The gathering of about 30 people on the back patio of the Northwest Washington home was billed as a reception for three of the Nation of Islam's political candidates in the District and Maryland.
But, in the words of one attendant, the outdoor gathering, which included the Muslims and an eclectic mix of black educators and businesspeople, was a union of "strange bedfellows."
The guests focused intently on Abdul Alim Muhammad, a surgeon who is trying to unseat 5th Congressional District Rep. Steny Hoyer (D) of Prince George's County, as he spoke of his desire to help establish a new black political order in the District and in Maryland.
"Until now we have not felt that we were prepared to do certain things," Muhammad told the gathering. Invoking the name of black educator W.E.B. DuBois, who called upon the black intelligentsia to develop the top tenth of its ranks for leadership, Muhammad said, "The talented tenth has now come forth, and it is us."
Some of the listeners nodded approvingly when Muhammad, who is spokesman for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, struck themes about black self-help and economic empowerment. Others, perhaps unsettled by the Nation of Islam's religious tenets and controversial racial appeals, shifted uncomfortably in their seats.
For some, the reception at the Shepherd Park home of Florence Tate, a former press secretary to D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, provided the first intimate encounter with the Muslims. They had heard about them and read about their success in combating open-air drug markets in Northeast Washington, but for various reasons, they had remained strangely removed from them.
"It was the first opportunity I've had to hear someone from the Nation of Islam talk about their political views," said Charles Cobb, a writer for National Geographic magazine.
When the session was opened to questions, no one made a query or raised a concern about statements by Farrakhan that have been considered antisemitic. Cobb said he wanted to question the Muslims' stands on some issues, but he refrained.
Cobb and others said they were generally impressed with the Muslims. "They are everything that your grandmother wants you to be," Cobb said. "They are clean-cut, well-spoken, and they do good things."
In addition to Muhammad, George X Cure, a lawyer who did not attend the fund-raiser, is vying for the seat being vacated by D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, who is now running for mayor. Also, Shawn X Brakeen, a schoolteacher, is running for an at-large school board seat.
Tate said the reception raised about $1,500 for the Muslims. The fund-raiser was the first since the Muslims announced last month their first foray into mainstream politics.
The reception, held in the predominantly black Ward 4, a middle-class enclave that traditionally has produced one of the city's highest voter turnouts, also marked the expansion of the Muslims' outreach beyond working-class neighborhoods in the District, which have been a staple of their support.
The Muslims have planned several campaign events this week to boost that drive. Tomorrow they will appeal for support from some of the city's most influential black ministers, including Jesse L. Jackson, in a closed-door ecumenical meeting at Howard University.
The highlight of the week is a two-day appearance by Farrakhan, beginning Wednesday at the Washington Convention Center. On Friday, the Muslims will hold a $100-a-person fund-raiser at Howard University.
Muhammad told the reception gathering that the appearance of Farrakhan will double as a drive to register 20,000 people to vote.
The Muslim campaigns are in keeping with recent statements by Farrakhan, who has said his organization will play a more prominent role in politics.
Muhammad, who alluded in his talk to Barry's trial on federal drug and perjury charges, said the Muslims' political campaign is as much an indictment of black political leaders as it is of the white establishment.
"A lot of psychological damage has been done because of Mr. Barry's problems," he said.
Some at the reception said they believe the Muslim candidates will benefit from the widely held view that there is a leadership crisis in black communities.
"This is a different kind of presentation from the Muslim community," said Helen A. Moody, a fashion consultant.
One woman predicted that many blacks will welcome the Muslim politicians as an alternative to the current black leaders.
"Success is based on making strange bedfellows," she said.
Staff writer Jill Nelson contributed to this report.