Even though it is mistakenly said that Malcolm X founded the Nation of Islam newspaper "Muhammad Speaks", the firebrand Muslim minister did help to make it the largest circulating Black newspaper of the day.
By that time, Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam since the early 1930s, had "used several periodical vehicles to spread his program of “re-education” of Black men and women in America “into the knowledge of self."”
The first newspaper published by Elijah Muhammad was called The Final Call to Islam, and it was distributed in 1934.
In 1960 former Chicago Defender, Chicago Crusader, New York Amsterdam News, and Johnson Publishing Co. editor Dan Burley produced Salaam, a publication that resembled the popular Jet magazine, for Mr. Muhammad.
The model for the national distribution of Muhammad Speaks newspaper grew out of distribution of several Black weekly newspapers which carried his religious column.
It was this distribution network which enabled the Courier to rival the Defender and grow to have the largest Black newspaper circulation of its time—350,000 copies per week in 1957.
- “The Courier was nationally distributed...One of the few ways that could be done effectively would be with a group like the Nation involved. The Defender...was distributed nationally with the help of Pullman Car Porters who were responsible for a lot of that distribution.”
Elijah Muhammad would eventually produce his own newspaper, with the help of Mr. Burley, his son Jabbir Muhammad (Herbert), a professional photographer, artist Eugene Majied and with advice from Pakistani editor and author Abdul Basit Naeem.
The first edition of Muhammad Speaks newspaper, published in 1961, carried the front-page headline: “Some of This Earth To Call Our Own Or Else.” Mr. Burley was “well thought of, a solid editor, a solid journalist,” who stood among the most influential Black editors of his time, including Claude Barnett, Roi Ottley and Ben Burns.
At that time, Min. Abdul Allah Muhammad, currently the chair of the Final Call Editorial Board, also played a significant role in putting together the first issues of the Muhammad Speaks, as the director of the editorial department.
According to Abdul Allah Muhammad“We used Dan Burley’s name because he was well known...We were coming out monthly at first and I’d come in every month and put the paper together and fly back home to Los Angeles. Dan was a good writer and a good researcher, but the bulk of the work was done by myself.”
At that time Malcolm X went back to New York and started publishing Mr. Muhammad Speaks.
According to Abdul Allah Muhammad “Then the Hon. Elijah Muhammad put me, his son Herbert, Malcolm and National Secretary John Ali in a room together and told us to come out with a paper...And that’s how Muhammad Speaks started.”
Richard Durham/John Woodford and the Communists.
The next editor of Muhammad Speaks, from the early 1960s was Richard Durham, a long time mover in Communist Party USA cicles and brother of leading Party member Earl Durham. While Durham was editor, Elijah Muhammad purchased the four-story Muhammad Speaks Newspaper Plant and Cold Storage building. The facility housed a meat processing plant as well as a four-color Goss “Suburbanite” printing press, capable of turning out 50,000 copies per hour. In 1969 a fledgling Black printing crew helped the newspaper make the transition into printing industry, as well as journalistic, leadership, going on line and producing the 400,000 per week press run, entirely in-house.
Richard Durham, who presided over a great expansion in the newspaper’s circulation and international respect during the 1960s, was succeeded by John Woodford, another former Ebony editor and writer in 1970. Woodford also to become a Communist Party USA supporter.
- I remember the way Ish Flory came booming and blustering into our Muhammad Speaks newspaper office on Chicago's South Side in 1968. He always had a bundle of Daily Worlds with him, offered some comments about world affairs and sold some copies. To cut to the chase: the paper made a lot of sense on every issue that interested me. Then, listening to Ish and his good buddy Claude Lightfoot recount their many adventures, their witty and "Aesopian" dialogue, their combination of bravery and humor, of deep reading and mother-wit, I couldn't help but conclude: whatever these guys are and however they got that way, they are mighty impressive. I'm not saying the CPUSA is perfect; there are flaws, aggravations and perturbing aspects that reflect the array of human frailties. But I will argue that it is one of the most noteworthy products of American civilization and its most advanced foe of racism.
Woodford expanded the newspaper’s coverage beyond simply a hard news journal with arguably the best coverage of Africa and the non-aligned movement in any U.S. newspaper, with features on the arts and music which were richly illustrated with photographs by Chester Sheard, Hassan Sharrieff and Robert Sengstacke.
Leon Forrest/Askia Muhammad Period
Novelist and Northwestern University literature professor Leon Forrest succeeded John Woodford for a year in 1972, before Askia Muhammad—then known as Charles 67X—became the first registered Muslim to edit the paper.
A former Newsweek magazine intern and lithographer at the East San Jose Sun newspapers, Askia Muhammad expanded the coverage in the newspaper’s pages to routinely include activities of Nation of Islam leaders as news events, along side those of other important Black community figures.
There was rapid economic expansion, by the nation of islam during this period-including the purchase of Guaranty Bank and Trust Co. in Chicago, an expansion of the Nation’s real estate and farm holdings, the import of millions of pounds of nutritious fish for distribution to Black consumers, the official recognition of Mr. Muhammad by civic and government dignitaries, including Illinois Gov. Dan Walker, Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley and Los Angeles Mayor Thomas Bradley) and by Prime Minister Michael Manley of Jamaica and the purchase of a Lockheed Jet Star, 10-passenger executive jet aircraft.
Circulation of the newspaper—"thanks to the explosive growth of the Nation and the drive and determination of the men who distributed it"—grew from 800,000 to 850,000 per edition, up to 950,000 one week in 1974.