Omar Ibn Said
Written by Erica Taylor, The Tom Joyner Morning Show Monday, 10 January 2011 18:00
EDITOR'S NOTE: Phyllis Cunningham at Johns Hopkins University contributed this "Little-Known Black History Fact."
Omar Ibn Said was a prominent Senegalese slave born in the late 1700s who had spent over 20 years studying with Muslim scholars in Africa before being captured and brought to Charleston, South Carolina. He had lived among 15 siblings in a prominent family of the Futa Toro area. After fleeing to North Carolina and being re-captured, he would die a slave on the Bladen Plantation in 1863. But this was not before making a significant impact in black and Muslim history as a historic scribe and scholar.
Despite his living and work conditions, Said would write 14 Arabic manuscripts, one in particular which served as an autobiography of his life in 1831. Years prior, in 1819, Francis Scott Key, the author of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” had somehow helped Said obtain a Bible in Arabic. He continued to practice his faith, though his master forced his baptism as a Presbyterian in 1820. Those who wrote about Said in newspapers described his education level as Ph.D.
It was also during his captivity that Said produced short handwritten chapters from the Qur'an that he wrote from memory. Those chapters are now part of the North Carolina Collection in the Wilson Library at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Said admitted to making a few mistakes in the transcription of the documents. His papers serve as the only autobiography in a native language by a slave in the United States.
Just last October in Fayetteville, North Carolina, a roadside historical marker honoring Said was unveiled in front of the mosque named after him on Murchison Road. The sign is the first in the state to recognize a Muslim.
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