Supporting Movement ideas outside Its Mainstream
Elijah Muhammad is typically credited as founder of the Nation of Islam through his taking up, passing on, and organizing around the teachings of W. D. Fard in Detroit in the early 1930s. It is not accurate, however, to name Elijah founder without also recognizing that Clara Muhammad, his wife since 1919, was de facto cofounder. Together they built an organization that during their lifetime numbered over 100,000 persons,1 with assets in excess of $50 million. Through the teachings of the Nation of Islam (NOI), Clara and Elijah Muhammad influenced a generation of African Americans in taking up the posture of race pride that became integral to some developments in the Civil Rights Movement and beyond. In addition to her work alongside her husband, for several significant periods in the organization's early life, during Elijah's absence, Clara was in reality leader of the NOI, ensuring its continuing existence and development.
Initially, because of dissensions within the movement and later as a result of FBI harassment, during the Nation of Islam's emergence Elijah Muhammad often was secluded or frequently moving from city to city. This precariousness in Elijah's life meant Clara became a stabilizing factor for him, their family, and the NOI. Because of the duration and frequency of Elijah's absences and because detailed records of the ways Clara Muhammad guided the NOI do not exist, we may never know the full relevance of her steady perseverance. By all available accounts, she was a major contributor to the origin and development of what became a national movement that helped awaken and deepen the role of pride in Black identity during the Civil