LOUIS ABDUL FARRAKHAN
Until the national presidential primaries in 1984, few Americans had ever heard of Louis Farrakhan. He was hardly a nationally known personality such as were his predecessors Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X. He wasn't particularly powerful, politically or socially. Nor was his group of followers nearly as large as those loyal to Wallace Deen Muhammad.
It was during Jesse Jackson's run for the Democratic party's presidential nomination that Farrakhan became an overnight sensation. The reason was simple: Farrakhan, one of Jackson's staunchest and most visible supporters, was outspoken in his demagoguery and racism. Jerry Eddings, writing in New York City's widely respected black community paper The Amsterdam News, succinctly sums up Farrakhan's appeal for so many blacks:
[Farrakhan] expresses the anger they feel about still being on the bottom layer of society....he is a Black man who speaks his mind without fear, and even if they don't believe everything he says, they see a need for more Black men and women who speak without fear about the inequities of life in predominantly white America.24
Who is this man Louis Farrakhan and what does he believe? Is he a dangerous demagogue or a fearless spokesman for black America?
Farrakhan was born Louis Eugene Walcott in New York in 1933. He was raised in a tough Boston neighborhood, learning first-hand of the economic plight most blacks faced. He dropped out of Winston-Salem Teachers College after two years of study and began what appeared to be a promising career as a singer. He was known as "Calypso Gene" and was fairly successful as a nightclub entertainer.
In 1955 his life was changed after a meeting with Malcolm X. Following his recruitment to the Nation of Islam he served under Malcolm at the Harlem mosque for nine months. Subsequently he was asked to direct the Boston mosque.
Farrakhan stayed at this position until Malcolm's assassination in 1965. After Malcolm's death he became the minister of Harlem's Mosque #7, the largest and most influential mosque outside of Chicago. In addition, he was recognized as the "National Spokesman for the Honorable Elijah Muhammad," a title he still retains today.
As noted earlier, he remained under Wallace Deen Muhammad's leadership after Elijah Muhammad's death in 1975. However, as Wallace began to conform the organization (the present American Muslim Mission) to orthodox Islam, Farrakhan rebelled. He left the group in December of 1977 and formed his own reorganized Nation of Islam, returning to the old teachings of Elijah Muhammad. So, while the American Muslim Mission has organizational continuity with Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam, the doctrine and spirit of the old Nation of Islam continue only in Farrakhan's splinter group, which bears its name.
The ideology of the Nation of Islam under Farrakhan is almost indistinguishable from what it was under Elijah Muhammad. Their monthly paper, The Final Call, reprints numerous articles of Elijah's writings and speeches. They also reprint Elijah's Muslim program ("What the Muslims Want" and "What the Muslims Believe") on the back page of each issue of the paper.
Farrakhan has initiated a few changes of his own, though. One tenet of Elijah which is not called for anymore is the establishment of a separate state for the blacks. Instead, the blacks should separate economically, that is, only buy from and sell to each other.
Another change is the date of their annual Savior's Day celebration. Instead of celebrating it on the anniversary of Fard's birthday (Feb. 26) he has moved it to Elijah Muhammad's birthday (Oct. 7).
The other basic beliefs promulgated by Elijah Muhammad have remained (e.g., the bitter hatred of Christianity, the belief that the blacks and not the Jews are God's "chosen race," the denial of a literal resurrection and afterlife, the belief in the deity of Wallace Fard, the blaming of the white man for each and every evil that the black man experiences, etc).
Interestingly, Farrakhan continually tries to portray himself publicly as a very moderate person. He has even suggested that the Nation of Islam is really no longer a racist group: "We have long ago left the language of white devils behind. It was a language that was necessary for that time in our development."25 As we will see, this is anything but the case.
Finally, there are two other new tenets brought forth by Farrakhan worth noting. The first is that there is one exception to the denial of a literal resurrection of the dead. As the last page of The Final Call declares in caps beneath a picture of Elijah Muhammad, "HE LIVES." Farrakhan writes:
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, I am here to declare, is risen. The Jesus you have been seeking and waiting for His return has been in your midst for 40 years, "but you knew not who He was." A Holy One was working among us, and it is only now, after He is gone, that we realize who He was.26
It should come as no shock after the revelation that the one and only messenger for the black man is none other than Louis Farrakhan himself, the "Honorable Elijah Muhammad's National Spokesman."
I, Farrakhan, have no power to give life. However, the voice of Elijah Muhammad coming through me is giving life to the entire Nation [of Islam]. I warn you that when you turn me down and refuse this truth, you are turning down the Lord, the Savior, the Messiah, and the Deliverer that you seek. This Deliverer is the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.27
The heart of Louis Farrakhan's attraction for blacks is the social/economic message he preaches. He has instilled in them a pride and self-esteem which they have often lacked. He has told them that they are not responsible for the state in which they find themselves, and seemingly offers them a way out of it.
Last year Farrakhan made an extensive speaking tour of cities and universities across the nation. The banner under which he spoke bore the message: "POWER AT LAST, FOREVER! MINISTER FARRAKHAN CALLS THE ENTIRE BLACK NATION TO ECONOMIC REBIRTH." His message was one of self-help: "You must get up from the foot of your masters and say 'I am a free man.' It is time for black people to come out from under white authority and stop thinking like you are an inferior person."28
The economic separatism Farrakhan preaches is centered around POWER, an acronym for People Organized and Working for Economic Rebirth. The first stage of POWER has been in the process of development for over a year: its goal is the creation of jobs in the black community by mass producing and distributing various consumer products. This past summer the first line of products came out: a number of different toiletry goods including soaps, lotions, deodorants, etc.
Thousands of blacks, with no interest in the Nation of Islam's ideology, have been drawn to Farrakhan (and thus indirectly to the Nation of Islam) because of POWER. Daniel K. Tabor, a black city councilman in Ingelwood, California, writes: "The appeal of Farrakhan's POWER program for blacks...is in its calls for the economic development of the black community, and Farrakhan's program offers sound steps for that development."29
"Rhetoric of Hate"
Since Farrakhan's meteoric rise as a national figure in 1984, many of the 25 million black people in America have been strongly attracted to him, if not openly supportive. His is a personality that demands a response from people, and the opinions are quite polarized. For many blacks "Farrakhan offers perhaps the last hope for true liberation."30
However, many of the most prominent black leaders in the country have repudiated him as an opportunist and demagogue. Wallace Deen Muhammad gave a nationwide speaking tour last year in an attempt to counter Farrakhan's "rhetoric of hate."31 Congressman Charles Rangel, representing New York City's 16th district (Harlem), has repeatedly stated that "the hatred spewed by Louis Farrakhan is scurrilous and intolerable."32 Carl T. Rowan, one of the best known and respected journalists in the country, writes that Farrakhan "offers nothing more than religious bilge and racial hatred and is preying on the frustrations and rage of millions of black Americans."33
But does Minister Farrakhan really deserve these denunciations? Are he and the Nation of Islam really as malevolent as these people have made them out to be? Let us listen to Farrakhan himself and see.
Farrakhan on Whites, Jews, and America
Even a perfunctory reading of any issue of The Final Call, which lists Minister Louis Farrakhan as its publisher, will reveal that Farrakhan's racism remains unabated, in spite of claims to the contrary. Jews are denoted as "our enemies,"34 America is called the "number one enemy of freedom-loving peoples on the earth,"35 whites are referred to as "devils,"36 and blacks are warned to avoid following the "evil and filth of the white race."37
The statements of Farrakhan's that are best remembered, though, are ones he made during Jesse Jackson's unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984. In March of that year Farrakhan said, "Hitler was a very great man," and in July he referred to Judaism as a "gutter religion."38
Over the years the Nation of Islam has had a close relationship with Libyan dictator Muammar Khaddafi. A number of years ago they received a three million dollar loan from Khaddafi and in 1985 received another loan worth five million dollars. Also in 1985 Farrakhan invited Khaddafi to be the keynote speaker, via satellite TV hookup from Libya, at the Savior's Day celebration, and gave him a warm introduction to the audience of 13,000.
Much more could be said about the racism of the Nation of Islam. A great deal also could be written about the violent physical attacks some blacks have suffered after leaving the Nation of Islam,39 about the death threats issued against black journalists and political leaders who have opposed Farrakhan,40 and of Farrakhan's own role in creating the climate leading up to Malcolm X's assassination.41