The Anointed Son

The story behind W.D. Mohammed's momentous break with his father and his alliance with Malcolm X.

BY: Taylor Branch

 
Reprinted from "Pillar of Fire" with permission of Simon & Schuster.

Malcolm X's one kindred ally within the Muslim hierarchy-destined to succeed where he failed, as quietly as Malcolm's notoriety would be loud-had been locked away in the federal prison at Sandstone, Minnesota, since his twenty-eighth birthday. This was Wallace D. Muhammad, who, since being named by and for the founder of the Nation of Islam, W.D. Fard, had been marked as the seventh and most religious of Elijah Muhammad's eight children.



In the 1950s, when federal prosecutors denied Wallace Muhammad the military draft deferment due legitimate clergy, Chicago lawyers William Ming and Chauncey Eskridge arranged for him to serve medical duty as a conscientious objector but Elijah [Muhammad] unexpectedly rejected the plea bargain with white law. Much against his will, thinking that his father meant to keep him cloistered and useless, Wallace dutifully entered Sandstone, where taught Islam to inmates in the prison laundry room or on nice days in the baseball bleachers.

For the first time he felt responsible for his own thoughts, and although he attracted a large following of Muslim converts, which excited the fears of most prison authorities, the Sandstone warden became so convinced of the salutary effects on inmate rehabilitation that he invited Wallace to write an article on the Islamic concept of sacrifice for the 1962 Christmas issue of the prison journal..

Turmoil threw Wallace Muhammad together with Malcolm X late in February [1963, after Wallace had been released from prison], when some four thousand Muslims gathered by bus and motorcade for the annual Savior's day convention in Chicago. As always speakers chanted the words "the Honorable Elijah Muhammad" as a practiced mantra, but apprehension ran through the submissive crow because Muhammad himself was absent for the first time, wheezing from asthma at his retreat in Pheonix. Although not a few Muslims believed Muhammad to be immortal, anxiety for him was so intense that cries went up for reassurance from the chosen son, who was observed and hailed upon his return from prison.

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