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NYC considers renaming Harlem street after Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad

Corner of West 127th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard would be named “The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad Way"
The New York City Council is considering naming a Harlem street after controversial Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad (AFP)

The New York City Council is set to vote on renaming a Harlem street after Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad.

The corner of West 127th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard, where the eastern regional headquarters of the Nation of Islam is located at Mosque Temple No. 7, would be named “The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad Way". It is one of the 128 street names changes the council will debate Tuesday.

But renaming the intersection could divide community members. Elijah Muhammad was once a mentor to Malcom X, but the two had a falling out, resulting in Malcolm X leaving the Nation of Islam.

Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965 while giving a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan. Two men associated with the Nation of Islam were convicted of murdering the iconic figure.

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Last year, they were exonerated after an investigation ruled that the New York Police Department and the FBI had undermined the case. However, speculation continues to swirl about Elijah Muhammad's role in the killing.

The Nation of Islam preached separatism and economic self-sufficiency for the Black community. Critics say the group promoted conspiracy theories and espoused the superiority of Black people over whites. The Southern Poverty Law Centre refers to the group as a Black supremacist hate group and accuses it of "deeply racist, anti-semitic and anti-LGBT rhetoric". 

Advocates say that The Nation of Islam allowed for the self-empowerment of a disenfranchised minority.

The Nation of Islam's central message was economic self-reliance, and it developed a vast network of Black-owned business enterprises from bakeries to nightclubs. 

The move to rename the street has sparked debate within the council.

Harlem councilwoman Kristin Richardson Jordan, a Democratic Socialist, put in the request. Robert Holden, a council member from Queens, called Muhammad “a Black supremacist” and said the renaming would be “an insult to Malcolm X Boulevard”.

Malcolm X, also known as El Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, was introduced to Muhammad in the 1940s while he was imprisoned for robbery. Malcolm X was later shocked and disillusioned by Elijah Muhammad's infidelity and the two later fell out over a series of differences over the direction of the Nation of Islam.

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