Remembering When Elijah Muhammad Started A Black Bank In Chicago: 5 Things To Know

Remembering When Elijah Muhammad Started A Black Bank In Chicago: 5 Things To Know


Remembering When Elijah Muhammad Started A Black Bank In Chicago: 5 Things To Know. Photo: Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, addresses the opening of the annual convention at Chicago Coliseum, Feb. 26, 1966. (AP Photo)

In 1964, the Nation of Islam introduced a Three-Year Economic Plan or National Savings Plan specifically to help Black people achieve financial independence. Formulated by longtime NOI leader, Elijah Muhammad, the plan called for opening a Nation of Islam bank.

Under this plan, Muhammad urged Black people to sacrifice for three years, purchasing no more than what they needed in line with their incomes, to save money, Black Past reported.

Nation of Islam membership peaked by the early 1960s at 70,000, and Muhammad’s Three-Year Economic Plan used the collective savings of the members to expand and concentrate Black capital and develop organization-owned and individual member-owned businesses. In Chicago alone, NOI opened 15 different businesses including Your Supermarket, Shabazz Grocery, Chicago Lamb Packers, Shabazz Bakery, Good Foods, Shabazz Restaurant, Salaam Restaurant, Shabazz Barber Shop, and a clothing factory. Across the country at other NOI branches, NOI businesses by 1970 included grocery stores, dress shops, dry cleaners, bakeries, and restaurants which provided food, cooked meals, and clothing to both Muslims and non-Muslims.

The Nation of Islam also opened a bank in its headquarter city, Chicago. Here are five things to know about when Elijah Muhammad started a Black bank in Chicago.

1. Controlling interest

In January 1973, the NOI gained a controlling interest in the Guaranty Bank and Trust Company on the South Side of Chicago. NOI members and businesses nationwide were encouraged to deposit their money with the bank.

2. Bank for the Black man

This “bank for the Black man,” as Elijah Muhammad called it, reflected now decades-old capital accumulation practices by the NOI and indicated that the Nation was one of the wealthiest Black organizations in the U.S., Black Past reported.

The NOI bank was a full-service institution and conformed to all U.S. government regulations for financial institutions. Oscar S. Williams, a 35-year-old father of two, was appointed the first president of the bank under the ownership of the NOI.

3. Money in the bank

The 1970s were a booming time for the NOI. At its height in the 1970s, court records show the organization owned farms in three states, a newspaper that earned annual profits of $3 million, a Chicago supermarket that cleared $325,000 on sales of $1.7 million, a string of small bakeries and cleaners, and some 40-odd Chicago-area rental properties in addition to the bank, The Chicago Tribune reported.

In 1972, followers contributed $3.7 million to the bank, according to an audit done for the Nation.

The bank expanded under NOI management to hold more than $10 million in assets and it employed more than 500 people by 1975.

4. NOI disarray

After the rise of the NOI financially, the organization started to unravel. “The empire began to crumble even before Elijah Muhammad’s death in 1975, riven by tax debts and internal corruption, and it finally collapsed amid competing probate court claims of his heirs and ministers,” The Chicago Tribune reported. As the empire unraveled, so did the Nation of Islam’s economic plan, and presumably, the bank. The bank had already lost the support of NOI leaders in Chicago at the time of Muhammad’s death.

“Not even the leaders in Chicago use the bank ‐- Guaranty Trust ‐- as its prime banker, preferring downtown banks,” a source told The New York Times, according to a report in 1978. “An announcement that the sect would dismantle its businesses prompted a run on the bank by hundreds of Muslim depositors from around the country.”

5. Muhammad money stashed elsewhere

At the time of Elijah Muhammad’s death in 1975, it seems the NOI leader had his millions saved at another bank. He had an account the Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank Ltd. Chicago branch — a Japan-based bank. His account totaled $3.3 million, AP reported. A long court battle between Muhammad’s heirs ensued over the funds.

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