NYC City Council approves plan to name Harlem block for late Nation of Islam leader
— The New York New York City Council on Thursday approved a plan to name a Harlem block in honor of Elijah Muhammad, the controversial late leader of the Nation of Islam.
The bid to name the intersection of West 127th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard as “The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad Way” proved the most contentious element of a City Council bill drawn up to tag honorary names on 129 public spaces in the city.
Muhammad, a Chicago religious leader who described white people as “devils,” is seen by some Americans as an inspirational figure for his work championing Black empowerment. But critics view him as a voice of racism and antisemitism. Muhammad died in 1975.
“He is not worthy of having a street co-naming in the city of New York, and we should not even be considering this,” Councilman David Carr, a Staten Island Republican, said in a committee hearing Thursday morning that moved the bill to a full council vote.
“He fails every test we could possibly put forward: the test based on the values and views of today, and the values and views of the times in which he lived and worked,” Carr said at the Parks and Recreation Committee hearing.
But Carr acknowledged many of the people honored by the legislation are “absolutely worthy,” and he voted to move the bill.
The bill would name blocks for Wilbert Mora, a New York cop killed in the line of duty; Clifford Glover, a Black boy who was killed by the police in 1973; and Kristal Bayron-Nieves, a cashier killed in a shooting at an East Harlem Burger King; among many others who did not attract debate.
The package made it through the parks committee hearing by 12-0 vote, with no abstentions. Councilwoman Marjorie Velazquez, a Bronx Democrat who serves on the committee, said she agreed with Carr’s views on the legislation.
Later in the day, City Council
Speaker Adrienne Adams declined to take a position on honoring Muhammad, but said the legislation celebrates a collection of “extraordinary individuals.”
“For the most part, the requests that come in for street co-namings are at the behest of what the community wants,” the Queens Democrat told reporters. “So you’d have to ask the member and her community about that.”
“We stand on what the community wants,” Adams added.
Councilwoman Kristin Richardson Jordan, the far-left Harlem Democrat who proposed the street naming for Muhammad, said the honor is “way overdue.”
“It is actually not OK to erase Black leaders who are not pleasing to white people,” Jordan told her colleagues during the full City Council vote. “I profoundly vote aye on Elijah Muhammad Way.”
The package passed 47-0, with two abstentions.
Councilman Charles Barron, a Brooklyn Democrat and onetime member of the Harlem branch of the Black Panther Party, loudly defended Muhammad’s inclusion in the legislation.
Barron charged Thursday that opponents of the Muhammad co-naming had not brought the same energy to pushing back against street names that honor American slaveholders.
“You’re all right with Washington Avenue, Jefferson Street,” Barron said, referencing streets named for George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, two slaveholders. “You said nothing.”
“But when it came to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, there was some resistance,” Barron said. “But I’m glad that this body didn’t allow for that contradiction of resistance to take place.”
At a council hearing last month, Barron lashed out at the Anti-Defamation League — which lists Muhammad in its glossary of extremism — saying that it lacks the “moral authority” to censure prominent figures in the history of the Nation of Islam.