- Narrating Muslim Masculinities: The Fruit of Islam and the Quest for Black Redemption
On April 26, 1957, Harlem braced itself for another race riot.1 The Fruit of Islam (FOI) stood stern, as divine soldiers, rank upon rank, facing the 28th Police Precinct. Pacing behind them was a sizable crowd of five hundred, which quickly swelled to five thousand (Lomax, 1963, p. 33; DeCaro, 1996, p. 113).2 The Police had given the command for “all available cops” to respond (Hicks, 1957, p. 32). But this was the FOI’s second time that night at the 123rd Street Police Station. On the first occasion, the FOI, or the “Fruit,” received calls that their “brother” had been viciously attacked by police officers. A woman had even rushed to their Salaam Restaurant on 116th to alert them. In less than thirty minutes, a contingent of about fifty Black men from the Fruit stood in military formation outside the station.3 Hinton X lay in great pain on a prison floor, bleeding from multiple head lacerations, a concussion, and a subdural hemorrhage, or blood clot on the brain.4 He found himself severely battered, after witnessing an outright police assault of a Black resident at 125th Street, when he yelled out, “You’re not in Alabama—this is New York” (ibid., pp. 1, 32). This statement nearly cost him his life.
With Malcolm X in the lead, they had followed the ambulance up to Harlem Hospital. The public had never seen the spectacle of able-bodied, well-dressed, stern-faced, and orderly Black men marching in ranks up a main thoroughfare [End Page 141] like Lenox Avenue. The mere sight pulled residents out of stores, cafes, and taverns, adding hundreds more to their near fifteen block procession. “Harlem’s black people,” Malcolm X argued, “were long since sick and tired of police brutality. And they never had seen any organization of black men take a firm stand as we were” (1999, p. 239). After brief treatment, Hinton X was remanded into police custody and sent back to his cell. The Fruit followed, but this time they crossed over 125th Street, garnering an even larger crowd at the station (Marable, 2011, p. 128). The incident occurred at around 10 pm.5 By 2:30 am, the Fruit still stood disciplined—awaiting orders in “a solid line a half block long” (Hicks, 1957, p. 32). Their orderly presence both amazed and worried police officials, who monitored the FOI and the growing multitude from inside the station. Malcolm soon emerged from the precinct and gave a one-hand signal. Within minutes, the Fruit uniformly dispersed, followed by the massive crowd standing behind them. “No one man,” one policeman remarked, “should have that much power” (ibid.).6
The Hinton X affair gave the Nation of Islam (NOI) and the FOI much more visibility. Prior to this, their organization was virtually unknown, and their membership amounted to just a few hundred. “For white New Yorkers,” Peter Goldman observed, “those who heard of the confrontation at all, it was a chilling glimpse of a world we didn’t know existed; a world of unblinking, unforgiving black men and women who weren’t afraid of our police or our guns or death itself ” (1973, p. 59). Blacks, however, were redeemed. The Fruit that night infused the community with a new sense of empowerment. The next Sunday and during the following weeks, thousands passed through Temple doors, and their membership routinely expanded. While the NOI or the Nation offered “a gospel of black redemption,” it was the job of the Fruit to embody that message for the masses.7 The men of the FOI, particularly in the early days of the 1960s, were charged with the stewardship of a new Black nation. In essence, their main task was to represent the core values of the Nation of Islam. And they were expected to protect these sacred principles from outside invaders and internal corruption with their life, if necessary. Rather than emerging from the society’s upper crust, many were “people nobody wanted”—the downtrodden, drug addicted, or former convicts others dismissed (Goldman, 1973, p. 59). And both...