Name at birth: Elija Pool or Elijah Poole
The self-proclaimed "Messenger of Allah," Elijah Muhammad was the leader of the Nation of Islam from 1934 until he died in 1975. He grew up outside of Macon, Georgia, but in 1923 he brought his family to Detroit, Michigan. There he joined a number of activist organizations, including Marcus Garvey's United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). After 1931 Muhammad was a close associate of W. D. Fard (later known as Master Fard Muhammad), the founder of the Nation of Islam ("Black Muslim") organization. Fard gave Elijah the name Elijah Muhammad (replacing the "slave name" Poole), and Elijah Muhammad became second only to Fard in the organization in just a few years. Fard disappeared in 1933 and the next year Elijah Muhammad opened a mosque in Chicago as the de facto leader of the Nation of Islam. Fard was declared the personification of Allah on earth, and Elijah Muhammad declared himself Allah's messenger. By the end of his long life, Elijah Muhammad was credited with introducing Islam to hundreds of thousands of black Americans, but pilloried by some for his anti-white theology and immoderate lifestyle. He was also the subject of scrutiny for various branches of law enforcement for most of his adult life, and spent nearly four years in jail during World War II because he didn't support the U.S. war effort. His most famous followers are Malcolm X, who split from the Nation of Islam in 1964 and was murdered in 1965 (by Elijah Muhammad's followers, some say), and Louis Farrakhan, who joined the Nation of Islam in the 1950s and revived it in the late 1970s, after Elijah's death.
He married Clara Evans in 1919 and they had eight children… After Elijah Muhammad’s death, his son, Warith (neé Wallace) Deen Muhammad, took over and turned toward more traditional Sunni Islamic beliefs, while distancing himself from the black separatist movement and its anti-white rhetoric. Farrakhan, however, continued to preach the divinity of Master Fard Muhammad and Elijah Muhammad, as well as their less orthodox Islamic beliefs. Farrakhan’s branch continued the name Nation of Islam, and W. Deen Muhammad’s branch became what is now called the Muslim American Society.