Dr. York's smooth R&B and the Nuwaubian Nation
a friend of mine posted this on that other social networking site. This sounds insane (not the music, but everything else about it):
All Eyes on Egypt Bookstore - 717 Bushwick Avenue
Before we begin talking about this building, I need to give full disclosure. I have never been into the All Eyes on Egypt Bookstore, or talked to anyone who works there or lives in the building, but I think that all people who take any belief too seriously are dangerous, no matter their creed, color, or period in which they lived. When I first started to research this building and the people who live/lived in it, I thought it was just a weird little story about a silly UFO-believing cult, but the more research I do, the more uncomfortable I get. This story is so crazy, it feels like an episode of Law and Order: SVU, but it really happened, not 500 yards from where I sit right now. As a historian, I???m not supposed to have an academic opinion on people that are still alive, and my brand of storytelling can be a bit flippant, so this is a little outside of my comfort zone; this isn???t a flippant story, but it???s one that I feel needs to be told. So bearing that in mind, let???s unpack this doozy of a building on Bushwick Ave.
Most of my information has come from the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the full article can be found here: http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-files/groups/nuwaubian-nation-of-moors
I???ll never look at this building the same way again.
It???s difficult to miss this building for reasons quite different than the reasons that it???s hard to miss the Cook mansion which is just across the street. Rather than being a grand mansion, The All Eyes on Egypt Bookstore is simply a townhouse. But it???s a townhouse that???s painted black and gold ??? unusual colors for a brownstone ??? and is oddly shaped ??? a three story section of a building with an adjacent one story warehouse/garage.
The townhouses at 715 and 717 were built in 1915, and the lot where the garage/shed building now stands was once the Bushwick Democratic Club, a building that fit in more with the Cook mansion than the Egypt Bookstore.
The architect of the Democratic Club House, Frank Freeman, described it as ???a beautiful structure, Romanesque in style, slightly modernized. The exterior trimmings are of light terra cotta and red sandstone which, with the old gold mottled brick of which the walls are composed, produce a fine effect. There is a court yard of twenty-five feet in front of the building, and the main entrance is reached by a series of steps and landings, on which are handsomely wrought bronze lamps with incandescent electric lights. The furniture, including buffet, billiard and pool tables, is of quartered, figured oak, the carpets are of velvet; the draperies are of soft, warm-colored figured silk, and the decorations on the walls and ceilings are in delicate tints, harmonizing perfectly with the other appointments. The basement is occupied by the bowling alleys. The caf?? and billiard room are on the first floor, making practically one apartment with vaulted ceilings twenty-five feet high. On the mezzanine floor are the officers??? rooms and the ladies??? rooms. On the third floor are the banquet hall and card rooms, and on the top floor is the gymnasium. The stewards apartments and the club kitchen are above the main building at the rear.??? Is he gloating or what?
The Democratic Club was a social hang out spot for members of the Democratic party, which was very popular in Bushwick, and I think would actually make a pretty good bar today??? I mean, the basement WAS occupied by bowling alleys???.
The Lieutenant Governor and the Mayor of Brooklyn attended the cornerstone laying ceremony on June 30th 1891 (remember, guys, Brooklyn was a separate city until 1898 ??? why do I keep having to remind you???), and after the ceremony, a 300 seat banquet was thrown for generous Democratic donors. President Grover Cleveland wrote a letter expressing his sorrow at missing the event. His sorrow fills me with sorrow ??? the President so nice they elected him twice (out of order), the 20th (out of 44) most recognizable President according to a 2010 Gallop poll, Grover Cleveland could have had dinner like 3 blocks from my house! Damn it, Grover!! What was more important? The National Forrest Service being organized??? (Happened on June 29th, 1891, FYI)
In 1941, the Democratic Club sold the building to the Knights of Columbus and the tradition of old white guys getting drunk in there continued until 1966 when it became the Bethesda Pentecostal Church. Sometime in the 1970???s, a fire ripped through the building and destroyed it entirely. Creepily enough, I can???t find an exact date on the fire, but that???s when things start to get culty for the corner of Bushwick and Hart, and when our story loses my normally good natured humor.
After the Democratic Club cum church burned down, the owners of 717 Bushwick co-opted the space, and built the massive shed-like thing attached to the current building. As you may remember from my first post about Bushwick, the 1970???s were not a good time to be living in the neighborhood; arson, theft and murder were a daily routine, and most, if not all of the predominantly African American and Hispanic community were living in dire poverty. The 1970???s were, of course, a great time of political upheaval for the entire country, and Bushwick was not immune.
The Black Power movement was very attractive to young urban men, and an African American Muslim community flourished in Bushwick. The building at 717 Bushwick Ave was the center for a black Muslim group that calls themselves the Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, founded and lead by Dwight York.
Dwight York???s Wikipedia page has his birth date listed at June 26th, 1935 and ???also reported as 1945.??? Generally speaking, when you have two birth dates reported that are ten years apart, you are a strange person. The place of his birth is also called into question, from Boston to New York, Baltimore, or Ghana. He???s clearly a guy who needs to get his stories straight ??? and that might be the best thing you can say about the guy. He was arrested in 1964 for having sex with a 13 year-old girl, violated his parole and was arrested for assault, possession of a deadly weapon, and resisting arrest. He served three years in prison.
After his release, York began preaching to Black Muslims in Brooklyn in the late 1960???s, where he stressed black supremacism, and built a religion that combined Islam, Freemasonry, and Judaism, among other philosophies.
York???s presence on Bushwick Ave remains controversial ??? some long-time residents of the neighborhood say that he bonded the community together during a time of extreme violence and chaos, and some say that he drank a little too much of his own Kool-Aid and became power hungry, making dissent within his group a dangerous proposition. I would lean towards the latter, but I didn???t live here when someone burning down his or her own building was a daily occurrence.
However, York eventually came to view himself as a god, and the Nuwaubian Nation became focused less on Islam and more on an unorganized and dizzying combination of the worship of ancient Egyptian pyramids, references to Atlantis, belief in aliens and conspiracy theories like the Illuminati. According to the SLPC, ???A common claim is that the original humans were black and that blacks are genetically superior to other races. White people are called ???devils,??? a concept derived from the Nation of Islam???s beliefs, but Nuwaubians allege that their lighter skin color is the result of leprosy and the fact that their ancestors mated with dogs and jackals.???
Nuwaubians don???t call their belief system ???theology,??? they call it ???factology,??? which is a super great way to let everyone else know that you are open to a healthy discussion about it. The shed-like structure served as a mosque for the approximately 500 Nuwaubians who lived in the building in the 1970???s and 80???s. 500 people in that one building.
Conditions within the full-fledged cult of the Nuwaubians that lived in the building were absolutely horrifying. York controlled people???s lives entirely ??? they had to give up their worldly possessions and work for free either begging on the street or selling York???s pamphlets about his cult. Men and women lived separately, with York ???mating??? couples, and only allowing them to have sex when York considered their duties completed to his satisfaction. When a member of the cult did not perform their duties correctly, they were beaten. At the same time, York was having sex with most of the women and girls in the cult, impregnating many of them, and having them shipped to his new property in the Catskills for sex.
In the mid-80???s, York also took up music as a way to reach people with his message, launched his own record label, and inflated his influence. This is where I would make a joke, but I can???t right now.
By the early 1990???s, the cult had come under investigation by the FBI for acts committed by members including arson, welfare fraud, and illegal possession of weapons. In 1993, York moved with his cult to Putnam County, Georgia, where they built pyramids and dropped all intentions of being an Islamic-type religion. He tried for a while to be considered a Native American organization, even applying for a casino license. York was fully god now (he claimed he was a god from outer space). His followers lived in trailers, while he lived in a mansion.
They operated a night club out of one of the pyramids. Let that sink in for a second.
The compound was raided in 2002, with York and his most trusted wife, Kathy, arrested. Inside the compound were 30 stockpiled weapons. York pleaded guilty to 40 counts of aggravated child molestation, 34 counts of child molestation, two counts of influencing witnesses and one count of child exploitation, as well as one count of unlawful transport of minors for the purpose of engaging in sex acts and a count of attempting to evade financial reporting requirements.
York is currently serving 135 years in prison.
You guys, I really didn???t think this story was going to turn out this way. This is what people always say when they realize their neighbor was a murderer or something like that; ???I always thought they were weird but harmless.??? I always thought that weird Egyptian themed house down the street was kooky, and I knew some cult used to live there, but I never thought it would end up with a story like this.
Of course, if you refused to know about all the bad things that happened inside buildings in New York City, you???d never go into another building again.
So I won???t tell you to not go into the All Eyes on Egypt Bookstore. I don???t know who owns the building now, or what they believe. But I will tell you that I???m not sure if I can walk past that building with the same feeling of quirky ignorance anymore.