# ‘The Colored Genius’

Lucius Lehman and the Californian Roots of Modern African-American Islam

Patrick D. Bowen, PhD candidate, University of Denver-Iliff School of Theology

Abstract: This article presents for the first time the figure of Lucius Lehman, a self-proclaimed black Muslim “mullah” who, after living a fascinating life in southern California, was incarcerated in San Quentin Prison from 1910 to 1924 and, as a result, may have indirectly influenced the creation of the Nation of Islam’s doctrines.

Lucius Lehman, 1888, Folsom Prison records, courtesy of the California State Archives

Introduction: The San Quentin Connection

One of the most controversial issues in the study of African-American Islam is the question of whether Wallace D. Fard, the founder of the Nation of Islam (NOI), was the same person as the Wallace or Wallie Dodd Ford incarcerated in San Quentin Prison in the second half of the 1920s.[i] According to NOI tradition, Wallace Fard was born in Mecca, Arabia to a black father and white mother on February 26, 1877. After studying in London and at the University of Southern California, Fard, who was on a divine mission, arrived in Detroit on July 4, 1930 to introduce to the city’s African Americans his teachings about their origins – that black people are the “original man,” that their people were from Mecca, and that Islam was their true religion. However, in the 1950s, the FBI, in an attempt to discredit the NOI, conducted an investigation of Fard’s background and soon leaked its conclusions to the press. Fard’s true identity, the FBI asserted, was far from the idealized image he had given the NOI. He, first of all, was neither from Mecca nor half black. Fard was actually a dark-complexioned white – or mixed white and Asian – man, originally from Oregon, Hawaii, or New Zealand, who had been living in Los Angeles since the 1910s, was a derelict husband and father, and was a small-time opium dealer. It was in fact due to the last of these traits that resulted in Fard – whose true name, the FBI claimed, was Wallace or Wallie Dodd Ford – being incarcerated in San Quentin Prison in California from 1926 to 1929. The strongest pieces of evidence presented to support this claim were photographs and fingerprints of Wallace Dodd Ford purportedly from San Quentin prison that matched those of the Fard who was arrested in Detroit in the 1930s. One of the major criticisms of this evidence that has been brought up by the NOI is that no one outside the government has seen proof that these two pieces of evidence – particularly the fingerprint records – were genuine, and not planted by the FBI as part of its well-known disinformation and counter-intelligence activities at the time.

Recently, however, a 1917 draft registration card from Los Angeles for a Wallace Dodd Fard (on the card, “Ford” is put in parentheses next to “Fard,” indicating that the former was an alternative spelling) has been uncovered.[ii] The card indicates that this Fard was born in 1893 on February 26 – the same day, though not the same year, that the NOI claimed for its founder. Fard, described as being of medium height and build with brown eyes and black hair, is listed as an unmarried restaurant owner. Finally, his place of birth is noted as being Shinka, Afghanistan, which is possibly what is known today as the Shinkay region in the southeast part of Afghanistan or a town with a similar name in nearby northwest Pakistan – both places inhabited by the Muslim Pashtun people. The majority of these traits are consistent with much of the evidence concerning Fard discovered by the FBI in its investigation and as well as the additional evidence and analysis presented by Karl Evanzz, in his biography of Elijah Muhammad, and Fatimah Abdul-Tawwab Fanusie, in her 2008 dissertation.[iii] In particular, the connection between this Fard, Afghanistan, and the Pashtun people is incredibly suggestive, as Evanzz and Fanusie, prior to this card coming to light, had traced a number of rather rare terms and ideas in the NOI to likely having a Pashtun – or at least Pakistani – provenance.[iv] Fard may have actually been born in that region or he may have given authorities his father’s birthplace instead of his own. As Evanzz suggests as a possibility, Fard’s father could have taught his son traditions from his homeland, and Wallace might have borrowed from these when creating the NOI’s doctrines.[v] In addition to the draft card, a 1924 marriage record from Southern California for a Wallie Dodd Ford has been found; Ford’s parents’ names are listed here, and are the same as what Fard told the NOI and FBI.[vi] While I do not wish to say the draft card and marriage record are indisputable proof that the Fard/Ford in Los Angeles was the same person identified by the FBI (Ford) as well as the same person who later appeared in Detroit (Fard), it certainly increases the likelihood.

With it therefore being very probable that the founder of the NOI was incarcerated in San Quentin Prison from 1926 to 1929, during which time he likely developed the main ideas that would become the NOI doctrines, knowledge of the ideological trends among San Quentin’s black prisoners in the 1920s would help us gain a deeper understanding of how it was that the NOI acquired its famous – if not notorious – racialized worldview. Although a few attempts have been made along these lines, these have been for the most part based almost entirely on speculation[vii] and they have all ignored two key pieces of evidence: 1) the fact that a highly intelligent black man who presented himself as an Islamic leader and a committed black nationalist was living in San Quentin until 1924, 2) San Quentin’s small black prison population was reportedly very committed to black nationalism in as late as 1925 and most likely was at least somewhat interested in Islam.

The present article is primarily a discussion of the first of these two issues. I will present a brief biography of the man know as Lucius Lehman, a self-proclaimed “Mullah, Imam of Islam, Egyptian Soudan,” who has until now been completely ignored in the history of African-American Islam. The majority of this article will offer an overview of what can currently be documented about his fascinating life. This will be followed by a discussion of the development of Islamic black nationalism and how this was connected with Lucius’s likely influence on San Quentin’s black prisoners in the 1920s, an influence that probably lingered after he was released in 1924. Although most readers of this article will be interested in Lehman because of his likely indirect influence on the NOI’s founder, the story of Lehman and his Islamic black nationalism is also important for scholarship on African-American Islam for another reason: it demonstrates that the connections being made between Islam and black nationalism in the 1920s and 1930s – which were exemplified by the NOI, but also could be found in the Ahmadiyya Movement and the Moorish Science Temple – were to some extent “natural.” That is, individuals like Lehman, who may have had no exposure to the popular African-American Islamic groups at the time, could have independently come to the conclusion that an Islamic identity and black nationalism should be combined. The story of Lehman, therefore, helps deepen our understanding of the attractiveness of Islam for African Americans in general in the first half of the twentieth century and later.

The Trials and Tribulations of Lucius Lehman

As for evidence of Lucius’s supposed U.S. military career, there is, in short, almost nothing to confirm it. There are currently no available records of his stay in the National Military Home, and his more specific claim about his military service – that he was a Buffalo Soldier, serving in “Troop A – 10th Cavalry W.S.G., 1882 to 1887 – Educated at Fort Davis, Texas and was honorably discharged”[x]  – currently cannot be backed up by military records.[xi] Even if the military records are incomplete and Lucius was indeed a Buffalo Soldier, he definitely was not one in 1887. The earliest record we currently have for Lucius places him in Los Angeles on December 5, 1886, the day of his marriage to Ann Daniels.[xii]

At the time of his 1886 marriage, Lucius spelled his name Lucias C. Lenon and claimed to be from the Caribbean country of Haiti, but a year later, in his declaration of intention for naturalization, he, now spelling his name Lucias Costela Le Non, indicated that he was from Tahiti, in the southern Pacific between Australia and South America.[xiii]

Just three months after his naturalization, Lucius’s marriage came apart. In what would be his first of many appearances in California’s newspapers, a news brief indicated that Lucius – whose name was written as Louis C. Lenan – had been arrested for intentionally throwing a hatchet at his wife, an action that reportedly was the result of him flying into a rage when Ann supposedly discovered that Lucius had raped her ten-year-old daughter.[xiv] On April 6, 1888 Lucius was found guilty of rape and sentenced to serve fourteen years in Folsom Prison. Over the course of the next year, Lucius’s lawyer appealed on the grounds of minor legal errors in the trial, but when he failed, Lucius became his own advocate, and in the 1890s wrote letters to various officials professing his innocence and asking for a pardon.[xv] Lucius claimed that when he had married Ann, she did not tell him that she had children. After the marriage was official, she brought her children into their home, burdening Lucius and making him miserable. To alleviate his pain, Lucius decided to leave and give Ann half of his money, but she did not accept this, and the couple began fighting often, culminating in Ann having her daughter accuse Lucius of rape.[xvi]

While we may never know whether Lucius did indeed rape his step-daughter, Lucius’s letters on the subject are, to say the least, impressive – at least from a historical standpoint. His refined handwriting, his command of logic, and his awareness of legal arguments and jargon are indicative of a man possessing a sharp mind and a quality educational background, a rare privilege in American society at the time for a member of any race. It is all the more impressive considering the facts that A) he was black – at a time when the majority of black Americans were completely illiterate – and that B) in the late nineteenth century there was only a very small number of African-American lawyers in the entire U.S., let alone in California where blacks had begun being admitted to the state’s bar only in 1887, and only a handful had actually become lawyers by the 1890s.[xvii] These letters are therefore the first of many testaments to Lucius’s intelligence and claimed elite background.

At the time, however, Lucius’s letters failed to make the impact he was seeking; he was not pardoned, though because of good behavior he ended up only serving around ten years of his sentence, being released in February 1897. Upon obtaining his freedom, Lucius, who now spelled his name Lucius C. Lenan[xviii] and claimed to be from Jamaica, found a job as a cook and in December married one Mattie Clark from Tennessee.[xix] Following the marriage, for six months Lucuis’s life appears to have achieved a degree of stability and freedom that he had not had since, perhaps, his childhood. But in late June of 1898, Lucius was back in the courts as well as in the press, and was becoming something of a local sensation.

On June 29, Lucius was arrested for burglary.[xx] Earlier in the month, he had, through a middle man, responded to an announcement that a reward would be given for the return of the business papers of a man named James Robinson, papers that had been stolen from his home. Lucius claimed to have found the papers scattered about in a park and brought them to an attorney who was supposed to return the papers for a small transaction fee. The papers that Lucius returned, however, did not include the most important and valuable ones that had been stolen, so Robinson refused to pay the reward and notified the police. The police questioned Lucius who told them he might be able to find the missing papers; he, charging a search fee, then left the interrogation and soon returned with more papers as well as a coat and watch that had also been stolen from Robinson. To Robinson and the police, it now seemed obvious that Lucius had been Robinson’s burglar. Lucius was subsequently arrested, though the outcome of the case would defy the expectations of all – or at least most – involved.

At the preliminary examination on July 1, Lucius, rather surprisingly, chose to act as his own attorney.[xxi] When the prosecution presented its case, Lucius took extensive shorthand notes. He then proceeded with cross-examinations that were so skillful and impressive that the detectives, the District Attorney, and even the judge were all left shocked, and the case against Lucius began to look extremely weak. Newspapers called him one of the “brightest” and “most remarkable” prisoners they had seen in years, and after the hearing, the judge remarked that “few lawyers practicing in his court had ever conducted as skillful a line of cross-examination as this defendant.”[xxii] Then, when presenting his defense, Lucius explained that not only did he have a white British grandfather, but he had been educated for diplomatic service in London (at, according to his later claims, Oxford University) and could speak thirteen languages. He added that after being released from prison in 1897, he had gone to Cuba before returning to Los Angeles to marry Mattie.

Despite being impressed with Lucius, the judge was not ready to dismiss the case and a trial date was set. In the intervening time, the police discovered that Lucius’s marriage to Ann had not been legally annulled, so Lucius was charged with bigamy.[xxiii] For this case, Lucius – who was seen reading a number of law books in the courtroom[xxiv] – hired a lawyer, and explained that he had believed that he had indeed legally divorced Ann, and after examining the relevant documents, the court found out this was the truth.[xxv] At Lucius’s burglary trial in October (for which he used a lawyer), his surprising conduct was again noted in the papers, though this time there was an emphasis on his extremely relaxed attitude throughout the proceedings; even when being questioned by the prosecutor Lucius never once appeared flustered or unsure, and continued to record every word that was said during the trial.[xxvi] His confidence was so unwavering that a rumor had spread that when he was leaving the city jail for court the morning of his final trial day he, smiling, told the guard opening his cell door, “You will do that for me just once more.”[xxvii] When, as he predicted, the case was dismissed, the Los Angeles Times called Lucius “the colored genius.”[xxviii]

After the trial, Lucius announced to reporters that he was planning to return to Cuba where he supposedly had served in the military under a General Garcia,[xxix] though by the next year he was back in Los Angeles where his wife was giving birth to his child and where he filed, under the name Lucius Cartelle Lenan and as a British subject from the West Indies, a new declaration of intention for naturalization, and was officially made a citizen in 1903.[xxx] Over the next eleven years, Lucius remained in the Los Angeles area working primarily as a brick and tile maker and, until 1910, he for the most part avoided encounters with the law.

Lucius, however, was not one to remain out of the spotlight for long. In 1901, he conducted an interview with the Los Angeles Herald in which he claimed to be a grandson of Napoleon.[xxxi] Lucius told the reporter that his father was the second son of Napoleon and had married Lucius’s mother, a native African woman. This son, he claimed, traveled extensively in Africa, going from Cape Town, South Africa to Egypt and, later, the Sudan, where Lucius “Le Nan” was born, along with eleven other children of the union. At the age of thirteen, Lucius claimed, he was sent to Oxford and graduated from there in 1877, after which he spent two years in Heidelberg, Germany studying civil engineering and language. The reporter noted that Lucius’s “comprehensive knowledge of history and world politics are convincing if not conclusive proofs of the genuineness of his claims.” In addition to this being the first known instance in which Lucius claimed to be Sudanese, it was also the first in which he claimed to be a follower of Islam, which he said was the religion of his mother. None of this, of course, has ever been confirmed.

In 1903, Lucius’s naturalization made the news[xxxii] and in 1905 his name was in the paper when he was reportedly beaten and robbed for the $30 in gold he was carrying that belonged to his employer.[xxxiii] Then, in the following year, Lucius played a minor but notable role in the movement that marked the birth of modern Pentecostalism. The Azusa Street Revival began in early 1906 when William J. Seymour, a former slave who had been a Holiness preacher, arrived in Los Angeles and began spreading the message of the phenomenon of speaking in tongues.[xxxiv] In April, the first of his followers displayed the ability, and his church, which soon moved to a building on Azusa Street, started attracting a large, multiracial following that included a few individuals of minor prominence in the city. One of these was Dr. Henry S. Keyes, the directing surgeon of Los Angeles’s Emergency and General Hospital, who claimed that he was given the ability to both speak and write in a dialect from northwestern India. In September, when a Los Angeles Times reporter asked Dr. Keyes if he might try to have his writing translated, Dr. Keyes took the reporter to the home of a local language expert he knew, “L.C. Le Nan,” a self-proclaimed Egyptian Muslim who told the reporter that he had studied at Oxford, Heidelberg, and the University of Cairo and knew thirty languages.[xxxv] After charging a small fee, Lucius looked at the writing and quickly announced that he had identified it: it was “Gese,” a previously unknown language that Lucius claimed had been spoken in Palestine around 3,400 years ago. At that point, Lucius went with Dr. Keyes and the reporter to an Azusa Street meeting where another woman there called to him supposedly in his native language (what this was, the reported did not indicate) and identified him by his birth name, Le Nan, as well as his “burial name.” All this impressed Lucius so much that he decided to become a member of the group, and he was soon featured on the front page of the first issue of Azusa Street’s newspaper.[xxxvi] Despite the fact that a well-known language expert, Baba Bharati, dismissed Keyes’s language as invented, Lucius remained as Azusa Street’s resident translator for around a month, at the end of which he claimed one of the “tongue” messages he heard there had asked him to go to Africa “to teach his people,” and Lucius did not return to the Pentecostal meetings.[xxxvii] There is no trace of Lucius again until late 1909 or early 1910 when he was apparently living in Los Angeles and still married to Mattie.[xxxviii] By February, though, marriage problems had led him to move to Riverside by himself, using the name Lucius L. Lehman.[xxxix] Then, on February 17, Lucius killed a man. Theodore Lasley, a black coworker of Lucius, was shot and killed when, the Lasley family claimed, Lucius traveled to the Lasley family home to confront Theodore about a letter he had recently received from him accusing Lucius of sleeping with Theodore’s wife.[xl] According to Theodore’s parents, Lucius’s sole intent when he went to their home was to kill Theodore; Lucius, however, said that he went there at the request of Theodore who wanted help with work on the family’s farm, but the two got into an argument, and when he saw Theodore coming towards him with what appeared to be a gun (it was in fact a pitchfork), he believed his life was in danger and fired a shot.[xli] Both the case itself and the ever-impressive Lucius drew much interest, particularly from the African-American community.[xlii] When he took the stand, Lucius articulately explained to the court that he was born in 1861 in “Southwest Africa, in the Cameroon district” (Cameroon is in fact on the western coast of central Africa) and that before serving five years in the “American Cavalry” he had studied in universities in Heidelberg, France, and Barcelona.[xliii] The Los Angeles Times also noted, just as it had in 1898, how at the trial Lucius took down copious shorthand notes and how “unconcerned” he seemed – in fact Lucius was said to be “one of the coolest prisoners who ever appeared before a jury in [Riverside].”[xliv] In this trial, however, Lucius’s confidence did not pay off. He was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in San Quentin Prison. Over the next fifteen years, Lucius worked tirelessly to free himself. He wrote numerous letters to San Quentin’s various wardens and California’s legal officials pleading for a reconsideration of his case, again frequently using complex but lucid logic as well as indications of knowledge of law and a refined writing style. He applied for clemency in 1912 and for parole in almost every year he was eligible. He also cultivated his contacts with various professionals, businessmen, and club leaders in the Los Angeles area who would vouch for Lucius’s character and offer him employment upon his release. Lucius’s San Quentin inmate file contains most of these documents and is over one hundred pages long (to put Lucius’s prolificacy into perspective, most San Quentin inmate files from the time contain fewer than a dozen pages, and Wallace/Wallie D. Ford’s file has only three pages total) – making his file both an excellent resource for documenting the development of his identity while in San Quentin, and further proof of his exceptional intelligence and education. In his 1912 application for clemency, Lucius, who wrote his name as “L.C. Lenan-Lehman” and noted that he abstained from alcohol, indicated that he was born in Kingston, Jamaica, but had lived in Cairo, Alexandria, Khartoum, Mumbai, Calcutta, and in the Guangzhou Province in China.[xlv] His parents, Henry and Emma Lenan-Lehman, were currently living in Haiti. However, in his 1917 application for parole, the details of his background were somewhat different. Here he lists his birthplace as the Sudan and both of his parents, now called Henicaba (?) and Aujenica (?) were African-born, though all he says about their current residence is that they live in foreign countries. He explains that he has not used any aliases in his life, but the differences in his name over the years are the result of the “spelling of [his] native African name [being] modified.” About his background, he says that he was born in 1860 to wealthy African parents; he attended school in Egypt for about seven years (until age thirteen) and then attended school in Heidelberg. In this application, Lucius also reveals, for the first time, his claim of having been trained and “regularly ordained” as a Muslim “priest.” It is interesting that, probably not coincidentally, 1917 is also the year Lucius starts signing his name “L.C. Lehman [or sometimes Lucius C. Lenan-Lehman], Luco Lenaryi al Mullah, Khartoum, Egyptian Soudan.”[xlvi] Also, after that date, Lucius occasionally interjected Islamic phrases in his letters.[xlvii] What should we make of Lucius’s numerous assertions about his background? At first glance, the sheer abundance of fantastic claims casts much doubt on Lucius’s stories. However, there are in fact only a few pieces of information that actually conflict, and some of these, particularly dates, can easily be explained away as errors in memory or as attempts to simplify a complex background. Even so, to make all of Lucius’s stories fit together would produce such an unbelievable biography that it would be, at the very least, the stuff of films. Nevertheless, even if his claims about his Napoleonic connections, African nativity, European education, and language skills are completely false, Lucius’s obvious intelligence, confidence, education, and, especially, his verified activities in Los Angeles still make a fascinating story. Lucius’s life, however, would have almost certainly been lost to history had it not been for a single letter he wrote in 1922 while still incarcerated – a letter that is now the key clue linking Lucius and San Quentin Prison to the wider African-American Islamic movement that was emerging in the 1920s. The Rise of Islamic Black Nationalism The year 1920 marks the birth of modern African-American Islam. During the era of slavery, Muslims accounted for – at most – only twenty percent of all enslaved Africans in the U.S.[xlviii] Having been separated by slave owners from their co-religionists and speakers of the same language in order to inhibit communication, which would ultimately reduce their ability to form successful rebellions, there were only a handful of places in the country where Islam was kept alive at all, and it was rarely adhered to by the American-born. By 1900, there were almost no traces of Islam left in the African-American community. During the first two decades of the twentieth century, only a few black Americans were known to be Muslim, the majority of which were poor African immigrants who had come to the U.S. since the 1880s to perform in various “Oriental” shows across the country. In addition, we know of at least three black individuals who were probably promoting Islam to African Americans – the Sudanese Satti Majid, the self-proclaimed Sudanese-Egyptian Abdul Hamid Suleiman, and the North Carolina-born Noble Drew Ali (who most likely had been a student of Suleiman) – though we still lack non-oral tradition evidence for their pre-1920 Islamic activities with African Americans, and, given the lack of historical record, it is probable that their leadership produced few followers at the time.[xlix] The first group to successfully spread Islam among African Americans was the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, a South Asian Islamic sect that had sent a missionary, Muhammad Sadiq, to the U.S. in early 1920.[l] After experiencing racism himself and failing to find many white converts, Sadiq turned his attention towards African Americans, particularly in Chicago, Detroit, Indiana, and St. Louis, and converted around 700 before his departure in the fall of 1923[li] – the year Suleiman made headlines leading a similar group in Newark. Sadiq’s successor, Muhammad Din, converted several hundred more by 1925 when he set sail for India. Din’s successor did not arrive until 1928, and during the intervening years Satti Majid was able to make a number of African-American Sunni converts, and Noble Drew Ali “organized” a new African-American Islamic movement, known as the Moorish Science Temple, in Chicago, which quickly gained several thousand members in the northern Midwest and Mid-Atlantic cities.[lii] The death of Drew Ali in the summer of 1929 left a major leadership vacuum in the African-American Islamic community, which appears to have largely been filled by Wallace D. Fard, who founded the Nation of Islam (NOI) in Detroit, a former Ahmadiyya and MST stronghold, in 1930 and soon spread his teachings to Chicago and Milwaukee, ultimately gaining up to 8,000 members by November 1932.[liii] Although none of these movements shared the same Islamic doctrines, what appears to have united all of them and contributed to their success is an interest in and respect for the black nationalism of Marcus Garvey and his United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). The Ahmadis found allies and a number of converts from among the UNIA members,[liv] Noble Drew Ali referred to Garvey as his “forerunner,”[lv] several of Satti Majid’s followers had been committed to Garvey’s ideas, and not only did the NOI probably recruit followers from the UNIA, its well-known leader, Elijah Muhammad, openly showed praise for Garvey.[lvi] This fundamental connection to Garvey reflects the important role he served in reshaping African-American culture at the time. A highly charismatic speaker and effective organizer, Garvey, who after establishing his UNIA in New York in 1916, by 1920 had made the UNIA the largest and perhaps the most influential mass movement in the history of African Americans. His rapid and impressive success was primarily due to his ability to, as E. David Cronon expressed it, “put into powerful ringing phrases the secret thoughts of the Negro world,”[lvii] particularly the idea that “black skin was not a badge of shame but a glorious symbol of national greatness.”[lviii] African Americans, in other words, were part of large black “nation” that deserved its own land, just like any other nation. In America, furthermore, whites would never allow blacks to have equality. Therefore, he argued, African Americans should move “back to Africa” and establish economic and social independence from whites. It was an inspiring and attractive message for African Americans, who were only now beginning to emigrate out of the Jim Crow South. It was, in fact, an attractive message to black people throughout the world. Indeed, worldwide, the UNIA gained probably over 80,000 official members and 100,000 non-registered believers, and its newspaper, the Negro World, had a circulation of at least 50,000.[lix] Garvey’s power to connect the world’s black people and give them a sense of dignity and common cause led to a significant transformation of African-American culture and the development of many new black identities that reflected the UNIA’s nationalist message. The interest in Islam among African-Americans in the 1920s and early 1930s was highly influenced by the UNIA’s endorsements of the religion. Garvey, who had read the pro-Islam black nationalist writings of Edward Blyden and had worked for, in 1913, a British Muslim black nationalist named Dusé Mohamed Ali, sometimes mentioned Islam and its prophet in his speeches.[lx] Also, the Negro World ran a number of stories about Muslims in the 1920s, particularly in 1922, the year Dusé served as the newspaper’s “Foreign Affairs” column writer and head of the UNIA’s African Affairs department.[lxi] Islam, in fact, featured prominently in the Negro World in the first half of the 1920s; the Negro World, therefore, played an important role in spreading the connection between Islam and black nationalism that would serve as the foundation for the several African-American Islamic groups at the time. What is notable about the references to Islam in the Negro World, however, is that only a very small number actually endorsed the uniting of Islam to black nationalism – for the most part Islam was simply regarded as the religion of many Africans and other non-white people who were struggling against European colonialism, and it therefore was to be respected in the spirit of black and anticolonial unity. Nevertheless, there were still some instances in which Islam and black nationalism were clearly connected. One of the earliest examples of this appeared in the March 25, 1922 issue, which happened to also be the date of the appearance of Dusé’s first “Foreign Affairs” column and therefore around the beginning of the UNIA’s 1920s interest in Islam. This connection was made on page 8, in a letter to a UNIA member sent by the “Mullah of San Quentin.” Islam and Black Nationalism in San Quentin Prison in the 1920s In the late nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth, life for a black American in California was significantly better than it was in the South or even in most places in the North. African Americans were sometimes permitted to buy property in white areas; there was a small but growing black business and professional class; and though white racism of course existed, racist violence was minimal and interracial interactions were not infrequent. One major reason for this tolerance was that California’s black population was relatively small, especially compared to the Mexican and Chinese populations, and therefore whites there did not feel particularly threatened. For instance, in Los Angeles, Lucius’s home, the total black population in 1890 was only 1,285 compared to 47,205 whites, making African Americans two-and-a-half percent of the population; in 1900 the proportion dipped to two percent; and in 1910 the percentage of blacks only increased to two-point-three percent, with 7,599 individuals.[lxii] However, during the first decade of Lucius’ incarceration in San Quentin, California’s African-American population roughly doubled, as hundreds of thousands of America’s blacks fled the South at the beginning of the Great Migration. With this growing black presence and the concomitant rise in racial tension throughout the country, California’s white racism – both formal and informal – began increasing proportionally. African Americans in California were now more segregated and subject to violence than ever before. It did not take long, then, for the community’s more race-minded leaders to begin showing an interest in Garvey’s message. By 1920, the Negro World was circulating throughout the state and UNIA divisions were being established in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland.[lxiii] With Garvey’s message spreading fast, particularly in the Bay Area, it is not surprising that the Negro World had made it behind the walls of one of the Bay Area’s most notorious prisons by early 1922.[lxiv] At the time, San Quentin did not have a particularly large black population. In 1922, African Americans numbered only 158, compared to 2,148 “whites,” a number that surely included several hundred Latinos.[lxv] Indeed, when a race riot broke out in 1925, it was between whites and Latinos – African Americans are not recorded to have been involved.[lxvi] This, however, did not mean that San Quentin’s blacks were fully integrated. Though they were “tolerated” and even gained some status as “prison characters,” which surely involved playing to racial stereotypes,[lxvii] they seem to have been avoided by whites and excluded from the more enjoyable jobs and supplementary activities, such as the publishing of the prison’s short-lived newspaper.[lxviii] For the most part, the black inmates went largely ignored; memoirs of San Quentin from the period have little to say about the African Americans there, and it seems that the group formed a quiet and probably relatively tight-knit community. If a member of such a community was as confident, intelligent, and, frankly, manipulative as Lucius seems to have been, it is easy to see how this person could have exerted great influence on San Quentin’s African Americans, particularly during a time when black nationalism was gaining a large number of converts. What led Lucius to begin proclaiming himself to be a mullah (and later, imam) around 1917 is still unknown, but doing so was perfectly consistent with his many claims of high birth and education as well as his attempts to use these claims to his advantage in difficult situations. The fact that in any one year in the 1910s and 1920s there were only around a half-a-dozen or so Muslims in San Quentin[lxix] suggests that if Lucius was using the titles mullah and imam as a way of gaining respect from and perhaps control over these individuals, there is little chance one of them could have known if Lucius was faking his religious knowledge. Lucius may have indeed been raised as a Muslim, but there is, outside of his own assertions, almost no evidence to support his claim of religious training or even adherence prior to coming to San Quentin. He, furthermore, was a quick study with a nimble mind, so faking it in a very convincing way does not seem to be beyond Lucius’s abilities or tendencies. In the end, though, whatever his reasons for using the titles, Lucius continued to do so for the rest of his time in San Quentin. By early 1922, Lucius added a new element to his identity: that of a black nationalist. After reading in the Negro World a letter promoting the role of women in the black nationalist movement, Lucius penned, on February 27, a reply that would appear in the paper’s late March issue.[lxx] In his letter – which was signed “Lucius C. Lenan-Lehman, Luco Lenaryi Mullah, Imam of Islam, Egyptian Soudan”[lxxi] – Lucius commends the earlier letter’s writer, saying that black women should play an important role in motivating “the army of Negro jelly fishes too ignorant to know the difference between a fact and a theory” to work for the cause of black nationalism. Lucius praises Garvey for being “fearless and true,” and, like Garvey, he feels that because of racism – ”Lucifer’s ‘prize-winning’ design” – African Americans have no chance at equality and happiness in the U.S. They should return to Africa, where they can, using the knowledge they have gained from the West, “bring all Negroes nearer their ancient glory.” The UNIA is in fact “‘Allah’s’ answer to Ethiopia’s centuries of truthful prayers.”[lxxii] It was an eloquent and powerful call to black nationalism that does not seem to have been entirely born out of an opportunistic desire to gain influence in the small black community in San Quentin. One piece of evidence supporting this is the fact in a letter Lucius wrote in 1924 to one of his supporters on the outside he expressed pride in never having been an “Uncle Tom.”[lxxiii] It also must be remembered that throughout Lucius’s known life in Los Angeles – at least in the way he presented it – he was the constant victim of undeserved white racism. The courts – all the judges, lawyers, and jury members he faced – were all white. Even the (supposed) assault and robbery he suffered in 1905, though it was at the hands of African Americans, was indirectly the result of white racism – after going from restaurant to restaurant, looking for a place that would allow blacks to eat inside, he was finally only allowed into a black establishment, which happened to be the place his assailants found him.[lxxiv] Even if Lucius was a complete fraud, he undoubtedly was aware of and most likely resentful towards the fact that a man of his intelligence and abilities was prohibited from achieving professional success and relegated to manual labor and, perhaps, swindling – primarily due to the color of his skin. It seems very likely that Lucius, who had another impressive letter published in the Negro World in September,[lxxv] did achieve some influence in San Quentin’s black community, especially considering the fact that he was one of only two self-proclaimed Africans in the prison at the time,[lxxvi] which would have made Lucius the object of respect among Garvey-leaning men. While we do not currently have information about the impact of Garvey on other San Quentin inmates in 1922, there is evidence that at least as early as 1924 Garveyism was on the rise in the prison. A January 1925 letter to the Negro World from a San Quentin inmate indicated as much and explained that the black nationalist spirit had become so strong that on New Year’s Day 1925 the majority of black inmates stood together to protest a recent racially-motivated incident (in which only their portion of the dining hall was used for the holiday’s annual vaudeville performance), and to demonstrate to the prison authorities that they were “very tired … of forever being the goat every time in everything.”[lxxvii] Despite being taunted and threatened by white inmates, the group, in a very self-controlled manner, resisted fighting and instead sent a spokesperson to the guards to explain that they would not be attending the performance. The guards accepted their position and the group remained in the prison yard debating race conditions and their remedies. By the end of the ordeal, the letter writer claimed, San Quentin’s black population was “100 per cent Garvey-ized.” Lucius was paroled on good behavior in July 1924 and never again appears in the Negro World or known documents connected to California’s UNIA, so it is uncertain as to exactly the full extent of the role he may have played in the spread of Garveyism. But the fact that the New Year’s Day incident occurred only five months after his release increases the chances that the memory and inspiration of Lucius was still fresh in the prisoners’ minds. Interestingly, San Quentin was not the sole penitentiary converting to Garveyism during that period. From 1924 to 1926, black prisoners across the country were reportedly joining, at least in spirit, the ranks of the UNIA, believing that Garvey had “the plan that [would] free the entire Negro race.”[lxxviii] At the same time, there also seems to have been a short-lived burst of interest in Muslims and Islam in the UNIA. And, if we are to judge by the division reports published in the Negro World, the Oakland UNIA, the most influential UNIA division in California at the time and therefore the one most likely to have influenced the prisoners in nearby San Quentin, was, outside of New York, the UNIA division with perhaps the strongest interest in Muslims.[lxxix] There is therefore strong circumstantial evidence that not just Garveyism, but Islam-tinged black nationalism, was circulating in the San Quentin black prison population upon the arrival of the man going as Wallace D. Ford in 1926. Ford, at the time, was a well-known “street politician” and an opium dealer in Los Angeles who, because of both his ambiguous racial identity and his Islamic background, may have found in San Quentin’s Islam-influenced Garveyism a perfect niche to develop a new identity and career.[lxxx] As for Lucius, all that can be documented about his life after San Quentin is that he returned to work as a brick maker and retired by 1936. On February 11, 1937, he died from severe arteriosclerosis.[lxxxi] The Call to Islam We currently know almost nothing about how Lucius put his Islamic identity to use during his years living in Los Angeles, and we know only a little about how he used it in San Quentin. What we do know, however, is that nearly 2,000 miles west of the nearest African-American Islamic community of any significant size (the Ahmadi community in St. Louis in the 1920s), a black man was presenting himself as a learned and dignified Muslim in as early as 1901, and by the 1920s he was overtly supporting black nationalism. He, almost certainly, did all this without any knowledge of the Islamic movements in the eastern U.S. The story of Lucius’s life, then, helps us see that Islam did not spread in African-American culture simply through the efforts of the group of Islamic leaders in the eastern U.S. who were proselytizing to African Americans, and who almost certainly all knew about and perhaps coordinated and/or competed with each other. There seems to have been, at least for some who had experienced being black in America in the early twentieth century, an almost natural connection between Islam and black nationalism. It is thus now easier to see not only how the early leaders of black nationalist Islam were able to draw thousands, but also why, as time passed, second-generation African-American Muslim leaders like Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan were able to command the attention of tens and even hundreds of thousands. The story of Lucius’s life – whether there is a connection to the NOI’s Fard or not – is therefore a testament to the power of Islam in African-American culture. In a 1924 letter, Lucius waxed prophetic: “My story will be told someday. Sensation upon Sensation [sic] will follow.”[lxxxii] Lucius’s story – at least a significant part of it – has now been, finally, told. It remains to be seen, however, what sensations may follow. NOTES [i] This question has been addressed in several of the major studies of the NOI. See, e.g., Karl Evanzz, The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad (New York: Pantheon Books, 1999); Claude A. Clegg III, An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997); Richard Brent Turner, Islam in the African-American Experience, 2nd ed. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003). [ii] Ancestry.com, Registration Location: Los Angeles County, California; Roll: 1530899; Draft Board: 17. [iii] Fatimah Abdul-Tawwab Fanusie, “Fard Muhammad in Historical Context: An Islamic Thread in the American Religious and Cultural Quilt” (PhD diss., Howard University, 2008), ch. 5, 244-96. Fanusie argues that some of the evidence we have about Fard and his teachings suggests he was influenced by and used elements of Ahmadiyya Islam. While this does not necessarily mean that he was Central or South Asian, it strengthens that likelihood. Paul Guthrie has recently presented even more evidence about Fard’s South Asian/Ahmadiyya connections. [iv] Evanzz, 409-12; Fanusie, 244-96. [v] Evanzz, 411-12. [vi] Marriage record for Wallie Dodd Ford and Carmen Frevino, 5 June 1924. From Familysearch.org, accessed 16 April 2013. Here, his father’s name is listed as Zaradodd, which is very close to the name of Fard’s father that the FBI learned about, and his mother’s name is listed as Babbjie, which is very close to the “Baby Gee” name Fard told the NOI. I would like to thank Karl Evanzz for informing me about this record. [vii] Evanzz gives some general speculation and Peter Matthews Wright devoted his MA thesis to theorizing that Fard’s creation of the NOI doctrines while in San Quentin prison was primarily due to the interplay of “penal trauma” and Fard coming to terms with his ambiguous racial position in the U.S. Matthews, however, does offer some more verifiable evidence about San Quentin’s intellectual life – the description of this made by a San Quentin inmate at the time, Robert Tasker, in his book Grimhaven. See Peter Matthews Wright, “A Box of Self-Threading Needles: Epic Vision and Penal Trauma in the Fugitive Origins of the Nation of Islam” (MA thesis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2004). [viii] Los Angeles County, California, Certificate of Death: Luther Lamar (aka Lucius L. Lehman). Filed 11 February 1937. [ix] See Los Angeles city directories for Mattie Lenan (and Le Nan), for the years 1909, 1914, 1916, 1918, 1921, and 1936, and her U.S. Census record for the year 1920; all available on Ancestry.com (Beta), accessed 11 December 2012. [x] Biographical Sketch of Prisoners Eligible to Parole, State Prison at San Quentin, Lucius L. Lehman, undated, contained in Lucius Lehman inmate records, California State Archives. [xi] The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), at my request, conducted two searches for Lucius’s name using his known aliases in the records of Troop A; they found no matches. I have also examined for myself the muster rolls of Troop A in 1880s – no one in these records has anything like Lucius’s aliases and no one’s biographical data matches his either. [xii] Los Angeles County, California, Marriage Record: Lucias C. Lenon and Ann Daniels. Filed 5 December 1886. From Rootsweb.com, accessed 11 December 2012. [xiii] NARA, Nationalization Records in the Superior Court of Los Angeles, California, Lucias Costela Le Non, 20 November 1887; Ancestry.com, accessed 12 December 2012. [xiv] “Telegraphic Breveties,” Sacramento Daily Record-Union, February 13, 1888, 4. [xv] Lucius’s letters can be found in his inmate file from Folsom Prison, held by the California State Archives. [xvi] See Lucius’s accounts of the situation in his writings in his inmate files from both Folsom Prison and San Quentin Prison. [xvii] J. Clay Smith, Emancipation: The Making of the Black Lawyer, 1844-1944 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), esp. 485. [xviii] Over the next few years, he would still sometimes use the “Lenon” spelling of his name, but increasingly went with “Lenan.” [xix] “Marriage Licenses,” Los Angeles Herald, 14 December 1897, 7; Los Angeles County, California, Marriage License: Lucius C. Lenan and Mattie Clark, 13 December 1897; Rootsweb.com, accessed on 12 December 2012. [xx] “Arraigned for Burglary,” Los Angeles Herald, 30 June 1898, 8. [xxi] See “Accomplished Negro,” Los Angeles Herald, 2 July 1898, 12; “Remarkable Prisoner,” Los Angeles Times, 2 July 1898, 5. Unfortunately, the court records for this case have been destroyed. [xxii] “Accomplished Negro”; “Remarkable Prisoner.” [xxiii] The records for this case have also been destroyed. [xxiv] W.A. Corey, “A Colored Bigamist,” Los Angeles Herald, 13 July 1898, 10. [xxv] One of the few surviving sets of court records concerning Lucius are the divorce records that show that Ann, lacking the proper funds, simply failed to finalize the divorce after giving Lucius the paperwork. A. Lennon vs. L.C. Lennon, Superior Court of Los Angeles County, California, no. 23539, dept. 6. [xxvi] “The Lenan Trial,” Los Angeles Times, 5 October 1898, 7; “Versatile Lenan Acquitted,” Los Angeles Times, 6 October 1898, 7. [xxvii] “The Public Service: Will Investigate,” Los Angeles Times, 5 October 1898, 7; “Not a Burglar,” Los Angeles Herald, 6 October 1898, 12. [xxviii] “The Public Service: Don’t Do Politics,” Los Angeles Times, 6 October 1898, 7. [xxix] “Off to Cuba,” Los Angeles Times, 7 October 1898, 10. [xxx] NARA, Nationalization Records in the Superior Court of Los Angeles, California, Lucius Cartelle Lenan, 10 April 1899 and 25 February 1903; Ancestry.com, accessed 12 December 2012. [xxxi] “Grandson of the First Napoleon Lives in Los Angeles,” Los Angeles Herald, 21 April 1901, 7. [xxxii] “King’s Subject Lost,” Los Angeles Times, 26 February 1903, A2. [xxxiii] “Negro Robbed and Beaten,” Los Angeles Herald, 16 March 1905, 5. [xxxiv] On the Azusa Street revival and Dr. Keyes, see Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., The Azusa Street Mission and Revival: The Birth of the Global Pentecostal Movement (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2006). [xxxv] “Baba Bharati Says Not a Language,” Los Angeles Times, 19 September 1906, sect. II, 1. [xxxvi] “Baba Bharati,” The Apostolic Faith 1.1 (Sept 1906): 1. [xxxvii] “Claim Power to Raise Dead,” Los Angeles Times, 24 September 1906, sect. II, 7. [xxxviii] See the Los Angeles city directory for 1910, Ancestry.com (Beta), accessed 12 December 2012. However, he and Mattie possibly had been separated for a time prior to this, as only her name appears in the 1906 Los Angeles city directory. [xxxix] In his application for clemency (see below), Lucius claimed that he was not living with Mattie at the time of his 1910 arrest because “My home had ceased to be. Shame [had] driven me from Los Angeles.” [xl] The Riverside Superior Court’s copy of the trial records for this case have been destroyed, but partial records, including key transcripts, remain in Lucius’s San Quentin inmate file. [xli] “Murderer of Corona Boy to Get Sentence Monday,” Corona Courier, 14 April 1910, 1; Lucius Lehman’s Application for Executive Clemency, San Quentin Prison, 24 [?] January 1912, in Lucius Lehman’s San Quentin inmate file. [xlii] “Lehman Tria[l] is Commenced,” Corona Independent, 12 April 1910, 1. [xliii] People of the State of California vs. Lucius L. Lehman, 26 April 1910, transcript, in Lucius’s San Quentin inmate file. [xliv] “Calmly Faces Murder Charge,” Los Angeles Times, 14 April 1910, sect. II, 13. [xlv] Application for Executive Clemency. [xlvi] See, e.g., letter, Lucius Lehman to William D. Stevens, 7 April 1917, in Lucius’s San Quentin inmate file. [xlvii] He, for example, uses the phrase “May Allah guide is my prayer.” [xlviii] On enslaved Muslims in the U.S., see Allan D. Austin, ed., African Muslims in Antebellum America: A Sourcebook (New York: Garland, 1984); Michael A. Gomez, Black Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in the Americas (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 13, 18-20, 128-35, 144-52. [xlix] On Satti Majid, see Patrick D. Bowen, “Satti Majid: A Sudanese Founder of American Islam,” Journal of Africana Religions 1.2 (2013): 194-209; Ahmed I. Abu Shouk, J.O. Hunwick & R.S. O’Fahey, “A Sudanese Missionary to the United States,” Sudanic Africa 8 (1997): 137-91. On Abdul Hamid Suleiman and Drew Ali’s early efforts, see Patrick D. Bowen, “Abdul Hamid Suleiman and the Origins of the Moorish Science Temple,” Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Religion 2.13 (September 2011): 1-54 and Patrick D. Bowen, “Prince D. Solomon and the Birth of Modern African-American Islam,” Journal of Theta Alpha Kappa (forthcoming, Spring 2014). [l] See Turner. [li] “New Converts,” Moslem Sunrise 2.2-3 (1923): 191; “Dr. Sadiq,” Moslem Sunrise [2].4 (1923): 268. [lii] On Drew Ali’s MST being “organized” in 1925, see [Noble Drew Ali], “Moorish Leader’s Historical Message to America,” Moorish Guide, 28 September 1928, 2. [liii] On the NOI’s rise, see Evanzz; Clegg; C. Eric Lincoln, The Black Muslims in America, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdsmans; Trenton: Africa World Press, [1961] 1994); E.U. Essien-Udom, Black Nationalism: A Search for an Identity in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962). [liv] See, e.g., “Brief Report of the World in America,” Moslem Sunrise 2.1 (1923): 167. [lv] Noble Drew Ali, Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple of America ([Chicago]: Noble Drew Ali, 1927), chapter XLVIII. [lvi] Adeyemi Ademola, “Nation of Islam Deserted,” African Mirror (Aug.-Sept. 1979): 41. [lvii] E. David Cronon, Black Moses: The Story of Marcus Garvey and the United Negro Improvement Association (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969), 4. [lviii] Ibid. [lix] Cronon, 45, 204-07. [lx] Edward E. Curtis, IV, Islam in Black America: Identity, Liberation, and Difference in African-American Islamic Thought (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002), 50. [lxi] Ian Duffield, “Duse Mohamed Ali and the Development of Pan-Africanism 1866-1945” (PhD diss., Edinburgh University, 1971), 661. [lxii] J. Max Bond, “The Negro in Los Angeles” (PhD diss., University of Southern California, 1936), 20. [lxiii] See, for example, Robert A. Hill, ed., The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), 4: 233-237, 311-312, 339, 477; also see Emory J. Tolbert, The UNIA and Black Los Angeles: Ideology and Community in the American Garvey Movement (Los Angeles: Center for Afro-American Studies University of California, 1980). UNIA divisions were established in a few other Californian cities in the early 1920s, but, judging by their appearances in the Negro World, they were probably very small and did not last long. [lxiv] Evanzz suggests that the leader of San Francisco’s UNIA in the early 1920s, one George Farr, may have been Ford/Fard using an alias. There are a number of reasons I find this highly unlikely, which I will enumerate in a future work. [lxv] California State Board of Prison Directors, Biennial Report of the State Board of Prison Directors of the State of California, Seventy-Second and Seventy-Third Fiscal Years, 1921-1922 ([San Quentin]: San Quentin Press, [1922]), 48. [lxvi] Kenneth Lamott, Chronicles of San Quentin: The Biography of a Prison (New York: David McKay Co., 1961), 198-99. [lxvii] Lamott, 197. [lxviii] See the prison’s Wall City News newspaper that was published in 1926. [lxix] See San Quentin’s Biennial Reports for these years. Although few of these explicitly note Muslims, they all list the provenances of their prisoners, and every year Muslim-majority nations were listed. [lxx] Lucius C. Lenan-Lehman, “U.N.I.A. Answer to Allah’s Prayers – Egyptians,” Negro World, 25 March 1922, 8. [lxxi] In the sub-headline to this article, the Negro World called Lucius the “Mullah of San Quentin.” [lxxii] The name Ethiopia was sometimes used by Garveyites to refer to all of Africa. [lxxiii] Letter, Lucius C. Lenan-Lehman to Hettie Tilghmen, 1 August 1924, in Lucius’s San Quentin inmate file. [lxxiv] However, his criticism of “Negro jelly fishes” most likely reflects his resentment towards those blacks who had opposed him over the years. [lxxv] Lucius C. Lenan-Lehman, “Mrs. Katie Fenner of 1385 Osceola St., Denver, Col.,” Negro World, 30 September 1922, 8. [lxxvi] California State Board of Prison Directors, 36. [lxxvii] James Allen Davis, “Color Line Drawn in San Quentin Prison,” Negro World, 24 January 1925, 9. [lxxviii] Wm. Tucker, “A Prison a Good Place in Which to Learn to Think,” Negro World, 16 August 1924, 11; “Great Outpouring of People Pack Liberty Hall to Capacity,” Negro World, 5 September 1925, 3; “Nine Prisoners Contribute to U.N.I.A. Fund,” Negro World, 3 July 1926, 2. [lxxix] See the Oakland division’s references to the Rif War in its division reports in the Negro World on the following dates in 1925: 18 July, 5 September, 26 September, and 17 October. The Oakland group also hosted in 1924 a purported Abyssinian with a Muslim name, Abdullah Gali; see the division report on 5 July 1924. [lxxx] On Ford’s “street politician” reputation, see “Fueron Confiscados$5,000.00 Valor de Drogas Heroicas,” Heraldo de Mexico, 17 February 1926, 8.

[lxxxi] See his death certificate.

[lxxxii] Letter, Lucius C. Lenan-Lehman to Hettie Tilghmen.