The Hebrew Israelite movement is rooted in Black Judaism, a belief system birthed in the late 1800s by black Christians from the South's Pentecostal "Holiness" movement. They claimed to have received a revelation: America's recently emancipated slaves were God's chosen people, the true Hebrews.
According to Black Judaism doctrine, when the Kingdom of Israel was destroyed, the Israelites were first scattered across the African continent and then selectively targeted by enemy African tribes who captured and sold them to European slave traders for bondage in the New World.
"It's a common myth that slaves were randomly shackled up and carried off to slavery," "General Yahanna," leader of the present-day Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge, told the Intelligence Report. Actually, "Slave traders sailed for months and days to get to specific pickup points. They knew what people they were taking — specifically, the lost tribes of Israel."
Black Judaism leaders preached self-empowerment and economic independence, an early form of black nationalism that was foundational for later groups like the Nation of Islam. Their rhetoric, emphasizing the biblical theme of an oppressed nation being led to a promised land, informed black activist thought right up through the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.
Although followers of Black Judaism thought of themselves as the descendants of the biblical 12 tribes of Israel, most did not take that to mean that other people deserved condemnation or attack.
One notable exception was F.S. Cherry, a self-declared prophet who in 1886 started a "black Jew" church in Chattanooga, Tenn., where he preached that white people were inherently evil and hated by God. Cherry also instructed his followers that the earth is square and that Jesus would return in the year 2000 to install blacks over whites through a race war.
Just as today's racist Hebrew Israelite sects are hateful but smaller detachments of a larger, non-racist faith, Cherry, who relocated his congregation to Philadelphia in 1915, was far less popular in his time than non-racist Black Judaism founders like the Rev. William Christian and William Saunders Crowdy.
After Cherry, the next major purveyor of racist dogma among black Jews was Eber ben Yomin, also known as Abba Bivens, who in the 1960s broke away from the "Commandment Keepers," then the dominant mainstream black Jewish organization, to launch his own extremist sect, which became known as the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge.
Initially based in a Harlem apartment, this new black Israelite group soon moved to a building on New York City's 125th Street, Harlem's main drag. Three of Bivens' disciples — Ahrayah, Masha and Yaiqab — joined with four "high priests" named Chaazaq, Lahab, Yahiya and Shar to take over leadership of the Israelite School. Collectively they were referred to as the "Seven Heads," the inner-circle governors of the black supremacist Hebrew Israelite movement.
Although they employed the same kind of radical rhetoric and confrontational street theater that other militant black groups of the 1970s did, racist Hebrew Israelites held themselves apart. They rejected the "Muslim" beliefs of groups like the Nation of Islam and refused to join with the pork-eating secularists of groups like the Black Panthers.
In the 1980s, the Seven Heads changed the name of their group to the Israelite Church of Universal Practical Knowledge.
The Israelite Church attempted to expand its visibility in the 1990s by declaring, as F.S. Cherry had before them, that Jesus Christ would return to earth in 2000 to enslave and destroy the white race. Meanwhile, some members began to break away and form their own racist Hebrew Israelite sects. One such member, Yahanna, started a chapter and reclaimed the original name Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge for his group.
When the year 2000 came without the Israelite Church's prophecy coming to pass, its leaders rebranded the organization as the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ, the name they still use today. The organization was taken over in late 2000 by "Chief High Priest Tazadaqyah," born Jermaine Grant, who declared himself the "Holy Spirit" and "The Comforter." Grant recently prophesied that a vengeful black Jesus would soon return to earth to kill or enslave all whites. Unlike Cherry, however, he didn't set a date.