Askia Muhammad, a renowned, award-winning journalist and photographer, died last week at his home in Washington, D.C. He was 76.
Muhammad’s death was announced by jazz and news radio station WPFW in Washington, D.C., where Muhammad worked as a longtime news director and programmer.
“With deep sadness the family of Askia Muhammad announces his passing of natural causes today at the age of 76,” WPFW tweeted on Thursday, Feb. 17, along with a picture of Muhammad. “A private service will be held with a memorial planned for a future date. There are no words to express the profound sadness we feel at the passing of our dear brother.”
“Askia gave us all so much, always graciously and with a smile. Always speaking truth to power. Always standing up for those he loved,” the thread continued. “Words are inadequate at this moment. We just hold onto the vibration of love, truth, perseverance, hope, and joy that Askia exude it always.”
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For more than 40 years, Muhammad used his pen, lens and public platform to cover political and social issues, according to The Washington Informer. A man of culture, Muhammad also loved jazz and poetry.
In addition to being a widely published columnist and photographer, Muhammad served as an editor for The Final Call. One of his photographs featured former President Barack Obama smiling in a picture with Nation of Islam Leader Minister Louis Farrakhan when Obama was a senator in 2005.
Muhammad said he was immediately asked by a member of the Congressional Black Caucus not to publish the photo, according to the Philadelphia Tribune. Obama had been a rising star in the Democratic Party and the CBC felt a presidential run was imminent.
They felt the photo could harm Obama’s chances due to how controversial a figure Farrakhan is.
“I gave the picture up at the time and basically swore secrecy,” Muhammad told Trice Edney News Wire in an exclusive interview. “But after the nomination was secured and all the way up until the inauguration; then for eight years after he was president, it was kept undercover.”
Muhammad did as requested and the photo went unreleased for more than 12 years. He said he felt certain that publishing the photo would have cost Obama the election. “I insist. It absolutely would have made a difference,” Muhammad said.
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The photo came to light in 2018, after Muhammad included it in his book, “The Autobiography of Charles 67X” – a collection of personal stories, photos and poems.
A Yazoo, Mississippi native, Askia Muhammad was born Charles Moreland in 1945. He attended San Jose State University from 1966 to 1970, but the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King prompted him to leave the university and accept an internship at Newsweek.
He went on to build a career as a member of the Black Press, something he wrote about.
“Like Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, I am conflicted: ‘An American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body.’ I am an endangered species, a heterosexual Black man in a white, Holly-weird-dominated news media,” Muhammad said.
“But like Brother Malcolm X, my relative anonymity in the Black Press left me free from having to be concerned on a daily basis, with whether or not white people liked what I had to say,” Muhammad continued. “And furthermore, I got a glimpse at how that ‘other half’ lives.”
Tributes poured in after Muhammad’s death was announced.
“The spirit of our beloved new Ancestor, Askia Muhammad, rises like Re. He is #MaaKheru [The Voice is True],” Howard University Professor Greg Carr tweeted. “We cherish the time he spent here in this form and in this place, finding and speaking truth. We will keep him in our memory and lift his example to light our way. Asé—oo.”
“Peace. May Allah Be Pleased Forever with the life of our Dear Brother, Mentor, Soldier, Pioneer, Author, Final Call Senior Editor and one of greatest Journalists to ever walk among us,” wrote Fontaine Muhammad, the general manager at The Final Call. “Long Live The Spirit of our Beloved Brother Askia Muhammad. May Allah bless his Dear Wife & Fam.”
“The world has lost one of the greatest journalists of our era—Askia Muhammad,” Ilia Rashad Muhammad wrote. “I was blessed to receive a call from him about 3 months ago where we spoke for almost two hours. May Allah be pleased with this servant of His.”
Photo by Askia Muhammad of then-Sen. Barack Obama with Nation of Islam Leader Minister Louis Farrakhan in 2005. that was hidden for 12 years has now been released in the journalist’s autobiography.