The Macon Telegraph
July 22, 2001
By Rob Peecher
Eatonton --- Malachi York, the leader of the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, is undergoing his latest metamorphosis --- associating himself with a new organization and reworking his public image.
York, the leader of the self-styled fraternal organization, has in recent weeks been identified as the "imperial grand potentate of the International Supreme Council of Shriners" and has been tied to the numerous recent charitable activities of the "Al Mahdi Shrine Temple No. 19."
York, who Nuwaubians now say is their retired pastor, has been called in Nuwaubian literature the group's savior and has been the leader of the group since before its move from New York to Putnam County in 1993.
York's public image in recent years has been marred by conflicts between the Nuwaubians and Putnam County's governing officials over building and zoning disputes. Some of the Nuwaubians' leading members have pleaded guilty to or been convicted of criminal charges in Eatonton and Milledgeville. But in recent weeks, York and Al Mahdi Shrine Temple No. 19 have been publicizing their involvement in charitable activities in Macon, Eatonton and Athens.
While York is the self proclaimed imperial grand potentate of the International Supreme Council of Shriners Inc., presumably the sanctioning body for the Al Mahdi temple, more traditional Shriners do not recognize the Al Mahdi Shrine Temple as being legitimate.
Gary Lemmons, grand master of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons for the State of Georgia, said there are four recognized Shrine temples in Georgia.
"The organization functioning in and about Middle Georgia, known as Al Mahdi Shrine Temple No. 19, is not one of those" four, Lemmons said. "The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons for the State of Georgia does not recognize the organization known as Al Mahdi Shrine Temple No. 19 as Masonic or Shrine affiliated."
Last weekend, Al Mahdi Shrine Temple No. 19, with York present, donated $20,000 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, according to a news release from the Al Mahdi Shrine Temple and media reports. The $20,000 was raised during a July 4 "Olympics" for handicapped children and adults, according to the news release.
The group, along with the Black Men of Athens, also donated some 3,000 cans of food to the Northeast Georgia Food Bank, the Athens Area Emergency Food Bank and the Salvation Army Homeless Shelter, all located in Athens, where York lives.
Marshall Chance, a pastor with Holy Tabernacle Ministries, another Nuwaubian-affiliated group, said there is no connection between the Nuwaubians and Al Mahdi Shrine Temple No. 19. Instead, Chance said, Al Mahdi donated $10,000 to the Holy Tabernacle Ministries to pay for electricity bills.
"As far as it being a Nuwaubian type thing, I don't think so," Chance said. "To refer to them as Nuwaubians would actually take away from what they're doing as Shriners."
Chance said he saw reports on television about the $20,000 Make-A-Wish Foundation donation, and "we were able to get in touch with (Al Mahdi), and they gave us $10,000 for our children's fund."
Thomas Chism, who identified himself as grand potentate of Al Mahdi No. 19, also denied to Athens Banner-Herald reporter Jim Thompson that the Nuwaubians and Al Mahdi are linked, according to Thompson. But Chism was at one time York's agent responsible for obtaining building permits at the Nuwaubians' 476-acre village at 404 Shady Dale Road in Putnam County --- the same address identified as the "Al Mahdi Shrine Park" in a news release.
In April 2000, Chism was convicted of giving false statements and writings and banished from the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit, of which Putnam County is a part, for three years. Al Woodall, the current agent for the property owners of the village, known by Nuwaubians as "Tama-Re" or "Egypt of the West," is president of the Black Men of Athens.
Several Nuwaubian and Al Mahdi Shrine Temple contacts did not return calls or refused to comment about York's new group or its connection to the Nuwaubians. But a news release from the Al Mahdi Shrine Temples claims the "thousands" of charitable dollars being raised by the group will not be given to charities in Putnam County because of the problems the Nuwaubians have had there.
"Because of the ongoing battle between the Nuwaubians and the Putnam County Officials that have shown outright racism against the fraternal group, planned intentions to donate to the local organizations here in Putnam have been aborted. All donations will go to charities in other counties in Georgia," the news release stated.
"We will raise thousands of dollars from all over the world for the benefit of physically disabled children," the news release continued. "It's a loss for the residents of Putnam County that they allowed Sheriff (Howard) Sills and Francis Nearn Ford with their seemly racist actions to interfere with the county receiving thousands of dollars. ... It is evident to see that Putnam County's natural resources are diminishing daily and many of their utilities are in need of serious repair, in actuality the county is dying."
Ford, the husband and law partner of the former county attorney, handled much of the county's litigation against the Nuwaubians. This is not the first time the Nuwaubians have linked themselves with Masons. Last year, the Nuwaubians attempted to get the "Rameses Social Club," a warehouse that has been at the heart of the legal battles between county officials and the group, permitted as a Masonic lodge.
And in May, the Nuwaubians put down $25,000 in earnest money on the Al Sihah Shrine Temple on Poplar Street in Macon. The Shrine Temple is being sold for $800,000, and Al Sihah Shrine attorney and member Charles Lanford said the Nuwaubians have put down another $25,000.
"Their contract has expired," Lanford said. "They got an extension, and as consideration for that extension they put $25,000 down. But they still haven't closed." Lanford said there are other potential buyers, but so far, no one has closed on the property. "If the Nuwaubians happen to close before (other buyers) get us on contract, then we sell to them," Lanford said.
The Al Mahdi Shrine Temple is only the latest in a long history of organizations under York. Before coming to Georgia, the group had several different names and associated itself with different religions. In 1967, York founded the Ansaar Pure Sufi mission in New York City. In 1969, the group began incorporating traditional African culture and changed its name to Nubian Islamic Hebrews.
For several years prior to coming to Georgia, the group was known as the Ansaru Allah community, a segregationist sect that incorporated Muslim traditions. York, whose given name is Dwight York, was then known as Isa Muhammad.
When the group migrated to Putnam County, Nuwaubians dressed in cowboy-type garb and claimed York was an extra-terrestrial from the planet "Rizq." Since then, the Nuwaubians have claimed heritage to Native Americans and ancient Egyptians.
Members of the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors have decried claims by Putnam County officials and others that the group is a cult and instead refer to themselves as a fraternal organization, sometimes claiming to be a religion and sometimes denying it.
At a glance:The Nuwaubians, primarily consisting of African Americans, first came to Putnam County in 1993 from Brooklyn, N.Y., where they were known as the Ansaru Allah community, a sect which incorporated Muslim traditions. Nuwaubian leader Malachi York was then known as Isa Muhammad.
Nuwaubians initially dressed in cowboy-type garb and claimed York was an extra-terrestrial from the planet "Rizq." The group has since claimed heritage to the Native Americans and the Egyptians. At times they claim to be a religious group but at others say they are a fraternal organization. In some Nuwaubian literature, York is referred to as their savior or god.