans as firemen and brakemen as well as common laborers. It also, like many other white-owned corporations in the South, was known for racial discrimination, as evidenced by its agreement to pay black 35 percent less than whites in order to avoid a strike in 1911. Notwithstanding their vulnerability to the pressure of local whites, the Southern and other Georgian railroads employed eleven thousand African-Americans by 1925, more than in any other state, and even met on common ground with the newly formed International Railroadmen's Benevolent Industrial Aid Association, which organized black workers and established locals in Macon, Augusta, and Savannah. Whether Elijah ever joined the union during his four years of employment with the Southern in unknown; however, at least in his first year on the job, much his of time was probably spent courting a woman he had met named Clara Evans, whom he married in Cordele on March 17, 1919.(26)

    Clara was born in Georgia on November 2, 1898. A petite woman with a deep brown complexion, she was soft-spoken and devoutly Christian, having been raised in a Holiness environment. Elijah was perhaps impressed by both her piety and her willingness to accommodate his intermittent trips between Macon and Cordele. Her companionship and comfort after long days on the railroad helped him to deal with his bouts of ennui. Their first child, Emmanuel, was born in February 1921, followed by Ethel in October of the next year. Elijah now had his own family and the attendant responsibilities, and the job on the railroad meant more than any other he had ever held.(27)

    The predictable, though stressful, patterns of work in industrializing Georgia disillusioned Elijah less than the sporadic atrocities, which sent tremors of horror through his soul. Like others, he grieved for the victims he heard about, but learned to cope with the reality of racism and brutality that underlay Southern culture, without becoming paranoid. He learned to survive. However, firsthand knowledge of savage events always repulsed him and again, as an adult, he wa privy to the unspeakable. During a Saturday evening in 1920 or 1921, Elijah and one of his brothers traveled to Macon on business. As they covered the nine miles from their home to the city, African-Americans leaving the area warned them of a lynching. The body of the victim had been tied to a pickup truck and dragged through the streets. The Poole brothers could not turn back, and anticipating the encounter was probably as morose and disgusting as actually seeing the mangled black body. In the tragic walk past yet another crowd of sanguinary white Southerners, Elijah, indeed, saw what he had been warned about, and "returned back home with this image of lynching."(28)

    With the addition of this last graphic episode, Elijah had endured too much in Georgia to stay. The lynchings, racist employers, marginal wages, boll weevils, and other social and economic maladies all formed an equation that seemed to have only one answer. Whether Elijah's departure from Georgia was triggered by obscene words from a railroad boss, inviting letters from relatives who had already fled the state, or some combination of influences, the burdens of race and class placed upon blacks in general were the primary causes for the Poole exodus, In April 1923, Elijah, Clara, and their two children migrated, probably by railway, to Detroit, Michigan. They were accompanied by Elijah's parents and siblings, who had apparently arrived at the same solution for their lives in Georgia. In the years to come, Elijah would make few trips back to the South and would have even fewer pleasant things to say about Georgia in particular. His bitterness, which was now an inherent part of his consciousness, would later be contagious and galvanize thousands of African-Americans throughout the country behind his leadership. But for the present, Elijah left the Peach State without looking back, having seen "enough of the white man's brutality in Georgia to last me for 26,000 years."(29)

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 1997-03-24:
The figures of Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan have dominated recent studies of the Nation of Islam and its history. Yet little attention has focused on Elijah Muhammad, the leader largely responsible for shaping the thought of and providing direction for the Nation of Islam. Clegg, a professor of history at North Carolina A&T, here offers the first in-depth biography of Elijah Muhammad. Born in Georgia, Elijah Poole very early manifested an interest in religion, and he often engaged in theological debates with his "jackleg" preacher father on the Monday mornings after his father's Sunday sermons. Poole's religious sensibility was challenged by the brutality of the lynchings he witnessed in his Georgia town, and at 26 he left for Detroit, "having seen enough of the white man's brutality to last me for 26,000 years." Clegg traces Poole's life as he became involved in Fard Muhammad's Nation of Islam and gained authority and respect as a leader within the Nation. Taking the name Elijah Muhammad, the former Poole used the ideological combination of black nationalism, Islamic theology and Garveyism to establish the great power of his Nation of Islam and to lead it with an iron hand for 40 years. Clegg relies on interviews with two of Muhammad's sons as well as newly declassified FBI documents for this biography. In his discussions of Elijah Muhammad's rejection of non-Islamic Africans as uncivilized and of the ways in which Muhammand's conservative religious lifestyles separated him from the radical activities of other black separatist groups such as the Black Power Movement, Clegg provides glimpses into the life and genius of one of America's influential political and religious leaders. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Library Journal on 1996-10-15:
Clegg (history, North Carolina A&T Univ.) offers the first biography of a seminal figure in black nationalist thought. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
This item was reviewed in:
Library Journal, October 1996
Library Journal, November 1996
Kirkus Reviews, December 1996
Booklist, February 1997
Publishers Weekly, March 1997
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.

This information is provided by a service that aggregates data from review sources and other sources that are often consulted by libraries, and readers. The University does not edit this information and merely includes it as a convenience for users. It does not warrant that reviews are accurate. As with any review users should approach reviews critically and where deemed necessary should consult multiple review sources. Any concerns or questions about particular reviews should be directed to the reviewer and/or publisher.

  link to old catalogue

Report a problem