Chauncey Bailey Project

Commentary: Recipe for mayhem at Your Black Muslim Bakery

Yusuf Bey, patriarch at Your Black Muslim Bakery, runs drills with young Muslim men in front of the bakery in Oakland in 1995. (Oakland Tribune archives)
Yusuf Bey, patriarch at Your Black Muslim Bakery, runs drills with young Muslim men in front of the bakery in Oakland in 1995. (Oakland Tribune archives)

Bakery did not represent thinking of the Nation of Islam.

Commentary

By Askia Muhammad

THE NEWS was shocking: On Aug. 2, journalist Chauncey Bailey, 57-year-old editor of the Oakland Post, was ambushed and shot to death as he investigated the bizarre world of a notorious local Black Muslim bakery.

But for all my shock at the crime that killed a fellow journalist, I wasn’t surprised to hear that 19-year-old Devaughndre Broussard, a bowtie-wearing handyman at the bakery, had admitted to the shooting. (He since has said that he was beaten by police to get the confession, a charge police deny.) because I’ve watched Your Black Muslim Bakery spawn mayhem for decades.

Back in the early 1970s, when I was a Nation of Islam student minister in the Bay Area, we referred with pride to the entire Northwest region of the United States as “the wild, wild West.” It was a frontier that needed taming, and we made that our mission.

In the Bay Area, the Nation took in more than its share of sinners, the hopeless, the fallen, to give them discipline and direction through our faith. Often, recruits are able to turn their lives around. But after more than three decades, the bakery is still breeding lawlessness and a way of thinking that is the opposite of what the Nation stands for.

The “Black Muslims” are the descendants of slaves who converted to the brand of Islam espoused by the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, an unlettered Georgia man who taught us to blend black unity with Muslim faith.

Most Black Muslims — like most Arab, African, Asian and white Muslims, for that matter — are God-fearing men and women who strive and pray every day to live in peace. But thanks in large measure to the high public profile of Malcolm X, an early leader, the Black Muslims attracted many ex-offenders and social dropouts who had trouble discarding the “slave mentality” from which we all suffered.

I suspect this is the case with Broussard. Today, with the “get rich or die trying” mentality that pervades black pop culture, young black males face more traps than we did.

I had my own reasons for joining the Nation in 1968. My primary reason was to strengthen my claim as a conscientious objector from the Naval Reserve. I had left my native Los Angeles to study journalism at San Jose State College. Back then, I was known as Charles 20X at the Nation of Islam’s Mosque No.26 in San Francisco.

Our 200-member congregation had a reputation for strictly adhering to the edicts coming out of the Nation’s Chicago headquarters. Men and women sat separately. We were searched before entering the mosque, and cigarettes and gum were confiscated. Women or girls were not permitted to ride in the front seat of a car with an unrelated male driver. We addressed everyone, including children, as “sir” or “ma’am.”

In the early 1970s, the late Yusef Bey — then known as Capt. Joseph X — the founder of Your Black Muslim Bakery, moved to Oakland with his brother, Minister Billy X. The brothers received permission to establish another congregation, Mosque No.26B.

Glib, mustachioed and smooth-talking, the brothers immediately made an impression. They directed men in their mosque to read “The Godfather” so they would understand their leadership style. And they raised eyebrows when they began spending time with a pretty single woman named Capt. Felicia X, who headed a training program for women in Mosque No.26.

After weeks of rumors about the time she spent alone with each of the bachelor brothers, Sister Felicia defected to Mosque No.26B.

The Mosque No.26 leader, Minister Henry Majied, swiftly responded by bringing charges against Sister Felicia to strip her of her position. A “trial” was to be held for only registered Muslims to witness. Elijah Muhammad himself would listen to a tape recording of the proceedings to make the final judgment.

At the start of the trial, Sister Felicia got up and spoke into the tape recorder to address Elijah Muhammad directly: “Dear holy apostle, I will speak to you in Chicago.” She then walked out of the meeting, and about a dozen other women walked out with her.

The rivalry between Mosque No.26 and the start-up 26B grew increasingly bitter after that. The brothers were fearless businessmen from the start. They opened a bakery featuring natural, whole-grain recipes for bread, rolls, cakes and bean pies. The bakery eventually grew into a successful for-profit chain.

The 26B followers sold more Muhammad Speaks newspapers than those of us who remained at the older mosque. But they did it in part by violating the Nation’s written policy not to sell the newspaper where whites might buy it. Minister Henry ordered us to confiscate any copies of Muhammad Speaks if we saw any brothers from 26B selling them downtown to whites. The “war” was on.

Whether we were ambivalent about our orders (as I had become) or enthusiastic and anxious to please, we were all “good soldiers” on both sides. We heard. We obeyed. And we prepared for battle.

But then Elijah Muhammad sent word from Chicago: After 30 years in the ministry, Minister Henry was being expelled for ordering Muslims to “attack” other Muslims.

Lucky for me, I left the Bay Area in 1972, when Elijah Muhammad invited me to Chicago to work at Muhammad Speaks under his direct supervision. After I left, the bakery split off from Mosque 26B and the Nation. Since then, there have been reports of dramatic police raids on its premises; stories that as many as 42 children claim Yusef as their father; accusations of incest; reports of bakery folks beating liquor store owners for selling alcohol in black neighborhoods.

As big a public relations nightmare as Your Black Muslim Bakery has been, the Nation of Islam has always declined to publicly condemn Yusef Bey. “Don’t condemn the dirty glass,” Elijah Muhammad always said. “Put a clean glass beside it.”

The Nation seemed to have more success with Yusef Bey’s brother, Minister Billy, who returned to the Nation of Islam before the Million Man March in 1995 and has been living and helping the movement most recently in Las Vegas.

True believers strive to follow Elijah Muhammad’s advice to “accept your own and be yourself!” For most of us, that means accepting fellow believers and being a righteous Muslim. Bailey’s assassination is just evidence of how far some Black Muslims still have to go in truly living the faith.

The act that took the life of a seasoned colleague is the opposite of righteous. Some of us in bow ties and bald heads are still far too inclined to think, mistakenly, that might makes right.

Askia Muhammad is the news director of radio station WPFW-FM in Washington, D.C. This opinion piece appeared in The Oakland Tribune.

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