Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A00072 - Louis Farrakhan, Nation of Islam Leader

Farrakhan, Louis
Farrakhan (Louis Farrakhan) (Louis Eugene Walcott) (b. May 11, 1933).  Nation of Islam national leader.  Born in New York City, the son of a schoolteacher and a domestic worker.  His birth name was Louis Eugene Walcott.  Farrakhan was an outstanding student at Boston English High School and then attended Winston-Salem Teacher’s College in North Carolina, but the rhetorical skills he honed there would take him to the pulpit rather than the classroom.

Farrakhan was an excellent musician.  He played the violin and was a calypso singer.  Indeed, while living in Boston, Farrakhan performed a nightclub act under the name of Calypso Gene.  In this act, Farrakhan would sing political lyrics to Caribbean style music.  

It was as a singer that Walcott earned his livelihood prior to converting to Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam in the 1950s.  It was his talents as an entertainer which caught the eye of Malcolm X, the renowned black activist who was then the most powerful and charismatic of Elijah Muhammad’s ministers.  Louis Walcott was recruited into the organization and began calling himself Louis X, preaching impressively and receiving the name “Farrakhan” from Elijah Muhammad himself.

Louis Farrakhan quickly worked his way up to a leadership position, becoming the minister of the Boston mosque.  He grew close to Elijah Muhammad and began to be groomed for prominence in the organization.  In 1963, Malcolm X left the organization in favor of a more inclusive and secular black activism.    

Malcolm’s departure angered Elijah Muhammad prompting Elijah Muhammad to initiate a campaign designed to undermine the activities of Malcolm X.   Louis Farrakhan, Elijah Muhammad’s then new protégé, loudly denounced Malcolm X after the latter split with Elijah Muhammad.  Farrakhan then replaced Malcolm X as the chief minister of the Harlem mosque.  Eventually (in 1972), Farrakhan would take over as the Nation’s press spokesman -- a position which was also previously held by Malcolm.

The Nation of Islam advocated religious and political militancy, proclaiming that civilization had begun with black men who were God’s chosen people.  Whites, according to this doctrine, were devils, the subhuman creation of an evil magician named Yakub.  These malevolent beings were said to be committed to the destruction of the black race, as evidenced by centuries of oppression and slavery.  Allah would punish Allah’s enemies, and Nation of Islam literature brims with reference to Armageddon.  

Upon close analysis, it is evident that the Nation of Islam’s doctrines differ significantly from those of orthodox Islam.  The sermons of Elijah Muhammad, and later of Farrakhan, combine ideas and beliefs from the Muslim Qur’an (also known as the Koran, or book of sacred writings) with Christian principles and images.  They reportedly even invent “scripture” at times.  In fact, when Elijah Muhammad’s son Wallace Deen Muhammad traveled to the East to study Islam, he decided his father was a fake and renounced the Nation’s earlier teachings.  Elijah, who died in 1975, willed the holdings of the organization to his sons -- mainly Wallace -- much to Farrakhan’s disappointment.  But Wallace’s disavowal of his father’s philosophy eventually drove many of Elijah’s followers into Farrakhan’s derivative group.  

Elijah Muhammad and Louis Farrakhan -- and Malcolm X while he was in the group -- were greatly influenced by the Black Nationalist movement.  This movement has existed as long as the United States itself and argues that American blacks can only achieve freedom and independence by establishing their own nation.  Some nationalists imagined this territory within the United States, others envisioned it in Africa.  Elijah Muhammad wrote in his speech “What Do the Muslims Want?” that the black nation might be “either on this continent or elsewhere.”   The Nation of Islam has long asked the United States government to provide reparations to black citizens -- like those paid to Japanese-American internees of United States detention camps during World War II -- to pay for a black nation.   

After Elijah Muhammad’s death in 1975, he briefly supported Muhammad’s son and designated successor, Warith Muhammad (Wallace Deen Muhammad), as leader of the Nation of Islam.  Shortly after Warith Muhammad began accepting European Americans as members within the Nation of Islam, now renamed the World Community of Al-Islam in the West, Farrakhan split from him and established a rival organization with about 10,000 members.  

Farrakhan’s vigorous support for Jesse Jackson’s presidential candidacy in 1984 quickly became an issue after Farrakhan made several controversial statements, most notably calling Judaism a “gutter religion.”  Farrakhan’s attacks on Judaism and Jews reflect a belief held by his constituency that Jews were an integral part of the American power elite and, therefore, an integral part of the systematic discrimination that blacks have historically encountered.  Jews also receive condemnation for supporting Israel, a region which the Nation of Islam and many other analysts of world politics accuse of mistreating its Arab neighbors.  Thus, for the members of the Nation of Islam, the many-sided conflicts of that region become a racial conflict -- a conflict of black versus white rather than a religious conflict.

Overshadowed in the controversy over Farrakhan’s anti-Jewish rhetoric was the involvement of the Nation of Islam in American electoral politics for the first time.  Previously, Black Muslims had generally followed Elijah Muhammad’s counsel not to vote or to take part in political campaigns.  But, in 1984 and 1988, the Nation of Islam supported Jackson as he ran for President.

In 1985, Farrakhan started the organization he called POWER (People Organized and Working for Economic Rebirth), a parent company for business endeavors like Clean ‘n Fresh.  The principle underlying the venture maintains that black people in America needed to build their own economic base. This could best be accomplished by recruiting black salespeople to sell black produced products in black neighborhoods.  To this end, Farrakhan secured a $5 million interest free loan from the nation of Libya.  However, because of the negative publicity generated by Farrakhan’s anti-Jewish statements, Farrakhan’s manufacturers backed out.

In January of 1995, Qubilah Bahiyah Shabazz, daughter of the slain black nationalist leader Malcolm X, was arrested and charged with trying to hire an FBI informant to kill Farrakhan, who some believe was involved in the 1965 assassination of her father.  Farrakhan publicly defended Shabazz, claiming that the charges were an FBI attempt to entrap her.  On May 1, 1995, Shabazz avoided a trial and possible prison sentence by accepting responsibility for the plot.  The court ordered her to seek psychiatric counseling, enter a drug and alcohol treatment program, and to obtain a steady job.

On October 16, 1995, African American men from across the United States convened in Washington, D. C. for the Million Man March, a rally masterminded by Farrakhan; organized by the Nation of Islam; and promoted by the National African Mexican Leadership Summit.  Billed as a “holy day of atonement and reconciliation,” marchers were urged to make a commitment to improve themselves, their families, and their communities.  Those who could not attend the march were urged to stay home from work and avoid spending money at businesses as a show of solidarity with the marchers.  The march was deemed a success on many levels and did much to help shake the myth of all black men as convicts, hustlers, and pimps and replaced that image with one of responsible, self-confident, culturally aware men.  

In early 1996, Farrakhan embarked on a controversial 18 nation tour of Africa and Southwest Asia.  During the tour, he visited Iran and Libya, nations which the United States government believes support international terrorism.  Although he claimed that the trip was designed to promote peace and reconciliation, Farrakhan was widely criticized by United States officials for several anti-American statements he made while overseas.

In the early 21st century, the core membership of Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam was estimated at between 10,000 and 50,000—though in the same period Farrakhan was delivering speeches in large cities across the United States that regularly attracted crowds of more than 30,000. Under Farrakhan’s leadership, the Nation was one of the fastest growing of the various Muslim movements in the country. Foreign branches of the Nation were formed in Ghana, London, Paris, and the Caribbean islands. In order to strengthen the international influence of the Nation, Farrakhan established relations with Muslim countries, and in the late 1980s he cultivated a relationship with the Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi.  After a near-death experience in 2000 resulting from complications from prostate cancer (he was diagnosed with cancer in 1991), Farrakhan toned down his racial rhetoric and attempted to strengthen relations with other minority communities, including Native Americans, Hispanics, and Asians. Farrakhan also moved his group closer to orthodox Sunni Islam in 2000, when he and Imam Warith Deen Mohmmed, the leading American orthodox Muslim, recognized each other as fellow Muslims.

In spite of his fiery pronouncements as a speaker, Farrakhan led a quiet and decidedly comfortable domestic life in an opulent mansion of marble and limestone in the Hyde Park section of Chicago in the house that Elijah Muhammad built.  He was married to Khadijah and they had nine children.   

Louis Eugene Walcott see Farrakhan
Walcott, Louis Eugene see Farrakhan
Calypso Gene see Farrakhan
Louis X see Farrakhan

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