The Messenger : The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad

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9780679442608: The Messenger : The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad
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Here, eagerly anticipated, is the definitive biography of Elijah Muhammad (né Elija Poole), a sharecropper's son with a fourth- grade education who became one of the most controversial Americans of the twentieth century, the founder and "Prophet" of the Nation of Islam, a movement dedicated to black separatism and self-empowerment.
Though Muhammad's main argument--that white people were innately evil ("devils," he called them)--ran counter to the precepts of orthodox Islam, he was the chief influence in the conversion of nearly four million African Americans to Islam, touching in the process the lives of figures ranging from Muhammad Ali and Jesse Jackson to Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan. But in his desperate grasp for power, Muhammad also amassed a huge personal fortune at the expense of his followers. He was a party to ritualistic homicides, had illicit affairs galore, and was quick to betray his friends and charges, most notably Malcolm X. In brief, he violated every ideal and principle that he espoused.
With the cooperation of some of Elijah Muhammad's children and former apostles and with access to previously unreleased FBI files, Karl Evanzz gives us an unprecedented account of the life of the man whose philosophy continues, long after his death, to shape race relations in America.

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Review:

This well-documented biography by Karl Evanzz of The Washington Post shows how a poor, Georgia-born mulatto preacher and laborman named Elijah Poole, who moved to Detroit in the 1930s to escape the brutality of the South, reinvented himself as the leader of the controversial Nation of Islam. Evanzz sifts through years of rumors and myths to uncover a proud and politically shrewd demagogue whose frail, asthma-prone body contrasted his fiery antiwhite rhetoric and proclamations of black self-reliance. "To millions of African Americans," Evanzz writes, "Elijah Muhammad was not so much a prophet as a self-schooled psychoanalyst who, like the highly celebrated Sigmund Freud, advanced theories about the nature and role of religion and race in mental dysfunction."

Painstaking research reveals how Muhammad synthesized the philosophies of Marcus Garvey and Booker T. Washington, as well as updating tenets of Freemasonry and the Moorish Science Temple to create the Nation's dogma. Evanzz also recounts Muhammad's imprisonment for draft dodging, one of many run-ins with law enforcement, and his efforts to build schools for the children of his followers. Among the biographical details uncovered with the help of recently declassified FBI files is the identity of Muhammad's greatest teacher, the mysterious W.D. Fard, as well as confirmation of the many children Muhammad fathered out of wedlock. The FBI files also add insight into the treachery, distrust, and violence that gripped the Nation after the 1965 assassination of Muhammad's former second-in-command, Malcolm X. By and large, Evanzz presents a fair, scholarly account of one of the 20th century's most infamous and influential Afro-American figures. --Eugene Holley Jr.

From the Back Cover:

"Karl Evanzz is both a meticulous historian and an effective chronicler. For anyone seeking to understand the history of the Black Muslim movement and its place in America during the
twentieth century, this book is essential."
--David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and bestselling author of When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi and First in His Class: The Biography of Bill Clinton

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