New York City to name Harlem block after anti-Semitic Nation of Islam leader

Elijah Muhammad stands behind microphones at a podium in 1964.
Elijah Muhammad stands behind microphones at a podium in 1964. | Library of Congress

The New York City Council has voted to name a block in Harlem after Elijah Muhammad, the controversial late leader of the Nation of Islam, despite his well-documented history of anti-Semitism and association with neo-Nazis.

The plan is to rename the intersection of West 127th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard "The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad Way." Although the proposal received pushback from Republican council members, it was passed at the council's meeting on Feb. 16.

From 1934 until he died in 1975, the Chicago religious leader led the Nation of Islam, which even the far-left Southern Poverty Law Center recognizes as a "hate" group. The teachings of the Nation of Islam, a black nationalist and religious organization founded in the United States, combine elements of Islam with black nationalism and a focus on racial separatism.

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Critics contend Muhammad was a voice of racism and anti-Semitism. He also mentored Louis Farrakhan, the current NOI head, who peddles anti-Semitic rhetoric. 

Muhammed espoused anti-Jewish sentiments and invited American Nazi Party leader George Lincoln Rockwell to the Nation of Islam's 1962 convention.

"He is not worthy of having a street co-naming in the City of New York, and we should not even be considering this," David Carr, a Republican council member, said at a committee hearing, according to The New York Daily News. "He fails every test we could possibly put forward: the test based on the values and views of today, and the values and views of the times in which he lived and worked."

The proposal was put forward by far-left council member Kristin Richardson Jordan, who represents Harlem and argues that it is important not to "erase black leaders who are not pleasing to white people."

The location being renamed is the site of an NOI mosque where Malcolm X preached and where an NYPD officer was slain in 1972 by unidentified NOI radicals while responding to a false emergency call, according to The New York Post

The U.S.-based international Jewish non-governmental organization Anti-Defamation League describes the NOI as "the largest Black nationalist organization in the U.S.," which has maintained "a consistent record of antisemitism and bigotry since its founding in the 1930s."

"During his 40-year tenure as the NOI's leader, Louis Farrakhan, has built a legacy of divisiveness as one of the most prominent antisemites in America. He has also espoused anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-white bigotry, as well as a range of conspiratorial beliefs," it adds.

Although the NOI's official membership is relatively small, with less than 50,000 people, ADL reports that "the influence of Farrakhan and NOI teachings has regularly extended into the mainstream."

"The NOI's theological beliefs and practices differ significantly from the dominant sects of Islam, and many do not consider the organization to be a mainstream Muslim religious group."

The vote to name the block after Muhammad comes as the city has taken action to remove statues of American historical figures in recent years. 

In 2022, New York City removed a statue of Theodore Roosevelt from outside the American Museum of Natural History because of its depiction of Native American and African figures. 

In late 2021, NYC removed a statue of Thomas Jefferson from the City Hall because the third president had owned slaves.

At the time, Jerry Newcombe, executive director of the Providence Forum, an outreach of D. James Kennedy Ministries, wrote an op-ed for The Christian Post remarking that "a nation that doesn't know what it was yesterday doesn't know what is today, nor does it know where it's going tomorrow."

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