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Nation Of Islam Movement In America

1890 words - 8 pages

Too Much

No matter how strongly one feels about something, sometimes thoughts and actions can become too intense, too extreme, quite simply: too much. The idea of exceeding normal boundaries is a key idea in the Nation of Islam movement in America in the 1950s and 1960s. The Nation of Islam preached an idea that was very unfamiliar to common thought in America at that time. Ideology practiced by black Muslims, as those people of Islam were known as, was very intense, very driven, very narrow minded, but it made a lot of African Americans feel better about who they were and where they were at. On the other hand, many other African Americans believed that the practices of Islam were far too outrageous to be followed or trusted. James Baldwin, a very influential and respected African American author of the 1950s and 1960s, was a man of this belief. Baldwin had ties to the Nation of Islam movement, having been associated with Malcolm X when he appeared along side him on a television program. But Baldwin shared less ideology with the Muslims than one might expect. In his essay, “Down at the Cross,” (“Cross” for short), Baldwin recounts his encounter with the honorable Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam movement. Baldwin’s encounter with Muhammad shows the reader that although Baldwin certainly had ties to the Nation of Islam movement, some of the views of the movement were too narrow minded and too extreme for him to fully accept. Baldwin refused to believe that all white people are devils and as a result Baldwin depicts himself as a man who respects the efforts of the Black Muslim movement, but cannot be a member of it.

The Nation of Islam was a true extremist movement. Every thought and feeling of the people associated with the movement reeked of hatred for the alleged “white devil,” or the white man. In some ways, forming the movement was very understandable. The situation of African Americans as described by Clifton E. Marsh paints a sad picture: “People of African descent are subjected to unequal distribution of rewards, political power, and opportunities, which systematically restricts their chances to succeed as a group. By organizing in a social movement, African Americans want to change the conditions of racial and class inequality” (Marsh 1). Marsh portrays a situation that appears to beg for change, and it does, but the way that the Nation of Islam went about it was simply too much for a lot of people. In “Cross” James Baldwin offers the reader an account of what he was told when he attended speeches given by Muslim leaders: “We were offered, as Nation of Islam doctrine, historical and divine proof that all white people are cursed, and are devils, and are about to be brought down” (Baldwin 315). Baldwin continues to speak of how some people engulfed these statements without hesitation and without any need for further explanation, “for one did not need to prove to a Harlem audience...

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