When Moreen Jenkins was eleven years old, her father told her he was God.
She believed him, of course; her teachers at Chicago's University of Islam, run by the Nation of Islam, had already taught her that Allah is a man. And Royall Jenkins had an aura of godliness about him whenever he returned home between long-distance trucking jobs. He wore a starched white shirt, his hair was neatly trimmed and he often spoke to his children about righteousness. But after he declared that he was God, things were never quite the same in the Jenkins household.
The revelation caused a rift between Royall Jenkins and his wife, says Moreen, now 39. Her parents divorced not long afterward; the children rarely saw their father after that. Moreen sometimes looked for him when she heard he was passing through town on his trucking route, but he would tell her it wasn't time for them to be together. Today she is in hiding from him and claims to be afraid for her life.
Royall's inauspicious beginnings offered no sign that he would become the center of such family turmoil -- or such later celebrity. Born in 1942, he and his twin sister, Ellaray, went into foster care and were adopted at age four by a Christian family named Jenkins. The children grew up in a rural area near the small town of San Domingo, on the eastern shore of Maryland.
"They were real nice people," recalls Avery Walker, who went through elementary and high school with Royall. "The father was a very stern, meticulous-type individual, and the mom was a very loving type of person."
When Royall was sixteen, he met a young girl named Juanita at a church picnic, Walker says. She was thirteen and lived in a nearby town. In no time, she got pregnant, and the couple married before their son was born. A second child came before Royall graduated high school; eventually they had six daughters and four sons. Moreen was the fourth child.
After high school, according to his autobiography on the United Nation of Islam's Web site, Royall Jenkins moved to Brooklyn, New York, and found work as an auto mechanic, gas station manager and truck driver. It was there, in the late 1960s, that the family converted and joined the Nation of Islam, headed by Elijah Muhammad, "The Messenger," who had taken over in 1934 from mysterious founder W.D. Fard. Muhammad inspired millions of African-Americans to convert to Islam, teaching that white people were "blue-eyed devils" whose race was created in ancient times by an evil scientist named Yacub.
By the time Moreen was eight, in 1971, the family had moved to Chicago so that Royall could work at the Nation of Islam headquarters. He spent most of his time on the road delivering crateloads of the Nation of Islam's weekly newspaper, Muhammad Speaks. The family settled in a small house on Chicago's poor South Side, and Moreen and her brothers and sisters attended the University of Islam, where Muhammad himself -- a tiny, frail man with pale skin and a rasping cough -- would occasionally visit and talk to the children.