I.G.S. Article : Nov. 1963

Following Grand Sheik F. Turner-El’s words, works and deeds through newspaper articles.

“ ’School for Sheiks’ Win Fight For Tax Exemption in Norfolk ”

November 10, 1963 by The Hartford Courant written by REID MacCLUGGAGE.

 (Spelling errors in the article were corrected) It reads: “NORFOLK – There isn’t much of a campus. There are no blackboards or classrooms, no dormitories or fraternity houses. But for 13 years a stately stone and stucco estate high above this quiet rural community has been ‘School for Sheiks.’ Since 1950 ministers of the Islamic religion have been trained to become sheiks and grand sheiks in the old Todd mansion off Litchfield Avenue. Known as the Moroccan National Home, it is the headquarters of the Moorish Science Temple, the Divine National Movement of North America. But until last month the town had considered the school little more than a summer camp and refused to grant tax exemption. The case was adjourned for one week for sentence.

Legal Battle: This touched off a lengthy legal battle that was sparked by Grand Sheikh’s charge of racial injustice. Much of the activity at the home centers around a program to teach African-Americans their heritage and language. The tax fight started when grand Sheik F. Turner-El purchased the estate in 1950. Unaware of the proper legal appeals they could make, the Moslems agreed to a compromise in 1959 and paid half of the taxes owed since 1951. In 1960 and 1961 they again filed for exemption but their applications were turned down by the Board of Tax Review.

That was when the Grand Sheik went to Atty. Carmine Lavieri of Winstead for help. Appeals were immediately filed and the case went to the Court of Common Pleas. Atty. Lavieri shunned the ‘racial case’ and concentrated on the legal aspects. He argued that the home existed for educational and spiritual purposes and concluded by convincing the court the school was well within the law governing tax exempt organizations. Atty. Jonathan Ells, representing the town, maintained the home’s youth program had a minimum of prayer and instruction and an abundance of outdoor activities, including hikes and games. Adults, he said, came to the home largely for rest and relaxation. Furthermore, Ells argued, the home was being used for political purposes, such as discussions of racial equality and the evils of colonialism.

Wins Case: A ruling in the home’s favor was handed down Oct. 24. Soon after the decision, the Grand Sheikh left his home in Brooklyn, N.Y. and came to Norfolk to share in a victory dinner and make plans for the future.

Accompanying him were his wife, Sheikess Hattie, and their six-year-old daughter, Hazael. It was a sunny autumn Sunday when the grand Sheikh arrived, his eyes sparkling as he reached out to shake Lavieri’s hand. Soon jugs of cider and a bottle of wine were placed on a table beside yams and plates of chicken salads, curried rice and cabbage. After the supper when the dishes were cleared away and the aroma of steaming coffee and pipe tobacco filled the room, the guests sat back to relax. But the mood was abruptly changed.

The Grand Sheikh spoke spontaneously but with a deliberate forcefulness that suggested a prepared speech in a spacious arena: More would be done, he said, to emphasize the rich heritage Afro-Americans enjoy and an intensive campaign would be launched to stamp out the word Negro.

Says No ‘Negroes’: ‘The word is a fictitious term designed to separate all mankind,’ he said. ‘According to all human or divine records there is no such race or nationality by the name of Negro, black and colored peoples.’ To erase the term Negro, classes are offered at the national home in language, religion and history. Emphasis is placed on the importance of the Moors and the civilization they carried to Spain. ‘The African-American is the only person in the United States without a name,’ the Grand Sheikh said. ‘He is living behind an ‘Iron Curtain’ in the South and even in the North, right here in Connecticut; he is a man without a home. His pride has been taken away.’ He sat erect in his chair and shot back an answer to a question: ‘Yes, soldiers should be sent to Birmingham. Why? Because the extremists have gone as far as forcing rattlesnakes down the mouths of some Negroes. This is an atrocious act and I have said it loud to the government.’ The Small room grew still as he continued uninterrupted.

Force Considered: ‘I am not a radical, but sometimes I think if this catastrophe continues I will propose the African Americans arm themselves with guns and ammunition and turn Birmingham into turmoil. The law of self preservation is the law of God.’ They were harsh but not unfamiliar words, but they sounded out of place on a quiet autumn day in this rural New England town. The Grand Sheikh’s hope is that some day they will be heard and understood, not only in the South, where ‘the shadow of an ‘Iron Curtain’ hangs over the African-American, but also in the North, in other rural towns like Norfolk, where the full significance of social revolution often takes generation to penetrate.’ ”