Date of Award

1-1-2012

Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Department

History

First Advisor

Bobby J Donaldson

Abstract

Wallace Fard, founder of the Nation of Islam (NOI), drew on a variety of sources in crafting his movement's early teachings. Sociologist Eerdman Beynon was the first scholar to study the NOI, and his seminal 1938 article remains an important source on the movement's early influences. Some of his observations regarding these influences, such as the roles of Marcus Garvey's UNIA and Noble Drew Ali's Moorish Science Temple, seem somewhat obvious in hindsight. Beynon however mentions other influences that remain obscure. For example, he reports that Fard told his followers to listen to the radio sermons of Joseph Rutherford, President of the Jehovah's Witnesses, and J. Frank Norris, a Southern Baptist preacher from Texas. Although scholars have studied the connections between NOI teaching and Garvey and Ali, few scholars who study the Nation go beyond simply mentioning the names of Rutherford and Norris.

Rutherford and Norris are however intriguing because they were both white Christians. In light of the teachings of both Fard and his student Elijah Muhammad with respect to whites and Christians, the mention of Rutherford and Norris calls out for explanation. This thesis argues that Fard used the radio addresses of these two white men because they gave voice to the class-based concerns of African Americans living in Detroit during the early 1930s. Fard's willingness to use their teachings indicates that, at least during the early days of the NOI, anger at an oppressive economic system could sometimes override hatred of whites. Whites who faced persecution at the hands of the state or who struggled to meet basic physical needs could, under certain circumstances, fight alongside the early members of the NOI as they sought dignity and independence in the face of crushing poverty and institutional discrimination.

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