OAKLAND — A chain of white stretch limousines ferried many of Yusuf Bey's wives and 43 children to his memorial service in October. Against a backdrop of his fez-clad image, 16 sons in white suits and red bow ties performed a military-style drill in his honor. Nation of Islam ministers from Chicago and Florida paid their respects.
In more than three decades here, Oakland's most prominent Black Muslim had built an empire of bakeries, security firms, a school and other businesses. He taught dignity, hard work and discipline to many in this city's sea of street felons, putting them to work when no one else would.
He championed "family values" on his weekly cable television program, while assailing what he called the white devil's "tricknology" that kept the black man down.
His finely dressed followers, with shaved heads and ramrod posture, would fill City Council chambers by the dozens when Bey organization members or their allies sought public financing or other city help, which was often approved.
But when the 68-year-old Bey died Sept. 30 of complications from cancer, another story was emerging.
He was facing criminal charges and a civil lawsuit alleging that he had repeatedly raped underage girls at his compound -- in some cases fathering their children, then demanding their welfare payments.
According to court records and interviews with his accusers, girls in the foster care of one of Bey's wives had given birth to child after child fathered by Bey. Authorities did nothing, even after the alleged rape of another teen who had worked at Bey's burgeoning Your Black Muslim Bakery was reported to police.
In a town hungry for black male role models, nobody seemed compelled to judge or probe. Not until one woman stepped forward last year. Not until one detective listened.
"I decided that somebody had to stop this," said the woman, a former foster child of Bey's. She marched into the Oakland Police Department headquarters after her own daughter -- fathered by Bey -- told her that she, too, had been abused by Bey. "God gave me the proof and I wasn't going to stand by and not use it."
Yusuf Ali Bey Sr. was born Joseph Stephens in Greenville, Texas. He moved to Oakland at age 5 with his parents. He served in the U.S. Air Force, worked briefly in warehousing and opened a beauty salon in Santa Barbara before converting to the Nation of Islam and changing his name.
Inspired by the strict dietary code of Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad, he launched a natural foods bakery that used no preservatives, salts or refined sugars.
Over time, Your Black Muslim Bakery expanded into what the Bey organization says is a multimillion-dollar chain, selling its trademark bean pies, muffins and carrot cakes at the Oakland Airport, among other places, and winning key contracts with natural food stores throughout the Bay Area.
Other enterprises followed: security, apartment management, and most recently, a health market and spa. Today, its red and white awning with the Muslim crescent moon and star stretches along a block of Oakland's San Pablo Avenue.
"He did a service in the community because he created businesses," said James Bodley, who works at a black-owned auto parts store down the street. "Everybody's got something bad about them. That's part of life. You turn a cheek and look at the good parts."
In this bayside city where one of every 14 adult males is on parole or probation, Bey hired "men with nowhere to go and a rap sheet from here to Chicago," said the Rev. Bob Jackson, pastor of Oakland's Acts Full Gospel Church.
Many of the men found pride in what Bey called "knowledge of self." Those who fared well, he adopted as "spiritual sons," granting them the Bey name.
"He did a lot of fathering to African American males, to make them self-reliant and responsible," said Jackson. "You can't take that away from him."
Bey's empire answered to no one. Even though Bey was a strict disciple of Muhammad, who died in 1975, he never operated under the auspices of the Nation of Islam.
"He wasn't accepted by all the mosque members, or all the churches, but he had the respect of the lowly street people," said Antar Bey, Yusuf's 21-year-old son and appointed successor.
Bey parlayed that respect into power. When he ran for mayor in 1994, he made numerous anti-Semitic and anti-gay comments, and finished with just 5% of the vote. But his stock rose. Councilmen, county supervisors and state legislators applauded Bey's community contributions. His organization's security firm won big contracts, including one with Oakland's downtown Marriott. One "spiritual" son won a $1.1-million city loan -- now in default -- for his home health-care business, city officials have said.
Last year, in a nod to his influence on the streets, Bey was named vice president of Black Men First, a multi-faith organization headed by Jackson that aims to stem black-on-black violence.