The Mysterious 1934 Disappearance Of Nation Of Islam Founder, Wallace D. Fard

On July 4, 1930, a man named Wallace D. Fard arrived in Detroit, Michigan, with a message for the city's Black residents. As he peddled silk on the streets of Paradise Valley, the business and entertainment district of the historically Black neighborhood called Black Bottom, he preached a message of Black superiority, Islamic food restrictions, and self-reliance, according to the Detroit Metro Times and the Detroit Historical Society. He taught an offshoot of Islam centered on Black Nationalism and launched what would become the Nation of Islam when he and his followers opened the Temple of Islām and a school, the University of Islām, per Britannica

A mere four years later, Fard would disappear seemingly without a trace, but before he did he laid the groundwork for an outsized influence on America's culture through Malcolm X, the NOI's most famous adherent. Malcom X was a vital player in the Civil Rights era of the 1950s and early 1960s, and the later Black Power movement.

Nation of Islam members clash with Detroit police

Wallace D. Fard's contemporaries described him as handsome and swarthy, with thick black hair and brows, with a penchant for elaborate robes and a fez, the Turkish cap, according to "Finding W.D. Fard: Unveiling the Identity of the Founder of the Nation of Islam." Fard, also known as Wallace Fard Muhammad, had a murky past. He said he was from Mecca (now in Saudi Arabia), attended Oxford University, and had planned on becoming a diplomat before he began his true calling, per the Detroit Metro Times. The FBI would later dispute this version of Fard's past.

The Detroit police tried to tie Fard to a ritual murder by one of his adherents in 1932 and ran him out of the city, per the Detroit Metro Times. He returned and on April 26, 1934, the police raided the University of Islām and arrested Fard and several other members, which resulted in what the authorities called a riot, per the Black Dispatch and "Finding W.D. Fard."

The FBI investigates the NOI 

After the altercation between his adherents and the Detroit police, Fard left the city for good and seemingly disappeared without a trace. There have been a variety of theories about what happened to him, including that he changed his name and served a long prison sentence in Indiana, that he returned to the Middle East, or that he remained in control of the Nation of Islam from behind the scenes, per "Finding W.D. Fard."

The FBI began investigating the Nation of Islam in the 1940s and again in 1957. The Bureau alleged that Wallace D. Fard was actually a man named Wallie Ford, who was of Hawaiian descent, born in Oregon, and had a long criminal record that included drug dealing and assault with a deadly weapon and served time in San Quentin State Prison, per Fard's FBI file. The Bureau leaked the information to the press, according to "The FBI and Religion: Faith and National Security Before and After 9/11." The FBI never found Fard. The Nation of Islam considers him the incarnation of Allāh and celebrates his birthday as Saviour's Day, per Britannica.