Murder Caps Troubled Oakland Bakery's History

Your Black Muslim Bakery began in the 1960s and became a community institution in Oakland, Calif. But in recent years, its owners have run into trouble with the law. Most recently, the murder of a journalist investigating the bakery's doings led to a raid and arrests.

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MADELEINE BRAND: host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

In a few minutes, the new school year begins today at Virginia Tech, where the worst school shooting in U.S. history took place last spring. We look at efforts to make schools safer. One idea, let students bring guns on campus.

But first, in Oakland, California, lingering questions about what a murdered newspaperman had dug up. Chauncey Bailey was shot to death while he was investigating a business known as Your Black Muslim Bakery.

As NPR's Richard Gonzales reports, the bakery went from a thriving business to a criminal enterprise.

Mr. ISHMAEL REED (Writer): You know, from all appearances, people thought they were doing good works.

RICHARD GONZALES: Writer Ishmael Reed, who lives in Oakland, recalls his first impressions of Your Black Muslim Bakery.

Mr. REED: I used to go down there to buy fish sandwiches and bean pies, you know. I'd see very clean-cut young people working there. So I mean you'd always see them in the community. You always see them right here.

GONZALES: Your Black Muslim Bakery was established in the late '60s by Yusuf Bey, a charismatic follower of Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammed. But their paths parted early on and accounts vary as to why.

Mr. DELMONT WAQIA (Director of Islamic Studies, Al Salaam Mosque): Yusuf Bey at the bakery, he was a maverick all the time.

GONZALES: Delmont Waqia directs Islamic studies at Al Salaam Mosque in Oakland.

Mr. WAQIA: Yusuf Bey was on his own then. And he stayed on his own. The Nation of Islam and the bakery, Your Black Muslim Bakery, was never ever together. They just have a similar appearance from the old school - suit and tie, short haircut, clean-shaven face.

GONZALES: Yusuf Bey trained and employed clean-cut ex-convicts to sell his bean pies at the Oakland Airport and ballpark. He also curried favor among Oakland politicians, both black and white, who were eager to associate themselves with a symbol of black pride. Most ignored the fact that Bey had reneged on a million dollar loan from the city. It was one of many signs that things were not right at Your Black Muslim Bakery.

By the time Yusuf Bey died of cancer in 2003, he faced criminal charges of raping a 13-year-old girl. Family members claimed he fathered more than 40 children by as many as eight women. And he left behind a sense of entitlement that his followers were quick to latch on to, says Delmont Waqia.

Mr. WAQIA: Yusuf operated on the principle that we can do what we want to do. So when you have youngsters and they have no concern about accountability, you know, if I do something to you and I get away with doing it to you, I'm all right. With that type of mind, you have a very volatile situation.

GONZALES: After Yusuf Bey's death, there was a bloody battle to succeed him. Two successors were murdered and another went into hiding. In 2005, Your Black Muslim Bakery was left in the hands of then-19-year-old Yusuf Bey IV.

Mr. YUSUF BEY IV (Owner, Your Black Muslim Bakery): Our main priority is to make sure we teach our people the knowledge of self so we can stop doing some of the things that you see our people doing in the inner cities of America every day.

GONZALES: A year ago, a younger Bey spoke at length for KALW reporter Pauline Bartolone.

Mr. BEY IV: Our job is to let them know that you can't do things in a positive way, a righteous way, without doing wrong.

GONZALES: That was after Bey had already been arrested for vandalizing two Arab-owned neighborhood liquor stores and threatening its owners for selling alcohol. Bey never admitted any guilt, but he insisted the liquor stores were a blight that shouldn't be there.

Mr. BEY IV: If you read the papers, if you watch the news, mostly every killing's around a liquor stores. If all this violence is happening around liquor stores, let's shut the liquor stores down.

GONZALES: The younger Bey had other problems with the law. In 2006, he was charged with trying to run down some bouncers outside a San Francisco strip club. Then came the murder of Chauncey Bailey, a high profile newspaperman who was investigating the activities of Your Black Muslim Bakery. After the killing, police raided the bakery. They say a 19-year-old worker there confessed to the murder. And police also arrested Yusuf Bey IV on charges of kidnapping and torturing a woman and running a real estate scam.

Delmont Waqia says it is a sad end to a bakery that once stood for good things.

Mr. WAQIA: And that's the legacy of Yusuf Bey.

GONZALES: Since the reporter's murder, local politicians, such as Mayor Ron Dellums, who once supported the bakery, are now trying to distant themselves from it.

Writer Ishmael Reed says Bailey's death has shaken all of Oakland, but particularly its black establishment.

Mr. REED: Well, there are hundreds of people who've been killed, people who's anonymous, whose names don't mean anything have been killed. But you know, when they murder somebody who's a member of the African-American elite - the establishment - it hits a little close to home. And that's when action is demanded.

GONZALES: There are still many unsolved mysteries about the bakery, the most prominent being what did Chauncey Bailey know about the place and the people who ran it that eventually caused him his life. Police and his colleagues hope they will soon have an answer.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, Oakland.

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