Book Review: Finding W.D. Fard: Unveiling the Identity of the Founder of the Nation of Islam

By Gene Rhea Tucker, PhD

History Instructor at Temple College

A decent (though expensive) book; a good addition to scholarship on Fard and the birth of the NOI

First, this book is expensive. Stupid expensive. You should buy it only if you are obsessed with W. D. Fard and the foundation of the Nation of Islam and have some free Amazon points like I did. Or, if you’re a college library. Otherwise, I would say you can get a good chunk of this information from a) Arian’s Chameleon, b) Evanzz’ The Messenger, and c) Fard’s FBI file, which can be read for free at on the FBI’s document website or the Internet Archive.

Second, this is not to say Morrow’s Finding W.D. Fard does not provide some new insight. Morrow, a scholar of Islam, provides much new analysis of Fard’s teachings in the Nation of Islam and finds them to be corrupted retellings of various sects and offshoots of mostly Shia Islam. On this analysis, chapters 2 and 3 are the most important. Morrow offers a chart (pp. 150-151) that compares Fard’s strange theology to various Muslim groups, determining that Fard has a lot in common with Twelver, Isma’ili, and Ghulat branches of Shiite Islam. These chapters are really detailed, dense, and go into excruciating detail about the various branches and flavors of Islam, their teaching, and their theologies. It is a slog, but worthwhile (have Wikipedia handy for reference).

With this and other gleanings, Morrow posits that Fard was “possibly born in Baluchistan, perhaps in the Khanate of Kallat, a nation that no longer exists and that now forms part of Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan” and “he was probably a Hazara” ethnic minority who are mainly “Twelver Shiites with a Sevener Shiite minority” in a majority Sunni area (p. 287). He would have probably been polyglot as well. This is different from Evanzz, who thinks he was born in New Zealand to a Pakistani father and Anglo mother, and Arian, who thinks he was born in the Shinka area of Afghanistan. (They may all still be right, in a general sense.)

The rest of the book attempts to discover Fard’s name, identity, and biography before he appears in Detroit in 1930 and disappears in 1934. Here he follows the outline of the FBI files, Evanzz, and Arian pretty similarly:

Fard used several names in his life, including surnames Khan, Dad, Dadd, Dodd, Fard, Ford, etc.

Fard came to America in 1904 (from who knows where at first)

He and his family worked as tamale vendors in the states of Washington, Oregon, and Montana

Fard, as Fred Dad/Dodd, runs a successful food truck in Salem, Oregon, from 1910 to 1915

Fard, as Fred Dad/Dodd, is accused of rape in 1914, marries Pearl Enouf Allen, and then divorces, he moves to Los Angeles 

Fard, now usually going as Wali Dodd Fard (or somesuch, though he uses other aliases), runs restaurant in Los Angeles

Fard is arrested in 1926 for selling bootleg alcohol and arrested again for selling narcotics – he is sentenced to San Quentin prison

Fard is released from prison in 1929 and goes to Chicago as a salesman, he is listed in the 1930 census there as William D. Fard

He shows up in Detroit as Wali D. Fard (among other aliases), in 1930

He builds up the Nation of Islam

In 1933 he is implicated in a ritual murder and told by the police to leave Detroit, he is pictured and fingerprinted, proving he is the same person as Ford/Fard in Los Angeles

By 1934 he has disappeared, though he may have aliased himself

He differs in this rough outline from Arian’s conclusions in a few ways:

The birthplace, Baluchistan for Morrow rather than Afghanistan for Arian.

Morrow does not think Fard was the George Farr who sometimes traveled to San Francisco in the 1920s, probably to buy illegal liquor and drugs, because Farr was described as stocky, while Fard was thin.

Morrow is not quite as convinced that Fard would have been involved in the Chicago-based Moorish Science Temple cult, doubting the identification with David Ford-El.

In much of the book, Morrow disparages some of the conclusions of Arian. Perhaps rightly so, but it smacks of intellectual jealousy, because Morrow relies a lot on Arian’s trawling of newspaper accounts to tell the story of Fred Dodd/Dad in Oregon. (Without truly recognizing Arian’s contribution here.) Morrow does manage to find some documents, including Fard’s divorce records. Morrow also seems to think that Donald Lloyd Campagna (born to Fard’s ex-wife Pearl Allen) might be Fard’s child. (Campagna seems to still have some descendants in Oregon, based on some internet research.) (An aside, nobody seems to have tracked down Carmen Treviño, who Fard married while living in a common-law relationship with Hazel Barton in Los Angeles.)

The book could have used an editor, as there are many typos and iffy spots. The images tacked on to the end are tacked on at the end, and some are un-readable and pixelated to no end (particularly the Nation of Islam image of Fard reading from a Koran). The bibliography is long and detailed (with typos) and the appendices are helpful (though full of unclear, pixelated images). The index is okay, but some terms are missing (where’s Donaldson, Edward?).

All-in-all, this book is a major contribution to the examination of W. D. Fard and his biography. And from an accomplished, trained scholar too. The greatest contribution is Morrow’s comparison of Fard’s mish-mash of teachings with various denominations of Islam in the Iran/Pakistan/Afghanistan/Baluchistan area. Here he shines. Some of his insights on Fard’s wanderings in America are insightful too. (One major thing that made Morrow scream, and will make any researcher scream, is that the FBI never tracked down Edward Donaldson, the half-Chinese man Fard was arrested with in Los Angeles in 1926. It turns out Donaldson lived until 1982! “[A] fact that makes any serious scholar’s blood pressure reach stroke levels” [p.185].)

This is a decent book and a good addition to scholarship on Fard and the birth of the Nation of Islam (though too expensive and perhaps too dense for the average reader). Unfortunately, unless some missing documents from Fard (or his cronies) ever show up, or unless unknown law enforcement documents or newspaper articles are unearthed, we will probably never definitively know who W. D. Fard (and all of his aliases) REALLY was. (Scour attics and newspapers, researchers! Perhaps the papers of Fard’s one-time secretary in Detroit, Burnsteen Sharrieff Muhammad, will prove useful, if they are ever sold and turn up in a proper repository that can be researched by scholars. However, it seems that they have disappeared or will disappear into the vaults of the Nation of Islam.)

It can be proved, however, that he is not what the Nation of Islam says. He is not Allah, he is not “God in person.” He is not part black and part white. He is not from Mecca. He was married (official and common law) to a Native American (with white ancestry), a white woman, and a Mexican woman. He had at least one son (who died serving in the Second World War). He was a tamale vendor, a restaurant owner, and a criminal. He served time in San Quentin Prison. The ultimate conclusion of all this is that Fard was a huckster who parleyed his obvious abilities and charisma into a cultic religion that exploited African Americans in Detroit (most of whom were newly-arrived from the Jim Crow South and disgusted with the racism in pre-war American society). Fard sold people replacements for their “slave names” and apparently had a good chunk of cash when he left in 1934. He admitted to Detroit Police that it was all a scam (if you are disposed to believe the Detroit police). Fard may have truly had it with anti-Muslim bigotry and racist white America, which found its outlet in the Nation of Islam.

Fard is an intriguing character, and this is an interesting contribution to his incomplete biography.