Produced by
Bourne, St. Clair, American, 1943 - 2007
Subject of
Muhammad, Elijah, American, 1897 - 1975
Owned by
Bowser, Pearl, American, born 1931
ca. 1970
acetate film
Duration: 24 Minutes
Length (Film): 850 Feet
"Nation of Common Sense" is a documentary produced by St. Clair Bourne for the WNET program, "Black Journal." It focuses on the Nation of Islam and its goals of total economic self-sufficiency and separation from white people. Various enterprises are are shown, such as the Muhammad Speaks newspaper and Shabazz Bakery, and a number of prominent NOI members, including Elijah Muhammad, are interviewed.
The film begins with tracking shots from a moving vehicle as it moves through an unidentified neighborhood. In voiceover, an unidentified woman describes her search for spiritual meaning, how Christianity failed her, and how she came to the Nation of Islam. Shots of a storefront church are shown in addition to the tracking shots. The next segment begins with shots of men selling the "Muhammad Speaks" newspaper on street corners. As a shot of a rotating crescent and star is shown, a narrator (St. Clair Bourne) begins discussing the economic enterprises of the Nation of Islam. A montage of various NOI businesses plays as he speaks. The film then focuses on the publishing of "Muhammad Speaks." The paper's editor, John Woodford, explains the focus of the paper and highlights its wide circulation. Woodford continues on to say that the paper is attacked for printing the truth and that Elijah Muhammad does not have an undue influence over its content. As shots of the newspaper's production are shown, the narrator explains the high quality of the infrastructure to which the paper has access. Eugene Majeed, art director for the paper is then interviewed about his artwork. As Majeed explains his approach, images of his pieces are shown. The narrator concludes the segment with an explanation of the paper's future plan for expanded distribution over images of the printing facilities. The next segment focuses on NOI schools and begins with an interview of Beverly X who heads an NOI school in Chicago. She explains the NOI approach to education and how it differs from traditional public school. A classroom at the school is shown as students learn how to tell time. The segment concludes with Beverly X excoriating black teachers at public schools for failing their students. The segment begins with an interview of John Ali, the NOI National Secretary. He explains that the goal of the various NOI enterprises is to be totally self-sufficient. Shots of an NOI grocery store illustrate the point. The narrator then takes over to futher explain how the nation encourages black communities to spend their money at NOI businesses, such as grocery stores and bakeries, and how their businesses are vertically integrated. The narration and the images shown transition to how the NOI buys farm land to supply all of their businesses. The narrator introduces a farm in Cassopolis, MI managed by Cornelius X. Williams. Williams explains the origins of the farm and how it faced local resistance when it was founded. The narrator lists the many activities of the farm as they are shown in montage. The segment concludes with Williams explaining his satisfaction with working on a farm built with a larger purpose in mind. The film then abruptly shifts subjects to the NOI's opinion of Malcolm X. John Ali explains that Malcolm X never should have left the nation and lost his way when he did. The next segement is an interview with Elijah Muhammad in his home conducted by St. Clair Bourne. The first question concerns the origins of the NOI and Muhammad answers in turn. In a follow up, Muhammad declares that Islam is the true religion, "The very nature," of black people and that all black people are brothers regardless of geography. The next question focuses on NOI participation in politics. Muhammad explains that Muslims have politics, but it is based upon on the teachings of the Koran. He further explains that the NOI are seeking to have a separate land of their own away from white people. At the end of the interview, the narration continues and explains that the NOI is a way of life for its members. The film concludes with a final shot of a man selling copies of "Muhammad Speaks" on a street corner.
Place filmed
Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, United States, North and Central America
Cassopolis, Cass county, Michigan, United States, North and Central America
Collection title
Pearl Bowser Collection
Black Journal
Media Arts-Film and Video
color films (visual works)
16mm (photographic film size)
Religious groups
Credit Line
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Pearl Bowser
Object number
Restrictions & Rights
© National Educational Television
Share this page