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Cities: Atlanta

The Black Muslims and Atlanta's Police

In March, 1964, five Black Muslim men were arrested in Atlanta for allegedly inciting an altercation with three African Americans--Milton D. Carter, Lorenzo Fitzpatrick, and Hardwick Stanley--who refused to purchase a Muslim newspaper. This was noteworthy because Black Muslims consistently advocate nonviolent resistance unless provoked. Grady X (Rogers), Marshall X (Bing), Clifford X (Barksdale), Will X (Norris), and Carlton X (Woods) were arrested and charged with assault with intent to murder. The police officers who booked the five men claimed the men attacked them with tools impounded from another case. Officers called in reinforcements to end the fight. The five were commanded to put up five thousand dollars in bonds, but the court soon raised this amount to ten thousand dollars, which their lawyers disputed.

The first hearing, scheduled March 6, was postponed through the efforts of defense lawyers Howard Moore of Atlanta and C.B. King of Albany, who argued that the extremely high bond warranted further time for investigation. By Wednesday, March 8, they were still under arrest.  Edward Jacko, Muslim general counsel of New York, and James Sharpe of Louisiana soon joined the defense team. After a week of jail time, Will X (Norris) was the first to stand trial; the other men’s hearings were waived by the defense. 

This story reveals how the post-1960s phase of the Civil Rights Movement made more visible nationalist groups such as the Black Muslims who advocated separate economic, educational, and political strategies and institutions for African Americans. In the South, the Deacons for Defense and Justice, a group of African American Christians who supported the nonviolent efforts of protestors, also expressed their commitment to taking up arms to defend themselves and their communities. Some African Americans saw such groups as threatening, or as potentially able to undermine the progress that more moderate organizations such as the SCLC and the NAACP had made.

Malcolm X, who published his autobiography with Alex Haley in 1964, became one of the most well-known members of the Black Muslims. He is an iconic figure to young black Americans because of his outspokenness, his transformation from a street hustler to religious leader, and his willingness to confront white Americans with the anger and hatred that many African Americans felt. He was assassinated in the Audobon Ballroom in Harlem on February 21, 1965.

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Discussion Questions

1. Malcolm X began his political career in opposition to the black activists' goal of a unified human rights struggle with white Americans. To what extent did he change his mind about this position later in life, and why?

2. Many Black Muslims changed their names--for example, from Malcolm Little to Malcolm X--in order to shrug off the history of slavery and second-class status.  Native American youth who attended boarding schools during the early twentieth-century were routinely required by their teachers to abandon use of their given names, and substitute Christian names instead.  For example, the Sioux child Ohiyesa ("The Winner") was renamed Charles when he attended a missionary-run school in South Dakota.  Discuss the significance of names and the reason why renaming can be a process of either erasure or pride.

3. The Alabama-born African American poet Sonia Sanchez joined the Nation of Islam as a young writer. (Read or listen to her recitation of a poem for Malcolm X that she wrote upon his assassination).  Yet she became disillusioned with the roles and treatment of women in the Nation. Choose a major world religion or spirituality (Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity--Catholic or Protestant) and, working in teams, research and discuss the involvement of women in these faiths today.

Take it to the Streets!

Discuss the distinction between the Nation of Islam and Islam. Collect a week's worth of newspaper clippings on Islam or the Nation of Islam. Or watch the nightly news for a week to construct a pattern in how the newscasts represent either one of these religions. Write a paper of 3-5 pages analyzing the portrayal of the group you chose. What particular aspects does the newspaper or newscast include to positively or negatively influence public opinion? Specifically examine how and why violence is a frequent theme in the representations of these two religions.

Writer: Lauren Chambers 
Researcher: Lauren Chambers
Editors: Kamille Bostick, Christina L. Davis, Mary Boyce Hicks, and Professor Barbara McCaskill
Web Site Designer: William Weems  

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