Early Studies in Black Nationalism, Cults, and Churches in Chicago

By the Works Progress Administration circa September 1941


The following is the first collection of the WPA Papers that deal with Islam and Black Nationalism. These papers primarily deal with Chicago and were written under the auspices of the Black Historical & Benevolent Society called the Julius Rosenwald Fund. This fund was under the direction of the Illinois Writer’s Project. Writer such as Arthur Huff Fauset, Jessie Fauset, Richard Wright, Zora Neal Hurston, Lillian Harper, and Arna Bontemps had poetry, sociological studies, and short stories written under direction of the IWP. Julius Rosenwald was a Jewish philanthropist that set up a fund before his death to give scholarships to blacks for school and to pay to collect materials on Black history and culture. The butler of Rosenwald went on to become a precinct captain and later a leader in the Moorish Science Temple. All the groups covered in these studies had connections with each other. Elijah Muhammad called Marcus Garvey and Noble Drew Ali “fine Muslims” and encouraged their followers to follow him as he was only “completing their mission”. The studies here were done by Lillian Harper and Arna Bontemps. An appendix gives short notes on the leaders of the various groups and a bibliography gives books and articles to lead researchers to more material. A photo section gives photos of important events and individuals mentioned in the studies (under construction).


Preface to Anyplace But Here

by Jack Conroy and Arna Bontemps

When Jack Conroy and I first began to compare notes on Negro Migrations within the United States, our desks were about twenty feet apart. We were both employed as editorial supervisors on the Illinois Writers Project of the WPA. Not far away, at a similar desk, was a serious young supervisor who never wasted much time but whom I thought I saw making eyes at a slender young typist in the secretarial pool. He was Nelson Algren. Across the big room, in an area assigned to the radio unit, one occassionally saw the energetic and personable young figures of Studs Terkel and Lou Gilbert, both clearly marked for bigger future roles in television and movies, respectively.

Katherine Dunham, Richard Wright, Frank Yerby, Stuart Engstrand, and George V. Martin had worked at these same desks just weeks or months earlier, and some of them returned occasionally to see how things were going. Meanwhile, their successors continued to fill the files with gleanings from old Illinois newspapers and other library sources. After Conroy and I got steamed up about Negro migrations, we began to pay even closer attention. We discoverd, for example, that Katherine Dunham, who had been working for a doctoral degree in anthropology at the University of Chicago, had directed her writers to collect information about the groups that later became widely known as Black Muslims. We came across an inspired days work by a writer who had done nothing but list the names of storefront churches on one street in the southside ghetto. And what names they were!

The project ended suddenly, but not before it and others like it had made publishing history with the excellent series of state guides and other books and pamphlets of regional or local interest, often of substantial value to later researchers. Peripheral benefits, sometimes too intangible to be measured by linage or pagination, were often noted, and the opportunity for development afforded the likes of Wright and Yerby and Algren was matched by the rivitalization of old timers like the poet Fenton Johnson who had been hit even harder by the depression. While Johnson’s WPA Poems did not get published as a collection, they obviously did him a lot of good.

When the Project came to an end, a publisher who had heard about our interest in the migration story encouraged us to develop it. We went to work, and They Seek a City was published in 1945. One thing about the impulse we had tried to trace was apparent at first. Another became apparent later. We soon realized that we were dealing with currents that were still running vigorously and that we could not tell when or where they would crest. To that extent our book was premature. But the disasters ahead in Watts and Chicago and Harlem which were later to focus intense light on this fantastic population shift, with all its dislocations, could not have been foreseen. Nor could they have been understood prior to the events of the fifties and sixties, disclosing the depth and intensity of the Negro American’s drive toward freedom. Needless to say, twenty years of change and unforeseen developments have made it necessary to recast most of the original chapters of the book and to add a number of new ones.


Chapter One
“… and churches.”

The great numbers of southern Negroes whose migration to Illinois began with the last world war, to fill the numerous jobs vacated by homing nationals of belligerent powers, came mainly to Chicago, largest industrial center of the country. They were prompted to the move as much by promise of better social, political and educational opportunities as by the promise of good jobs at living wages. Deeply religious, they brought their habits of worship with them, overflowed the assisting churches, and established many others; indeed, in some instances, virtually whole congrgations entrained for “The Promised Land” and upon arrival reestablished their churches in the northern metropolis. Among the migrating thousands were many adherents of the old line, established orders, Methodists and Baptists notably, but there were great numbers also who instituted new denominations, distinctly unorthodox in the opinion of citizens of longer residence in the community. Although the standard faiths gained many new communicants and the number of their members far exceeds that of the less conventional orders the latter are today an established part of the new picture of the religious scene and a colorful phenomemnon of the period.

Preceding the beginning of the mass hegira to Illinois and Chicago, migrants settling in the state had selected one or another among the orthodox faiths and had been absorbed quietly; but the tremendous influx about the middle of the second decade of the present century swamped the existing facilities and resulted in the mush-room growth of scores of “storefront” churches wherein the less educated faithful could feel at home and play a part in the life of the congregation denied them in the properly housed, decorous homes of God — many of whom by that time had forgotten their own storefront beginnings. However, several new standard churches were born during the Great Migration, among them Monumental Baptist Church, Pilgrim Baptist, Grant Memorial A.M.E., and Progressive Baptist Church. In addition, during the period from the start of World War I to date, churches of a number of other established faiths were added to the orthodox list; and independent churches too multiplied in the latter years of the nearly three decades since 1914.

Storefronts had a special appeal for common people, who came from small communities where everyone knew his neighbor and where the church was the political forum, school, social center, and spiritual guide. The [store]fronts have become notable for several unusual features that distinguish them from the more familiar standard churches. Two of their characteristics are the unique names they flaunt and the type of music they sing and play. Willing Workers Spiritualist Church, Israel of God Church, St. John I.A.M.E. Church, Spiritual Love Circle, Blessed St. Martin Church, Peter’s Rock Baptist Church, Prophetic Spiritual Church, Purple Rose Mystical Temple, Crossroads to Happiness, Followers of Exodus, and Church of Lost Souls are names off a random list. Their music is known as Gospel Music; choirs are composed of loud, untrained voices whose spirited vocalization does justice to revival songs and spirituals. In standard churches the music and singing is quite different.

An undeclared religious war exists between the two types of churches. Controversy centering around the issue has become so bitter and wide-spread that the storefront has assumed an importance it would not have had ordinarily. Many citizens of the community have expressed themselves on the matter,; the pros contend that they are homier and a good influence, the cons that they are disseminators of superstition and little more than rackets. A recent study of Chicago’s Negro churches on the south side shows that most of the storefronts are located in areas north of Forty-seventh and west of State Street; their segregation in this territory is attributed to cheap rentals in the least lucrative business districts. Storefronts are usually small and intimate as regards membership. There are about thirty-nine members on the average to each church. Latest surveys show that they attract Negroes from the entire colored community and not only from the surrounding neighborhoods. In the area known as Woodlawn territory, the storefront church is almost non-existent; only one is found there.

Surrounded by dingy secondhand shops, abandoned taverns, and all the ineffable marks of crushing poverty and stultifying environment, there is a dilapidated storeroom in the heart of Chicago’s Negro slums. A crudely-lettered sign in the dust-streaked window reads: “World’s Greatest Spiritual Advisor.” Still another (but neatly executed) legend in another store window in an equally blighted section exhorts: “Come all ye Asiatics of America and learn the truth about your birthright. You are not Black Folks, Colored People, Negroes or Ethiopians. These were slave names given you by slaveholders.” –T. Rhodes-El, Grand Sheik. The first sign indicates a temple of the spiritualist faith, while the second marks (according to the claims of its adherents) Grand Temple No. 1, Moorish American Science Temple.

These are two of 250 or more store-front places of worship and they are also representative of 50 or more unconventional religious groups to which about 8000 Negroes belong, at least nominally. The number of active participants at any given time is probably much lower. Because their forms of worship and their beliefs in one respect or another differ from the accepted and tradtional religious mores, members of these unorthodox sects ordinarily are designated as cultists.

The several “sanctified” Negro sects of Chicago have established more store-front churches and enlisted a greater number of members than any of the other unorthodox denominations. It is true that other congregations formally affiliated with more conservative churches (such as the Baptist) also occupy storerooms in the blighted districts and in some instances share certain beliefs and practices with sanctified worshipers, among them “speaking in tongues,” shouting and physical manifestations induced by seizure by the “holy spirit,” divine healing, magic, and even — though rarely — communication with the dead.

There have been sanctified church bodies in Chicago since the beginning of the present century, the Church of the Living God and the Church of God in Christ having been organized before 1900. Nevertheless, in 1919, long after migration from the south had gained tremendous momentum, there were only 20 Holiness (or sanctified) churches in the city. By 1928 this number had grown to 56, and 19% of all Negro church members were affiliated with the faith. In 1938 the number had increased to 107 and the percentage to 22.6%.

There are several denominations, large and small, among the churches sharing a common belief in the “sanctification of man on earth.” Holiness people find comfort and some measure of compensation in the achievement of an earthly state lending an immediate elevation above those still laboring under the burden of sin.

Services in the sanctified churches are conducted by a Presiding Elder, the title being similar to that of Father in the Roman Catholic Church and that of Reverend in most Protestant denominations. Very few of the elders have graduated from grade school, and a great many of them can neither read nor write. This educational lack, however, is thought by some elders and communicants to be a blessing in disguise, for illiterate saints usually profess to be endowed with a gift permitting them not only to perceive every word in the Bible but to interpret it correctly. They contend that the literate ungodly (often dismissed as “educated fools”), beguiled and confused by such frivolous readings as newspapers and man-written books, never gain a clear understanding of that one essential volume.

The basic philosophy of the sanctified churches is virtually identical with that of the orthodox Christain churches, but it places a literal interpretation upon certain passages regarded by them as purely historical. For example, most factions of the sanctified group practice “speaking in tongues”, taking as scriptural authority the incident of the day of Pentecost when Christ’s apostles, gathered together in Jerusalem after His ascension, were visited by “a rushing mighty wind” and “cloven tongue as of fire.” “And they were filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 1:4)

Accordingly, the “saints” often burst forth into unintelligible gibberish during the violent emotional displays typifying Holiness services. These utterances are said to emanate from the Holy Spirit through the unwitting lips of the speakers.

The congregation, in contrast with the passivity maintained by worshipers in conservative bodies, plays an important part in sanctified services. When excitation had been raised to a high pitch by sermons, exhortations, testimony, prayers, or “speaking in tongues”, the members may express themselves in dancing, rhythmic hand-clapping, shouting, and convulsive gyrations. The term “holy roller” is not always a misnomer, for particularly inspired “saints” literally roll on the floor. During spiritual seizures supplicants frequently throw themselves violently about in utter disregard of the damage they may do to themselves or others. Less inspired members often undertake the task of directing such violent actions into non-injurious channels.

Aside from these apparently involuntary manifestations, “testifying for the Lord” assumes a momentous role. Each member is privileged to give testimony as to the circumstances of his sanctification and its effect upon his affairs, both physical and spiritual. As a rule, these testimonies are extremely emotional and sometimes serve the purpose of a short sermon. Indeed, some members by dint of long practice become almost as adept as the preacher in the art of arousing the congregation, or, as they put it, “stirring up the Holy Ghost.” The primary requirement is that testimony maintains a spirited pace. If a member becomes a little too verbose or boresome, the Elder interrupts him and calls upon another. On the other hand, if a song offered as a testimonial achieves emotional success, chorus after chorus may be sung until electrifying effect on the audience has worn out.

Candidates for sainthood, after publicly foreswearing the world and its sinful pleasures, must set about getting the Holy Ghost, as a rule first manifested by “speaking in tongues.” In some churches the candidate who confesses his sins is immediately received, while in others he must pass through the stages of the Three Works of Grace: Sanctification, Justification, and Baptism by the Holy Ghost.

Details of the ritual vary. In most instances it is customary for a candidate to go through a “tarrying” period before he receives the Baptism of the Holy Ghost through prayer and fasting or through the “laying on of hands” by one who has already attained a saintly state and is “filled with the Holy Ghost.”

Not a few Holiness churches have preaching every night in the week, the services often lasting four hours or more. In addition to the regular Sunday services, prayer or “tarry” meetings for the purpose of accelerating the sanctification of candidates is conducted. “Refilling” services are held to revive the potency of the Holy Ghost in saints who may be wavering a bit. Healing services are rather unusual, for these offer the elder his severest test, and consequently the exercise of his greatest mental agility. When the miracle does not occur, an inevitable explanation is that the afflicted one did not have faith enough or was too full of sin. The mere presence of skeptics in the audience, according to the elders, is enough to thwart the healing power of the Holy Ghost.

Perhaps the best known Holiness church in Chicago is that presided over by Reverend Clarence H. Cobbs, the First Church of Deliverance, whose regular Sunday night radio-broadcast — featured by the singing of accomplished soloists and choir, accompanied by a “swing” electric organ — is heard by thousands, white as well as black. Reverend Cobbs, whose appeal is to “boys and girls in the streets and taverns” as well as to persons more respectably located, conducts annually a candle lighting service, a unique and striking ceremony always largely attended.

Another denomination that gained many adherents following the Great Migration, is the Spiritualist churches. Practically unknown before 1920, the spiritualists had established in 1928, 17 churches (5.8% of the total for Negroes) and in 1938 had increased these figures to 51 churches and 10.7%.

A majority of the Negro spiritualist churches of Chicago are of the storefront variety, though a few have progressed beyond that state and attract large congregations. Because of the comparatively quiet decorum ordinarily observed in their meetings (as contrasted with the vociferousness of Holiness and “shouting” Baptist services), the spiritualists are enabled to meet in sedate and “respectable” areas. Such gatherings, however, are likely to be held in private homes and take on the intimate character of neighborhood clubs. Not a few mediums pursue their explorations into the occult as purely commercial ventures.

There are no denominational affiliations between the various spiritualist groups though “Pope” Davis of California made an unsuccessful attempt to unite them in 1938, envisioning himself as Holy See of the combined bodies. Each church has its leader who defines its articles of faith, all adhere to the basic belief in “prophesy” and “communication of the spirit.” Only a few churches venture to materialize the spirits; the usual procedure is to relay the message quite prosaically through a medium.

Even the smaller churches customarily have several mediums or readers supposedly endowed with psychic powers enabling them to consult with spirits of the dead. Since spirits are presumed to be omniscient, extreme importance is placed upon their pronouncements concerning certain mundane matters. For example, the spirits, when the medium or reader has established contact with them, may divulge valuable information about policy tickets, lost articles, marital fidelity, or any other problem vexing the human heart or mind.

Mediums often anticipate — or even demand — a “gift” or “love offering”, and sometimes point out a member of the congregation to inform him a communication for him has been received from the spirit world, this news being accompanied by an offer to interpret the message. “Communications” may be ordered in advance, and at other times a reader may lapse into a dream or trance for the special benefit of a member.

Divine healing is a major article of spiritualist credo. The healing is not attempted by virtue of prayer alone, but by the laying on of hands, rubbing, and the use of magnetized articles such as flowers, candles, oil, marble chips, and anointed handkerchiefs. True believers are admonished to have no faith in doctors, but to rely on these articles instead. If the church is in an abandoned store, its windows are likely to be decorated with holy wares such as miniature altars, necklaces, medallions, and bracelets bearing the crucified figure of Christ, these flanked by placards announcing the sale of “blessed candles”, “lucky incense”, etc..

The medium usually advises the use of holy articles which may be purchased during or after meetings, and the patron is instructed to read a specific verse or chapter of the Bible along with the application of each nostrum. No fee is assessed for holy water, and often the medium will anoint a patron with holy oil free of charge. Other items are moderately priced at from ten to twenty-five cents.

There is a general similarity between the rites and ecclesiastical objects of the more prosperous spiritualist churches and those of the Roman Catholic faith. Interior decorations inside include figure of saints, statues of Christ, paintings of sacred subjects, and like ornaments.

In the First Community Church, probably Chicago’s most elaborate Negro spiritualist institution, the choir is led by women wearing nuns’ black raiment surmounted by cowls who lead the white-robed singers in a procession down the aisles preceding the minister’s entrance. The latter, attired in a purple velvet robe, white surplice, and priest’s headgear, carries in his hand a long baton from which depends a small cross as he marches down the aisle to kneel before the altar and cross himself. Officers and worshipers make similar obeisance upon entering the church.

Other phases of the service take a more practical turn. At one point, it is the duty of the assistant minister to solicit fees for reading, and when at times members display indifference toward tidings from the spirit world she offers special inducements in the way of rate reductions or the promise of revelations more significant than common.

“You know, dear ones,” she announced on one occasion, “our money has been kinda short. I don’t want to be scoldful or no ways fretful, but sometimes we gotta mash down kinda hard. Now all those who gave me fifteen cents raise your hands and Sister Gross will come around and read you.”

Sister Gross, a smiling, rotund little woman with gray hair, circulates among the worshippers who have yielded up fifteen cents. She “reads” a woman: “I want to come in contact with you, beloved, and bring a message to carry on . . . . You know a preacher that has passed on recently . . . . Sometimes when you’re alone you feel his spirit around you. You don’t want to tell anybody it, and that’s right. Those colors you’re wearing are good for you – red, blue and gray. I see success and happiness ahead for you. 41 is going to be a good year . . . “.

There are in Chicago at least two schools for the training of mediums. One of these is conducted by Father Morris of the Independent Church of God and Power Center, venerated by his followers as a divine Messiah and (on special occasions) a reincarnation of the pre-Mosaic Hebrew priest and king of Salem, Malchisedec. Professor Perry Jones, Father Morris’ most successful graduate, now heads his own school of Metaphysics in conjunction with the Inspirational Church and Power Center.

Father Morris’ sermons are seldom void of dramtic incident. One Sunday he announced: “There is a young man in this room right now, a member of the church, who said, `Father Morris is a damn fool,’ and there’s a female member here this morning who said I was `a God damn fool.’ They say I can’t read, that if I could read, I’d know what they were thinking about. I’m reading you now. And just because I didn’t say nothing to you about it is no sign I can’t read you!”

After this conclusive demonstration of his power, Father Morris continued: “Some of the graduates of my school are running around here fooling with voodoos. They say they’re going to make money out of their training. And one of them made eighty cents this year! Two of the pupils of my class stopped before graduating and started to running over to Jim Reese, getting sacred flowers, blessed roses, incense, and salt. They keep the salt to sprinkle on the ground after an enemy leaves. That ain’t nothing but the devil. You can run over to Jim Reese all you want to and practice all the Voodoo you want to, but unless you get God in you, you’re lost.”

“Ninety-eight percent of all spiritualists are making a regular gambling, Voodoo, witchcraft, backbiting, policy number game of it. They play the numbers and give them to their customers, claiming that success will come. There are also the greatest agency for breaking up homes and friendship in existence. All of these things are done under the name of spiritualism!”

Perhaps the most startling religious movement of the period to arise in the colored community was that established by Noble Drew Ali, born Timothy Drew in North Carolina. Self-styled Prophet of Islam, Drew founded in 1925 the Moorish American Science Temple. Negroes were informed by Drew that in reality they were of Moorish descent and therefore Asiatics. The semi-literate but persuasive Prophet managed after a slow beginning to attract many disciples to his banner, the Moorish star and cresent on a field of red. He offered his followers pride of race and dignity. Drew Ali had written and published his “Koran”, a slim pamphlet consisting of a curious mixture of the Mohammedan holy book of the same name, the Christian Bible, and anecdotes of the life of Jesus, the whole bound together with the Prophet’s own pronouncements and interpretations. The Prophet began to do a profitable business in various nostrums and charms he had concocted, among them Old Moorish Healing Oil, Moorish Blood Purifier Bath Compound, and Moorish Herb Tea for Human Ailments.

More and more “Asiatics” flocked to the star and crescent standard. They flaunted their fezzes on the street and treated the white man with undistinguished contempt. The Prophet announced that each devote Moorish American must carry a card bearing his credentials and his real (or Asiatic) name, signed by the Prophet with his seal. Often enough “slave” names were transformed into “real” ones by the simple addition of “El” or “Bey”, these being titles signifying Moorish dignity. The membership card and button, when displayed to Europeans, would convince them that the bearer was enlightened and a member of an organization to be feared and respected.

To the Prophet this theory of new-found independence had been a more or less purely ethical or theoretical point, and he had not reckoned on its practical effects among his zealous followers. Alarming reports of street brawls, threats, insults, and minor violence centering around Moorish Americas were brought to his notice. Members were accosting the white enemy on the streets, showing their membership cards and buttons, and proclaiming in the name of their Prophet, Noble Drew Ali, that they had been freed of European domination.

Recalling the downfall of the militant Abyssinians and contemplating the current difficulties of the Garvey movement, Drew Ali issued an order that his followers were to desist from challenging the master race in such indiscriminate fashion. But Drew Ali’s troubles were just beginning. His leadership was contested, in 1929, by Claude Greene, politician and former butler of Julius Rosenwald. A civil war ensued, each faction enlisting support from temples in other cities. Greene was shot and stabbed to death on the night of March 15, and Drew Ali was arrested as the leading suspect while he sat with his wife and a group of followers celebrating, so authorities charged, the murder of his rival. Released on bond shortly thereafter, the Prophet died from injuries inflicted by unknown assailants.

Further troubles plagued the church following Drew’s demise, resulting in the arrest of sixty-three Moors after a gun battle in which two policemen and one Moor were slain. One of the leading contestants for the Prophet’s vacant throne, John Givens El, formerly Drew’s chauffeur, after a couple of years sojourn in the insane asylum, returned to civil life to set about reorganizing the faithful. In 1941 he was heading a Chicago temple on East 40th St. and still asserting his claim to the title of Grand Sheik of all Moorish American Science Temples. Givens was one of six contestants, each one a temple leader and each one designating his own temple as Temple No. 1.

Services in each temple observe (with minor deviations) the pattern established by Drew Ali. First, a minor sheik, a shiekess or the chairman reads and explains Drew Ali’s version of the Koran. Then follows a more elaborate discourse by the Grand Sheik (in some temples called the Governor), the whole ceremony being punctuated at intervals by Christian hymns with the words Allah, Drew Ali, and Moslem substituted for God, Christ, and Christian.

The leader of each of the bickering factions has striven in vain to build up an organization as powerful (and as lucrative) as the parent body. The Prophet’s church, on good authority, had in one year amassed a fortune of $36,000 and commanded a membership of 12,000. Politicians respected and courted him, and Congressman Oscar DePriest was said to have joined the cult.

Another unconventional sect that invaded Chicago, during the early thirties, also purporting to establish the Asiatic derivation of the Negro, was founded by a former peddler, W.D. Fard, who claimed to hail from the holy city of Mecca. He proclaimed that his mission was to secure “freedom, justice and equality” for his race in North America.

Temple of Islam Number Two was established in Chicago about the end of 1933, following the creation of temple number one in Detroit three years earlier.

Like the Moorish American Science Temple, the Temple of Islam has been torn by internal dissension, a rival group having been established in 1935 by one of the original Temple ministers shortly after the first Chicago prophet, Elijah Mohammed, departed to spread the gospel of Islam in other localities. Like the Moors, the Moslems have on occasion done battle with police.

Their services are based upon manuals prepared by Prophet Fard; the writings, largely symbolical, are practically unintelligible to outsiders.

Temple members are emphatic in their denunciations of Roosevelt and the New Deal. In their opinion, the WPA and all other alphabetical agencies are subtle efforts on the part of the white man to save what is left of their dying civilization by getting the black man to sign up with them and be given a number. Their daily living habits are austere, and their church ceremonies are marked by calm and simplicity. There is no “talking in tongues”, no shouting, moaning, leaping, clapping — none of the violent activity associated with Negro “storefront” and “holy roller” churches.

Numerous minor cults have sprung up in Chicago, but most of them have been short-lived. There are also branches of national or international organizations, such as the I Am Movement which conducts a Negro section in a South Side storeroom. Father Divine’s “Angels” have set up half a dozen or more heavens. The Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam maintains a Chicago mosque, and, unlike the other two non-Christian cults noted, entertains no enmity toward the white man. A spokesman has said: “We have all races as members here: American white men, Turks, Italians, Negroes, and all nations. It is ignorant to say we have a religion that a white man cannot join or one a Negro can’t join.”

One more major group of churches, considered another form of cult, is the Pentecostal denomination. Perhaps the most famous preacher of the order is Elder Lucy Smith, a huge black woman who boasts of being the only member of her sex in Chicago ever to have built a church from the ground up; unlike most other church edifices of the race in her district, her’s was not purchased from whites. Human sympathies of preachers were typified by Elder Smith in 1932 when she setup a soup kitchen to feed hundreds of unemployed workers. For six months, over ninety persons daily were fed in her kitchen. Both races were seated at the tables, the beneficent elder insisting that no difference be made because of color. Described as a simple, ignorant, untrained but deeply sympathetic woman who believes absolutely in her power to help and heal others, her congregation consists largely of new arrivals from the South and those Negroes who have not and probably never will become urbanized. They are persons of little or no formal education, mostly day laborers, domestic servants, WPA workers, and relief clients. Elder Smith’s church for a time broadcast on the air an hour of its Sunday night’s service.

As has been stated, although the cults attract a good deal of notice because of their striking unconventionality and hectic vicissitudes, the old line churches and denominations are still dominate in the religious field. But in contrast to both the latter and the sects, or cults, is a third classification, the independent churches, a number of which were established in the period in protest against what the dissenters considered outmoded forms and unprogressive leadership. The movement was crystallized definitely with the revolt of Dr. D. W. Cook from the African Methodist Episcopal Church to found a community church. On the first Sunday of its existence, the new church attracted a hundred persons. Now at 41st Street and South Parkway, Dr. Cook’s organization boasts one of the best known choirs in the world, called the “radio and prize wining choir,” under the direction of Wesley Jones. Officers of the church are a group of intelligent, vigorous men; and the Sunday night forum is outstanding.

Today there are about a dozen independent churches in the colored district of Chicago, the leading ones pastored by Dr. J. C. Winters and by Dr. J. Russell Harvey. This independent movement is a terror to established churches, according to Harold M. Kingsley, head of Good Shepherd Church, a notable member of that group. The leading churches of the new movement, states Kingsley, are St. Thomas P.E., St. Edmunds P.E., Grace Presbyterian and Hope Presbyterian, Lincoln Memorial Congregation and Michigan Avenue Congregational.

The Good Shepherd Church and its pastor are good examples of modern independent trend. A practical, positive and aggressive churchman, Kingsley’s emphasis is on the virtue and value of labor and character. “He is not a religious genius,” says Herbert Morrison Smith; “instead he strikes one as a social engineer. His sermons do not discuss the golden streets of the New Jerusalem. He is more concerned with the challenge of the slums and dives of Chicago. The fact that men of this type and temper are so few and far apart in the religious history of Black America makes them all the more valuable and significant when they do appear.” Kingsley serves, mainly a congregation of professional and upper class people. Good Shepherd Church has been criticized by Negroes who assert the color line is drawn within the congregation, because the great majority of the members are fair skinned, as is the pastor, and they control and direct the activities of the church.

An interesting classification of Negro churches has been outlined by Reverend Kingsley; although the groupings are arbitrary, they are clear cut. Each of the types mentioned has played a role in the life of the colored community.

1. The old line churches; the established Methodist and Baptist churches of the traditional type, all of which have permanent church buildings.

2. The storefront and house-front churches, of which there are 178 out of the 278 churches in Chicago. These churches are usually transitory and without deep root in the community, a case of the blind leading the blind.

3. Liturgical churches: the Roman Catholic, the Lutheran, and the Protestant Episcopal.

4. The fringe churches: Holiness, Spiritualist, and various Eastern cults such as: the Mohammedan Temple, Moorish Cult, and others. Most of this group are thinly camouflaged with religion for exploitation purposes.

5. So-called “intellectual” churches: those which have a rationally expressed application of Christianity, of which the Congregational and Presbyterians are types.

The standard churches of the Negro community have engaged in numerous activities besides ministering to the spiritual needs of the race in Chicago. They have played a leading part in forwarding social and political movements. Two of the many projects sponsored by them are the Young Men’s and Woman’s Christian Association, which furnished healthful recreation and residence to thousands of young Negro men and women arriving in Chicago from the South during the Great Migration and later.

Numerous churches interested themselves in politics and candidates during the early twenties, when the Negro’s political power was increasing rapidly. Certain ministers in return for services received appointments to state and local offices paying handsome salaries, or dictated appointments of loyal followers. Many churches frankly used their pulpits as forums for rival candidates to plead their causes. The minister frequently played one candidate against the other and endorsed the one making the best bargain. Negroes followed the judgement of their pastors in such matters without question. In several notable instances whole blocks of votes were directly controlled by ministers. In certain mayoralty elections these votes determined the victor.

Other activities of the church were noted by the Chicago Daily News, July 12, 1929: “Institutional Negro churches are an important factor in aiding the Negro to take his adjustments to Chicago life. There are several such congregations outstanding and equally meritorious. “Possibly the Olivet Baptist Church affords as good an illustration as any of their gradual development not from a theory but a condition. “This church literally ministers to the material needs of its parishioners from the cradle to the grave, nothing less. It maintains prenatal classes for the instruction of expectant mothers. It has established an undertaking service to reduce the high cost of Christian burial. “One form of service has led to another. The Pastor, the Reverend L. K. Williams, came to Chicago for studies at the University of Chicago and to write a book. He remained to carry the burden of a parish into which flowed the tide of northward migration. First he set about finding suitable lodging for the newcomers, who were mostly men. That they might pay for their lodging he established an employment bureau, helping them to get jobs. That accomplished, the Negro man brought their families, who ultimately required co-operative apartments. Their daughters needed jobs and that they might fill them well a training school was launched. To establish the new Chicago financially, that they might pay for the homes found for them, thrift was preached and the financing of Anthony Overton’s new famous bank. “Don’t think that from all this we neglect worship,” says the pastor. “We have plenty of `rousement’ and I think at one of our services even one who believes as little as our good Clarence Darrow would be `roused’.”

The depression, which began in 1929, found great numbers of the race turning to other agencies for aid, however. Reverend Kingsley has asserted that, “The state of a man’s soul has some relationship to the kind of living standards, the kind of opportunity that he and his children have. The aesthetic, the political, the social, the economic have a very vital and inseparable connection with the religious. The religious expression of a group’s life is not going to be much higher than these other expressions.” The church, largely unprepared for the unprecedented catastrophe that followed the market crash, stood helplessly by while other organizations lured away a sizable portion of its membership.

Although economic conditions have propelled masses of Negroes toward civic organizations, political groupings, social service agencies, and labor organizations, the colored community yet maintains approximately five hundred churches, half of them storefronts. About seventy-five thousand Negroes attend one or another of the vast variety of religious institutions. The Baptists lead the field, with the Methodists second, and the Holiness churches embracing the third largest number of communicants. As has been shown, Protestant orders vie with Catholic, Independents with Cults, and edifices range from white stone fronts to storefronts, while staidly sophisticate congregations contrast with wildly emotional. Both the independent churches and the cults are an expression of the religious seeking of masses of Negroes whose spiritual needs and daily problems are unsatisfied by the standard denominations. As enumerated by Kingsley, the “fringe” movement comprises esoteric theosophical, Cultural Unity and New Thought, elevated Baha’ism, yearning Christian Science and Holly Roller, non-descript store-frontiers, Primitive Baptist (once in Christ never out); and there may be added to these many semi-social, semi-economic, semi-political religious organizations, and burial, fraternal, and uplift societies, as well as Eastern mystical cults, genuine Mohammedanism and denatured Oriental philosophy thinly disguised for exploitation purposes. And in addition there are the Jogi [Yogi] and Swami.

Recognizing the weakened position of the conventional church in Negro life, the Chicago Defender, leading race organ, in an editorial published September 6, 1941, reviewed its history, stated the conditions in which it finds itself currently, and indicated the role it must assume to regain its former influence. “The Negro church has played a memorable role in the cultural development of the Negro race in the United States. Out of meager resources, schools of various categories and grades have been built and maintained with a view of securing better economic opportunities for the masses. Our early church leaders did not limit their activities to spiritual redemption. They were equally concerned with economic salvation of their people. They fought in an doubt of the church for the observance of the political tenants for which sacrifice in blood was made by the founders of this republic. No one, therefore, who is familiar with this phase of our evolution would cast aspersions on the past leadership of the Negro church. The present state of muddled world affairs, the titanic conflict of forces with divergent concepts, the attacks upon democracy and the confusion of aims and purpose that grows out of a Fascist challenge, lead us to advance the thinking of its followers and channel their action. Here and there isolated ministers with courage and intelligence have plunged into the stream of social action, often without the support of their congregations. Such individual acts, however laudable, are not enough. The moment calls for collective, unified action by the Negro church as a whole. With its splendid tradition and moral prestige born of the battles it has won in behalf of the Race, our church should be able and willing to grasp the hour, and produce a dynamic, progressive leadership capable of bringing order out of chaos. The church should not be content to follow. It should lead.”

Chapter Two
Marcus Garvey

Part One:
“Why I have not spoken in Chicago since 1920”

By Marcus Garvey
Recorded by Lillian Harper

In 1919 the “Chicago Defender”, published by Robert S. Abbott, libeled the Black Star Corporation and me. Abott has always through rivalry and jealousy, been opposed to me, and especially through my not being born in America and my criticism of his dangerous newspaper policy of always advising the race to lighten its skin which was black and strighten out its hair which was kinky. I am also hated by him because of my determination to dignify the term Negro as against his policy of referring to the race as “race men” or “race women” without defining what race, whether Caucasian, Mongolian, African or Negro.

Action was brought against Abbott in New York and subsequently on other charges in Chicago. The libel suit of the Black Star Lines was tried in New York in the fall of 1920 and judgement was returned in favor of the company. My suit in New York was deferred on the calendar for 1921 and the case in Chicago against Abbott were listed for the Fall of 1921.

In the Fall of 1919 I visited Chicago to address a series of meetings in the interest of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. During my stay in the city the following incidents happened: When the Black Star Line was incorporated in June 1919 I was told by its colored attorney in New York that among the States the incorporation was permitted to sell stock was Illinois. On my preparing to visit Chicago in the Fall he again assured me that it was legal for the company to sell stock in Chicago. On going to the city the corporation sent one of its stock salesmen along with my party, consisting of five persons, my private secretary, my stenographer, the American leader of the Association and the International organizer and myself. At the meeting where I spoke it was customary for the company, through its salesman, to sell stock to members of the organization. Not knowing the laws of Illinois and believing the advice of the attorney for the company, I allowed the salesman to sell stock to members of the organization, for the corporation at the first meeting I addressed in the series. My name as president of the corporation, along with that of the Treasury or Secretary, had already been signed to stock certificates in the New York Office. He sold about $90.00 worth of the stock at the meeting by filling in the people’s names above the signature and made his own entry on the counterfoil. The “Chicago Defender”, I was informed, employed a colored man, connected with a detective agency, to approach me at my lodging the following morning after I had addressed a large assembly the night previous at the public school where the meetings were held to request me to sell him two shares of stock ($5.00) per share in the Black Star Line. I told him I do not sell stock, but that there was a salesman somewhere in the city who represented the company and would attend to him. He said his wife attended the meeting I addressed the night previous and she was so impressed with the speeches and became so interested to join in and help the race and the organization that she sent him right off as he came home from work to get the stock, and that he must take it home, “you know”, he said, “When a woman wants a thing she must have it.” He implored me to try and find the address where he could locate the salesman. I hadn’t the address, so I advised him to be at the meeting that night when the salesman would be there. He said he would be at the meeting but he wanted to give his wife the stock before for her satisfaction. My secretary, who had the telephone for the local division of the Universal Negro Improvement Association was out, and I advised the man, if he was in such a hurry, to wait in the parlor for the arrival of my secretary, who might give him the telephone number or address of the office. I left the man waiting. About five minutes later my secretary returned, and she informed me she had given a man on the main floor the address of the local office, as he informed her that I stated he might find the stock salesman there. I dismissed the matter from my mind, and never gave it another thought until at eight o’clock that night, five minutes before I was scheduled to speak to a large audience of thousands that had assembled, when I was suddenly called from the platform by two white men in company with the colored man and informed that I was under arrest for violation of the Blue Sky Law or something to that effect. I never knew at that time there was such a thing as a “blue sky law”, or even a “grey sky law”. I had been in the country just over a couple of years and all my time and attention were given to the organization work, depending on others to inform me about the law. I was more interested in the good of humanity than the law. I was surprised when I found out that I had been betrayed by a friend in my organization. When I arrived at the police station, dressed in evening clothes, I found out what it was all about. My secretary had me released under bond of $2,000.00 to appear in court the next morning. My release was at ten o’clock that night, which was too late to address the meeting from which I was taken. The plan was to spoil the meeting and humiliate me — the colored man’s way of revenging his adversary.

The next morning, when I arrived in court with a lawyer, who was attorney to a banker friend of mine in Chicago, who arranged bail, I found the court room crowded with representatives of the “Chicago Defender”. The lawyer explained the situation of my not knowing that there was such a law to be violated. The Court sensed the plot, and with the consent of the representative of the States Attorney’s office, the amount paid for the stock was refunded by the stock salesman, and I believe I was fined a $100.00 or the case dismissed. It was all done by the attorney in consultation with the judge, and I made no further inquires. Three days after this incident, on preparing to leave Chicago for Pittsburgh, where I had an appointment, I was served with a notice of suit filed against me for libel by Robert S. Abbott, editor and publisher of the “Chicago Defender”. I was at a loss to know the whereabouts or how I had libeled anyone in Chicago. I took the notice to an attorney who I met on my first visit to Chicago in 1917, and whose wife had spoken in New York on special invitation before the members of the Universal Improvement Association. The notice or summons did not state in detail the nature of the offence. He was paid a retainer of $100.00 and instructed to register his appearance on my behalf immediately. He stated to me that no particulars were filed and that it was just an attempt to scare me. However, he would attend to the matter and keep me informed at my home in New York. I wrote to this attorney several times in 1920, and he informed me that nothing had been filed against me. The two cases I had against Abbott in Chicago were also deferred on the Calender and I was told by the attorney that I would be informed of the trial. I planned a thirty-day trip to the West Indies and Central America in the Spring of 1921. A month before I wrote to the attorney in Chicago about the case, and I was informed that they would not be called in my absence. I also had the assurance of the New York colored attorney that the New York case against Abbott would not be called. As I have explained many times before, I was forcibly kept out of the United States for five months, during which time the two cases against Abbott in Chicago and one in New York were allowed to go by default, without any information or notice to me about them, and the Abbott case against me in Chicago was allowed to go to trial and a default judgement was for $5,000.00. A month after Abbott took a body execution warrant against me. On my learning this I sought to open the case, and I was advised that a reopening would not be allowed.

This accounts for my non-appearance in Chicago since 1920.

Part Two:
An interview with William A. Wallace

conducted by Lillian Harper

The Marcus Garvey movement was a plan of furthering Garvey’s idea to sell stock in the Black Star Line, a steamboat project that he was engaged in promoting. The trend of the movement here assumed a political aspect and was headed by persons who saw the value of gaining political strength and votes. William A. Wallace, present Democratic Senator, was the head of the Chicago movement. He became so intoxicated with the possibilities of the movement among Negroes in political welfare that he closed his thriving bakery business located at 36th and State St., to give full-time to the development of the movement in Illinois.

He became one of Garvey’s most trusted lieutenants. It had as good an effect as the Negro lodges. The movement became merely a duplication of the Negro secret societies, with parades and bands, the collecting of monthly dues, the administrating to the unemployed and sick members until its affairs became involved in corrupt practices of misappropriating of the funds of the movement, at which time Wallace was asked to resign.

Garvey was sentenced to prison and the movement which was built around one man as a dictator suffered from the lack of a leader. Garvey was sent to the U.S. government prison on the charge of defrauding through the mails. The Chicago movement like all other Garvey movements [groups] suffered, and collapsed.

Garvey believed that the sucess of his movement would depend upon his ability to persuade other Negroes that they had been mislead, deceived, and exploited by the Negro leadership of that day. He forthwith set out to discredit and to attack viciously all types of constructive Negro leadership throughout the country. He denounced W. E. B. DuBois, editor of the “Crisis”, he called William Monroe Trotter a crazy man, and he attacked R.S. Abbott of the “Chicago Defender” as being unfaithful to the Negroes in general.

He organized the “Negro World”, a weekly with a circulation of 75,000 in New York City and refused to accept hair straightening and bleaching of the skin which was so fashionable among Negroes. An advertisement that was printed in his paper read as follows: “Negroes should not straighten their hair or bleach their skin.” He used his paper to attack contemporary Negro leadership and as a weapon against any one who disagreed with his principals.

When Garvey announced in his paper that he was going to purchase the Ocean Liner to carry the Negro Back to Africa, their native land, he incurred the wrath of other Negro newspapers especially the “Chicago Defender”, which carried a story on William’s Back to Africa project. Styling it as similar to the Old Chief Sam Expedition, which caused untold suffering among Negroes. He wanted the Negro to appreciate the fact that he was black, and stated that he had nothing to be ashamed of. Chief Sam, who many years ago attempted to induce the Negro to go back to Africa came from Kansas with the same idea, and Negroes contributed much money to the project. Chief Sam secured an old seaworthy vessel which was stranded in the ocean. Garvey obtained the Steamship Yarmouth, formerly used as an excursion boat out of Boston, he supposedly paid $85,000 obtained from interested Negroes, and hired a Negro captain from the West Indies by the name of Joshua Cockburn to man the ship, the ship headed from New York Harbor with a cargo of spiritus liquers, and a few hundred passengers and members of the New York organization. The Yarmouth became unseaworthy just out of Jamaica, and had to be towed in. The cargo of liquor was greatly reduced by throwing much overboard, as it was too heavy and about to sink the ship. Many Negroes purchased stock in the project under the name Black Star Line…the ship was later sold at auction.

The “Chicago Defender” cited Garvey, and his mythical projects, and Garvey charged that he had been libeled because his Yarmouth project had been identified with the Chief Sam Expedition which had been fraud. He sued Robert S. Abbott of the “Chicago Defender” and the “Chicago Defender” for one million dollars in the courts of New York, and served papers to that effect on Abbott’s New York representative William White. The case came up for trial and Abbott answered, through his attorney French and French of New York. Garvey won a moral victory and was awarded one cent, but had to stand the expense of court.

Shortly after this case in New York, Garvey announced that he was coming to Chicago to tour Illinois in an effort to increase the strength of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. He came to Gary and held a large meeting announcing that he was invading Chicago the following day. Chicago was the hotbed of his enemies. He came to Chicago, and engaged the 8th Regiment Armory in 1919. He attacked Abbott from the platform and assailed the “Chicago Defender”, and finally made the fatal mistake of announcing his intention of selling his Black Star Line stock after the meeting. The stock was not listed under the Illinois Blue Sky Laws, which regulated the sale of stock certificates and shares, and to suppress Garvey’s malicious attacks on the “Chicago Defender”– It was suggested that Mr. Garvey be brought to account for fleecing Chicago Negroes in his Black Star Line project. Sheridan A. Brusseau, head of the Keystone National detective Agency, was employed to purchase a share in the stock from Garvey by orders of Mr. R.S. Abbott. He did this, and when Garvey arose to speak the following night, Detective George Friend and S.A. Brusseau placed him under arrest and took him in a patrol wagon to the police bureau, where he was held for court trial. W. E. Mollison, father of Irvin Mollison, present attorney for Julian Black enterprises, was attorney for Garvey. The trial was held at the Municipal Court. He was fined $5.00 and cost and forbidden to sell any more stock. Abbott then sued him for libel, and obtained a judgement against him for $5,000 with a body execution to seized him upon sight and Garvey evaded Chicago for fear that he would be placed in jail.

Garvey wanted everything connected with him to be black, he purchased a black house, the Black Star Line Stock, and had a chain of grocery stores in Harlem, his followers wore a black cross. His parades were miles long, the Negroes were dressed in plumed hats, blue uniforms, and gold braid marching up and down the street, they carried gold swords. He had various units for men, women and children. The movement was minimized here because their leader couldn’t enter Chicago to exploit the Negro. Dr. Leroy Bundy of Cleveland was one of Garvey’s cabinet members. Dr. J. W. E. Eason of Philadelphia was a prominent pastor that left his church and followed Garvey. He was seceded by G. W. Knox. Eason later left Garvey, and lead a revolt against him which caused Eason to be shot to death in New Orleans by two of Garvey’s ardent supporters. Another staunch supporter of Garvey was W.L. Ephriam of Illinois. His movement was made up of the laboring class of Negroes. It would have been a wonderful project due to the fact that Garvey was an organizer but a poor business man and unable to direct efficiently the money that was placed into his hands. He craved publicity and paid newspapers huge sums to publicize him. He had the same organizing idea as Father Divine.

Chapter Three
The WPA Study of the Moorish Science Temple

Some time in 1925 a small Negro wearing a flaming red fez similar to those worn by Turks appeared in empty lots and on street corners of Chicago’s South Side to proclaim a startling new doctrine. He was Noble Drew Ali, born Timothy Drew in North Carolina, Prophet of Islam and founder of the Moorish American Science Temple. Little is known of Drew Ali’s early history. He is reputed to have been an express-man in Newark, New Jersey, where he founded the first Moorish American Temple in 1913. There is also some evidence to indicate that he had established branches in Pittsburgh and Detroit before he came to Chicago.

Drew’s main contention was that the people commonly known in America as Negroes are in reality of Moorish descent and thus Asiatics. Act six of his “Divine Constitution and By-Laws” reads: “With us all members must proclaim their nationality and their Divine Creed that they may know that they are a part and partial of this said government and that they are not Negroes, Colored Folks, Black People or Ethiopians, because these names were given by slave holders in 1779 and lasted until 1865 during the time of slavery but this is a new era of time now, and all men must proclaim their free national name to be recognized by the government in which they live and the nations of the earth, this is the reason Allah the Great God of the Universe ordained Noble Drew Ali, the Prophet to redeem his people from their sinful ways. The Moorish Americans are the descendants of the Ancient Moabites whom inhabited the North Western and South Western shores of Africa.”

Prophet Noble Drew Ali did not immediately rally many disciples to his banner, the Moorish star and crescent on a field of red. But he persisted, and at length was able to establish permanent headquarters. Though self taught, he possessed an eloquent tongue, a persuasive manner, and a native shrewdness which enabled him to sway the poor and unlettered people who listened to him. Most of them remembered the race riots of 1919; all of them had experienced discrimination and other wrongs. Drew Ali was offering them pride and dignity. In 1928 a successful convention encouraged Drew Ali to expand his proselytizing activities to other cities. It is difficult to ascertain just how many temples resulted, but those in Pittsburgh, Detroit, Charleston, West Virginia, Lansing, Michigan, and Youngstown, Ohio are fairly well authenticated.

Drew Ali had written and published his “Koran”, a slim pamphlet consisting of a curious mixture of the Mohammedan holy book of the same name, the Christian bible, and anecdotes of the life of Jesus – the whole bound together with the Prophet’s own pronouncements and interpretations. The Prophet began to do a profitable business in various nostrums and charms he had concocted, among them Old Moorish Healing Oil, Moorish Blood Purifier Bath Compound, and Moorish Herb Tea for Human Ailments.

More and more “Asiatics” flocked to the star and crescent standard. They flaunted their fezzes on the street and treated the white man with undistinguished contempt. The Prophet announced that each devote Moorish American must carry a card bearing his credentials and his real (or Asiatic) name, signed by the Prophet with his seal. Often enough “slave” names were transformed into “real” ones by the simple addition of “El” or “Bey”, these being titles signifying Moorish dignity. The membership card and button, when displayed to Europeans, would convince them that the bearer was enlightened and a member of an organization to be feared and respected.

To the Prophet this theory of new-found independence had been a more or less purely ethical or theoretical point, and he had not reckoned on its practical effects among his zealous followers. Alarming reports of street brawls, threats, insults, and minor violence centering around Moorish Americas were brought to his notice. Members were accosting the white enemy on the streets, showing their membership cards and buttons, and proclaiming in the name of their Prophet, Noble Drew Ali, that they had been freed of European domination.

Recalling the downfall of the militant Abyssinians and contemplating the current difficulties of the Garvey movement, Drew Ali issued the following UKASE: “I hereby warn all Moors that they must cease from all radical or agitating speeches while on their jobs, or in their homes, or on the streets. Stop flashing your cards before Europeans as this only causes confusion. We did not come to cause confusion; our work is to uplift the nation.”

Drew Ali’s leadership was soon contested. In 1929 he became embroiled in a quarrel with Claude Greene, politician and former butler of Julius Rosenwald, who had previously joined the cult. One day Drew Ali arrived at his office to find that Greene had moved all the furniture outside and had declared himself Grand Sheik. A civil war ensued, each faction enlisting support from temples in other cities. Greene was shot and stabbed to death in his offices at the Unity Club on the night of March 15, 1929.

Drew Ali, arrested as he sat with his wife and a group of followers celebrating (authorities charged) the murder of his rival, was defended by Attorneys Aaron Payne and William L. Dawson, cult members who later gained political prominence. The Prophet, from prison, issued a message to his flock: “To the Heads of All Temples, Islam: “I, your Prophet, do hereby and now write you a letter as a warning and appeal to your good judgement for the present and the future. Though I am now in custody for you and the cause, it is all right and it is well for all who still believe in me and my Father-God Allah. I have redeemed all of you and you shall be saved, all of you, even with me. I go to bat Monday, May 20, before the Grand Jury. If you are with me, be there. Hold on and keep the faith, and great shall be your reward. Remember my laws and love ye one another. Prefer not a stranger to your brother. Love and truth and Peace I leave all. Peace from Your Prophet, Noble Drew Ali.”

This proved to be Drew Ali’s final proclamation. Released on bond, he died under mysterious circumstances a few weeks later. One theory is that he succumbed to injuries inflicted by the police during his imprisonment, another is that he was set upon by partisans of Greene after his release and beaten so severely that he never recovered.

After Drew Ali’s death Attorney Aaron Payne attempted unsucessfully to hold the group together. Several of the Prophet’s disciples announced that they alone were the rightful inheritor of Drew Ali’s leadership. John Givens El (formerly the Prophet’s chauffer) and Ira Johnson Bey (who had been imported from Pittsburgh to assist in quelling the Greene revolt) each conceived the idea that the dead leader’s spirit entered his body. Johnson, a man of action, invaded the office of Mealy El, another aspirant, and demanded recognition as Grand Sheik. Mealy El demurred and received a terrific mauling. Johnson then dispatched his henchmen to kidnap Kirkman Bey, who claimed possession of Drew Ali’s last will and testament.

Kirkman’s wife, correctly surmissed that her husband was being detained in Johnson’s apartment, directed the police thither. A gun battle ensued in which two policemen and one Moor were killed. Sixty-three Moors were arrested, and Johnson was committed to the State Hospital for the criminally insane where he subsequently died. John Givens El also was apprehended after he forced his way into Attorney Payne’s home in search of Drew Ali’s papers.

Givens too, was sent to the insane asylum, but was released several years later. In 1941 he was heading a Chicago temple on East 40th St. and still asserting his claim to the title of Grand Sheik of all Moorish American Science Temples. Givens was one of six contestants, each one a temple leader and each one designating his own temple as Temple No. 1.

Services in each temple observe (with minor deviations) the pattern established by Drew Ali. First, a minor sheik, a shiekess or the chairman reads and explains Drew Ali’s verion of the Koran. Then follows a more elaborate discourse by the Grand Sheik (in some temples called the Governor), the whole ceremony being punctuated at intervals by Christian hymns with the words Allah, Drew Ali, and Moslem substituted for God, Christ, and Christian. Friday is observed as a holy day of rest, “because on a Friday the first man was formed in flesh and on a Friday the first man departed out of the flesh and ascended unto his Father-God Allah, for that cause Friday is the Holy Day for Moslems all over the world.” (Divine Constitution and By-Laws)

Since Drew Ali considered Marcus Garvey his forerunner (in a relationship analogous to John the Baptist and Jesus) and paid tribute to him both in his “Koran” and in sermons, Moorish Americans frequently laud and quote the Jamaican organizer.

January 8, the Prophet’s birthday, is a special occasion in all temples. Full Moorish regalia is worn by those members who can afford it, and there is likely to be feasting and distribution of gifts as in Christmas celebrations in Christian churches. A number of unconverted guests are invited; the customary speeches take on a more evangelistic tone. Expositions of the teachings and principals of the Prophet are offered in a more simplified form for the benefit of those still under the influence of “The Folly” (Christianity).

The leader of each of the bickering factions has striven in vain to build up an organization as powerful (and as lucrative) as the parent body disrupted by internal warfare and the death of Drew Ali. According to Attorney Aaron Payne, the Prophet in one year amassed a fortune of $36,000 and commanded a membership of 12,000 [in Chicago alone]. Politicians respected and courted him, and Oscar de Priest, Congressman, was reputed to have joined the cult.

Chapter Four
The Temple People a/k/a The Nation of Islam

“The Asiatic black man is the original man, the ruler of the universe, the eight inhabited planets and of this planet earth. Islam is the true religion. A religion which can be proved by Mathematics in a limit of time.”

“The Moslems have the wisdom. We’re not afraid of the devil, this so-called white man. We talk right up to them. They’re afraid of you if you’ve got the Truth. Just tell’em, `White man, you’re a devil. You were grafted from the original black man.’ He’ll say, `Yes, you’re right.’ He’ll admit it ’cause you got the power. Just say, `You’re a beast, you’ve got one-third animal blood.’ He won’t deny it, ’cause it’s true. When they were driven from the Holy City of Mecca they lived in the Caves of Europe and mingled with the beasts.”

“Christianity is the religion of the so-called white man. Have you ever noticed that the very things he teaches us that the Devil does is the very things he is doing? He is the Devil.”

These quotations from a sermon by a minister of a Chicago Temple of Islam outline certain primary beliefs of the sect, founded in Detroit during 1930 by a Negro peddler named W.D. Fard, who presumably hailed from the Orient. Fard, shortly after his appearance in Detroit, announced modestly: “I am W.D. Fard and I came from the Holy City of Mecca. More about myself I will not tell you yet, for the time has not yet come. I am your brother. You have not yet seen me in my royal robes.” He proclaimed that his mission was to secure “freedom, justice and equality” for his “uncle” as a symbolic term for all Negroes of North America, while the white man was always referred to as “a cave man”, a “Satan”, or “Caucasian devil.”

The Temple of Islam frequently found itself in conflict with the Detroit authorities. One zealot was involved in a ritual murder, and parents refused to send their children to the “white devil’s” schools, preferring the University of Islam where “righteous” learning was imparted. At the University children were taught Moslem knowledge as an antidote to the “tricknollogy” of the Caucasians. The Board of Education intervened; the Moslems retaliated with minor riots. Sensational newspaper accounts so magnified these incidents that the Nation of Islam assumed the proportions of a serious menace to peace and was labeled “the voodoo cult.”

Temple of Islam Number Two was established in Chicago sometime late in 1933 or during the early part of 1934. At about the same time, Fard vanished from Detroit and, if available records are to be credited has not been seen since. Many of his followers, identifying Fard with Allah, maintained that he had returned to Mecca, the Islamic heaven from whence he came. Fard, according to report, helped Elijah Mohammed to organize Temple No. 2 in Chicago, bestowing “righteous” (i.e., “Original”) names upon eight hundred new Moslems.

Like the Moorish American Science Temple, the Temple of Islam has been torn by internal dissension, a rival group having been established in 1935 by one of the original Temple ministers shortly after the first Chicago prophet, Elijah Mohammed, departed to spread the gospel of Islam in other localities. Since then Elijah’s movements, like those of Fard, have been the subject of almost pure conjecture. Elijah Mohammed’s son, Immanuel Mohammed, assumed charge on the eve of the cult’s most serious encounter with the police. A street car quarrel participated in by a Moslem woman led to a battle in the Woman’s Court, with cult members determined to “stand by their sister.” Two cultists were wounded by gunfire, and 43 persons were placed under arrest. The Chicago Tribune, confused the Temple of Islam with the Moorish American Science Temple and W.D. Fard with Noble Drew Ali in an article published March 6, 1935.

“Their ‘Moorish’ names puzzled the police until King Shah disclosed that the Prophet of their order, W.D. Fard, or Fard Mohammed, or Elijah Mohammed, had christened them thus last spring. A police search for Prophet Fard was started but he could not be found last night. He was described as one born in the Holy City of Mecca in 1877, who came to America on July 4, 1930.

“…The fezzes and red robes, which the cultists also wore, apparently were rented…The `Allah Temple of Islam’, which propounds the theory that all blacks are Moors and not Negroes, is a secret organization of national proportions, investigation disclosed. The original prophet, one Noble Drew Ali, who began his career as a New Jersey express-man, appears to have left Chicago, which was once his headquarters, police said. The Chicago temple is said to be an off shoot of Drew’s original group. A complete system of military procedure, apparently drafted almost word for word from the army manual, governs the conduct of members.”

Services of the temple are based upon manuals prepared by Prophet Fard. Only one of these, Teachings for the Lost Found Nation of Islam in a Mathematical Way- consisting of Thirty-Four Problems, is printed. Secret Ritual of the Nation of Islam, Part I, in 14 Sections, and Secret Ritual of the Nation of Islam, Part II, in 40 Secs, must be memorized by each member, and no written copies are ever in evidence.

These manuals, being largely symbolic, are practically unintelligible to outsiders. The first consists of thirty-four “problems”, several of which are read to the congregation at each formal service. The following is a typical example: “A lion, in a cage, walks back and forth sixty feet per minute, seeking a way out of the cage. It took him nearly four centuries to find the door. Now, with modern equipment, he is walking three thousand feet per minute and he has three thousand miles by two thousand miles to go yet. How long will it take him to cover this territory of said three thousand miles by two thousand miles? He also has seventeen million keys, which he turns at the rate of sixteen and seventeen one-hundredths per minute. How long will it take him to turn the whole seventeen million? The above figures do not include rusty locks.”

A cult member has offered a partial solution of this problem by disclosing that the lion in the cage is the “original man”, or Asiatic, held in bondage for four centuries within a trap fabricated by the “caucasian devil.” The seventeen million keys represent a like number of Asiatics held in bondage in the “wilderness of North America”. “Modern equipment” is the teachings of Islam by which the “original man” progresses rapidly toward emancipation. Rusty locks are recalcitrant “originals” who have not yet accepted Islam.

The following are the important rules, (one for each letter of the alphabet) for the guidance of Temple people:

a. All persons entering the Temple must be searched – products of the Caucasian Devil’s art must not be taken into the Temple, such as, weapons, mirrors, fingernail files, cosmetics, cigarettes, medicine, etc.

b. All men leaving the Temple for the washroom must be searched upon their return to the Temple.

c. All men sit in a body in the front section of the Temple.

d. All women sit in the rear section.

e. All men use the right aisle of the Temple.

f. All women use the left aisle.

g. All men salute each other when passing.

h. Outside the Temple the women salute each other with a kiss on the side of the face.

i. All Moslems must greet each other with the Moslem greeting, “As Salaam Alaikum.”

j. Moslems eat only one meal a day: orange juice or cocoa in the morning and a big meal at 4:00 o’clock.

k. The eating of pork is forbidden.

l. Tobacco is forbidden.

m. Alcohol is forbidden.

n. Moslems fast 18 days per year: Ministers and Officials fast 2 or 3 days per week: A Mohammed’s family fast seven days: A Prophet fast twenty three days.

o. A Moslem must not cross his legs while seated in the Temple.

p. A ninety day suspension is given for sleeping during service.

q. A Moslem mother must wear full length dresses to cover her feet.

r. A Moslem woman Must wear low heel shoes.

s. A Moslem woman’s hat must cover her hair.

t. A Moslem girl must wear dresses below her knees.

u. A Moslem woman must not use cosmetics.

v. A Moslem woman must not use hair preparations.

w. A follower must attend the university from 3 to 9 months in order to master the teachings and become a Moslem.

x. No Caucasian must enter the Temple.

y. 150 lbs. is the `righteous’ weight for Moslem men.

z. A Moslem woman’s place is in the home. A Girl must be accompanied on the streets by her father or brother.

“Registered Moslems” maintain that the “white devil’s spook civilization” actually ended in 1914, and is now existing on borrowed time. Temple ministers sketch on a blackboard a strange device, apparently designed to represent a new planet discovered by Elijah Mohammed, and explained: “This is the Mother’s Airplane, the Wheel in a wheel, that Elijah saw. This planet is visible at 3 a.m….it moves a little forward, then a little backwards and then goes straight up. There are 15,000 planes coming out of this Mother’s Airplane…these planes will drop pamphlets on the earth warning the people of the `Holy War’. On one of these planes will be a black brother (Moslem) who will blow a siren…it will be blown by steam…and some of our eardrums will burst because it will be so loud…this is what the devil calls the trumpet will sound…but it won’t be no trumpet. When the siren sounds there will be a brother on every corner who will tell you to run…so RUN!!! DON’T STOP…because it may take you eight days. Don’t go back home, if you have a wife and child…there will be a brother there to look after them. The planes will drop bombs with steel points that will go a mile into the earth. Each bomb will destroy fifty square miles. The earth will be turned up and will be a lake of fire and Allah will cut a circuit and start a fire in the air. This planet (indicating the center of the wheel) is forty miles in the air and the people who inhabit it are black people. The Caucasian devil can only go six miles up in the air. The black man controls gravity.”

Temple members are emphatic in their denunciations of Roosevelt and the New Deal. In their opinion, the WPA and all other alphabetical agencies are subtle efforts on the part of the white man to save what is left of their dying civilization by getting the black man to sign up with them and be given a number. They eschew social security numbers and relief case numbers as manifestations of the “white devils” aptitude in “tricknollogy”. “Roosevelt”, reads a piece of typewritten Temple literature, “gave you a social security number just to hold you and now he’s getting ready to call in these numbers and give you a stamp…He’s going to put a stamp on you, the mark of the beast. You signed up with the devil and he gives you the filthy crumbs from his table like the rich man gave the man Lazarus.”

Since this is the basic attitude of members toward WPA and other agencies, the Temple People do their best to keep off of work relief and off relief in general as much as possible. Such data as is available indicates that, by and large, a slightly larger per cent of them hold private jobs than is true of similar numbers of Negroes in the same strata of society.

Their work habits, available reports indicate, are better than average. Undoubtedly this is partly due to their pride, their feeling of superiority. In part, also, it is due to the rigid rules of the church concerning the use of liquor and tobacco, both of which are forbidden. For the same reason, their homes are immaculate for the most part, their general habits simple and cleanly. Like their daily lives, their ceremonies are marked by calm and simplicity. There is no “talking in tongues”, no shouting, moaning, leaping, clapping — none of the violent activity associated with Negro “storefront” and “holy roller” churches.

Chapter Five
The WPA Summary for its studies on Black Cults and Sects in Chicago

Numerous minor cults have sprung up in Chicago, but most of them have been short-lived. There are also branches of national or international organizations, such as the I Am Movement which conducts a Negro section in a South Side storeroom. Father Divine’s “Angels” have set up half a dozen or more heavens. The Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam maintains a Chicago mosque, and, unlike the other two non-Christian cults noted, entertains no enmity toward the white man. A spokesman has said: “We have all races as members here: American white men, Turks, Italians, Negroes, and all nations. It is ignorant to say we have a religion that a white man cannot join or one a Negro can’t join.”

Textual Notes

The Introduction from Arna Bontemps was taken from his book Anyplace But Here. This is perhaps one of the best brief introductions to the Illinois Writers Project and the Works Projects Administration of the 1930’s. The long article “…and churches” is a heavily edited version of the complete WPA studies on churches and cults in Chicago. It contains brief versions of the complete studies on the Moorish Science Temple and the Nation of Islam that are given complete herein. One of the pieces on the Garvey Movement (“Why I Have Not Spoken in Chicago Since 1920”) is also found in The Philosophies and Opinions of Marcus Garvey. A revised version of the study on the Moorish Science Temple is also found in Arna Bontemps’ book. The study on the Nation of Islam has yet to be published and is based, in part, on Beynon’s ground breaking article but adds some new material. The short conclusion was a loose page not tied directly to any of the other studies but it seemed to be a very general conclusion to this collection.


Below are brief articles on three groups mentioned in this conclusion but not covered in any of the above studies.

The Ahmadiyyah Movement in Islam:

(as taken from pp. 461-462 of Braden’s These Also Believe)

A modern sect of the Moslem faith. Originating in India in the latter half of the nineteenth century, it has become quite aggressively missionary and has sent missionaries to many parts of the world including England and America. It differs from Orthodox Islam chiefly in its belief that the founder, a promised Messiah, appeared in India as the fulfillment, not alone of the expectation of one to come held by the Moslems, but also of that held by Hindus, Buddhists and Christians. Indian headquarters were until lately in Qadian, in the Punjab, but recent rioting in India, as a result of the division of India into a Hindu and a Moslem state, caused its removal to Lahore. The American headquarters are in Chicago where the head of the American mission resides and where the Moslem Sunrise, a quarterly magazine, and other materials are published.

Until 1945 there was but one missionary in America, Sufi M. R. Bengalee, who had small groups of members in various cities in the United States, but there are now three, and it is planned to increase this number considerably. They adhere to the basic teachings of Islam in most respects, but stress strongly the belief not only in the Prophet Mohammed but in all the prophets. Jesus, they hold, did not die on the cross, but swooned, was released from the tomb by his friends and went to India where he spent some forty years, teaching and preaching. His tomb is a center of pilgrimage in Sringar, in Kashmir, today.

Father Divine:

(as taken from my The End of Time and the Fulfillment of the Prophecies)

Father Divine was born George Baker in the Sea Islands of Georgia in the late 19th century. Early in his career he called himself the Messenger of one Father Jehovia a/k/a Samuel Morris. Valdosta, Georgia saw him being placed in a mental hospital for claims of being the Deity. Other than the above, his early life before 1915 is largely unknown and undocumented and is mostly mystical in nature, as rendered by Father Divine.

Father Divine came to Brooklyn in 1915 and setup a headquarters on Prince Street in Brooklyn along with twelve followers. In 1919, then calling himself Major Morgan J. Devine, he purchased a home in Sayville, Long Island. He was famous early on for his inexpensive hostels, job services and lavish banquets for his followers. His movement spread after a judge tried to convict him on fraud and subsequently died. Father Divine claimed that he “had to do it” and his followers accepted it as proof of his “divinity”.

In the Thirties and Forties he had 154 Kingdoms, extensions and Connections under his direct control. His movement declined somewhat as the economy improved. After his death in the mid-sixties, his wife (a white Canadian follower) became the leader. She wrote a history of the movement and continued his newspaper – The New Day. Currently there are six churches or Kingdoms directly affiliated with the movement. They are mainly in the Philadelphia area and Switzerland.

Similarities in greetings – that of “Peace”- linked the Moorish American movement both to Fathers Divine and Hurley. A new dispensation also linked their beliefs. Each gave a new set of scriptures which was considered to be “holy”: Hurley- the Aquarian Age Newspaper; Father Divine- the New Age Newspaper; and, Noble Drew Ali- the Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple.

Accepting a position as a law-abider and as a righteous leader did not set Father Divine apart and there were no real teachings that set his movement apart from those mentioned above.

The “I Am” Movement:

Mount Shasta in California saw the rise of a new messenger of God or of humanity who had transcended this plan of existence and became Ascended Masters. The most famous of these master was St. Germain. The main teachings were that through self affirmation and reading of the discourses of the ascended masters one could overcome all obstacles and achieve all that they wish on this plane of existence and that they may one day become ascended masters themselves if they continue to practice the “I Am” teachings. Further teachings were moral in nature: no drinking, no sex except for procreation, no smoking and a plea to lead a generally moral life.

In the late 1930’s the family of Guy and Edna Ballard held large crowds at sway under discourses on the nature of several private conversations that they had with these Ascended Masters. In 1939 Guy Ballard became an ascended master himself. His wife Edna later took over the movement. At that point the lectures went from being large public addresses to being private classes where members only could attend. This was likely due to several court cases that tried to prove fraud committed upon their dubious followers through a number of mining and oil stock sales which proved to later be worthless. This secrecy gave the lectures more worth as they were now secret hidden knowledge of the ages. Upon Edna’s death the movement splintered.


Beynon, Erdman, “The Voodoo Cult among the Negro Migrants in Detroit”, (American Journal of Sociology 43, May 1938), pp. 894-907. [On the Nation of Islam]

Bontemps, Arna and Conroy, Jack, Anyplace But Here, (Hill and Wand, New York, 1966).

Braden, Charles Samuel, These Also Believe, (The Macmillan Company, New York, 1949).

Crabites, Pierre, “American Negro Mohammedans”, (Catholic World 136, February 1933), pp. 559-60.

Davenport, F.M., “Religion of American Negro”, (Contemporary Review 88, September 1905), pp. 369-75.

Fisher, Miles, “Negroes get religion”, (Opportunity 14: no.5, May 1936), pp. 147-50.

Fisher, Miles M., “Organized religions and the cults”, (Crisis 44:8, January 1937).

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