Louis Farrakhan (born Louis Eugene Walcott; May 11, 1933) is the National Representative of the Nation of Islam. He is an advocate forblack interests, and a critic of American society. Farrakhan has been both widely praised and criticized for his often controversial political views and rhetorical style. In 1996, he was awarded the Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights founded by Libya‘s de facto leaderMuammar al-Gaddafi.
Farrakhan was born Louis Eugene Walcott in The Bronx, New York, and was raised within the West Indian community in the Roxbury section of Boston, Massachusetts. His mother Sarah Mae (née Manning) had emigrated from Saint Kitts and Nevis in the 1920s and his father Percival Clarke was aJamaican cab driver from New York but was not involved in his upbringing.
As a child he received training as a violinist. At the age of six he was given his first violin and by the age of thirteen he had played with the Boston College Orchestra and the Boston Civic Symphony. A year later he went on to win national competitions and was one of the first black performers to appear on the Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour where he also won an award. A central focus of his youth was the Episcopal St. Cyprian’s Church in Boston’s Roxbury section.
Walcott attended the prestigious Boston Latin School and later the English High School, from which he graduated. He attended college for two years atWinston-Salem Teachers College, where he went to run track, but left to be with his wife, Khadijah Farrakhan (born Betsy Ross), in Boston who was pregnant with their child. Due to complications from the pregnancy Walcott dropped out of college to devote time to her.
In the 1950s he recorded several calypso albums as a singer under the name “The Charmer”.
Nation of Islam
In 1955 he first came in contact with the teachings of the Nation of Islam (NOI) while headlining a show in Chicago entitled “Calypso Follies”. Rodney Smith, a friend from Boston and saxophonist, introduced him to the NOI’s doctrine and he attended the annual Saviours’ Day address by Elijah Muhammad. He joined the Nation of Islam in July 1955 becoming Louis X. The “X” was a placeholder used after dropping a slave name, which was often the surname of the owner of a slave, and indicated the fact that their original family surname had been lost. The “X” was used whilst waiting for the Islamic name some Nation members are given later in their conversion.
Thirty days after that[clarification needed], Elijah Muhammad stated that all musicians in the NOI had thirty days from the date of this announcement to give up the music world completely. Farrakhan did so after performing one last time at the Nevel Country Club.
After joining the Nation of Islam Farrakhan quickly rose through the ranks to become minister of the Nation of Islam’s Boston Mosque. He was appointed minister of the influential Harlem Mosque and served in that capacity from 1965 to 1975.
In 1977 after wrestling with the changes and consequential dismantling of the NOI structure by Warith Deen Muhammad Farrakhan distanced himself from the movement. In a 1990 interview with Emerge magazine he expressed his disillusionment with the changes and said he decided to “quietly walk away” from the organization rather than cause a schism among the members. In 1978 Farrakhan and a small number of supporters decided to rebuild the original Nation of Islam upon the foundations established by Wallace Fard Muhammad and Elijah Muhammad. This was done without publicly stating the intent.
In 1979 the Nation of Islam’s newspaper Muhammad Speaks was re–established by Farrakhan under the name The Final Call. In 1981 Farrakhan and supporters held the first annual Nation of Islam Saviors Day convention in Chicago since 1975. At the convention keynote address Farrakhan made his first public announcement of the restoration of the Nation of Islam under Elijah Muhammad’s teachings.
On January 12, 1995, Malcolm X‘s daughter Qubilah Shabazz was arrested for conspiracy to assassinate Farrakhan. According to Stanford historian Clayborne Carson “[her family] resented Farrakhan and had good reason to because he was one of those in the Nation responsible for the climate of vilification that resulted in Malcolm X’s assassination”. It was later alleged that the FBI had used paid informant Michael Fitzpatrick to frame Shabazz. After Shabazz was arrested Farrakhan held a press conference in Chicago in which he accused the FBI of attempting to exacerbate division and conflict between the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X’s family. Nearly four months later, on the first of May, federal prosecutors dropped their case against Shabazz.
Five days later a packed public meeting in Harlem featured Louis Farrakhan and Malcolm X’s widow Betty Shabazz. Originally organized by community activists as a fund raiser for Qubilah Shabazz’s legal defense the meeting marked the public reconciliation between Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam and the Shabazz family. It was termed A New Beginning.
On October 16, 1995, Farrakhan convened a broad coalition of 1 million men in Washington, D.C., for the Million Man March. Farrakhan, along with New Black Panther Party leader Malik Zulu Shabazz, Al Sharpton, Addis Daniel and other prominent black Americans marked the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March by holding a second march, the Millions More Movement on October 14, 2005, through October 17, 2005, in Washington.
In a February 2006 AP-AOL “Black Voices” poll Farrakhan was voted the fifth most important black leader with 4 percent of the vote.
In comments regarding the destruction of large parts of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina Farrakhan stated that there was a 25-foot (7.6 m) hole under one of the key levees that failed. He implied that the levee’s destruction was a deliberate attempt to wipe out the population of the largely black sections within the city. Farrakhan later said that New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin told him of the crater during a meeting in Dallas, Texas. Farrakhan further claimed that the fact the levee broke the day after Hurricane Katrina is proof that the destruction of the levee was not a natural occurrence. Farrakhan has raised additional questions and has called for federal investigations into the source of the levee break.
These accusations are countered by many experts including the Independent Levee Investigation Team (ILIT) from the University of California, Berkeley. The report from the ILIT said “The findings of this panel are that the overtopping of the levees by flood waters, the often sub-standard materials used to shore up the levees, and the age of the levees contributed to these “scour holes” found at many of the sites of levee breaks after the hurricane.
Support for Barack Obama
Farrakhan said that the Iraq War, the nation’s faltering economy and the increased number of natural disasters were signs of “a nation in peril”. He said that those problems provide the broader context for the then Senator Barack Obama‘s popularity.
In response to Farrakhan’s remarks the Obama campaign promptly released a response distancing himself from the minister. “Senator Obama has been clear in his objections to Minister Farrakhan’s past pronouncements and has not solicited the minister’s support,” said Obama spokesman Bill Burton. Obama himself “rejected and denounced” Farrakhan’s support in an NBC debate.
Farrakhan subsequently denied that his comments constituted an endorsement saying he would not tell any one of his followers how to cast their vote but that they should vote for “their own self-interest.”
Right-wing internet sites such as World Net Daily reported that during his February 24, 2008, “Saviours Day” speech Farrakhan called Obama “the Messiah“. Quoting in context his speech said, “Sen. Obama is not the Messiah for sure, but anytime, he gives you a sign of uniting races, ethnic groups, ideologies, religions and makes people feel a sense of oneness, that’s not necessarily Satan’s work, that is I believe the work of God.”
Following the 2008 presidential election Farrakhan explained, during a BET television interview, that he was “careful” to never endorse Obama during his campaign. “I talked about him — but, in very beautiful and glowing terms, stopping short of endorsing him. And unfortunately, or fortunately, however we look at it, the media said I ‘endorsed’ him, so he renounced my so-called endorsement and support. But that didn’t stop me from supporting him.
Farrakhan announced that he was seriously ill in a September 11, 2006, letter to his staff, Nation of Islam members and supporters. The letter, published in The Final Call newspaper, said that doctors in Cuba had discovered a peptic ulcer. According to the letter subsequent infections caused Farrakhan to lose 35 pounds and he urged the Nation of Islam leadership to carry on while he recovered.
Farrakhan was released from his five-week hospital stay on January 28, 2007, after major abdominal surgery. The operation was performed to correct damage caused by side effects of aradioactive “seed” implantation procedure that he received years earlier to successfully treat prostate cancer.
Following his hospital stay Farrakhan released a “Message of Appreciation” to supporters and well wishers and weeks later delivered the keynote address at the Nation of Islam’s annual convention in Detroit
Farrakhan has been the center of much controversy with critics saying that some of his views and comments have been antisemitic, racist or homophobic. Farrakhan has categorically denied these charges and stated that much of America’s perception of him has been shaped by media sound bites. This defense is echoed by religion scholar Mattias Gardell who argues that, when considered in the context of Farrakhan’s typically lengthy lectures, many of Farrakhan’s out of context controversial comments take on a more nuanced or thoughtful meaning that cannot be conveyed in a sound bite.
H1N1 Vaccine Conspiracy Theory
On October 21, 2009, Farrakhan told an audience in Memphis that he believes the H1N1 flu vaccine was developed to depopulate the earth. During a gathering to observe the Nation of Islam’s Holy Day of Atonement, which also marked the 14th anniversary of the Million Man March in Washington, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported Farrakhan as saying:
“The Earth can’t take 6.5 billion people. We just can’t feed that many. So what are you going to do? Kill as many as you can. We have to develop a science that kills them and makes it look as though they died from some disease.
Many of Farrakhan’s comments have been deemed antisemitic by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. In 2007 at the Mosque Maram in Chicago Farrakhan fiercely declared, “Do you know some of these satanic Jews have taken over BET? They got BET. They got our hair product people. They got Motown. Everything that we built, THEY got it. But the mind of Satan now is running the record industry. Running the movie industry. Running television.
Farrakhan has alleged that Jewish distributors blocked a major urban economic renewal initiative in 1985 he had championed which was dubbed “P.O.W.E.R.” for People Organized Working for Economic Rebirth. The initiative called for a joint enterprise of businesses and organizations, owned or run by African American people, to produce and distribute a line of cosmetics and toiletries sold under the Clean & Fresh(now defunct) label. Major haircare companies, including Johnson Products Co., backed out of the initiative fearing it could lead to accusations of anti-Semitism. Johnson Products owner African American George E. Johnson, Sr. maintained that his company’s distributors told him that any dealings with Farrakhan’s P.O.W.E.R. project would lead to having his own products boycotted. “We knew we could not offend our distribution channels,” a Johnson spokesman Dorothy McConner said. “When I saw that,” Farrakhan said, “I recognized that the black man will never be free until we address the relationship between blacks and Jews.
Toward the end of that portion of his speech that was recorded, Mr. Farrakhan said: “Now that nation called Israel never has had any peace in 40 years and she will never have any peace because there can be no peace structured on injustice, thievery, lying and deceit and using the name of God to shield your gutter religion under His holy and righteous name.”
Countless times over the years I have explained that I never referred to Judaism as a gutter religion, but, clearly referred to the machinations of those who hide behind the shield of Judaism while using unjust political means to achieve their objectives. This was distilled in the New York tabloids and other media saying, ‘Farrakhan calls Judaism a gutter religion.’
As a Muslim, I revere Abraham, Moses, and all the Prophets who Allah (God) sent to the children of Israel. I believe in the scriptures brought by these Prophets and the Laws of Allah (God) as expressed in the Torah. I would never refer to the Revealed Word of Allah (God) — the basis of Jewish Faith — as ‘dirty’ or ‘gutter.’ You know, Jude, as well as I, that the Revealed Word of Allah (God) comes as a Message from Allah (God) to purify us from our evil that has divided us and caused us to fall into the gutter.
Over the centuries, the evils of Christians, Jews and Muslims have dirtied their respective religions. True Faith in the laws and Teaching of Abraham, Jesus and Muhammadis not dirty, but, practices in the name of these religions can be unclean and can cause people to look upon the misrepresented religion as being unclean.
Farrakhan has had friendly relations with leaders of the Neturei Karta Jewish group that is well-known for its association with and support for anti-Zionists. While they said that “Minister Farrakhan has in the past, at times, tended to negatively lump all Jews together in his rhetoric,” Neturei Karta stressed that “Minister Louis Farrakhan is an extraordinary force for good in the Black community. His followers are responsible, industrious, modest and moral. And for this he and they have our respect.
“Black Hitler” characterization
During Jesse Jackson‘s 1984 presidential campaign Jackson used the word hymie, a pejorative term for Jews, in referring to New York City as “Hymietown” in a discussion with a black reporter. Though Jackson thought he was speaking off the record the reporter printed the quote. Jackson was widely criticized for the slur and received numerous death threats,leading Farrakhan to announce, “If you [Jewish leaders] harm this brother, I warn you in the name of Allah, it’ll be the last one you ever harm.”
In response to Farrakhan’s speech Nathan Pearlmutter, then Chair of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of B’nai B’rith, referred to Farrakhan as the new “Black Hitler” and Village Voicejournalist Nat Hentoffalso characterized the NOI leader as a “Black Hitler” while a guest on a New York radio talk-show.
In response Farrakhan said during a March 11, 1984, speech broadcast on a Chicago radio station:
|“||So I said to the members of the press, ‘Why won’t you go and look into what we are saying about the threats on Reverend Jackson’s life?’ Here the Jews don’t like Farrakhan and so they call me ‘Hitler’. Well that’s a good name. Hitler was a very great man. He wasn’t great for me as a Black man but he was a great German and he rose Germany up from the ashes of her defeat by the united force of all of Europe and America after the First World War. Yet Hitler took Germany from the ashes and rose her up and made her the greatest fighting machine of the twentieth century, brothers and sisters, and even though Europe and America had deciphered the code that Hitler was using to speak to his chiefs of staff, they still had trouble defeating Hitler even after knowing his plans in advance. Now I’m not proud of Hitler’s evil towardJewish people, but that’s a matter of record. He rose Germany up from nothing. Well, in a sense you could say there is a similarity in that we are rising our people up from nothing, but don’t compare me with your wicked killers.|
Farrakhan’s Vision Experience
On October 24, 1989, at a Washington, DC, press conference Farrakhan described a 1985 vision he had while in Mexico. In his vision he said he was carried up to “a Wheel, or what you call an unidentified flying object” as in the Bible‘s Book of Ezekiel 1:15–18. During this vision experience he said he heard the voice of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam from 1934 until his death in 1975.
In 2002 Louis Farrakhan went to Zimbabwe in support of President Robert Mugabe‘s intentions to enforce proposed seizures of white-owned land and property. The seizures were marked by violence and death and contributed to the collapse of farming and agriculture. Farrakhan said he was in “full support” of Mugabe’s policies “as it was aimed at correcting a historical injustice”.
Malcolm X’s death
On May 20, 2000, Farrakhan publicly rejected CBS News’ characterization of the interview stating, “It appears that the aim of 60 Minutes, CBS and Mike Wallace was to make the American public believe that I, Louis Farrakhan, ordered the assassination of Malcolm X. It in no way reflected the spirit of Miss Shabazz and myself and our attempt to continue the path of reconciliation started by Dr. Betty Shabazz and me in 1994 and 1995.”
In a June 5, 2000, interview titled ‘Setting the Record Straight’ with Jet Magazine Farrakhan said, “the interview was edited in such a way to give viewers the impression that Farrakhan had a role in Malcolm’s death.” Of the full four-hour interview CBS broadcast only 12 minutes.[unreliable source?]
February 21, 1990, was the 25th anniversary of Malcolm X’s death and during a speech at Malcolm X College in Chicago, Illinois Farrakhan gave a presentation on “The Murder of Malcolm X” and the lingering effects of the assassination.
Farrakhan and classical music
When Farrakhan first joined the NOI he was asked by Elijah Muhammad to put aside his musical career as a violinist. After 42 years Farrakhan decided to take up the violin once more primarily due to the urging of prominent classical musician Sylvia Olden Lee.
On April 17, 1993, Farakhan made his return concert debut with performances of the Violin Concerto in E Minor by Felix Mendelssohn. Farrakhan intimated that his performance of a concerto by a Jewish composer was, in part, an effort to heal a rift between him and the Jewish community. The New York Times music critic Bernard Holland reported that Farrakhan’s performance was somewhat flawed due to years of neglect “nonetheless Mr. Farrakhan’s sound is that of the authentic player. It is wide, deep and full of the energy that makes the violin gleam.” Farrakhan has gone on to perform the Violin Concerto of Ludwig van Beethoven and has announced plans to perform those of Tchaikovsky andBrahms.
In popular culture
- In the novel Push, Farrakhan is mentioned several times as “the original black man”.
- Nas dedicated a song to Louis Farrakhan on his Untitled album, the track was originally called “Louis Farrakhan” but was later changed to “Untitled”, nevertheless the song remained the same.
- Farrakhan’s grandson Mustapha is a guard on the University of Virginia basketball team.
- In his HBO special You Are All Diseased, George Carlin cites Farrakhan as an example of someone who is “openly black”.
- On the 2007 release ‘The Lost Tracks of Danzig’ by the rock band DANZIG there appears a song entitled “White Devil Rise”, a rebutt to alleged racist comments made about the white race by Farrakhan