African American History: Nannie Helen Burroughs & Warith Deen Muhammad

By Kyna | February, 16, 2012

This week, we continue our celebration of African American History Month by featuring educator and activist Nannie Helen Burroughs and religious leader Imam Warith Deen Muhammad.   We’re pleased to welcome Imam Dr. Muhammad Hatim as a contributor to the blog this week.  He is Imam Warith Deen Muhammad Chair of African American Muslim Studies at the Foundation.  Please click here to visit his faculty profile. 

Have you heard of these leaders before, or is this an introduction for you to their life and work? 

Which African American leaders have influenced your life? 

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b. May 2, 1879
d. May 20, 1961

Photoprint by The Rotograph Co. , New York City, 1909.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (LC-USZ62-79903)


Nannie Helen Burroughs was born in Orange, Virginia to parents who were freedmen (ex-slaves).  Burroughs’ widowed mother later moved her to Washington, D.C. to ensure a better education for Nannie.  While still a very young woman, Burroughs helped to establish the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACWC) in 1896 whose mission was “to furnish evidence of the moral, mental and material progress made by people of color through the efforts of our women.”  Founders included such distinguished names as Harriet Tubman and Ida B. Wells-Barnett.  Burroughs worked as an assistant editor at a Philadelphia-based Baptist newspaper for about three years before moving to Louisville, Kentucky to work for the Foreign Mission Board of the National Baptist Convention which was the largest association of African American clergymen at that time in American history.  She delivered a speech entitled, “How the Sisters are Hindered from Helping,” which resulted in the formation of the Woman’s Convention, Auxiliary to the National Baptist Convention.  Burroughs served as the Corresponding Secretary and President of the Woman’s Convention for over 60 years (

Her work soon led her toward education for women and girls, and in 1909, she became the Founding President of the National Training School for Women and Girls in Washington, D.C. where she spent many years teaching classical and vocational courses, including required Black history courses.  Burroughs’ creed was “The Bible, the bath, and the broom,” meaning that a clean life, a clean body, and a clean house were a person’s main priorities.  She also worked for the Department of Negro History as an instructor of African American history, moving into politics as well as supporting the National League of Republican Colored Woman and the National Association of Wage Earners.  Burroughs played a role in helping to influence legislation affecting women’s wages.  During the first years of the Great Depression, President Herbert Hoover appointed her committee chairwoman concerning Negro Housing.  In 1964, the school she founded was renamed
the Nannie Helen Burroughs School, Inc., and in 1997, Burroughs was designated a Women’s History Month Honoree by the National Women’s History Project. 


Library of Congress. (n.d.)  Discovering Hidden Washington. [Special Presentation – Nannie Helen Burroughs].  Retrieved from

Nannie Helen Burroughs School, Inc.  (n.d.) About Us. [Biography/History].  Retrieved from  


b. October 30, 1933
d. September 9, 2009


“The September 9, 2009 death of Imam Wartih Deen Muhammad, at the age of 74, is a loss not only to the African American Muslim Community, but Americans in general.  The Imam is recognized internationally for his scholarship, and the spiritual direction he gave to his specific community, The American Society of Muslims. He has been celebrated worldwide by numerous religious and political leaders.  As a Sunni (orthodox) Muslim, he headed the largest Muslim community in the United States of any ethnic or cultural persuasion.

Imam Muhammad is significant in the area of African American Muslim Liberation Theology, in part, because he established a new paradigm in African American Muslim Liberation Theology (AAMLT) hermeneutics. Specifically, he further explained and interpreted the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, his father, in a way that offered acceptability and understanding to many Muslims wedded to more traditional concepts of Islamic beliefs and practices.  May Allah (swt) reward the Imam according to the best of his intentions and actions.”

Imam Dr. Muhammad Hatim is Imam Warith Deen Muhammad Chair of African American Muslim Studies at the Graduate Theological Foundation.  (Visit Dr. Hatim’s faculty profile here.)

Warith Deen Muhammad was born Wallace D. Muhammad and grew up in Chicago, Illinois.  His father, Elijah Muhammad, was leader of the Nation of Islam, a position that Muhammad took over following his father’s death.  As a young man, he refused the military draft and thus spent three years in prison, a time during which he studied the Qu’ran which led him to move toward Sunni Islam.  Following his taking over the leadership of the Nation in 1975, Muhammad introduced new teachings and activities such as the five pillars of Islam: faith, care, zakat (charity), the fast (during Ramadan), and pilgrimage to Mecca (the Hajj), and later changed his name.  He also changed the name of the Nation to the World Community of al-Islam in the West (later the American Society of Muslims) and adopted the title of “imam.”  Most members of the Nation continued to follow Muhammad during this transition. 

In 1992, Muhammad delivered the invocation for the United States Senate, the first Muslim to do so.  He also led prayers at the inaugural celebrations of President Bill Clinton.  His leadership position continued to grow and he spent many years being deeply involved in interfaith dialogue, meeting with groups around the world and twice with Pope John Paul II.  Muhammad worked with President Jimmy Carter on social issues in the African American community as well as with a number of other American and world leaders.  In 2002, he was inducted as a member of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Board of Preachers at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.


Martin, Douglas.  (September 9, 2008).  “W. Deen Mohammed, 74, Top U.S. Imam, Dies.”  New York Times.   Retrieved from

PBS.  (n.d.) This Far By Faith.  [Warith Deen  Mohammed].  Retrieved from

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