Testimony reveals a life of abuse, toil for women of Your Black Muslim Bakery

Contra Costa Times/February 10, 2008

Life was harder than has generally been known for some of the women who lived and worked behind the brick walls of Your Black Muslim Bakery on San Pablo Avenue in Oakland.

While Yusuf Bey, owner of Your Black Muslim Bakery, was holding himself up to the community as a successful religious and business leader who gave downtrodden blacks a second chance, the view inside the bakery during its four decades as an East Bay institution was quite different.

Some women and girls worked long hours while Bey regularly raped and beat them, according to five women's testimony. The names of four of the women have not been released because of the sensitive nature of their allegations.

Though he called himself a self-made millionaire, Bey built his fortune in part on the money he saved by using child labor, by not always paying wages and Social Security and by having his women and children qualify for welfare benefits, the women, the women testified and a caller reported to police in 2002.

"Just being a slave. That's what we were. Slaves," one of the women, called Jane Doe 2, testified in a sworn deposition in 2005. Doe 2 said she began having forced sex with Bey when she was 10 and bore her first child by Bey when she was 16.

The general nature of the stories told by the five women has been known since 2002, when the Alameda County District Attorney arrested Bey and charged him with sexually preying on young girls for decades. Bey died of cancer the following year, before trial.

But new research by The Chauncey Bailey Project into the reports the women made to police in 2002, into their sworn depositions in 2005, and into related reports prepared by police, the county social services agency and the courts reveals a hidden world at the bakery in far greater detail than has been previously known.

The women's claims are at odds with those who say Yusuf Bey did years of good work among the downtrodden and needy in Oakland, and they contrast with the view of those in Bey's large family who love and revere him.

Bey had at least 42 children with 14 women and girls, the Chauncey Bailey Project has confirmed through interviews, birth certificates, sworn depositions and other records in Alameda and surrounding counties.

Some family members remember fondly their years in the compound adjoining the bakery, where they say Yusuf Bey, several of his women and many children lived in harmony, committed to each other and their Black Muslim faith, according to two family members contacted by the Chauncey Bailey Project.

They believe their work at the bakery taught them self-reliance. They accepted Bey's promiscuity because it produced the large family they love. They say the women who testified about Bey's abuse were lying, part of a scheme to make Bey give them money.

"I loved the atmosphere and the people at the bakery. I have nothing but love for the bakery and what Dr. Yusuf Bey did for his people and Oakland," his daughter, Rasheeda Bey, 29, said by e-mail to the Chauncey Bailey Project. "I guess you just have money-hungry people, who will do anything to get it."

The view inside

The testimony of the five women tells a story that begins in about 1968, when 14-year-old Nora Bey ran away from home and began living with several Black Muslims, including Yusuf Bey, who was starting a Black Muslim mosque in Oakland.

Soon Bey was beating her, forcing her to have sex with him, making her work long hours at his family bakery without pay and refusing to let her go to school, she said in sworn testimony.

"He beat me more than any other woman that he ever had," she testified.

In 1974, at age 19, Nora Bey became pregnant with the first of her three Bey children, birth records show. Nora Bey, whose birth name is Esperanza Johnson, has been linked in recent years to allegations of real estate fraud using the Johnson name.

Her news was inconvenient for Yusuf Bey because Elijah Muhammad, national head of the Black Muslims in Chicago had told him he couldn't have extramarital sex, and he had to marry his women, according to testimony by Jane Doe 1.

Bey already had a legal wife, Farieda Bey, and he was also living with Nisa Bey, whom Muhammad had sent to the Bay Area to train Muslim women. What was Bey to do about the pregnant Nora?

He hid her in a hotel until the baby was born, and he convinced her to let Nisa and him adopt the baby by promising to make her his No. 1 wife some day, Jane Doe 1 testified.

"I don't even remember really much about that," Nora Bey said in her sworn deposition. "I blanked it out."

But Yusuf Bey didn't keep his promise to marry the young Nora Bey, and she testified that he never married anyone else in the 20 years she lived with him, although he claimed to have many Muslim wives. Nisa Bey said last month she didn't know when she adopted the baby that it was Nora's.

Nora Bey did not return several calls, a letter and an e-mail requesting comment.

Around that time, the sisters Does 1 and 2 were living in Oakland with their father and their stepmother, they later testified.

Their stepmother was a Black Muslim who had worked at the bakery and had a daughter by Yusuf Bey before she married the girls' dad, they said in their depositions.

The stepmother took the children to Sunday services at the bakery, and one Sunday in 1976 Yusuf Bey invited 8-year-old Doe 1 to spend the night with one of his daughters, Doe 1 testified. During the night, he came to get her, she said in her deposition.

"He walked me toward the laundry room area, picks me up and starts rubbing himself on me. I just was shocked," Doe 1 testified. "He told me that I better not tell anybody, and if I did tell them, they wouldn't believe me. And he was right."

Two years later, in 1978, Doe 1's dad left his two girls and son to be raised at the bakery. He said he and the children's stepmother were divorcing and he could not care for them.

Almost immediately, Yusuf Bey began preying on 10-year-old Doe 2, who was staying temporarily with Nora Bey, Doe 2 recounted in her sworn deposition. Shortly after a "rubbing" incident at his house, he came down the block to the house he provided Nora Bey and forced Doe 2 to have sex with him for the first time, in her bedroom.

The assaults became regular occurrences, Doe 2 testified. Nora Bey went to work at the bakery at 5 a.m., leaving Doe 2 to care for Nora's second child, and Yusuf Bey would come over.

Sometimes Yusuf Bey came over when Nora Bey was home, Doe 2 testified.

"He would come inside the room and get with me sexually, and then he would leave my room and he'd go to her room," Doe 2 said in her sworn deposition. Two or three times Nora Bey told Doe 2 that Yusuf Bey was coming over and she should take a bath and prepare for him, Doe 2 testified.

Yusuf Bey later did the same to the younger Doe 1, the girls said in their depositions.

The girls testified that they were afraid of Nora Bey, but in her testimony Nora said she tried to protect them.

"I tried to step up and protect everybody physically from Mr. Bey," she testified, adding that Bey beat her for that.

Nora Bey said in her 2005 deposition that she knew Yusuf Bey was having sex with the girls and threatening or beating them, but she said she never saw him act in an inappropriate sexual manner with them. She said she never reported the sexual abuse to authorities because she feared for her life.

In the first months that the girls spent at the bakery, while Doe 2 was living with Nora Bey, Doe 1 was staying with one of Nora Bey's sisters, who had a 5-year-old son and a baby girl by Yusuf Bey, according to county birth certificates obtained by the Chauncey Bailey Project.

One day Yusuf Bey became upset with the sister, and the next time she showed up for work at the bakery, "He beat her to a pulp. They carried her out of there," Doe 1 testified. Then he moved Doe 1 to his house at the bakery compound.

Late one evening he called 10-year-old Doe 1 and 11-year-old Doe 2 into his room and forced them to have oral sex with him, the women testified.

"He told me to stand in the closet while he assaulted my sister, then told my sister to stand in the closet while he assaulted me," Doe 1 said in her sworn deposition.

That was Bey's first sex with Doe 1, she testified, and it was the first time she knew he was abusing her sister.

Daulet Bey, who bore Yusuf Bey eight children over 20 years according to birth records, came looking for the girls.

"Daulet came to knock on the door and he sent both of us out of the room and pulled her in and beat her," Doe 1 testified. "He just beat the crap out of her." Daulet Bey declined to comment for this story.

Life at the compound

For the next 10 years, the sisters Doe 1 and Doe 2 lived in the large bakery compound or nearby with other women and children.

They worked in the bakery from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., or in Bey's child care center, or as a maid and nanny for the other women. They never went to school, and they didn't get paid, the girls testified.

"Standing up on the concrete floors. Every day we was baking. I just remember just being on my feet all day working. Wrapping, twisting, working the oven," Doe 2 testified.

Other employees also complained that the bakery regularly broke the state's labor laws, by using child labor, not paying minimum wage and not paying payroll taxes.

For example, a 15-year-old girl who worked at the bakery in 1994 and 1995 said in a sworn deposition that she was supposed to be paid minimum wage but instead she was paid erratically, sometimes more and sometimes less and usually in cash. During her deposition, she showed attorneys a Social Security statement that said Bey had reported earnings for her of $586 in 1994 and $252 in 1995, for 16 months of full- and part-time employment.

On Sundays, the girls attended meetings where Yusuf Bey preached his version of the Black Muslim religion. Among his key points were self-reliance, hatred of whites and Jews and subjugation of women, according to tapes of the shows, which Yusuf Bey paid to have broadcast each week by a local cable channel.

Sometimes Yusuf Bey would call for a girl to bring something to him upstairs, where he lived and had an office, and he would assault her, Does 1, 2 and a third girl, Doe 3, said in sworn depositions in 2005 and a caller told Oakland police in 2002.

Doe 1 first became pregnant at age 13 and bore Yusuf Bey three children, later confirmed by DNA tests, according to a police report obtained by the Chauncey Bailey Project. Doe 2 got pregnant at age 16 and had two children by Yusuf Bey, she testified.

Doe 1 testified she told Nora Bey she was afraid to be upstairs with Yusuf Bey because he kept trying to do things to her.

"(She) told me that he wasn't going to do anything to me that he didn't do to everyone else. That was her exact words to me," Doe 1 said in her sworn deposition.

Doe 2 testified Nora told her that Yusuf Bey was a dangerous man and she should do what he asked her to do.

One day Doe 1 asked Farieda Bey, Yusuf Bey's only legal wife, how she could live with a man who had sex with so many women, Doe 1 said in her sworn testimony.

"She told me, Whatever was the will of Allah,'" Doe 1 testified.

Farieda Bey did not respond to a letter requesting comment.

The bakery women regularly discussed Yusuf Bey's sexual life among themselves, sometimes in group meetings, Doe 1 and Doe 2 testified. They went to doctors' appointments together, because sometimes several of them were pregnant at the same time.

The biggest year for Bey babies may have been 1984, according to a review of birth records by The Chauncey Bailey Project. That year Yusuf Bey had at least five children, born to Doe 1, Doe 2 and three other women.

"He was messing with everybody who was there," Doe 2 testified in 2005.

For years, Yusuf Bey forced Jane Does 1 and 2 to give him oral sex, they testified. He urinated and defecated in their mouths, he forced them to swallow semen and have anal sex and he slapped them during sex, the girls told police in 2002 and said in sworn depositions in 2005.

"He told me to never tell anybody anything. He just did real cruel things, you know. Just real bad things to me, you know. Having sex any kind of way he wanted to have it. Hitting with a whip in a little ... you know them little horse things that you hit horses with, with the little tassels on the end? He would do that. Just all kind of things. It was so shameful and disgusting and embarrassing," Jane Doe 2 said in her 2005 sworn deposition

The girls tried to get Bey's other women to help them, but they, too, were afraid, the girls testified.

"Nobody could help me because Brother Bey did the same thing to all of them," Doe 1 said in her deposition.

People were killed

Fear kept women and girls silent at the bakery, Does 1, 2 and 3 and Nora Bey testified in 2005.

"When we were little, there was people missing. People were killed, you know, that used to be at the bakery. And he (Yusuf Bey) used to always preach in his meetings people would be floating in the Bay and all that," Doe 2 testified. "You hear all that when you're a little kid, you know, you'd be afraid to ... to tell anyone."

Sometimes women left the bakery but came back, unable to make it on their own. Although Bey often didn't pay them a wage and took all the public assistance they got, he did give his women and children room and board, which made it hard for them to leave him. When they were in favor, he sometimes gave them spending money and gifts, even cars, the women testified.

For years Doe 1 vowed that she would leave in 1986, when she turned 18, she testified. But when the time came, she was pregnant for the third time.

"I was depressed because I was pregnant with another kid and I knew that I could not leave. Now where am I going with three children?" she said in her deposition.

The big break for the girls came in 1988, when Nora Bey decided to move out because Bey was trying to take profits from a cookie business she had started, according to sworn testimony by one of Nora Bey's sisters, Fatima Ismail.

In 1988, at age 34, Nora Bey left the bakery, and she offered jobs to Does 1 and 2, who were 20 and 21 years old.

"Why did I do it? I loved them, I guess. I tried to look out for them as much as I could," Nora Bey said in her deposition.

Doe 1 wanted to report Bey to the police, but Nora Bey said Yusuf would kill her, Doe 1 testified.

"At the time I really, honestly, believed that he would have," Doe 1 said in her sworn deposition. She said she thought Nora Bey did, too.

Nora Bey's sister Fatima Ismail, who has since died of cancer, similarly described the bakery in a sworn deposition in 2005.

"People to me looked like they were brainwashed to follow him, that's how I've known cults to be," she testified. "They follow everything that the leader wants them to do. And they don't have -- they don't get a chance to be theirselves or live their own lives."

In recent years, Jane Does 1, 2 and 3 and Nora Bey have married and moved to other towns, although they're still in touch with each other, their grown children and some of their acquaintances from the bakery, according to people knowledgeable about the bakery. A fourth woman who said she was abused, known in depositions as Doe 4, fears for her life and has moved abroad, friends said.

Does 1, 2 and 3 said in sworn depositions that they struggle with anger and depression. Does 1 and 2 testified they deeply regret not having a chance to go to school.

"Right now all my faith is in Jesus," Doe 2 testified. "All I can do is have him to put the faith in me and let it go from there."

Mary Fricker is an independent journalist and retired Santa Rosa Press Democrat staff writer. Independent journalist Bob Butler, investigative reporter A.C. Thompson, and MediaNews staff writers Cecily Burt, Thomas Peele and Josh Richman contributed to this report.

About the project

The Chauncey Bailey Project is a consortium of news organizations dedicated to continuing the reporting Bailey, editor of the Oakland Post, was pursuing when he was killed Aug. 2. For information, contact Dori J. Maynard of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education at 510-684-3071.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.