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African-American Muslims
Total population
660,000–825,000 (est.)
Regions with significant populations
United States
English, Arabic, French, Portuguese, Swahili, Somali, Hausa, Afar, Mandinka, Wolof, Fula, Serer, Susu, Fula, Kissi, Kpelle, Bambara, Nouchi, Gurma, Guinea-Bissau Creole, Temne, Krio, Limba, Tuareg languages, Comorian languages and other African languages
Related ethnic groups
African American, Muslim American

African-American Muslims, also colloquially known as Black Muslims, are an African American religious minority.[1] African American Muslims account for over 20% of American Muslims.[2] They represent one of the larger minority Muslim populations of the United States as there is no ethnic group that makes up the majority of American Muslims.[3] They are represented in Sunni and Shia denominations as well as smaller sects, such as the Nation of Islam. The history of African-American Muslims is related to African-American history in general, and goes back to the Revolutionary and Antebellum eras.[4]


Historically, an estimated 30% of slaves brought to the Americas from West/Central Africa were Muslims.[5] They were overwhelmingly literate in contrast to other slaves, and thus were given supervisory roles.[5] Most of these captives were forced into Christianity during the era of American slavery;[6] however, there are records of individuals such as Omar ibn Said practicing Islam for the rest of their lives in the United States.[6][7] During the twentieth century, some African Americans converted to Islam, mainly through the influence of black nationalist groups that preached with distinctive Islamic practices including the Moorish Science Temple of America, founded in 1913,[8] and the Nation of Islam, founded in the 1930s, which attracted at least 20,000 people by 1963.[9][10] Prominent members included activist Malcolm X and boxer Muhammad Ali.[11] Ahmadiyya Muslim groups also sought converts among African Americans in the 1920s and 1930s.[12]

Malcolm X is considered the first person to start the movement among African Americans towards mainstream Islam, after he left the Nation and made the pilgrimage to Mecca.[13] In 1975, Warith Deen Mohammed, the son of Elijah Muhammad took control of the Nation after his father's death and guided the majority of its members towards mainstream Sunni Islam.[14] However, a few members rejected these changes, leading Louis Farrakhan to revive the Nation of Islam in 1978 based largely on the ideals of its founder, Wallace Fard Muhammad.[15]


African-American Muslims constitute 20% of the total U.S. Muslim population.[16][17] Despite this, 3% of Black Americans are Muslim (most adhere to various sects of Christianity, particularly Protestantism).[18]

The majority are Sunni Muslims; a substantial proportion of these identify under the community of W. Deen Mohammed.[19][20] Cities with large concentration of African-American Muslims include Chicago, Detroit, New York City, Newark, Washington. D.C, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. The Nation of Islam led by Louis Farrakhan has a membership ranging from 20,000 to 50,000 members.[21]


Further information: Black Muslims and American Society of Muslims

During the first half of the 20th century, a small number of African Americans established groups based on Islamic and Gnostic teachings. The first of these groups was the Moorish Science Temple of America, founded by Timothy Drew (Drew Ali) in 1913. Drew taught that black people were of Moorish origin but their Muslim identity was taken away through slavery and racial segregation, advocating the return to Islam of their Moorish ancestry.[22]

Sunni Islam

Main article: Sunni Islam

Sunni is a term derived from sunnah (سُنَّة /ˈsunna/, plural سُنَن sunan /ˈsunan/) meaning "habit", "usual practice", "custom", "tradition". The Muslim use of this term refers to the sayings and living habits of Muhammad. Its adherents are referred to in Arabic as ahl as-sunnah wa l-jamāʻah ("the people of the sunnah and the community") or ahl as-sunnah for short. In English, its adherents are known as Sunni Muslims, Sunnis, Sunnites and Ahlus Sunnah. Sunni Islam is sometimes referred to as "orthodox Islam". The Quran, together with hadith (especially those collected in Kutub al-Sittah) and binding juristic consensus form the basis of all traditional jurisprudence within Sunni Islam.[23] Sharia rulings are derived from these basic sources, in conjunction with analogical reasoning, consideration of public welfare and juristic discretion, using the principles of jurisprudence developed by the traditional legal schools.

The conversion of Malik el-Shabazz (better known as Malcolm X) in 1964 is widely regarded as the turning point for the spread of orthodox Sunni Islam among Black American Muslims. Encouraged to learn about Sunni Islam after his departure from the Nation of Islam, he converted; others from the Nation of Islam soon followed.[citation needed] Warith Deen Mohammed rose to leadership of the Nation of Islam in 1975 following the death of his father Elijah Muhammad and began the groundbreaking, though sometimes controversial, process of leading Black Muslims out of the NOI and into Sunni Islam. As a result of his personal thinking and studies of the Quran, he became part of Ahlus Sunnah during a term in federal prison from 1961 to 1963 for refusing induction into the United States military.[citation needed]

Mohammed introduced many reforms and began an information campaign about Sunni Islam much as el-Shabazz had years earlier. He stated that Fard was not divine and that his father was not a prophet. All of the over 400 temples were converted into traditional Islamic mosques, and he introduced the Five Pillars of Islam to his followers.[citation needed] He rejected literal interpretations of his father's theology and Black-separatist views and on the basis of his intensive independent study of Islamic law, history, and theology, he accepted whites as fellow worshipers. However, he also encouraged African Americans to separate themselves from their pasts, in 1976 calling upon them to change their surnames which were often given to their ancestors by slave masters.[citation needed] He forged closer ties with mainstream Muslim communities, including Hispanic and Latino American Muslims. By 1978 he had succeeded in leading the majority of the original NOI to Sunni Islam which still stands as the largest mass conversion to Islam in the United States.[citation needed] In many urban areas of the United States today many Black Muslims in the Sunni tradition are known and recognized by the hijabs on women and kufi caps and long beards for men. These beards are grown as an adherence to the Sunnah of Muhammad for men to let their beards grow. Commonly called Sunnah beards, and Sunni Beards, among Muslims and more recently known as Philly beards have also gained popularity among non Muslim men emulating Muslim style.[citation needed]

Shia Islam

During the Muslim movement in the United States during the 20th century, the African American community was also introduced to Shia Islam. The majority of African American in that time were not aware of the Sunni-Shia divide, although most became Sunni due to how it was more widespread, a lack of access to Shia learning materials, as well as the stigma associated with Shia Islam. The 1979 Iranian Revolution gave Shia Muslims a voice within the Muslim community. This was the time when African Americans were first exposed to Shia Islam, and by 1982, more than one thousand African Americans had accepted Shia Islam in Philadelphia alone. Many Salafi and Wahhabi preachers were unhappy about the growth of Shia Islam, and began telling African American Muslims that it was disbelief, which alienated African American Shias from their community.[24] African American Sunnis, encouraged by Sunni extremist missionaries, often attacked African American Shias in prisons.[25]

A popular African American Shia preacher is Amir Hakeem, who joined the Nation of Islam in prison and later converted to Shia Islam before being released. Hakeem became an assistant at a mosque in Watts and hosts charity work as well as teaching gang members in Los Angeles about Shia Islam. He stated that the Shia community of Watts is predominantly African Americans.[26]

Malcolm Shabazz, the grandson of Malcolm X, also converted to Shia Islam and had died as a Shia Muslim.[27]

Moorish Science Temple of America

Main article: Moorish Science Temple of America

Noble Drew Ali of the Moorish Science Temple of America

The Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA) is an American organization founded in 1913 by self-proclaimed prophet Noble Drew Ali. Born in 1886 in North Carolina, Ali claimed to be returning African-Americans to the creed and principles of their ancestral religion, Islam. The tradition is not, however, historically connected to mainstream Islam; instead, it emerged independently in the United States with inspiration from the Muslim tradition.[28] Ali's teachings aligned with Sufi ideas regarding the higher self and the lower self;[citation needed] they also drew heavily from elements of Buddhism, Christianity, Gnosticism, and Taoism. The MSTA can be distinguished from mainstream Islam by its strongly African-American demography, by its emphasis on Iman, or creed, as opposed to mainstream Islam's Five Pillars,[citation needed] by its significant divergences from mainstream Islamic moral and ritual practice,[29] and by its association with black nationalism.[30] These distinctives make its classification as an Islamic denomination a matter of debate among both Muslims and scholars of religion.[citation needed]

Another significant element of the MSTA's teaching is that African-Americans are actually "descendants of the ancient Moabites whom [sic] inhabited the North Western and South Western shores of Africa."[31] Specifically, they hold that the Moabites' Iberian Moorish descendants, recently defeated by European powers in the Spanish Reconquista, were prevalent among the victims of the Atlantic slave trade, making them ancestors of modern African Americans.[32] MSTA adherents also believe that the Negroid Asiatic was the first human inhabitant of the Western Hemisphere. While these assertions about African American origins, Moorish history, and American history are not consistent with the conclusions of historical research,[33] adherants refer to themselves as "Asiatics" in their religious texts[34] and call themselves "indigenous Moors", "American Moors" or "Moorish Americans"[34] rather than, or in contradistinction to "African Moors" or "African Americans."

Nation of Islam

Main article: Nation of Islam

Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam since 1981

The Nation of Islam (NOI) was created in 1930 by Wallace Fard Muhammad. Fard drew inspiration for NOI doctrines from those of Timothy Drew's Moorish Science Temple of America. He provided three main principles which serve as the foundation of the NOI: "Allah is God, the white man is the devil and the so-called Negroes are the Asiatic Black People, the cream of the planet earth".[35]

In 1934 Elijah Muhammad became the leader of the NOI. He deified Fard, saying that he was an incarnation of God, and taught that he was a prophet who had been taught directly by God in the form of Fard.[36] Two of the most famous people to join the NOI were Malcolm X, who became the face of the NOI in the media, and Muhammad Ali, who, while initially rejected, was accepted into the group shortly after his first world heavyweight championship victory.[37] Both Malcolm X and Ali later became Sunni Muslims.

Malcolm X was one of the most influential leaders of the NOI and, in accordance with NOI doctrine, advocated the complete separation of blacks from whites.[38] He left the NOI after being silenced for 90 days (due to a controversial comment on the John F. Kennedy assassination), and proceeded to form Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity before his pilgrimage to Mecca and conversion to Sunni Islam. He is viewed as the first person to start the movement among African Americans towards Sunni Islam.

Muhammad died in 1975 and his son, Warith Deen Mohammed, became the leader of the Nation of Islam. He led the organization toward Sunni Islam and renamed it the World Community of Islam in the West the following year. Louis Farrakhan, who quit Warith Deen Mohammed's group, started an organization along the lines of Elijah Muhammad's teachings. Farrakhan renamed his organization the Nation of Islam in 1981, and has regained many properties associated with Elijah Muhammad, such as Mosque Maryam, its Chicago headquarters.[citation needed]

It was estimated that the Nation of Islam had at least 20,000 members in 2006.[39] However, today the group has a wide influence in the African American community. The first Million Man March took place in Washington, D.C. in 1995 and was followed later by another one in 2000 which was smaller in size but more inclusive, welcoming individuals other than just African American men.[40] The group sponsors cultural and academic education, economic independence, and personal and social responsibility.

The Nation of Islam has received a great deal of criticism for its anti-white, anti-Christian, and anti-semitic teachings,[41] and is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.[42]

Five-Percent Nation

Main article: Five-Percent Nation

The Five-Percent Nation, sometimes referred to the "Nation of Gods and Earths" (NGE/NOGE) or the "Five Percenters", is an American organization founded in 1964 in the Harlem section of the borough of Manhattan, New York City, by a former member of the Nation of Islam named Clarence 13X (born Clarence Edward Smith and later known as "Allah the Father"). Clarence 13X, a former student of Malcolm X, left the Nation of Islam after a theological dispute with the Nation's leaders over the nature and identity of God.[43] Specifically, Clarence 13X denied that the Nation's biracial founder Wallace Fard Muhammad was Allah and instead taught that the black man was himself God personified.[43]

Members of the group call themselves Allah's Five Percenters, which reflects the concept that ten percent of the people in the world know the truth of existence, and those elites and agents opt to keep eighty-five percent of the world in ignorance and under their controlling thumb; the remaining five percent are those who know the truth and are determined to enlighten the rest.[44]

United Nation of Islam

Main article: United Nation of Islam

The United Nation of Islam (UNOI) is a group based in Kansas City, Kansas. It was founded in 1978 by Royall Jenkins, who continues to be the leader of the group and styles himself "Royall, Allah in Person".[citation needed]

Conversion to orthodox Sunni Islam

After the death of Elijah Muhammad, he was succeeded by his son, Warith Deen Mohammed. Mohammed rejected many teachings of his father, such as the divinity of Fard Muhammad, and saw a white person as also a worshiper. As he took control of the organization, he quickly brought in new reforms.[45] He renamed it the World Community of al-Islam in the West; later it became the American Society of Muslims. It was estimated that there were 200,000 followers of W. D. Mohammed at the time.[citation needed]

W. D. Mohammed introduced teachings which were based on orthodox Sunni Islam.[46] He removed the chairs in the organization's temples, and replaced the entire "temple" concept with the traditional Muslim house of worship, the mosque, also teaching how to pray the salat, to observe the fasting of Ramadan, and to attend the pilgrimage to Mecca.[47]

A small number of Black Muslims however rejected these new reforms brought by Imam Mohammed. Louis Farrakhan who broke away from the organization, re-established the Nation of Islam under the original Fardian doctrines, and remains its leader.[48]


Main article: Ahmaddiyya

Mahershala Ali is an Ahmadi Muslim

Although at first the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community's efforts were broadly spread out over a large number of racial and ethnic groups, subsequent realization of the deep-seated racial tensions and discrimination in the US made Ahmadi missionaries focus their attention on mainly African Americans and the Muslim immigrant community. Ahmadis often became vocal proponents of the Civil Rights Movement. In recent times, many any Ahmadi Muslims fled countries like Pakistan as refugees due to persecution; this has brought a small second wave of Ahmadis to the United States.[49]

Prison conversions to Islam

Main article: Conversion to Islam in U.S. prisons

Conversion to Islam is a practice which is common to African-Americans in prison. J. Michael Waller found that Muslim inmates comprise 17–20% of the prison population, or roughly 350,000 inmates in 2003. Waller states that these inmates mostly come into prison as non-Muslims. According to him, 80% of the prisoners who "find faith" while in prison convert to Islam.[50] These converted inmates are mostly African American, with a small but growing Hispanic minority. Waller also asserts that many converts are radicalized by outside Islamist groups linked to terrorism, but other experts suggest that when radicalization does occur it has little to no connection with these outside interests.[51][52][53]

Notable African-American Muslims

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Pre-20th century








See also



  1. ^ "A Religious Portrait of African-Americans". Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project. January 30, 2009. Retrieved November 2, 2019.
  2. ^ Mohamed, Besheer (January 17, 2019). "Black Muslims account for a fifth of all U.S. Muslims, and about half are converts to Islam". Pew Research Center. Retrieved August 28, 2021.
  3. ^ "Demographic portrait of Muslim Americans". Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project. July 26, 2017. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  4. ^ Diouf, Sylviane (2014). Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in America. New York University Press. ISBN 978-1479847112.
  5. ^ a b Stock, Robert (2013). Africa South of the Sahara: A Geographical Interpretation. The Guilford Press.
  6. ^ a b "How the autobiography of a Muslim slave is challenging an American narrative". PBS NewsHour. April 23, 2019. Retrieved May 6, 2019.
  7. ^ Samuel S. Hill, Charles H. Lippy, Charles Reagan Wilson. Encyclopedia of religion in the South. Mercer University Press (2005), p. 394. ISBN 978-0-86554-758-2.
  8. ^ Gomez, Michael A. (1994). "Muslims in Early America". The Journal of Southern History. 60 (4): 671–710. doi:10.2307/2211064. ISSN 0022-4642. JSTOR 2211064.
  9. ^ Lomax (1979). When the Word Is Given. Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 15–16. ISBN 978-0-313-21002-0. Estimates of Black Muslim membership vary from a quarter of a million down to fifty thousand. Available evidence indicates that about one hundred thousand Negroes have joined the movement at one time or another, but few objective observers believe that the Black Muslims can muster more than twenty or twenty-five thousand active temple people.
  10. ^ Clegg, Claude Andrew (1998). An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad. Macmillan. p. 115. ISBN 9780312181536. The common response of Malcolm X to questions about numbers—'Those who know aren't saying, and those who say don't know'—was typical of the attitude of the leadership.
  11. ^ Jacob Neusner, World Religions in America: An Introduction, Westminster John Knox Press (2003), pp. 180–181. ISBN 978-0-664-22475-2.
  12. ^ Turner, Richard Brent (2003). Islam in the African-American Experience. Indiana University Press.
  13. ^ William W. Sales (1994). From Civil Rights to Black Liberation: Malcolm X and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. South End Press, p. 37. ISBN 978-0-89608-480-3.
  14. ^ Uzra Zeya (1990-01) Islam in America: The Growing Presence of American Converts to Islam Washington Report on Middle East Reports. Retrieved November 16, 2009.
  15. ^ Dawn-Marie, Gibson (June 15, 2016). The Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, and the men who follow him. New York. ISBN 9781137530844. OCLC 951809596.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  16. ^ Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream (Technical report). Pew Research Center. May 22, 2007. Archived from the original on May 24, 2007. Retrieved November 27, 2012.
  17. ^ Mohamed, Besheer; Diamant, Jeff (January 17, 2019). "Black Muslims account for a fifth of all U.S. Muslims, and about half are converts to Islam". Pew Research Center. Retrieved May 16, 2019.
  18. ^ Gecewicz, Besheer Mohamed, Kiana Cox, Jeff Diamant and Claire (February 16, 2021). "Faith Among Black Americans". Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project. Retrieved November 10, 2023.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  19. ^ Sacirbey, Omar (September 11, 2001). "When Unity is Long Overdue". Retrieved April 20, 2012.
  20. ^ Terry, Don (May 3, 1993). "Black Muslims Enter Islamic Mainstream". New York Times. Retrieved April 20, 2012.
  21. ^ "Farrakhan Set to Give Final Address at Nation of Islam's Birthplace". Fox News. December 6, 2011. Retrieved April 20, 2012.
  22. ^ Moorish Science Temple of America Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 13, 2009.
  23. ^ Khuri, Fuad I. (1987). "The Ulama: A Comparative Study of Sunni and Shi'a Religious Officials". Middle Eastern Studies. 23 (3): 291–312. doi:10.1080/00263208708700708. ISSN 0026-3206. JSTOR 4283186.
  24. ^ Tent 1, Shia (November 29, 2021). "History of African American Shias". Shia Tent. Retrieved March 12, 2024.((cite web)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  25. ^ Kathleen Moore, "Muslims in Prison: Claims to Constitutional Protection of Religious Liberty," in Yvonne Haddad, ed., The Muslims of America, p. 141.
  26. ^ ""One Out of 5 Black People Have Someone In Their Family Who Is a Muslim" / Interview With Amir Hakeem From Shia Community of US – Shafaqna India | Indian Shia News Agency". Retrieved March 12, 2024.
  27. ^ Fahimuddin, Yousuf. "Media Coverage of Malcolm X's Grandson Questioned". The Pioneer. Retrieved March 7, 2024.
  28. ^ "Islam: World Religion - Family Tree". The Association of Religion Data Archives. November 21, 2023. Retrieved November 21, 2023. The emergence of an African American Islam was accomplished without direct reference to traditional Islam or any contact with Muslim organizations. The reference to Islam was picked up from popular images in the mass culture.
  29. ^ Paghdiwala, Tasneem. "The Aging of the Moors". Chicago Reader. Retrieved February 15, 2015. They face east when praying, regard Friday as their holy day, and call their god Allah and their leader Prophet. But the similarities to mainstream Islam end there. Moorish-Americans drink alcohol and eat pork. They don't pray five times a day or travel to Mecca, and their religious book deals more with Jesus than Muhammad, who gets just two mentions toward the end.
  30. ^ Gurrentz, Benjamin T. (November 21, 2023). "Black Muslim Movement - Timeline Movement". The Association of Religion Data Archives. Retrieved November 21, 2023. Fusing religion and black nationalism, the movement grew...
  31. ^ Ali, Drew. "The Divine Constitution of Moorish America" (PDF). The Blac Foundation. Retrieved November 21, 2023.
  32. ^ Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck (2000). Muslims on the Americanization Path?. Oxford University Press.
  33. ^ Nuruddin, Jusuf (May 11, 2000). "African-American Muslims and the Question of Identity: Between Traditional Islam, African Heritage, and the American Way". In Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck; Esposito, John L. (eds.). Muslims on the Americanization Path?. Google Books: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195135268. p. 223: In Drew Ali we see for the first time a move away from the factual documentation of African history... In its place we find mythology, legends, and parables about the lost or hidden history of the black man.
  34. ^ a b The Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple of America Chapter XXV - "A Holy Covenant of the Asiatic Nation"
  35. ^ Brooks, Roy L. (1996). Integration or Separation?: A Strategy for Racial Equality. Harvard University Press.
  36. ^ Muhammad, Elijah (2008). The True History Of Master Fard Muhammad (Allah In Person). Secretarius MEMPS Publications.
  37. ^ Jacob Neusner (2003). pp.180-181. ISBN 978-0-664-22475-2.
  38. ^ Lomax, Louis E. (1963). When the Word Is Given: A Report on Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and the Black Muslim World. Cleveland: World Publishing. pp. 149–152. OCLC 1071204.
  39. ^ Omar Sacirbey (May 16, 2006) Muslims Look to Blacks for Civil Rights Guidance Archived March 6, 2008, at the Wayback Machine Pew Forum. Retrieved July 29, 2009.
  40. ^ Farrakhan backs racial harmony BBC News (BBC). October 16, 2000. Retrieved September 8, 2009.
  41. ^ Dodoo, Jan (May 29, 2001). "Nation of Islam". University of Virginia. Archived from the original on November 9, 2007.
  42. ^ "Active U.S. Hate Groups in 2006". Southern Poverty Law Center. Archived from the original on October 27, 2007. Retrieved October 29, 2007.
  43. ^ a b "God, the Black Man and the Five Percenters". NPR. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
  44. ^ Chandler, D.L. (June 28, 2012). "The Meaning Of The 5%: A Look At The Nation Of Gods And Earths". Hip-Hop Wired. Retrieved October 11, 2013.
  45. ^ John Esposito (September 10, 2008) W. D. Mohammed: A Witness for True Islam The Washington Post. Retrieved June 21, 2009.
  46. ^ Richard Brent Turner (2003). Islam in the African-American experience. pp. 225–227. ISBN 978-0-253-21630-4.
  47. ^ Nation of Islam leader dies at 74 NBC News. Retrieved June 21, 2009.
  48. ^ Warith Deen Mohammed: Imam who preached a moderate form of Islam to black Americans The Independent. September 15, 2008. Retrieved April 22, 2009.
  49. ^ Islam in the African-American Experience - Page 262, Richard Brent Turner - 2003
  50. ^ United States Senate, Committee on the Judiciary , Testimony of Dr. J. Michael Waller Archived May 27, 2012, at the Wayback Machine October 12, 2003
  51. ^ Federal Bureau of Investigation - Congressional Testimony Archived September 25, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  52. ^ United States Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, Testimony of Mr. Paul Rogers, President of the American Correctional Chaplains Association, October 12, 2003 Archived August 28, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  53. ^ "Special Report: A Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons' Selection of Muslim Religious Services Providers - Full Report" (PDF). Retrieved December 6, 2011.
  54. ^ Fraser-Rahim, Muhammad. "Ibrahima Abdur Rahman (1762-1829) – Enslaved and Freed African Muslims: Spiritual Wayfarers in the South and Lowcountry". Lowcountry Digital History Initiative. Retrieved June 8, 2022.

Further reading