Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rare Collection of Nation of Islam Papers Discovered

August 26, 2010

Rare collection of Nation of Islam papers discovered

Rare collection dating to the '30s reveal beginnings

The Detroit News

Detroit -- Once headed to the trash heap, a cache of rare papers have
been found that trace the history of the Nation of Islam.

The collection of papers, documents and photos, many dating to the
1930s, detail the innerworkings of the religious group of black
Muslims, including the surprisingly prominent role of women in its

They were uncovered earlier this month at a home on Detroit's west side.

The find includes handwritten and typed letters related to the
beginning of the Nation of Islam, which was started by W.D. Fard in
Detroit in 1930 on Hastings Street in the city's legendary Black
Bottom neighborhood.

"These papers show how organized and structured the Nation of Islam
was," said Detroit attorney Gregory Reed, to whom the collection was
turned over. "They had a department of justice ... a department of

The family that owns the documents had members who once belonged to the Nation of Islam, he said. The man who uncovered the documents did not want to be identified, but Reed will hold a news conference today to talk about the documents and other materials.

Among the documents is a 1933 pamphlet considered its manifesto. In
it, Fard instructs prospective members on analytical thinking,
mathematical equations and dietary restrictions.

Also included are letters to Fard and other organization officials
from newly converted Muslims about adopting Muslim names.

Reed said the papers will complement his collection of manuscripts of
Malcolm X, a former Nation of Islam minister who left the group in the
1960s over ideological differences.

"Now I have the answers that tie into the lost chapters (of the
Malcolm X story)," said Reed.

Reed says he would like to house the documents in an educational
center focused on the history of the Nation of Islam. Next month, he
will hold a public preview of the collection.

Reed said the papers illustrate that the organization was dedicated to
making sure blacks lived spiritual, productive and healthy lives. The
papers show, Reed said, that the Nation of Islam operated 40 schools,
called University of Islam, in the city during the 1930s.

"They were educating people and they were reforming people who had
been to prison," he said. "They had a better system than the

And a system that included women in high posts. One of the top
officials in the early days was Burnsteen Sharrieff Muhammad, the
sister-in-law of the late leader Minister Elijah Muhammad, who oversaw
new converts and other operations.

Reed says he doesn't plan on having the collection authenticated
because he trusts the family from which he got the materials. No local
or national officials from the Nation of Islam were available for
comment the papers or their authenticity.

Local Muslims say the find is a great opportunity for Muslims and
non-Muslims to learn more about the Nation of Islam's history.

"This is a great find," said Khalid el-Hakim, a Detroit schoolteacher
who is a Muslim and a collector of historical memorabilia on the
Nation of Islam.

"It will give people a completely different perspective of the Nation
of Islam," he said.

"It not only gives a snapshot of the inner workings of the Nation of
Islam but it also shows how important education is to the Nation of

Reed said the Smithsonian Institution has expressed interest in
obtaining some of the collection for exhibition.

A Smithsonian spokeswoman said she could not comment on any future acquisitions or interest in them for the institution."> (313) 222-2027

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