Day 3: Mother Clara Muhammad
The protection and elevation of the Black women in the Nation was always in the forefront with women holding key positions of leadership and influence. During the early days of Islam, it was women like Mother Clara Muhammad and others who kept the movement afloat and functioning. Mother Clara Muhammad was the First Lady of the Nation Of Islam and wife of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad. She was born Clara Evans on November 4, 1899, in Cordele, Georgia to Quarters and Mary Lou Evans. Clara, her two brothers, and two sisters, grew up on their parents’ ranch. They attended public school and worked in the fields. Clara’s mother’s family, the Thomases, were known for their good Samaritan characteristics and their quest and support for education. These traits helped shape the great woman that Clara became.
At the age of 17, Clara married Elijah Poole. She experienced firsthand the injustices of the Jim Crow South. By the time of the Great Depression in 1929, Clara, her husband, and their two small children joined millions in the Great Migration from the southern states to the Midwest. They took up residence in Detroit, Michigan. Hard times persisted up North as they struggled to support their growing family without full-time employment. Mother Clara described in a 1967 Muhammad Speaks article,“With five children, there were times we didn’t have a piece of bread in the house, nor heat, water or even sufficient wearing apparel. My husband would walk the streets looking for a job daily but would come home with no job. I would go out and try to help him, but with five children I could not work steadily. However, I was successful when I went door to door, asking for work.” Mother Clara, therefore, experienced the common reality of black women working as domestic servants in white homes where their humanity was insulted with scant wages and the risk of sexual violence. It made sense, that she found Master Fard Muhammad’s teachings of race and economic advancement attractive when she heard it from a friend in 1931: “My girlfriend told me there’s a man who’s saying some things about our people… .We once dressed in long flowing cloth and we were royal.” Upon her friend’s invitation to meet Master Fard Muhammad, her first thought was her husband, who was haunted by hopelessness and despair. “Maybe this might help my husband,” she prayed. Elijah agreed to attend the next meeting, which proved miraculous as it marked the beginnings of a great relationship between Master Fard Muhammad and Elijah Muhammad that paved the way for the Nation of Islam. According to Imam W. D. Mohammed,“When the meeting was over, as they were walking out, my father told my mother, ‘Clara, when you go back home, we gon’ have to throw all the pork out of the ice box.’ Now that’s what one lecture, one speech did.”
For three and a half years Master Fard taught and groomed Elijah to be the leader of the newly-formed Nation of Islam. Clara was her husband’s first convert and best follower. As the Nation of Islam grew, so did Clara Muhammad’s contribution. During the early stages of the NOI’s development, Clara and her family endured many trying events. In 1931, Mother Clara took a courageous stand for the right to educate her children in her home when homeschooling was illegal. She refused to enroll her children in public school saying she would rather die first. As a result, she and her husband were charged with contributing to the delinquency of minors. Her brave stance against a truant officer paved the way for the establishment of the largest private elementary school system for Black children in the United States of America, Muhammad University of Islam (MUI).
Mother Clara Muhammad with her husband, The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and sons.
Clara Muhammad took on the enormous task of carrying the organization while her husband was fleeing a death plot. She and other Muslim sisters conducted the affairs of the Nation as the men followed their leader, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, to jail rather than join an unjust war for America. While Elijah Muhammad was on the run, Mother Clara was an irresistible force of inspiration and moral courage for Muhammad’s ministers and followers, encouraging them to continue the work of Nation building via regular meetings and recruiting throughout the duration of Elijah Muhammad’s absence. For many years Clara served as her husband’s liaison to the NOI, delivering both written and verbal instructions to the lead minister in Chicago, while her husband was imprisoned for draft evasion. If it were not for mother Clara, the Nation of Islam could have been disintegrated without the leadership of a woman with vision, faith, and resourcefulness. She held The Nation together and her family together. During his incarceration, Elijah Muhammad was a model prisoner and was allowed to teach his fellow inmates about Islam but his request for a Qur’an was denied. Mother Clara copied on paper English translations of verses of the Qur’an and brought them to her husband! Thanks to her courageous devotion, the Nation of Islam survived and prison inmates enjoy access to the Qur’an.
Once Elijah Muhammad returned to his family and the movement began to thrive, Sister Clara Muhammad’s influence reached further. She had pioneered the NOI’s primary and secondary independent schools, established on a national scale by the 1950s. This was unprecedented in both black and Muslim communities. The Nation’s school system, instituted by Master Fard Muhammad, was given the lofty title, “The University of Islam.” The first classes were in Clara Muhammad’s home, and she was the first teacher. Mother Clara Muhammad served as the exemplar of feminine virtues instilled in MGT & GCC, short for Muslim Girls Training and General Civilization Class. The girls of the NOI were scorned for wearing long dresses when it wasn’t fashionable and every Muslim Woman in America owes a debt of gratitude to Mother Clara Muhammad.
Mother Clara Muhammad in her MGT & GCC pin.
The noble stature and virtuous path carved out for the Muslim woman by this meek and majestic woman, as she gave a beacon of light and graceful examples to the followers of The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, as she sought the restoration of the Black Woman as Queen of the Universe cannot be reduced. In her deeply moving, quiet way, Mother Clara Muhammad set a sterling national standard for all Black women to follow. She recreated the very definitions of devotion, righteousness, honorable, zealous, and good works that sustained Elijah Muhammad during those early, burdensome years of the Nation Of Islam when the Muslims were despised by their confused brothers and sisters and persecuted by their enemy. Mother Clara Muhammad in her modesty and filled with inner spiritual purpose and an undying vision of a great Black Nation anchored by and bent upon bringing true Freedom, Justice, and Equality, was a warrior and great companion of her husband. She never trembled before the tremendous opposition that was set before her. She manifested a new path for the Black Women of America. Mother Clara Muhammad remained greatly devoted to Allah, her husband, her family, to the Nation, and to the Muslim schools. She was the strongest and most courageous and dedicated woman of her time. She upheld a posture of grace, modesty, righteousness, kindness, and dignity and her example was unparalleled by most women of her day. Her spirit still lives on today.