African American Heritage

Elijah Muhammad

Elijah Muhammad, known as the most prominent leader of the Nation of Islam (NOI), was born Elijah Poole in Sandersville, Georgia. Muhammad grew up in the segregated South and worked alongside his family as a sharecropper. In 1919, he married Clara Evans and by 1923, Muhammad and his wife moved to Detroit, Michigan in order to find better living and employment opportunities. Once in Detroit, Muhammad worked in the automobile industry until he was laid off from his job during the Great Depression.

During his time of unemployment, Elijah met the founder of the NOI, Wallace Fard. Muhammad was captivated by Fard’s teachings of black Islam and racial supremacy. In 1931, Elijah Poole joined the Nation and changed his name to Elijah Muhammad. That same year, he quickly rose to power as Fard named him Chief Minister of the Nation of Islam.

As leader of the Nation of Islam, Muhammad dedicated himself towards expanding the organization by teaching against white supremacy. His teachings that white people were devils who were created specifically to oppress the black race quickly gained the attention of the United States government. In 1946, Muhammad was sentenced to four years in prison for preaching sedition and for avoiding the draft during World War II. Eventually, Muhammad’s preaching inspired Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali to convert and join the organization. These two men became prominent within the organization and helped to bring national awareness to the Nation of Islam. In the late sixties, Muhammad’s popularity began to decline along with his health. He died on February 25, 1975 in Chicago, Illinois. Before his death, he appointed his son, Wallace Muhammad as his successor.
The Black Power records at the National Archives pertaining to Elijah Muhammad consist of FBI surveillance of him in Chicago, files from the selective service regarding his draft evasion and audio recordings of a radio interview.

Record Group 59: Department of State

Central Foreign Policy Files, 1973-1979 National Archives Identifier 654098

Selected Records
Electronic Telegrams, 1975 ( NAID 1225392
Electronic Telegrams, 1977 ( NAID 5665410

The electronic records in this series can be searched online via the Access to Archival Databases (AAD) system. The telegrams on AAD include only unclassified, unrestricted files which have been determined to be of permanent historical value. Please search for 'Elijah Muhammad'.

Record Group 65: Federal Bureau of Investigation

Classification 157 (Civil Unrest) Case Files

Please use the Find function in your browser to search for 'Elijah Muhammad'

Record Group 147: Selective Service System

Files of Executive Assistant Colonel Campbell C. Johnson, 1940 - 1954 National Archives Identifier 23889072

HICK: John R. Hickman Audio Collection

Sound Recordings of Historical Radio Broadcasts, World War II Government Documentaries, and Popular Radio Shows, 1906 - 1993 National Archives Identifier 1487762

Selected Records
Interview with Elijah Muhammad ( NAID 2843475)
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