Clara Muhammad is remembered as the First Lady of the Nation of Islam, but she was not only the wife of Nation of Islam (NOI) leader Elijah Muhammad.
She was an important voice in the organization, a mentor to many NOI women and she helped establish NOI schools.
Here are seven things to know about the life and legacy of Clara Muhammad.
Clara Muhammad was born Clara Evans near Macon, Georgia, in 1899. She experienced the injustices of the Jim Crow South. After she married, she and her husband, Elijah Poole, moved north to Detroit in 1923 with their two infants. They had eight children: six boys and two girls, including Warith Deen Mohammed, who would later lead an offshoot organization of the Nation of Islam.
When she and Elijah relocated, times were tough and it was hard to find employment in Detroit, Sapelo reported.
She wrote about this 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.”
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In need of money, she, like many other Black women at the time, became a domestic worker for a white family.
When a friend told Clara about Wallace Fard Muhammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam, she encouraged her husband to attend one of the group’s meetings.
After her husband took over as the leader of the Nation of Islam, he was imprisoned for a decade for draft evasion in the 1940s. Nation of Islam members did not believe in the U.S. military draft. During the years Elijah was in prison, Clara took over as an “interim leader” who carried Elijah’s orders from prison to Nation ministers, Sapelo reported.
In 1931, Clara Muhammad pioneered the NOI’s primary and secondary independent schools. By the 1950s she had established the schools on a national scale. This was groundbreaking in both Black and Muslim communities.
The Nation’s school system was instituted by Fard Muhammad, who called it the“The University of Islam.” But the first classes were held in Clara Muhammad’s home, and she was the first teacher of the school system.
In 1980, Imam Warith Deen Mohammed renamed the University of Islam after his mother. It became known as the Sister Clara Muhammad School.
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One of Clara Muhammad’s important contributions was the MGT, short for Muslim Girls Training and General Civilization Class, and the GCC (General Civilization Class), Face 2 Face reported.
She was personally responsible for bringing the Qur’an into the U.S. correctional institutions.