From The Archives From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized


American culture seems to lack two ele­ments basic to race relations: a deep sense of the tragic and a genuine grasp of the unadulterated rage directed at American society. The chronic refusal of most Ameri­cans to understand the sheer absurdity that confronts human beings of African descent in this country — the incessant assaults on black intelligence, beauty, character, and possibility — is not simply a matter of de­fending white-skin privilege. It also bespeaks a reluctance to look squarely at the brutal side and tragic dimension of the American past and present. Such a long and hard look would lead this nation of undeni­able opportunities and freedom-loving peo­ple to acknowledge its legacy of unspeak­able crimes committed against other human beings, especially black people.

Unfortunately, this fact has become trivi­alized — partly by black middle-class oppor­tunists — into a cynical move in a career game of upmanship that reinforces white guilt and paralysis. Yet, as our great artists like Ralph Ellison, William Faulkner, Lil­lian Smith, and Toni Morrison have shown, the tragic plight and brutal treatment of black people is a constitutive element — not a mere moral mistake — of American civili­zation. To put it crudely, America would not exist without 244 years of black slavery, 85 years of Jim and Jane Crow (including the lynching of a black man, woman, or child every three days for a quarter of a century), and now, one of two black kids caught in a violence-infested life of poverty.

[related_posts post_id_1=”724828″ /]

Black responses to this unique American experience have been shot through with rage — just as were Jewish responses to at­tacks, assaults, and pogroms in anti-Semitic Russia and Eastern Europe at the turn of the century. Yet xenophobic czars and au­thorities were not surprised at Jewish rage. Wouldn’t any vicious tyrants expect this response from their victims? In stark con­trast, most American elites, owing to nar­row, self-serving notions of freedom and justice, have been flabbergasted at the ex­pression of black rage. This is so even though most black rage has not been direct­ed at American elites, but rather at other black people (especially women), Italian shopkeepers, Korean grocers, gays and les­bians, and Jewish entrepreneurs. These tar­geted expressions of black rage, though of­ten downright cowardly and petty, signify the social invisibility and relative power­lessness of a people toward whom Ameri­can elites have been and are indifferent.

The ’60s was a watershed period because black rage came out of the closet. As white institutional terrorism was challenged, black rage surfaced with a power and a potency never seen in American history. In fact, it threatened the very social order and stability of the country. The major Ameri­can-elite response to this threat was to re­duce tragic black persons into pathetic black victims and to redirect the channels of black rage in and to black working-class and poor communities. The reduction was done by making black poor people clients of a welfare system that both sustained and degraded them; by viewing black middle­-class people as questionable and stigmatized beneficiaries of affirmative-action programs that fueled their identity crises; and by rendering black working people (the majority of black people!) as nearly nonex­istent, even as their standard and quality of living significantly declined.

[related_posts post_id_1=”724152″ /]

The high social costs borne by much of black America during the Republican years of recession and “recovery” have been dev­astating. Measured in terms of housing, education, jobs, health care, and, above all, the massive social and moral breakdown in nurturing black youth, we may be at a point of no return. And yet the chickens now coming home to roost are not the ones we expected. Instead of a focus on the funda­mental sources of black social misery — the maldistribution of wealth and power fil­tered through our corporate, financial, and political elites, we find black rage directed at racist ethnic individuals and communi­ties, mere small players in the larger game of power in the city, state, and country.

Some of the blame can be laid at the feet of black leadership. In New York, Mayor David Dinkins, a decent man in a desper­ate situation, has failed to make the requi­site symbolic gestures to the black commu­nity in his efforts to disarm white charges of personal bias and racial favoritism. This strategy has backfired. Community spokes­people, like Reverend Al Sharpton and Reverend Herben Daughtry, two steadfast and courageous activists locked into an endless cycle of immediate reaction to events, are, at times and out of frustration, swept into a rhetoric that embraces the lowest common denominator of black rage. The slide from demands of justice and due process to those of vengeance and vigilan­tism is a shon one for an abused and en­raged people. Yet, as reverends Sharpton and Daughtry at their best recognize, this slide is neither morally right nor politically effective.

[related_posts post_id_1=”724143″ /]

Elijah Muhammad and Martin Luther King Jr. understood one fundamental truth about black rage: It must be neither ignored nor ignited. This is what separates them from the great Malcolm X. Malcolm indeed articulated black rage in an unprecedented manner in American history; yet his broad black nationalist platforms were too vague to give this black rage any concrete direc­tion. Elijah and Martin knew how to work with black rage in a constructive manner: shape it through moral discipline, channel it into political organization, and guide it by visionary leadership. Black rage is as American as apple pie. That is why the future of our city, state, and country de­pend, in large part, on whether we acknowl­edge it, how we respond to it, and the manner in which bold and wise leaders direct it.

Next: “Ghosts” by Joan Morgan


Public Enemy: The Devil Made ‘Em Do It

Public Enemy’s 1988 It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back opens with roiling crowd buzz from a live snippet recorded at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. Then an air raid siren cuts through the din, a keening wail that still meant something in a town where the Blitz was well within living memory.

In his review from that summer thirty years ago, Greg Tate’s prose rivals the sonic intensity of the album under discussion and informs us up front that PE’s disk “demands kitchen-sink treatment.” And we get it — every other sentence is pullquote-worthy:

Nation of Millions is a will-to-power party record by bloods who believe (like Sun Ra) that for black folk, it’s after the end of the world. Or, in PEspeak: ‘Armageddon has been in effect. Go get a late pass.’”

“Hiphop being more than a cargo cult of the microchip, it deserves being debated on more elevated terms than as jazz’s burden or successor.”

“PE producer and arranger Hank Shocklee has the ears of life, and that rare ability to extract the lyrical from the lost and found.”

Tate’s review agitates as much as the music: “PE wants to reconvene the black power movement with hiphop as the medium. From the albums and interviews, the program involves rabble-rousing rage, radical aesthetics, and bootstrap capitalism, as well as a revival of the old movement’s less than humane tendencies: revolutionary suicide, misogyny, gaybashing, Jew-baiting, and the castigation of the white man as a genetic miscreant, or per Elijah Muhammad’s infamous myth of Yacub, a ‘grafted devil.’

“To know PE is to love the agitprop (and artful noise) and to worry over they whack retarded philosophy they espouse.”

Below are the original pages as well as the full text of the article. And just for the fun of it, we’ve included the full-page ads between the Tate opener and the jump page to capture the musical flavor of the moment: Kiss at the Ritz and Stevie Wonder doing eight shows at Radio City Music Hall.

The Devil Made ’Em Do It

by Greg Tate

Granted, Charlie Parker died laughing. Choked chickenwing perched over 1950s MTV. So? No way in hell did Bird, believing there was no competition in music, will his legacy to some second-generation beboppers to rattle over the heads of the hiphop nation like a rusty sabre. But when Harry Allen comes picking fights with suckers adducing hiphop the new jazz, like hiphop needs a jazz crutch to stand erect, I’m reminded of Pithecanthropus erectus, and not the Charles Mingus version. B-boys devolved to the missing link between jazzmen and a lower order species out of Joseph Conrad. “Perhaps you will think it passing strange, this regret for a savage who was of no more account than a grain of sand in a black Sahara. Well, don’t you see, he had done something, he had steered; for months I had him at my back — a help — an instrument. It was a kind of partnership.” Page 87.

Hiphop being more than a cargo cult of the microchip, it deserves being debated on more elevated terms than as jazz’s burden or successor. Given the near absence of interdisciplinary scholarship on the music, the conceptual straits of jazz journalism, and hiphop’s cross-referential complexity, the hiphop historian must cast a wider net for critical models. Certainly Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back (Def Jam) demands kitchen-sink treatment. More than a hiphop record it’s an ill worldview.

Nation of Millions is a will-to-power party record by bloods who believe (like Sun Ra) that for black folk, it’s after the end of the world. Or, in PEspeak: “Armageddon has been in effect. Go get a late pass.” In Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made, Eugene Genovese offers that the failure of mainland blacks to sustain a revolutionary tradition during slavery was due to a lack of faith in prophets of the apocalypse. This lack, he says, derived from Africa’s stolen children having no memories of a paradise lost that revolution might regain. Machiavellian thinking might have found its way into the quarters: “All armed prophets have conquered while all unarmed prophets have failed.” But the observation that blacks were unable to envision a world beyond the plantation, or of a justice beyond massa’s dispensation, still resonates through our politics. Four decades after Garvey, the cultural nationalists of the ’60s sought to remedy our Motherland amnesia and nationhood aversions through dithyrambs, demagoguery, and a counter-supremacist doctrine that pressed for utopia over reform pragmatism. Its noblest aim was total self-determination for the black community. For PE, that, not King’s, is the dream that died.

The lofty but lolling saxophone sample that lures us into the LP’s “Black Side” could be a wake up call, a call to prayer, or an imitation Coltrane cocktease. Since we’re not only dealing with regenerated sound here but regenerated meaning, what was heard 20 years ago as expression has now become a rhetorical device, a trope. Making old records talk via scratching or sampling is fundamental to hiphop. But where we’ve heard rare grooves recycled for parodic effect or shock value ad nauseam, on “Show Em Whatcha Got” PE manages something more sublime, enfolding, and subsuming the Coltrane mystique, among others, within their own. The martial thump that kicks in after the obligatto owes its bones to Funkadelic’s baby years and Miles Davis’s urban bush music. But the war chants from Chuck D and Flavor Flav that blurt through the mix like station identification also say, What was hip yesterday we save from becoming passé. Since three avant-gardes overlap here — free jazz, funk, hip hop — the desired effect might seem a salvage mission. Not until Sister Ava Muhammad’s tribute-to-the-martyrs speech fragments begin their cycle do you realize Public Enemy are offering themselves up as next in line for major black prophet, missionary, or martyrdom status. Give them this much: PE paragon Farrakhan excepted, nobody gives you more for your entertainment dollar while cold playing that colored man’s messiah role.

PE wants to reconvene that black power movement with hiphop as the medium. From the albums and interviews, the program involves rabble-rousing rage, radical aesthetics, and bootstrap capitalism, as well as a revival of the old movement’s less than humane tendencies: revolutionary suicide, misogyny, gaybashing, Jew-baiting, and the castigation of the white man as a genetic miscreant, or per Elijah Muhammad’s infamous myth of Yacub, a “grafted devil.”

To know PE is to love the agitprop (and artful noise) and to worry over the whack retarded philosophy they espouse. Like: “The black woman has always been kept up by the white male because the white male has always wanted the black woman.” Like “Gays aren’t doing what’s needed to build the black nation.” Like: “White people are actually monkey’s uncles because that’s who they made it with in the Caucasian hills.” Like : “If the Palestinians took up arms, went into Israel, and killed all the Jews it’d be alright.” From this idiot blather, PE are obviously making it up as they go along. Since PE show sound reasoning when they focus on racism as a tool of the U.S. power structure, they should be intelligent enough to realize that dehumanizing gays, women, and Jews isn’t going to set black people free. As their prophet Mr. Farrakhan hasn’t overcome one or another of these moral lapses, PE might not either. For now swallowing the PE pill means taking the bitter with the sweet, and if they don’t grow up, later for they asses.

Nation of Millions is a declaration of war on the federal government, and on that unholy trinity — black radio programmers, crack dealers, and rock critics. (“Suckers! Liars! Get me a shovel. Some writers I know are damn devils. From them I say I don’t believe the hype. Yo Chuck, they must be on the pipe, right?”) For sheer audacity and specificity Chuck D’s enemies list rivals anything produced by the Black Liberation Army or punk — rallying retribution against the Feds for the Panthers’ fall (“Party For Your Right To Fight”), slapping murder charges on the FBI and CIA for the assassinations of MLK and Malcolm X (“Louder Than a Bomb”), condoning cop-killing in the name of liberation (“Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos”), assailing copyright law and the court system (“Caught, Can We Get a Witness?”). As America’s black teen population are the core audience for these APBs to terrorize the state, PE are bucking for first rap act to get taken out by Washington, by any means necessary.

Were it not for the fact that Nation is the most hellacious and hilarious dance record of the decade, nobody but the converted would give two hoots about PE’s millenary desires. Of the many differences between Nation and their first, Yo! Bum Rush the Show, is that Nation is funkier. As George Clinton learned, you got to free Negroes’ asses if you want their minds to bug. Having seen Yo! Bum Rush move the crowd off the floor, it’s a pleasure to say only zealot wallflowers will fade into the blackground when Nation cues up. Premiered at a Sugar Hill gala, several Nation cuts received applause from the down but bupwardly mobile — fulfilling Chuck D’s prediction on “Don’t Believe The Hype” that by treating the hard jams like a seminar Nation would “reach the bourgeois and rock the boulevard.” But PE’s shotgun wedding of black militancy and musical pleasure ensures that Nation is going to move music junkies of all genotypes. “They claim we’re products from the bottom of hell because the blackest record is bound to sell.”

PE producer and arranger Hank Shocklee has the ears of life, and that rare ability to extract the lyrical from the lost and found. Every particle of sound on Nation has got a working mojo, a compelling something other-ness and that swing thang to boot. Shocklee’s reconstructive composition of new works from archival bites advances sampling to the level of microsurgery. Ditto for cyborg DJ Terminator X, who cuts incisively enough to turn a decaying kazoo into a dopebeat on “Bring the Noise.” Putting into effect Borges’s rule that “The most fleeting thought obeys an invisible design and can crown or inaugurate, a secret form,” PE have evolved a songcraft from chipped flecks of near-forgotten soul gold. On Nation a guitar vamp from Funkadelic, a moan from Sly, a growl abducted from Bobby Byrd aren’t just rhythmically spliced-in but melodically sequenced into colorful narratives. Think of Romare Bearden.

One cut-up who understands the collage-form is PE’s Flavor Flav. Misconstrued as mere aide-de-camp to rap’s angriest man after Yo! Bum Rush he emerges here as a duck-soup stirrer in his own right. Flav’s solo tip, “Cold Lampin With Flavor,” is incantatory shamanism on a par with any of the greats: Beefheart, Koch, Khomeini. “You pick your teeth with tombstone chips, candy-colored flips, dead women hips you do the bump with. Bones. Nuthin’ but love bones.”

Those who dismiss Chuck D as a bullshit artist because he’s loud, pro-black, and proud, will likely miss out on gifts for blues pathos and black comedy. When he’s on, his rhymes can stun-gun your heart and militarize your funnybone. As a people’s poet and pedagogue of the oppressed, Chuck hits his peak on the jail-house toast/prison break movie, “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos.” The scenario finds Chuck unjustly under the justice (“Innocent/ Because I’m militant/Posing a threat/ You bet it’s fucking up the government”). Chuck and “52 Brothers bruised, battered, and scarred but hard” bust out the joint with the aid of PE’s plastic Uzi protection, “the S1Ws” (Security for the First World). Inside the fantasy, Chuck crafts verse of poignant sympathy for all doing hard time. (“I’m on a tier where no tear should ever fall/Cell blocked and locked I never clock it y’all.”) His allusion to the Middle Passage as the first penal colony for blacks is cold chillin’ for real. Chuck’s idea of a lifer, or career soldier, is also at odds with convention: “Nevertheless they could not understand that I’m a black man and I could never be a veteran.”

As much as I love this kind of talk, I got to wonder about PE’s thing against black women. And my dogass ain’t the only one wondering — several sisters I know who otherwise like the mugs wonder whassup with that too. Last album PE dissed half the race as “Sophisticated Bitches.” This time around, “She Watch Channel Zero!?” a headbanger about how brainless the bitch is for watching the soaps, keeping the race down. “I know she don’t know/Her brain be trained by 24-inch remote/Revolution a solution for all of our children/But her children don’t mean as much as the show.” Whoa! S.T.F.O.!* Would you say that to your mother, motherfucker? Got to say, though, the thrash is deadly. One of those riffs makes you want to stomp somebody into an early grave, as Flav goes on and on insinuating that women are garbage for watching garbage. In light of Chuck’s plea for crack dealers to be good to the neighborhood on “Night of the Living Baseheads,” it appears PE believe the dealers more capable of penance than the sistuhs. Remember The Mack? Where the pimp figures it cool to make crazy dollar off his skeezes but uncool for the white man for sell scag to the little brothers? This is from that same mentality. And dig that in “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos,” the one time on the album Chuck talks about firing a piece, it’s to a pop a female corrections officer. By my homegirl’s reckoning all the misogyny is the result of PE suffering from LOP: lack of pussy. She might have a point.
* Step the Fuck Off!


Nationalism of Fools

Nationalism of Fools

There again were the black suits and red ties, the bodyguards in blue uniforms, the women in white, the aloof cast of the eyes and the earthly manner: the Nation of Islam. Twenty-five years ago it was Malcolm X’s show, though he could never have filled Madison Square Garden. On October 7, 25,000 people turned out to hear Louis Farrakhan.

They queued up outside—the poor and the young, the unemployed and the gang members, the middle-class Negroes. They were anxious to get in and hear someone attack the people they felt were responsible for their positions in the burgeoning illiterate mass; or they were there out of curiosity, intent on hearing for themselves what Farrakhan was about. Many came because they were happy to support a black man the “white-controlled” media unanimously hated. Or because Mayor Koch had called Farrakhan “the devil,” usurping the Muslims’ term for the white enemy—if Koch hated him, he might be lovable, an understandable reaction given the long-standing antipathy between the mayor and New York’s black community. I also think many were there, especially the young, because they had never been to a mass black rally to hear a speaker who didn’t appear to care what white people thought of him, a man who seemed to think their ears were more important than those of Caucasians.

The atmosphere at Madison Square Garden was unusual. Though the speeches started two and a half hours late, the audience was patient, partly out of respect and partly out of awareness that the Fruit of Islam doesn’t play. A fool and his seat would soon have parted. I overheard one young black man saying that he would look at the Muslims with their neatness and their discipline, their sense of confidence and their disdain for white privilege, and understand their appeal: “They look like the last thing they ever think about is kissing some white boody.” After repeatedly telling a blond female photographer that she couldn’t sit in the aisle, one of the FOI said, to the joy of the black people listening, “Miss, I asked you three times to please not sit in the aisle. Now you will either get your behind over or you will get your behind out.” And there was something else. As one woman put it, “Well, what can you say? Nobody looks better than a black man in a uniform. Look at all those handsome black men. I know I wouldn’t want to be in the Nation, but I wouldn’t mind if they lived on my block. I bet there wouldn’t be any mugging and dope dealing and all of that. “From the outside, at least, Farrakhan’s group projects a vision of restraint and morality. It’s about smoothing things out, upholding the family, respecting the woman, doing an honest day’s work, avoiding dissipation, and defining the difference between the path of the righteous and the way of the wicked. At one point the commander of the FOI came to the microphone and said that he could smell reefer smoke. He asked that anyone who saw those guilty parties report them to “the nearest brother.” Wherever the puffing was going on, it stopped.

Beginning in 1959, when the press started bird-dogging Malcolm X, the Muslims’ disdain for white people seared through the networks, eventually influencing the tone, the philosophy, and the tactics of black politics. The Nation of Islam offered a rageful revision that would soon have far more assenters than converts. Though it seemed at first only a fanatical cult committed to a bizarre version of Islam, Elijah Muhammad’s homemade Nation was far from an aberration. The Nation fit perfectly in a century we might appropriately call “The Age of Redefinition.” Its public emergence coincided with the assault on Western convention, middle-class values, and second-class citizenship that shaped the ’60s in America. The whole question of what constituted civilized behavior and civilized tradition was being answered in a variety of wild ways. So Elijah Muhammad’s sect was part of the motion that presaged transcendental meditation, sexual revolution, LSD, cultural nationalism, black power, the Black Panther Party, the anti-Vietnam war movement, feminism, and other trends that surely appalled the Muslims as thoroughly as the Nation did its roughest critics. As much as anything else, these angry home-grown Muslims foretold the spirit of what was later known as “the counterculture.”

But Elijah Muhammad’s counterculture was black. Where others explained the world’s problems with complex theories ranging from economic exploitation to sexism, Muhammad simply pinned the tail on the white man. In his view, black integrationists were only asking for membership in hell, since the white man was a devil “grafted” from black people in an evil genetic experiment by a mad, pumpkin-headed scientist named Yacub. That experiment took place 6000 years ago. Now the white man was doomed, sentenced to destruction by Allah. If “so-called American Negroes” separated themselves form the imposed values of white culture, then moved into their own land, black suffering would cease. In calling for five or six states as “back payment for slavery,” Muhammad reiterated a Negro Zionism rooted in the “back to Africa” schemes of the middle 19th century, which had last fizzled under the leadership of Marcus Garvey.

In the context of prevailing media images and public racial struggle, this was all new. Here were Negroes who considered themselves the chosen people. They proclaimed that the black man was the original man, the angel, and that since the first devils to roll off Yacub’s assembly line were the Jews, the idea of their being the chosen was a lot of baloney. By embracing Muhammad’s version of Islam, his followers stepped outside of Judeo-Christian civilization, asserting their African roots at exactly the same time Africans were coming out from under colonialism and remarkable shifts in world power were in the offing. They declared the white man a thief and a murderer; he had ripped off the secrets of science from Africa. (Muhammad’s ministers taught that Egypt was an acronym for “he gypped you.”) Using the Africans’ information, the blue-eyed devil went on to steal land all over the world, including America from the Indian. The Muslims “exposed” Christianity as no more than a tool to enslave black people, a way of getting them to deny their origins and worship a “white Jesus” (when the Savior was described in Revelations as having skin the color of burnished brass and hair akin to pure lamb’s wool). They spoke of dark skin and thick lips as beautiful, charging that the mulatto look of light skin, thin lips, and “good” hair was the mark of shame, of rape on the plantation. In attacking the Caucasian standard of beauty, the Muslims foreshadowed the “black is beautiful” buttons and revisionist images of race and gender we would soon hear from all quarters.

Though most of what they said was no further out than the mythological tales of biblical heroes, their explanations lacked poetic grandeur. But their exotic integrity made that irrelevant. Just as there is a beauty in a well-made club or knife or rifle, there is a beauty in those who yield to nothing but their own ideals and the discipline necessary to achieve them. The Muslims had that kind of attraction, particularly for those who had known the chaos of drug addiction, prostitution, loneliness, abject poverty. Suddenly here were all these clean-cut, well-dressed young men and women—men, mostly. You recognized them from the neighborhood. They had been pests or vandals, thieves or gangsters. Now they were back from jail or prison and their hair was cut close, their skin was smooth, they no longer cursed blue streaks, and the intensity in their eyes remade their faces. They were “in the Nation” and that meant that new men were in front of you, men who greeted each other in Arabic, who were aloof, confident, and intent on living differently than they had. Now the mention of a cool slice of ham on bread with mayonnaise and lettuce disgusted them. Consuming the pig was forbidden and food was eaten once a day because a single throe of digestion “preserved the intestines.” Members didn’t smoke, drink, use drugs, dance, go to movies or sports events.

The Muslims’ vision of black unity, economic independence, and “a true knowledge of self” influenced the spirit of black organization as the civil rights movement waned. Few took notice that it was much easier to call white people names and sneer at voter registration drives from podiums in the North than to face the cattle prods, the bombings, and the murders in the South. Since the destruction of America was preordained, the Muslims scorned efforts to change the system. Theirs was the world of what the French call “the total no.”

Though they were well mannered and reliable, the Muslims were too provincial and conservative to attract the kind of mass following that would pose a real political threat. Yet as chief black heckler of the civil rights movement, Malcolm X began to penetrate the consciousness of young black people, mostly in the North. While his platform was impossible, a cockeyed racial vision of history that precluded any insights into human nature, young Negroes loved to watch him upset white people, shocking them no end with his attacks on their religion, their history, their morality, their political system, and their sense of superiority. He described nonviolence as nonsense. And he said it all with an aggressive, contemptuous tone that had never been heard from a black man on the air. What we witnessed was the birth of black saber rattling.

Malcolm quickly became what is now called a cult hero. But for all the heated, revisionist allusions to history and exploitation, Malcolm X’s vision was far more conventional than King’s. Where the Southern Christian Leadership Council and the Student non-Violent Coordinated Committee were making use of the most modern forms of boycott, media pressure, and psychological combat, revealing the werewolf of segregation under a full moon, Malcolm X brought the philosophy of the cowboy movie into Negro politics: characters who turned the other cheek were either naive or cowardly. The Civil War had costs 622,500 lives; the civil rights movement had brought about enormous change against violent opposition without losing 100 troops. But you could never have told that listening to Malcolm X, who made each casualty sound like 100,000. He talked like one of those gunfighters determined to organize the farmers against the violent, vicious cattlemen. One of his last speeches was even called “The Bullet or the Ballot.” Hollywood had been there first.

In the wake of Malcolm X’s assassination and canonization came the costume balls of cultural nationalism and the loudest saber rattlers of them all, the Black Panther Party. Both persuasions rose from the ashes of the urban riots, each dominated by egomaniacs who brooked no criticism, defining all skeptics as Uncle Toms. They gathered thunder as the civil rights movement floundered. The remarkable Bob Moses of SNCC abdicated following the murders of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney. The organization became a shambles as white support was driven out. Stokely Carmichael and Rap Brown devoted their efforts to inflammatory rabble rousing, encouraging the anarchy of urban “revolts.” King was felled in Memphis. America then endured the spectacles of Ron Karenga, Eldridge Cleaver, and Huey Newton. Hollywood didn’t miss the point: it turned pulp politics into pulp films. Black exploitation movies saved a few studios as Negro heroes moved from scene to scene beating up white villains, usually gangsters, in chocolate-coated James Bond thrillers. It all wore thin as would-be radical black youth discovered that romanticizing Africa and wearing robes or calling for the violent overthrow of the American government led to little more than pretentious exotica and the discovery that the police weren’t paper tigers.

When Elijah Muhammad died in 1975, Louis Farrakhan was a member of the Nation’s upper echelon. He had seen the organization survive Malcolm X’s defection in 1964. So it might have been rough on him when Muhammad’s son, Wallace, repudiated his father’s teachings, opting for regulation Islam. Suddenly, Farrakhan was back in the world without a filter. Elijah Muhammad’s vision had created an extended family of believers destined to come out in front when Allah gave the word and evil was struck down. Now Wallace was spurning seclusion from society and the guarantees that come with apocalyptic prophecy. And there was another problem. Elijah Muhammad had explicitly aimed his teachings at the downtrodden black man in American, not the Muslims in their own countries. When charged with distorting Islam, he had explained that this was a special medicine for a special case, a people who had “no knowledge of self.” Submitting to conventional Islam meant giving Middle Eastern Muslims the inside lane. But Louis Farrakhan wasn’t about to become just another one of millions of Muslims. The Charmer, as he was known when he was a singer, wanted to lead. And he did: he broke with Wallace to carry on Elijah Muhammad’s teachings.

Now, after 30 years of watching others chased by reporters and interviewed on national television, Farrakhan has his moment. Malcolm X is dead, King is dead, the Panthers have been declawed, Eldridge Cleaver is born again, Ron Karenga and LeRoi Jones are college professors, and the factions devoted to urban guerrilla warfare have been either snuffed out or chased into hiding. Now it is all his, the mantle of extreme militance, and the media hang on his words, no matter what they make of him. He is a national, if not an international, figure, a man who can draw turn away crowds, get $5 million for Qaddafi, and surround himself with a surprising array of supporters.

The appearance of Louis Farrakhan at this time seems a comment on the failures of black, liberal, and conservative politics since the Nixon era, when cultural nationalists started putting on suits and Marxist revolutionaries sought the great leap forward of tenured professorships. Though black mayors were elected in more and more cities, and many millions were spent to eradicate obstacles to Negro American success, the thrust of these attempts at social change was no more accurate than Chester Himes’s blind man with the pistol. The epidemic proportions of illiteracy, teenage pregnancy, and crime in Negro communities across the nation tells us what went wrong. The schools became worse and worse, the salaries for teachers less and less; there were no serious efforts (including welfare cutbacks) to discourage teenage parenthood; and the courts were absurdly lenient with criminals. The result is a black lower class perhaps more despairing and cynical than we have ever seen.

But conservative programs have been equally deadly. While the administration chips away at the voting rights of black Southerners and panders to religious fundamentalists, it ignores human nature by deregulating the business sphere with such vengeance that the profits of stockholders take precedence over the environment. In this atmosphere, Farrakhan’s broad attacks are political rock and roll—loved more for the irritation they create than for their substance.

The guests who filled the podium gave the impression that Farrakhan had a broader base than assumed. They included Christian ministers, American Indians, Palestinians, Stokely Carmichael and Chaka Khan. Of Khan’s presence, one young man said, “She shouldn’t have done that. Her record sales are going to go down. Those Jews ain’t going to like that. She might be through.” I wasn’t so sure of that, but if it were black people in equivalent positions in the record business, I doubt they would think lightly of a white star sitting on a podium with the Ku Klux Klan.

When things finally kicked off, a Christian choir opened with a song and Stokely Carmichael spoke first. He bobbed and flailed, often pushing his head past the microphone. The sound went up and down; some sentences came through clearly, others were half-heard. He attacked Zionism, calling for war against Israel and recognition of the “sacredness” of Africa, where Moses and Jesus were protected when in trouble. The intensity was so immediate and Carmichael got carried away so quickly that the address seemed more a high-powered act than anything else. In his white robe and white hair the lean and tall West Indian looked much like the ghost of Pan-African nationalism past. As Kwame Touré, he carried the names of fallen idols, African leaders who resorted to dictatorial control when things didn’t go the way they wanted, whether that meant throttling the press or subjecting the opposition to the infamous “black diet.” But then much of what Carmichael has had to say since the black power years has been itself a black diet, a form of intellectual starvation in which the intricacies of international politics are reduced to inflammatory tribalism.

A Palestinian, Said Arafat, attacked Zionism as “a cancer” and called for “the total liberation of Palestine.” Russell Means, one of the founders of the American Indian Movement, gave a predictable address about an Indian taking his tomahawk to an insulting white man. Then a golem popped out of his bandana: “When we were in Los Angeles the Jews did a number on Mr. Farrakhan.” He concluded by saying, “I want you all to remember that Hollywood has denigrated and debased every race of people, but there are no plays or movies denigrating the Jewish people.” (Half right, half wrong. As J. Hoberman points out, many movies with Jewish stereotypes were made during the silent era, but the moguls backed off when sound came in, yielding to community pressure. And though Hollywood’s contribution to “negative images” of ethnic groups is unarguable, it is also true that revisionist westerns such as the classic Fort Apache started appearing long before AIM was founded.)

All the speeches were short and made their points. Then the featured attraction was introduced. The audience rose to its feet and burst forth with a heroic sound, filling the Garden with a gigantic chord of collected voices. Very soon, Farrakhan proved his shrewdness, highhandedly using the rhetoric of social movements he would have opposed 25 years ago. When the applause ended, Farrakhan called attention to the female bodyguards who surrounded him and claimed that Elijah Muhammad was the first black leader to liberate the woman. Point of fact, the Muslims used to say, “The black woman is the field in which the black man sows his nation.” But after all, the past is Silly Putty to men like Farrakhan, who used the subject of women as the first of many themes he would pass through or over. “The world is in the condition it is,” he said, “because it doesn’t respect women.” Growing bolder, Farrakhan attacked the separation of the sexes in traditional Islam, saying women should be allowed into the mosque. That will no doubt be quite a revelation in the Middle East, when Farrakhan goes on his promised third world tour.

Farrakhan went on to be consistently incoherent for three hours, embodying the phrase “Didn’t he ramble?” He circled many topics, always ending on his favorite subject: Louis Farrakhan. He talked about how good he looked, how he should be compared to Jesus, how the Jews were after him, how he was on a divine mission, how he would go to the southwest and die with the Indians if necessary, how “examples” should be made of black leaders who criticized men like him, how black people needn’t worry if they were called upon to go to war with America, since Allah would do for them what he did for David when the boy fought Goliath. He piled his points in Dagwood sandwiches of contradiction, moving from the “fact” that whites were invented devils to the observation that if America is hell, then those who run it must be devils; then obliquely referring to the
Annacalyptus, an occult history, with the remark that we have never seen races evolve from light to dark, further proof that the “Asiatic black man” must be the father of all races. To finish off that run, Farrakhan dug out the anthropological findings in East Africa, which suggest that man originated there. Rounding the bases of absurdity, metaphor, and the occult, he hook slid into science.

When Farrakhan wasn’t talking about himself, he most frequently baited Jews. When he does that. Farrakhan plumbs the battles that have gone on between black people and Jews for almost 20 years. He speaks to (though not for) those who have fought with Jews over affirmative action, or have felt locked out of discussions about Middle East policy by Jews as willing to bully and deflect criticism with the term “anti-Semite” as black people were with “racist” 20 years ago. I’m sure he scores points with those who argue that Jewish media executives are biased in favor of Israel, who say that films like Exodus, TV movies about Entebbe, Golda Meir, Sadat, the stream of documentaries, docudramas, and miniseries given over to “the final solution” are all part of a justification for Zionism; who were angry when Hollywood saluted Israel’s 30th anniversary with a television special, and cynically wondered if “those Hollywood Jews” would salute any other country’s birth.

I don’t know of any other country Hollywood has saluted, but a propaganda ploy by a few executives does not a conspiracy of six million Jewish Americans make. (You can hear them whispering into the phone at your nearest deli, “Hey, Murray, I just got word we’ll have another special coming up; spread the word in your block. But make sure no goyim are listening.”) If such a conspiracy exists, how has it allowed South Africa, Israel’s ally, to get such an overwhelming amount of bad press?

Of course, Israel’s relationship to South African complicates the question. For all its moral proclamations, the Israelis supply arms to Botha’s gang and refuse to cooperate with sanctions. This convinces certain quarters that Israel and its sympathizers support racial injustice and antidemocratic regimes, angering those who had a sense of international black struggle hammered into their minds by Malcolm X and his emulators. That sense of collective black effort was a sort of political evangelism, bent on saving the third world from white savagery and exploitation, a racial variation on international revolutionary Marxism. (It was this sense of foreign destiny that inspired the back-to-African movements, which eventually led to the founding of Liberia, Israel’s true forerunner—a country begun for free ex-slaves to the resentment of the 60 local tribes. One wonders how much Herzl and associates knew about Liberia and whether or not they were inspired by its example.) At present, however, it seems to put more emphasis on the interests of a foreign country than on the conditions of black Americans, a tendency I doubt we would see in the Jewish community if it had the same degree of social, educational, and economic problems that burden millions of Negroes.

But screwed-up priorities are nothing new to black politics, nor, unfortunately, are anti-Semitic attacks loosely using that most dangerous article of speech: “the.” Those three letters fan conspiracy theories and push us back to the 1960s, when LeRoi Jones brought a grotesque refinement to antiwhite sentiment by reading poetry that baited Jews on college campus after college campus, to the cheers of black students. Such tours probably had had more than a little to do with intensifying the Zionist fervor of many Jews who had been told to get out of civil rights organizations.

The failure of Jones, Karenga, and other black nationalists to realize their separatist dreams made for a jealousy that floats to the surface in the speeches of Louis Farrakhan, their heir. When Farrakhan makes references to Reagan “punking out” to the Jews or the Zionist lobby having “a stranglehold on the government of the United States,” he is projecting the kind of power he wants onto the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, commonly called the Zionist lobby. In his version, however, Farrakhan feels free to make threats on the lives of black reporters, politicians, and anyone else who criticizes him.

The envy of AIPAC’s influence reflects a nostalgia for the days when so much of the national dialogue was given over to the racial question and the quality of black life in the country was an issue at the front of the political bus. During those years, desegregation and racial double standards were the primary concerns. There was little room for anti-Jewish or anti-Zionist feeling, regardless of how deep they might have run in black nationalist circles. Now the judas goat of Jewish conspiracy is trotted out again as an explanation for the loss of concentrated attention on black problems.

Yet it would make more sense to emulate the efforts of activist Jews that have made AIPAC, as Paul Findley’s They Dare To Speak Out documents, such a force on Capitol Hill. Obviously, black leaders have failed to create a comparable force to lobby for the interests of Negro Americans. The nationalist rhetoric backfired and made black problems seem more those of a group in a self-segregated world than central to the country at large. As one black woman, infuriated by Farrakhan, said, “We should be putting our feet in the pants of these politicians. Get this dope out of here. Get these schools working. Clean up these neighborhoods. Do what we need done.” The Jews who work in Israel’s interest know the secret: hard work, fund-raising, monitoring voting patterns, petitioning, telephoning, writing to elected officials. It’s difficult and laborious work, but it can get results. As that angered black woman concluded, “We can get all this up off our backs if we want to do something besides listen to some fool who hates ham talk like he’s bad enough to exterminate somebody.”

But for all his muddled convolutions, Farrakhan’s vision isn’t small. He wants it all. The world. Who else would feel free to promise that he would tell the Muslims of the Middle East how they had distorted Islam? Who else would claim to be single-handedly raising a people from the death of ignorance and self-hatred?

Though Farrakhan’s address was supposed to reveal his economic program, his ideas about black-produced mouthwash, toothpaste, and sanitary napkins took up only 10 or 15 of his 180 minute montage of misconceptions. They were cheered now and again, as was almost everything he said. I doubt, however, that the black people there rising to their feet, screaming themselves hoarse, roaring as though he was scoring baskets as he bounced his ideas off their heads, followed his content. What clarity there was had little connection to a black American point of view. Though his look and his podium, style owe much to the black church, his ideas were dominated by a bent Islamic fundamentalism that might get him more money from Arabs. But whatever the underlying goals, Farrakhan’s cosmology has little chance of overthrowing the strong tradition of Negro culture, custom, and thought improvised in the “wilderness of North America,” as Elijah Muhammad might say. Few black people will ever believe that Farrakhan is so divinely significant that if the Jews try to touch him Allah will bring down the blood of the righteous on American and they will all be killed outright. As a guy sitting near my row pointed out, “Anybody who uses the first person pronoun as much as he does can’t be saying anything. If they were, they would just say it, not keep telling you how great the one who is about to say it is.”

But Farrakhan isn’t just your Garden-variety megalomaniac. “Louis Farrakhan,” said one woman editor who lives in Harlem, “is a creep. He is a fascist and has nothing to say. Whenever people try to defend him by saying he’s speaking out, I always wonder what the hell they mean. He has nothing to offer but half-truths, he tries to intimidate the black press into a cheering squad or a bunch of silent lampposts. His exterior is clean and neat, but his insides are dirty and his talk is pure sloppiness. How can educated people like him? It’s just laziness. All they want is to anger some white people, or pretend he’s angering them in any way serious enough to warrant the attention he’s getting. Nowadays if you try to bring up a serious topic in a lot of middle-class black circles, people want to change the subject and treat you like you’re causing trouble. This kind of thing is crazy.”

The real deal is that few intellectually sophisticated black people are ever seen on television discussing issues. Reporters seem to prefer men like Louis Farrakhan and Jesse Jackson over genuine thinkers and scholars. Farrakhan obviously reads little that gives him any substantive information, and Jackson admitted in his Playboy interview that he hates to read. As Playthell Benjamin, one of Harlem’s finest minds, says, “There is a ban on black intellectuals in the media. As the ’60s proved, if we were allowed back into the area of discussion, the nature of the social vision would be radically changed, from politics to art. There are all kinds of men like Maynard Jackson, David Levering Lewis, Albert Murray, and others who could bring this sophistry and nonsense to a halt. They could make the dialogue more sophisticated.” Benjamin is absolutely on the money. We rarely get to hear the ideas of black people who have spent many years studying and thinking and assessing their American experience and the policies of this country around the world.

By and large, those were not the kinds of people who came to hear Louis Farrakhan, roaring and cheering until the evening was finished off by an overripe Chaka Khan singing, strangely, a song called “Freedom,” a cappella and quite beautifully. Beyond the podium and not far from Farrakhan’s white limousine were the young women bodyguards, who had stood through the entire three-hour address, hardly moving and constantly scanning the crowd for assassins. They were hugging each other and crying, releasing the tension that had percolated through the long watch. Some were thanking Allah that their leader hadn’t been harmed. All of them were brown and their skin had a luxuriant smoothness, their eyes the clarity of those who don’t dissipate, and behind what I’m sure was experience in martial arts, was the same tenderness a man always notices when women feel deep affection.

Yet one image remained in the front of my mind: this light-skinned young man wearing a camouflage shirt and pants, brown fringe sewn across the shoulders, studded black leather covering his forearms. Whenever Farrakhan said something about “the Jews,” that young man screamed or shouted, pushing both fists into the air, frequently leaping to his feet. Near the end of the evening, when I had moved down toward the stage and was preparing to leave, I looked up and saw him once again. The front of his eight-inch-wide black belt bore a large Star of David formed in studs.


Goodwill Hunting

Let’s be honest here. You’ve been used to luxury bedroom furnishings from Pier 1 Imports, Ikea, Crate & Barrel, and the like, paid for by Mom and Dad. However, when you arrive at your new dorm home, you will almost instantly become aware of three things.

One, unless you’re an interior design major, you’ll have no idea how to decorate a space without Mom and Dad (or Trading Spaces). Two, you can’t decorate said space without Mom and Dad’s money. Three, and most importantly, you don’t have any of Mom and Dad’s money.

There, there, it’s OK. New York City is rife with thrift stores and flea markets filled with wonderful little knickknacks and stuff other people don’t want. This means that you lucky little frosh can pick up unique items for next to nothing. (You already know that Gustav Klimt posters and black lights are not unique, right?) It takes a while to sift through everything, but hidden treasures abound. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll only be watching Queer Eye for the fashion tips.

Apartment dwellers would do well to begin with the three-story Salvation Army Donation Center (436 West 46th Street), which has an entire floor dedicated to furniture and bedding. Another good starting point is Housing Works (143 West 17th Street), where a beautiful black love seat with pink and green zigzag stripes was recently priced at a mere $15. (Yes, I read the tag twice.) A teal love seat with a pink and turquoise paisley floral design was on sale for an only slightly more realistic $75. The Angel Street Thrift Shop down the block at 118 West 17th Street is undergoing renovations, but should reopen just in time for the start of the school year.

If you feel so inclined, head over to Brooklyn and check out the Care Partners Charity Thrift Shop, at 475 Atlantic Avenue. Although it is one of over a dozen stops for home furnishings on Atlantic, this may be the only one you can actually afford. (Sorry, but anyone who can spend $200 on one silk throw pillow needs to stop reading this right now.) Recently, the stock included a beautiful expandable cherry-wood dining room table for $195, and a selection of end tables ranging from $65 to $95. You could also find a lovely wooden reclining futon, complete with green cushion, for only $50, which certainly beats a beanbag chair any day. (You also know that beanbag chairs aren’t unique either, right?) The jewel of the lot, however, is a white three-piece sectional couch, which, at $100, would be a steal anywhere.

A 10-minute ride from the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Smith Street on the B61 bus will land you in Fort Greene, one of the few truly bohemian nabes left in the city. Walk a block up to Myrtle Avenue and check out Furniture and More, at 387 Myrtle. The place, frankly, resembles a hole in the wall, with myriad cardboard boxes of books and handmade tapes stacked on old wooden desks interrupting the flow of traffic outside. Don’t pass it by, though: There are some great deals here and at its sister store across the street at 388 Myrtle. A lovely black-and-gold two-pronged floor lamp was marked $20; a 78-inch periwinkle corduroy couch was an unbelievable $75. You can find kitschier fare at Thrifts Plus, at 668 Fulton Street, where hand-drawn prints of the Islanders winning the Stanley Cup go for $5 and a composite drawing of Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and Louis Farrakhan will set you back $25.

Even if you don’t find much for your dorm room, you can definitely find entertainment for yourself and your roomies at the 26th Street flea market, which

is really a series of markets between 24th and 27th streets and Sixth Avenue. Be sure to visit the lot on 25th between Broadway and Sixth, where you’ll find stack upon stack of CDs and clothing, jewelry, and a host of designer handbags of dubious authenticity. A recent foray unearthed several golden and jade statues of Buddha for $5; a pair of turquoise and gold elephant candleholders for $35; and a practically limitless array of African masks, statues, and drums. (Drums: one more thing for the R.A. to love about you.) You could also find some, um, saucier entertainment—porn DVDs are available for a paltry $6.

If you head over to Alphabet City, take a peek inside the M.H.C. Flea Market, on the corner of Avenue A and East 11th Street, where recent cool scores include a maple art deco shelf with cubbyholes to hold keys, CDs, floppy disks, pencils, lipsticks, small notebooks, and pretty much anything else you can think of ($40), and a vintage school desk with a wood top from the 1970s that can comfortably hold a laptop, dictionary, thesaurus, and Starbucks coffee thermos; you can tuck all your dreaded Norton Anthologies into the roomy inside ($5). That, fine frosh, is truly unique and cheap.


‘Farrakhan Jews’

It wasn’t long ago that Louis Farrakhan adamantly advocated that Jews, like whites, are ‘devils’ and partly responsible for the ills of the black community. Now the Nation of Islam leader, once perilously close to death, finds himself navigating an ever-changing course—from hatemonger to crafty politician—by consorting with some of Israel’s fiercest enemies, anti-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox Jews.

The banner head-line in the November 30 issue of The Final Call, the NOI’s official weekly, is perhaps the most shocking in the publication’s 20-year history. “JEWISH RABBIS & FARRAKHAN MEET,” it proclaims, adding, “Dialogue opened; Distinction made between Orthodox Judaism and Zionism.” Beneath the headline is a photo of Farrakhan flanked by seven bearded Hasidim in black felt hats and long dark coats. On a slow news day, the historic meeting might have been front page. But except for black Muslim readers and the handful of believers who dodged traffic near the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge hawking The Final Call and the ubiquitous bean pies, news about the largely symbolic step toward closer relations between Farrakhan and Jews have gone unnoticed in the mainstream media.

The November 9 meeting with the Jews at the NOI palace in Chicago’s Hyde Park was the first high-level contact between outsiders and the 66-year-old Farrakhan since a sabbatical the minister took, beginning in March. Farrakhan has been recuperating from the side effects of radiation treatments for prostate cancer. “We have believed all along that a day like this would come,” Final Call editor James Muhammad quoted Farrakhan as telling the Jewish delegation. “The Honorable Elijah Muhammad hinted to us in one of his writings that the problem between the Jewish community and us in the United States would be worked out. So we believe that this [meeting] is not accidental—this is a part of God’s divine planning for us.”

By the time his enemies got wind of it, Minister Farrakhan had pulled off another public-relations coup. For years, Jewish groups such as the powerful Anti-Defamation League (ADL) have dismissed Farrakhan’s offers to reconcile. His troubles with Jews are well-documented. The rift reached its apogee during Jesse Jackson’s 1984 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Farrakhan rallied to Jackson’s defense after Jackson made remarks many Jews considered anti-Semitic, including a derogatory reference to New York as “Hymie town.” Farrakhan was accused of labeling Judaism a “gutter religion” and praising Hitler. Jackson was at first reluctant to respond to calls to distance himself from Farrakhan but later repudiated the minister’s statements as “reprehensible and morally indefensible.”

Jewish leaders maintain that Farrakhan has refused their requests to soften his rhetoric and retract past, offensive statements. Farrakhan has insisted that he does not hate Jews and is willing to visit rabbis and to speak with Jewish scholars. That overture culminated with his meeting with the seven rabbis, who, like “Reagan Democrats,” are now being referred to as “Farrakhan Jews.”

So who are these brazen Hasidim who would defy the ADL’s ban on associating with members of the Nation of Islam? They are leaders of the ultra-Orthodox Neturei Karta, a Jerusalem-based group with a large following in Brooklyn. The group’s name stems from the Aramaic for “Guardians of the City,” a reference to a holy Jewish text that contends that scholars are the true defenders of Jerusalem.

When the state of Israel was formed in 1948, Neturei Karta printed its own money to avoid touching Israeli bills. Followers believe that the establishment of a secular state is heresy because a Jewish state can only be created when the Messiah arrives. The movement’s most hard-line members refuse to carry Israeli identification cards, recognize Israeli courts, or vote in elections. Ultra-Orthodox Jews have pelted non-Orthodox men and women with bags of excrement and rocks because they prayed together near Jerusalem’s Western Wall; they believe men and women must worship separately. In 1994, at a ceremony in Jericho marking the inauguration of Yasser Arafat’s self-rule government, members of Neturei Karta—who identified with the Palestinian cause by repeatedly going to East Jerusalem hospitals to visit Arabs wounded during the Intifada—embraced and kissed Arafat.

** Minister Farrakhan’s relations with this anti-Zionist strain of Judaism began to solidify after some of Neturei Karta’s leaders met secretly with his aides earlier this summer.

According to The Final Call, the deputation huddled first with NOI chief of staff Leonard F. Muhammad over the fate of 13 Iranian Jews accused by Tehran of spying for Israel. The 13—along with several Iranian Muslims also accused of espionage—face the death penalty. After the Iranian government rejected calls from around the world to spare them, Rabbi Moshe Beck of Neturei Karta petitioned Farrakhan, who has strong ties to some Middle East regimes, to intercede.

At the meeting, “the Jewish delegation appealed for whatever help the Nation of Islam could provide in seeking a resolution to the crisis,” the newspaper reported.

When the rabbis met again with Farrakhan on November 9, they presented him with a plaque that they said reflected how “representatives of Torah Jewry” feel about the minister. The Final Call noted that Rabbi David Weiss, a spokesman for the group, “regretted that some members of the Jewish community had attacked Min. Farrakhan and vilified his name in the media, and that the orthodox community should have spoken out against the attack.” Another rabbi, Chaim Fryman, described the meeting with Farrakhan as “a landmark that should have come about earlier.

“You should look at us as activists representing a universal opinion of Torah Jewry as it always was presented,” Fryman added. “We wanted to counteract the negative influence of the media and Zionist lobby.”

Farrakhan intimated that “the unfair and false attacks on him by members of the Jewish community were hurtful,” the newspaper stated. “But when you try your best to serve the one God, He insulates you from the insults, the maligning, the evil spoken words and attitudes of those who either purposely misrepresent the truth or in ignorance misrepresent the truth,” the minister said. Farrakhan reiterated that black Muslims display a profound respect for synagogues. “This is why no matter what we have suffered from the misrepresentation of the Zionist-controlled media, you have never heard of an incident where one of my followers ever attacked a person because of their faith tradition,” he told the rabbis.

Over the years, Farrakhan has come to differ with Jesse Jackson on the definition of Zionism. Jackson has praised Zionism as “a liberation movement . . . whose goal it is to affirm the identity for its people, to develop a homeland for its people, a place free of persecution, must be seen as that, and not all the negative connotations attached to it.” Based on The Final Call‘s interpretation of the minister’s remarks at the meeting, Farrakhan is closer to Neturei Karta’s view of Zionism. “The issue is the mistake in the notion that Judaism and Zionism are synonymous,” said Rabbi Fryman, who, according to The Final Call, attended Israeli-Palestinian peace conferences in Madrid and Washington, D.C., to “rebut the Zionist Prime Minister [of Israel] that he is the representative of the Jews.” Rabbi Fryman added: “I am overwhelmed by the terrible suffering and the crimes committed by the Zionist occupation and the settlers in the Holy Land, unspeakable crimes which the media are aware of.”

** Winning the freedom of the Iranian Jews accused of spying certainly would help Farrakhan’s image among American Jewry. But he might face opposition among some Orthodox Muslims, depending on their interpretation of a pastoral letter Farrakhan circulated to his followers at Saviour’s Day services in February. “I am deeply concerned that you do not go dressing, in a superficial manner, merely imitating our brothers and sisters in the East,” Farrakhan wrote in the February 27 missive. “I am deeply concerned that you do not fasten your minds so much on the Arabic language that you forget the Mission of the resurrection of the dead.”

Although couched in the doublespeak typical of Nation of Islam pronouncements, the letter is viewed by some insiders as Farrakhan’s latest attempt to rein in followers who may be gravitating toward Orthodox Islam. “I have attempted, over the last twelve or fourteen years, to forge links with the Muslim World without destroying the principles contained in the Teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, which I believe totally to be correct,” Farrakhan wrote, adding that he began to notice that “whenever the wisdom of one prophet or messenger is exhausted, then the people begin to cling to rituals.” Since announcing last year that he has cancer, Farrakhan has struggled to maintain unity within his Nation. Disgruntled members began defecting to Orthodox Muslim groups like the American Muslim Mission, once considered the Nation’s staunchest Islamic rival. Farrakhan has tried gingerly to woo back the so-called “Lost-Founds” while not appearing to discredit their new alliances.

“This Marvelous Book, Qur’an, was given to us by Allah, through Prophet Muhammad . . . who gave us a marvelous and noble example of how this Qur’an should be lived, but, beloved Muslims, that was fourteen hundred years ago,” he wrote. “We have had many, many great and profound Islamic Scholars since then. They have done their best to bring out of the Holy Qur’an the gems of knowledge that would make the Muslims better, stronger, more united and a great spiritual, political, economic force for change in the World. But, now our great World of Islam is fragmented. Not because Prophet Muhammad was incorrect; not because the Holy Qur’an is incorrect; not because the Sunnah is incorrect . . . what has happened is that our interpretation of the Qur’an has run out of its time to do the job that it did fourteen hundred years ago. We need a new and better understanding of the scriptures.”

Farrakhan urged his followers to “hold fast to the Teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and hold fast to what I am teaching of His Teachings, because it is as clear as day that He taught much and left much for us to study and develop more.” While remaining true to Elijah Muhammad, Farrakhan seemed to be trying to modify some of the patriarch’s racist philosophy. “I am not saying these things for vain purpose,” he declared. “I know why He said we are gods. I know why He said that the Caucasian is the devil. I know why He called us the original man. It is so much deeper than what we have understood of the past.”

Farrakhan challenged followers who refuse to accept new scholarship regarding Elijah Muhammad’s teachings. “If we are intellectual cowards and only want to repeat what we heard the Master say and not take into consideration the context in which He said what He said, the time in which He said it, and the forces that were present at the time He spoke it, then, we will stay in this level of comfortability in the past,” the minister declared. “We will not grow. We will not grow into a mature understanding of the Word of Allah.”

Indeed, Louis Farrakhan has matured over the years. Ironically, by meeting with extremist Jews and suggesting that it is the beginning of the end of a historic feud, Farrakhan may have inflamed tensions between himself and those secular Jewish leaders who further racial strife by continuing to isolate him.

Additional reporting: Danielle Douglas and wire services


In the Shadow of Death

Louis Farrakhan, the controversial leader of the Nation of Islam, who is suffering from prostate cancer, may be dying.
But it is not the cancer that is killing him, according
to members of the
Minister’s Ruling council.
Farrakhan, they charge,
was poisoned in an assassination attempt by
the U.S. government.

If Farrakhan, 65, dies— and it subsequently is determined that poisoning was not the cause of death— he would be the third prominent African American activist to succumb to prostate cancer in less than two years. Kwame Ture, the 1960s activist who popularized the phrase “Black Power,” died on November 15 in his adopted homeland of Guinea, in West Africa.

He was 57. Shortly before he died, Ture blamed his death on “an FBI-induced cancer.”

Ture’s death came on the heels of the passing of Eldridge Cleaver, the fiery former Black Panther information minister, whose prison book Soul on Ice became the seminal work of the Black Power movement. He was 62.

One of the country’s most visible African American leaders, Farrakhan has canceled all of his public appearances and faded from view as the Nation carries out an investigation into the alleged murder plot.

“The Minister says he knows who, he knows where, and he knows why; he just doesn’t know what [was used to] poison him,” says a Muslim insider with strong ties to the NOI’s National Board of Laborers, which was set up by Farrakhan to run the organization during his absence. The source demanded anonymity.

He described how, on a visit to New York City in January, Farrakhan rapidly turned from an energetic leader into a man who would fall asleep at any place and time of the day, could not focus his attention for more than a few seconds, and appeared to be totally withdrawn from reality.

Last Wednesday night, shortly after Farrakhan, under tight security, was spirited out of Chicago’s Hyde Park, where the NOI’s palace is located, the board issued an alert to regional leaders, informing them that Farrakhan would be “gone for four months,” the source says.

The Minister’s whereabouts have become the main topic of conversation among concerned followers. In Harlem, a Farrakhan loyalist told the Voice that Farrakhan has considered returning to Libya, where he was treated for prostate cancer last year by the personal physicians of Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy.

On February 26, after seven weeks out of public view, Farrakhan resurfaced at the NOI’s annual Saviours’ Day celebration in Chicago. His disappearance had been the talk of the Nation, prompting rumors that he was seriously ill with complications from radiation treatment for the cancer, and that he was dying.

Although he looked gaunt, Farrakhan gave the impression of being in excellent health, and in good form. “[T]hose of you who thought you would come out here to see a weak, fragile, decrepit Farrakhan, I want you to look at this,” said the tanned and nattily attired Farrakhan, gesturing and thumping his chest amid wild cheers. “I am here and I’m strong,” he declared, “and I will look down on all of my enemies for he [NOI late spiritual leader Elijah Muhammad] promised me . . . ‘I [will] make all your enemies your footstool.’ ”

While some speculated that an assassination attempt might have originated from within his own Nation, Farrakhan fingered the usual suspect. “And if you doubt that I am from God and God is with me, and in me,” he thundered, “then I say to the government of America, ‘Lose no stone; do everything you can to destroy me and watch my God, Allah, destroy you, and ALL of my enemies!”

Rumors of the murder plot and Farrakhan’s failing health heightened fears that an all-out power struggle— not seen since the breakup of the Nation of Islam following the death of Elijah Muhammad in 1975— would erupt between hard-liners and moderates in the event of Farrakhan’s death (see “The Pretenders”).

Although Farrakhan has advocated that the National Board of Laborers should run the Nation in his absence, that body would be led by a point man of his choosing. Some say that such a role should be bequeathed to the supreme captain of the Fruit of Islam, the Nation’s elite guard.

“If something should happen to the Minister, the person who immediately takes charge of the Nation of Islam— if it works right— is the supreme captain,” says a NOI constitutional scholar who asked not to be identified. Others predict that the supreme captain eventually would break with the board and seize power himself in “a bloody or bloodless” military-style coup.

A recent uproar in the FOI over the possible recruitment of whites into the black separatist theocracy triggered speculation that Farrakhan was about to lose power.

According to an insider, Farrakhan had called a special Laborers meeting in which he planned to announce that he was considering allowing whites to join the Nation, but also would decree that his black disciples must not marry their white brothers or sisters. Usually, when testing reaction to controversial shifts in policy, the supreme captain and his lieutenants would rally to the Minister’s side in a show of support.


“He couldn’t find any of them,” recalls the source. “He kept calling for them to join him on the stage.” After the supreme captain and his men eventually took up positions alongside their leader, Farrakhan lashed out at them, charging that he was surrounded by hypocrites.

“He got that kind of talk from the Messenger [Elijah Muhammad], who often said, ‘My ranks are honeycombed with hypocrites and disbelievers,’ ” the source says. “The Messenger would ask, ‘How can we make progress with hypocrites on the panel?’ And when he really got angry he would say, ‘Right out of my own family Allah has made enemies for me among my wives and among my children.’ ”

The insider says that Farrakhan repeatedly expressed similar outrage to demonstrate his displeasure with errant followers. “He would get angry and just go off,” the source says.

“Many times I heard him say, ‘I am surrounded by hypocrites! My enemies are everywhere! In my family, you wanna see me dead because you want to take over! You want my position!’ He would blast the Laborers and his own family every now and then.”

Since Farrakhan allegedly is known for invoking Elijah Muhammad’s tactics to ferret out political “hypocrites” within his inner circle, several former NOI members suspect that he might be feigning illness to determine who remains loyal to him. Farrakhan himself had told his followers stories about Elijah— who suffered from asthma and bronchitis— pretending to be near death to find out who was jockeying for position to replace him.

“He said on many occasions the Messenger would be lying there with his eyes closed, listening to different ones around him make plans,” says a former military adviser to Farrakhan. “Some would say that he was too weak to make decisions. Suddenly he would get better and the ones who were plotting to take his place would begin to play innocent and loyal again, not knowing that he had seen them in a way that they could never imagine.”

Farrakhan, according to the source, improved on his teacher’s art of deception to the extent that he sometimes emerged from his act looking emaciated. “You never knew when the Minister’s weight loss was due to illness,” the source says. “There were times when he would go on a 21-day fast and he would be under the supervision of the elder nutritionist. He would lose 20 or more pounds during those periods and rumors would start flying.”

Last month, in Chicago, Farrakhan, in an attempt to quell rumors that he had stepped down from the leadership of the Nation of Islam, seemed only to exacerbate fears among followers. The usually jovial, philosophical, and down-to-earth Farrakhan spoke of his absence in solemn tones.

“I have been ill now for . . . between six and seven weeks,” he told a rapt audience of 25,000 at the McCormick Place Convention Center.
“Although I am nearing 66 years of age, I have never been ill like this in my life. If it were, or is, a virus, several doctors that were working on me have not found that necessarily to be so. And if it is, it is an assumption.”

Farrakhan fell short of airing allegations that he was poisoned. “This illness took me down so fast that I lost nearly 20 pounds in less than two weeks,” he added, “and all the muscle mass that I have built in eight years of my weight training had turned to flab. This concerned me greatly. I had no appetite: night sweats, pain, bouts of insomnia. I was anemic, dehydrated, [suffering from] a loss of hemoglobin. But I thank Allah, the healer, for gradually returning my health and my strength back to me.”

On this occasion, Farrakhan publicly praised his doctors, Abdul Alim Muhammad and Gregory Muhammad “and the members of my family who care for me studiously and compassionately looked after me.”

On March 4, 1998, after returning from a grueling “World Friendship Tour III,” during which he had crisscrossed the U.S. and Africa, Farrakhan broke a long tradition of secrecy over the health of Nation leaders, and bared the details of his efforts to combat his cancer.

“Now, I’m gonna say something to you that I haven’t said publicly, but I am saying it now
. . . because I think we have gotten past it,” he told members of the media after a black leadership summit at the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building in Harlem. “You know Brother Farrakhan has been suffering from cancer and I learned that I had the prostate cancer in 1991. I fasted and I prayed, and I thought it went away. Then we discovered it coming back in 1993 or [’94] and I went to a very great doctor; had what they call the seed-implantation therapy, and took these hormones— the kinds of things that they do when you have prostate cancer.”


He said that in 1997 a blood test showed that “specific antigens [had risen] beyond the point that is normal.” Monthly follow-up blood tests indicated that the antigens had not dropped and Farrakhan grew worried.

After visiting 15 cities in the U.S., Farrakhan detoured to Washington, D.C., where, as he put it, “a great Greek doctor, along with my beautiful black doctors,” conducted a series of tests and biopsies and discovered the cancer had spread to the seminal vesicles.

“They really did a job and they put in me about 238 radiated seeds,” he recalled. After another “cutting-edge test,” Farrakhan was fitted with a radioactive isotope, which, he said, “attaches itself to these antigens” and “everywhere there is cancer [in your body] you just light up.”

The tests produced good and bad news. “Something lit up around the aorta, man, and my doctor was nervous, frightened,” Farrakhan said.

Undaunted, Farrakhan embarked on the African leg of his tour with Dr. Abdul Alim Muhammad, never dismissing the fact that he “would have to deal with this ugly fella, cancer, because it’s like death is in your body and you can’t play with it; it’s like a thief in your house with a gun in his hand.”

Despite his will to live, Farrakhan felt he would die in Africa.

He began to think about Kwame Ture’s own struggle with prostate cancer and how “one of the most marvelous human beings that we have” had “beaten the hell outta death” by continuing to travel, still advocating the Black Power ideology he had championed so forcefully during the 1960s. “Well, I got strength from him, you know, I said, ‘Hell, if I gotta go, I’m going out swinging,’ ” he reminisced.

What happened next in this modern-day allegory, as interpreted by Farrakhan, further convinced the devout Muslim that Allah had found a way to assure him that his life would be spared, at least on the Africa trip.

Upon arriving in the Republic of Mali, a mostly Islamic West African country, president Alpha Konare summoned Farrakhan and his delegation to his palace for dinner. Farrakhan said that Konare unexpectedly excused himself from the dinner table and returned with a bowl of kola nuts and a bleating white ram.

“This is the way we honor our great personalities who come to visit,” Farrakhan quoted the African leader as saying. “We give them kola nuts and . . . our prized ram.”

The ram was tied to a tree outside the guest house where Farrakhan was staying. “Every morning,” he recalled, “I would go and talk to my ram. It’s true. I have sheep at my li’l farm and I love my sheep; I will never eat them. Never. Never. Never,” he joked.

After meeting the next day with officials and other public figures, Farrakhan eagerly returned to his guest house to talk to the ram, “hold him, pet him, and [then] go to sleep.”

On the eve of his departure, a woman approached Farrakhan. “Minister Farrakhan, I’m going to slaughter the [ram],” he recalled her saying.

“No, you can’t slaughter the [ram],” Farrakhan pleaded. “Can’t you give it away to somebody?”

“Oh no,” the woman cautioned, “it was already given by the president to you. So [either] you slaughter the [ram] or you have to take it with you.”

“I can’t take the ram on this big chartered jet,” Farrakhan argued.

Reluctantly, the Minister released the ram. According to the ritual, “they’re supposed to slaughter it in your face, but my face [couldn’t] take it,” Farrakhan recalled.

“So they took my ram out of my sight and slaughtered it,” he added. “That afternoon, there was my ram on the table. And my wife and the delegation tore that ram up. I couldn’t eat one bit of that ram.”

As Farrakhan departed Mali, bearing gifts from government officials, he remarked that of all the gifts he had received the most cherished was “the gift of the life of my ram.” Farrakhan broke down crying.

“Big man crying over a ram,” he chuckled. “Supposed to be a tough guy, you know. But I began to think spiritually of Abraham and his son and how the son was willing to die if it pleases God,” Farrakhan explained. “I went to Africa thinking that it would be the last time that I would see Africa and maybe I didn’t have much longer to live. But I just wanted to be sure that we [African Americans] would be alright. And because I was willing to die, as it was in the story of Abraham and the ram, God at the last minute took Ishmael off the altar and placed the ram on the altar in his place.”


As the tears gushed out and cascaded down his face, Farrakhan told his Malian friends, “The ram died in my place that I might live to continue to do this work.”

Additional reporting by Karen Mahabir

The Pretenders

Several members of the Nation of Islam hierarchy are being rumored as possible successors to Minister Louis Farrakhan in the event of his demise. Among the front-runners are:

Mustapha Farrakhan, the minister’s son, who is assistant supreme captain of the Fruit of Islam. A former military adviser to Farrakhan says that Mustapha, a handsome, poker-faced soldier who shadows his father’s every move during lectures, “is ambitious enough” to aspire to the leadership. “Although he is the assistant supreme captain, the supreme captain really is his assistant,” the ex-adviser claims. “He does not have the depth of knowledge but he’s stood next to his father long enough,” the adviser adds. In a power struggle, Mustapha would command the support of the supreme captain, Abdul Sharrieff Muhammad, who is a loyal friend.

Donna Farrakhan, one of the minister’s daughters, who is the sister captain of the FOI.

Leonard F. Muhammad, the minister’s taciturn chief of staff and chair of the National Board of Laborers, who is married to Donna. Considered a diplomat and a conciliator, Leonard, according to one source, is “not the power-hungry type.”

Ishmael Muhammad, Farrakhan’s assistant minister at Mosque Maryam in Chicago, and the son of the late Elijah Muhammad. Some say that Ishmael is destined to fulfill Elijah’s prophecy that one day he would rise up to continue the work of his father. “Farrakhan has been grooming him,” a source says. “Even though people were angry, he just pushed him out there and he made him grow and grow and grow. People are saying, ‘This is a boy, he can’t counsel me.’ ”

Rasul Muhammad, Ishmael’s brother, who is the seventh regional minister, based in Miami, and the former head of Detroit’s prestigious Mosque Number 1. Some say the brothers don’t get along. (“You can feel the tension sometimes between Rasul and Ishmael,” a source says.) Rasul allegedly fell into disrepute after he shunned a number of black Muslim women he had been dating and took, as one insider put it, a “white-looking Mexican girl” as his wife. After black women in the mosque nearly revolted, Farrakhan reassigned Rasul to Miami.

Jabril Muhammad, the former Bernard Cushmere, is a trusted Farrakhan adviser, whom the minister credits with “removing the scales” from his eyes and guiding him back to Elijah Muhammad’s original teachings. Jabril writes a weekly column entitled “Farrakhan: The Traveler,” in The Final Call, the NOI’s newspaper. He is the author of several studies on Black Muslim prophecy, including The Jesus Book and This Is The One, which features a historical interview with Elijah.

When the Nation of Islam split following Elijah’s death, and Elijah’s son Wallace assumed control, Jabril reportedly threatened to expose Wallace as a hypocrite for denouncing his father as a racist. Jabril claimed that he had sensitive predictions about Wallace’s future based on interviews he’d conducted with the prophetic Elijah.

According to a popular Nation legend, shortly before Jabril and Silis Muhammad— who now heads a splinter group called the Lost-Found Nation of Islam— were to confront Wallace, Jabril was arrested on trumped-up charges in Arizona. “He didn’t get the chance to foil Wallace’s takeover,” a source says. To this day, Farrakhan’s followers still hold Wallace’s camp responsible. (Wallace has consistently refused to respond to these charges.)

Dr. Abdul Alim Muhammad, the NOI’s minister of health and one of Farrakhan’s personal physicians. Alim attracted national attention in the early ’90s for advocating Kemron, low-dosage alpha interferon, as a cure for AIDS.

Benjamin F. Muhammad, Farrakhan’s chief representative in New York— the former Ben Chavis, who was forced to resign from the NAACP in 1994 after he was charged with secretly diverting $250,000 of the organization’s funds to settle a sex-discrimination suit. Farrakhan came to Benjamin’s rescue, first appointing the Christian minister co-convener of the historic Million Youth March and later converting him to Islam. Benjamin has since become one of Farrakhan’s most trusted advisers. Not fully accepted within the Nation by some because they fear he may take the group mainstream, Benjamin has opened doors previously closed to the allegdly anti-Semitic Farrakhan. Although the cloud of scandal has not yet lifted from this militant former member of the Wilmington 10, Benjamin is considered a formidable potential successor to Farrakhan. — Peter Noel & Karen Mahabir


Bring Me The Head

In an upcoming biography of black power advocate Kwame Ture, Eric T. Muhammad claims that on his deathbed Ture confessed to knowing about a black separatist cult that slaughtered white men and filled whiskey bottles with their blood to avenge assassinations and brutal beatings of civil rights leaders during the 1960s.

Several of the sacrificial slayings, according to Muhammad— a researcher for the Nation of Islam’s The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews— occurred at the height of the civil rights struggle in Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina.

Ture died of prostate cancer last November at age 57 in his adopted homeland of Guinea, West Africa.

Revelation of the so-called “Black Belt Whiskey Murders” comes on the heels of the arrest last month in New Jersey of John Armstrong, a member of the black separatist cult Yahweh ben Yahweh. The group’s leader, Yahweh ben Yahweh, is serving an 18-year federal prison sentence in Florida for ordering the murders of 14 white vagrants and disobedient black disciples. He allegedly urged followers to “kill me a white devil and bring me an ear.” And authorities say the group is responsible for 25 deaths across the country since the 1980s.

An indictment in Essex County charges that Attilio Cicala, a homeless white man murdered 15 years ago in what appeared to be a street crime, was actually sacrificed by the cult, which believes blacks are the true Jews. Armstrong, who also uses the name Yokonon Israel, allegedly stabbed Cicala repeatedly in the chest and abdomen in the early morning on July 3, 1984, about a block from the group’s former Newark temple on South Orange Avenue a few days before ben Yahweh visited the city.

Armstrong’s arrest rekindled waning interest in the racial philosophy of Yahweh ben Yahweh and other black separatist groups, such as the Nation of Islam, the Lost-Found Nation of Islam, and the Black Israelites— all of which maintain a strong presence in New York City.

Long-dormant myths about vicious rapes, beheadings, bloodsucking, and other gruesome mutilations supposedly committed by these groups have been resuscitated in discussions among law-enforcement authorities here. Sources say NYPD brass are concerned about the populist appeal of black supremacist standard-bearers like Khallid Abdul Muhammad, who they claim entice young blacks to murder cops.

All remember the wave of random street killings that terrorized San Francisco in 1973. The “Zebra killers” struck without warning, murdering whites at night. Most victims were shot. One was raped, another beheaded. Four young black Muslims were arrested in 1974 and charged with 14 murders, seven assaults, one rape, and an attempted kidnapping. The Zebra killers were convicted in 1976.

In his unfinished biography (As Africa Is My Mother: From Stokely Carmichael to Kwame Ture), Eric Muhammad writes that Ture believed that the disappearance of several white sheriff’s deputies in Nashville at the dawn of the ’60s was linked to “a band of Nat Turner-type black youths.” These avengers emerged at the epicenter of the nonviolent civil rights movement and killed the deputies to send a message to die-hard segregationists. The murders were covered up by the FBI, which had embarked on a campaign to discredit the major civil rights and black power organizations, Ture told Muhammad.

The “black hit men of these racist assassins” allegedly were based in Lowndes County, Alabama. According to the myth, the young blacks, who agonized over how painful it was to watch white murderers go free, went on drinking binges prior to committing the murders. “Kwame said they got together shortly before midnight, drank several bottles of whiskey, then lined up the empty bottles on a wall,” says Muhammad, who is also a top aide to NOI leader Louis Farrakhan. “He said that if they drank 10 bottles that’s how many they would fill with white men’s blood.”

Ture reportedly told Muhammad the killings continued during the Freedom Rides, when blacks were beaten and imprisoned; after the murder of Medgar Evers in Mississippi in June 1963; the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham four months later that killed four black girls; the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965; the “Bloody Sunday” attack by Alabama state troopers at Selma that same year; and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968.

“All these atrocious attacks took a tremendous toll on these young Nat Turners,” Muhammad says. “They just couldn’t understand that every time they went to church on Sunday the preacher would tell them, ‘It’s gonna be all right, we shall overcome’ and by Monday morning that same church is dynamited and the preacher is threatened with a lynching. They had a real problem with that, according to Kwame.”

Muhammad says that Ture, who in the ’60s was the leader of a militant arm of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, “half-
believed” the stories about the “Whiskey Murders” but used them as weapons anyway in his psychological warfare against white supremacists and the FBI. “After these stories were told to him, he found a way to help propagandize them so that they could be palatable to blacks,” Muhammad says. “Ture wanted to encourage helpless blacks to make a stand against the white man’s aggression, to make blacks feel that they weren’t alone— that somebody out there was sensitive to their anger.”


The rumors of bloodthirsty black men on the prowl were intended as a warning to whites that beatings, lynchings, and assassinations of blacks would not go unanswered. “Kwame did not put out that call,” Muhammad emphasized. “Kwame analyzed the call for self-defense. Soon, white folks were telling other white folks about these young Nat Turners and how much they feared them. That’s the myth.”

Among the separatist groups that fought for black liberation in the ’60s and ’70s, none was more feared than Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam. J.B. Stoner, a leader of the Ku Klux Klan, called them “the meanest niggers in the world.”

Much of white America’s fear of the NOI was rooted in 14 tenets, which the black Muslims call “the Lessons.” One Lesson teaches NOI recruits that the white man is the “grafted devil” of a scientist named Yacub. In order to earn a trip to Paradise, the student must bring in the heads of four devils.

“Some brothers took the lessons literally,” says Khalid Lateef, a former member of the NOI and one of its most vociferous critics. “The Lessons use the terms devil and white interchangeably,” adds Lateef, who is now a member of the rival Society of Muslim Americans. “So in the area where it talks about bringing in the heads of devils, it doesn’t say white men; at that point it has already been established who the devil is, which is the white man.”

Almost every member of the NOI has heard tales about black Muslim brothers decapitating white men and presenting their heads as installments on their ticket to Paradise. The most fantastic is about a wannabe NOI member who strolled into the now-defunct Salaam Restaurant on 116th Street in Harlem with a garbage bag containing the heads of four white men. “He went to Captain Yusef Shah, showing him these heads,” according to Lateef.

He maintains that many NOI Muslims soon discovered that the Lessons were turning them into killers, and they went crazy. In the late 1980s, when Lateef was an Orthodox Muslim chaplain at a psychiatric facility for the criminally insane in New York, he tried to counsel former NOI members who had been institutionalized after attacking whites.

“One gentleman had attacked a Caucasian on the train with a knife,” Lateef recalls. “All he recited was the Lessons.”

Eric Muhammad confirms that some NOI believers did succumb to criminal behavior due to their misinterpretation of NOI teachings. He says that shortly after Elijah Muhammad’s death in 1975, which opened an ideological rift within the group, he embarked on a mission with Minister Louis Farrakhan to rein in the “Lost-Founds” and rebuild the NOI.

“Minister Farrakhan was on a campaign to keep violence from hampering the rebuilding effort,” Muhammad says. “It was a house divided,” he adds. “In some of the households of former followers we visited, the father was a follower of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, his wife was a follower of Wallace Mohammed [Elijah’s son, who denounced his father’s racist teachings and turned to Orthodox Islam], and their son was listening to Silis Muhammad [the leader of another faction, which advocated a return to Elijah’s teachings].”

Eric Muhammad remembers that in 1979 his field work on behalf of Farrakhan’s group led him to a psychiatric center in Alabama. “I saw a brother who had one half of his head shaved bald and the other half was in an Afro,” he says. “He was running around quoting the Lessons. I’ll never forget how he ran down the hall saying it was all that he had left. And when I went further into the institution, there was a floor full of people who claimed to be Muslims. Some were sitting down singing the Muslim fight song.”

Muhammad argues that although it would have been easy to dismiss them as crazy, few had been exposed to a world outside of the NOI. “They were educated in black Muslim universities, sold Muslim newspapers, worked in Muslim restaurants, and married Muslim women,” he says. “They worshiped the personality of Elijah Muhammad as opposed to his mission. After the Messenger left, it was a confusing time.”

During Farrakhan’s attempt to stamp out violence in his revived Nation, Houston prosecutors claimed that in 1982 he ordered two ministers, Khallid and Jabril Muhammad, to travel there to conduct a private investigation into the killing of Minister Raymond Wattlington. Watlington’s dismembered body was found in a Houston river. Prosecutors said the two ministers obtained recorded confessions from the people responsible for the slaying. (Khallid told the Voice he and Jabril appeared before a grand jury and took the fifth. No arrests were made.)


A year later, while Farrakhan was still solidifying his grasp on the NOI leadership, he delivered a speech about his plans to revamp the Fruit of Islam, the Nation’s elite guard, which he said had “looked upon [itself] as an army of killers.” Then, in what some viewed as a veiled message to Wattlington’s killers, he repudiated Muslim-on-Muslim violence. “And that’s why if you didn’t have no devil in front of you to kill, several of you turned on each other, threatening each other, jumping in each other’s chest,” Farrakhan said.

“Well, you say, ‘What about killing the devil?’ What about that? ‘Well, I just had my shotgun and my stuff and I was ready.’ No!” Farrakhan declared. “You go break that up. Many of the conflicts that were brought on the Nation, we brought them on ourselves by the ignorant way we handled the wisdom of God. . . . Our Lessons say, ‘Why does Muhammad and any Muslim murder the devil?’ Because he is 100 percent wicked and will not keep and obey the laws of Islam.’ But did you know that every time you save a Black man you have in that same act of salvation killed a devil?”

Farrakhan told his followers, “If you have these weapons, I am telling you I don’t need them. I’ve never asked people to come around me with weapons.” But in 1989, a Houston grand jury subpoenaed Farrakhan as part of its investigation into Minister Wattlington’s death, a move Farrakhan’s attorney dismissed as an attempt by the government to discredit and imprison an outspoken black leader.

In 1994, Lateef still was not convinced that Farrakhan had made it plain he would not tolerate violence against his own brothers or whites. In a letter to Farrakhan, Lateef warned that the minister was creating an environment for murder if he did not renounce the Lessons.

“I am certain that your violent language is influenced by the ‘Lessons’ ” he wrote. “You have threatened many of your fellow African Americans with violence in the past for statements or actions. . . . You have made statements to the effect that when you get power those African Americans that are found to be traitors . . . will be hung from tree limbs, tarred and feathered, have their heads cut off and rolled down the streets. . . . ”

There is no conclusive evidence to support the myth that blacks resorted to sacrifical murders to retaliate against white aggression during the civil rights era. And it’s even harder to believe these grisly murders and assaults could have occured on such a scale without law-enforcement authorities noticing. Certainly, white supremacists would have used such crimes as arguments for genocide. But their claims would have been as credible as the old libel that Jews killed Christian babies and used their blood to make Passover matzoh.

But like the legendary Wolfen, who snatched people without being noticed because they chose marginal types, it is possible that these modern-day Nat Turners selected their victims so that they would not be missed. In the case of Yahweh ben Yahweh— if the orders to kill whites are to be believed— he selected poor “white devils,” not the powerful ones who oppressed him. Rhetoric notwithstanding, the real sacrifical murders in this country have been perpetrated by white separatists, such as the four men in Jasper, Texas, who are accused of tying a black man by his ankles to the back of a pickup truck and dragging him until his head and a shoulder were torn off. That is not a myth.


Malcolm X vs. Khallid Abdul Muhammad

Peter Noel, my impressively resourceful colleague, quotes Al Sharpton in the August 25 Voice as revealing that Khallid Abdul Muhammad’s hero is Malcolm X.

I knew Malcolm X from the time he was recognized around much of the world as a spokesman for Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam. We spoke from time to time, disagreed from time to time, and became friends.

The last time I saw Malcolm was at radio station WBAI in New York. Louis Farrakhan, who had succeeded Malcolm as the tribune of the Nation of Islam, had been saying that a traitor to the Nation–that is, Malcolm–did not deserve to live. Malcolm, having exposed some of the Clinton-like sexual habits of Elijah Muhammad, had left the Nation in disgust.

I had never seen Malcolm show fear until that afternoon at the radio station. At first, we were joking about a writer we both knew who was masterful at getting bountiful advances from book publishers for manuscripts that were never heard from again.

But as we talked, Malcolm became solemn. His home in Queens had been firebombed. A few days before, he had checked into a hotel under an assumed name so that he could focus on writing an article with an immediate deadline. As soon as he came in the door, Malcolm told me, the phone rang, and a voice said, “Hello, Malcolm.”

As I left the radio station, Malcolm said that he did not expect to live much longer. He feared for his wife and children.

A while before, he had written me a postcard on the way back from his trip to Mecca–a journey every adult Muslim is expected to make at least once in his lifetime. He was very proud of that voyage. He said he was the first American-born black person to make the actual hajj (the pilgrimage).

Malcolm sent the message on the postcard to me and to other friends:

“In my recent travels into the African countries and others, I was impressed by the importance of having a working unity among all peoples, black as well as white.

“But the only way this is going to be brought about is that the black ones have to be in unity first.”

He didn’t have nearly enough time to work out specific organizing plans for the future before he was gunned down by black men whose own concept of unity required the termination of Malcolm.

After his death, a Voice reader told me about a lecture Malcolm had given at a college in New York State a year or so before he was killed. After the speech, the moderator was supposed to field the questions and then have Malcolm answer them.

A black student rose and attacked Jews–all Jews, from the beginning of time and those not yet born–with a viciousness that would have made Khallid Abdul Muhammad, a world-class anti-Semite, envious.

Malcolm X did not wait for the moderator to give him the floor. Malcolm jumped from his seat, grabbed the microphone, and with the icy anger his critics knew so well, said:

“What you’re doing is what has for so long been done to us. Bigotry doesn’t help anybody, including the bigot. Listen, I don’t judge a man because of the color of his skin. I don’t judge people because they’re white. I don’t judge you because you’re black. I judge you because of what you do and what you practice. I’m not against people because they’re Jews. I’m against racists.”

Khallid Abdul Muhammad has often described all Jews as “bloodsuckers.” And in July of this year, Khallid Abdul Muhammad charged that New York is a “Jewish-controlled city.”

Has Rudy Giuliani only been passing as Catholic all these years?

In her August 14 column in the Daily News, E. R. Shipp quoted a statement Malcolm made near the end of his life. His message is utterly alien to the Khallid Abdul Muhammad who claims Malcolm X as his hero:

“One of the first things I think young people should learn is how to see for yourself and listen for yourself and think for yourself. Then you can come to an intelligent conclusion for yourself.

“If you form the habit of going by what you hear others say about someone, or go by what others think about someone–instead of searching that thing out for yourself and seeing for yourself–you will be walking west when you think you’re going east, and you will be walking east when you think you’re going west.”

By contrast, there is Khallid Abdul Muhammad. On college campuses, he trumpets brutal stereotypes of Catholics, gays, lesbians, and, of course, “hooked-nose, so-called Jews with hairy hands” who dominate all the world, especially this country.

I have on tape a three-hour speech by Muhammad at Kean College, in New Jersey, that exceeds even Farrakhan in its incitement to hatred. His ferocious bigotry would be easy to parody except that it penetrates the minds and emotions of many black youngsters, on and off college campuses. Those verbal poisons are protected by the First Amendment, and they tell you a lot about the speaker.

What Khallid Abdul Muhammad stands for is utterly contemptuous of the kind of black unity that Malcolm X was trying to create at the time he was murdered at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem. His body was destroyed, but not his spirit.

There is now a Manichean struggle between the liberating clarity of Malcolm X and the destructive teachings of Khallid Abdul Muhammad. In his August 25 Voice piece, Peter Noel quotes a black analyst who prefers not to be identified:

“Khallid Muhammad is a personality, and movements are also built around personalities… Since Farrakhan has been moving his Nation of Islam more mainstream, the nationalist movement has no rallying figure of its own.

“Khallid has a definable image… He’s star quality.”

When the character and content of Malcolm X’s life will still be reverberating, Khallid Muhammad’s “star” will have long since faded into the dust of demagoguery.


Raising Elijah

In a move apparently aimed at wresting control of the black Muslim movement from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, a bitter rival of the minister has announced that the NOI’s late founder, Elijah Muhammad, has returned and will dethrone Farrakhan for disobeying his teachings and spiritual advice regarding a successor.

Muhammad, the group’s spiritual leader for over 40 years, died in 1975 at the age of 78. But Abass Rassoull, Muhammad’s national secretary, now a leader of the United Nation of Islam, maintains that Muhammad “will speak to and be reunited with his faithful followers” on October 26–the day after the Farrakhan-backed Million Woman March in Philadelphia and 10 days after the second anniversary of the Million Man March on Washington.

Early last month, Rassoull, whose splinter group has chapters in Maryland and Kansas, issued a call to “all Muslims and true believers” who converted to black Islam before Muhammad died to flock to the Regal Theater in Chicago on October 26 because Muhammad’s “promise to return has been fulfilled.”

“This is for real,” insists Rassoull, whose appeal for collective leadership of the Nation has been ignored by Farrakhan–by far the most popular black Muslim leader. Rassoull’s latest attempt to upstage Farrakhan is certain to intensify the often bellicose power struggle going on within the black separatist theocracy.

Farrakhan’s followers have long held that Elijah Muhammad did not die, but escaped a death plot, was restored to health, and–as Nation of Islam belief has it–is aboard “that huge wheel-like plane that is even now flying over our heads.” Among Muhammad’s passengers on the so-called “Mother Wheel” is the mysterious figure named W.D. Fard, a light-skinned man who Muhammad said came from the Middle East and told him he was Allah. Farrakhan’s followers believe that Muhammad is “the Last Messenger of Allah” and will soon return and lead them to redemption.

Muhammad left no designated successor, and for years officials within Farrakhan’s sect have rebuffed questions about who would succeed Farrakhan. But since 1992 Rassoull has been circulating “A Letter of Truth” claiming that in preparation for Muhammad’s return, Farrakhan was to cede leadership of his Nation to “Solomon,” a former long-distance truck driver under Muhammad who now heads the United Nation of Islam. Rassoull proclaims that Solomon is “Allah in Person,” and will be the one who will reunite the followers with Muhammad. (If Elijah Muhammad is “the Last Messenger of Allah, who came in the person”of W.D. Fard, then why does Solomon refer to himself as “Allah in Person”? Has Fard morphed into Solomon?)

The ongoing power struggle is rooted in the complex evolution of the NOI, as well as its complicated Bible code and theology of succession. According to Rassoull, Farrakhan had the role of reminding believers of Muhammad’s return to finish rebuilding the Nation by 2000. Farrakhan is supposed to be “the reminder,” he says, not “the rebuilder.”

Rassoull alleges that in the 19 years Farrakhan has been “sitting in the Messenger’s chair,” he “has changed many things” in defiance of Muhammad’s wishes. Farrakhan, he says, has been celebrating Muhammad’s birthday as “Saviour’s Day,” charging attendance at the ceremony, and encouraging disciples to address him with titles such as “Leader,” “Teacher,” “Apostle,” “‘Messiah,” and “Messenger” when “he knows that he is none of those.”

According to United Nation of Islam prophecy, upon Muhammad’s return, Farrakhan and Muhammad “will spend approximately one year together, away from the masses, in order for the Minister to be absolutely certain that the Person is indeed the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.”

“My mission, my purpose in life, is to make the Jesus known before he makes himself known,” said Farrakhan, who has not responded to an invitation from the United Nation of Islam to attend Muhammad’s homecoming.

Rassoull claims that on September 30, 1989, Muhammad “in His new form” appeared before Farrakhan at NOI headquarters in Chicago and tried to hold a discussion with Farrakhan. According to Rassoull, Farrakhan either failed to recognize or refused to accept that it was Muhammad. He was “properly relieved of the responsibility that accompanies the seat,” but allowed to remain as Muhammad’s national representative. Muhammad came back on two other occasions, but Farrakhan, Rassoull declares, “refused to accept what was shared with him.” He says Farrakhan was told of a third meeting, at which he was to turn over control of his Nation to Solomon.

Elijah Muhammad, born Elijah Poole on October 7, 1897, in Sandersville, Georgia, founded the Nation of Islam in 1934 after meeting W.D. Fard in Detroit. His Islam for black Americans preached separatism, and the superiority of blacks over whites. Fard disappeared a few years later, and for the next four decades, Muhammad, who said he was God’s prophet, rebuilt the sect into a major force in black America.

In its heyday, the Nation was one of the most feared and respected black groups. By the 1950s its notoriety caused J.B. Stoner, imperial wizard of the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, to complain, “Those Muslims are the meanest niggers in the world.”

Stoner, as well as the FBI, was concerned about the spread of black Islam and wanted to, in Stoner’s words, “put the Muslims out of business.” Instead of using “nigger FBI pimps” to stir up violence and blame it on the Muslims, Stoner suggested, in a 1959 letter to the New York City police commissioner, that he use “the White Christian methods that have worked so well in the South.” Stoner said he “would enjoy seeing Muhammad hanged from a Harlem lamp post.” In order to “put the niggers in their place,” to stop Muhammad from giving the commissioner’s job to “a nigger,” and installing “a nigger as mayor,” Stoner offered the services of 5000 of his Klansmen.

But Elijah Muhammad had no intentions of attempting to seize municipal power; he used the Klan as an example to further his own call for racial separatism.

Ten years later, the FBI, concerned about the “possible future direction” of the black Muslim movement, stepped up aspects of its Counter- intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) “through which the NOI could be discredited in the eyes of the general black populace or…factionalism among the leadership could be created.”

Four years earlier, the FBI had exploited Malcolm X’s feud with Muhammad over Muhammad’s fathering of numerous children by his secretaries and the controversy surrounding his rumored involvement in the assassination of Malcolm. After Malcolm’s death, FBI informants continued to disrupt meetings and spread rumors that Muhammad was stealing money from his followers. One FBI memo stated:

“The power struggle could well develop among members of the ‘Royal Family’ and could well involve some of the more prominent NOI ministers who could…entertain illusions of ‘ruling’ a segment of the NOI. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that any one of Muhammad’s more prominent ministers could make a power play on Muhammad’s death.”

After Muhammad’s death, the Nation split. Muhammad’s son Wallace declared that W.D. Fard was not Allah, rejected separatism, and moved toward orthodox Islam. He also decentralized the organization, which became known after 1980 as the American Muslim Mission. A divisive battle for Muhammad’s followers ensued. According to Abass Rassoull, “Of the millions of people who received their X under Muhammad, only 144,000 would be genetically coded to become the actual new rulers.” Rassoull wrote in his “Letter of Truth” that the 144,000 had to undergo a period of testing by a false prophet, which was to last for three and a half years after Elijah Muhammad’s departure.

“The tester was and continues to this day to be the false prophet, namely, Wallace Muhammad,” Rassoull wrote. “Some of the 144,000 [were] directed to remain with Wallace Muhammad as witness bearers against him in the last days.”

Farrakhan, who joined the Nation of Islam in the 1950s, and has admitted he played a major role in creating the atmosphere that led to the killing of Malcolm X, broke from Wallace in 1977 and organized a new Nation of Islam, which returned to preaching Elijah’s race-oriented philosophy.

But in the late 1980s, Farrakhan seemed to tone down his anti-Semitism. Farrakhan recommended to his now defrocked national spokesman Khallid Abdul Muhammad that he drop from his searing lectures words and phrases like “Jewniversity,” “Jew York,” and “Jewnited Nations.” In fact, Farrakhan pleaded with Khallid to stop calling the white man the devil or referring to him as a “no good bastard.”

Rassoull, no friend of Khallid, contends that Farrakhan has lost his mind, believing he has the white man under his control. “On October 28, 1992,” Rassoull wrote, “he told his followers that they didn’t know who he really was and that he had the power to punish this Devil whenever he wanted to. This clearly demonstrates to the wise that he has truly succumbed to illusions of grandeur….”

But seeing is believing, and skeptical Muslims either will succumb to illusions of grandeur on October 26 or become further disillusioned if Elijah Muhammad does not manifest himself.

“We who have met with The Honorable Elijah Muhammad bear witness that He did not lie,” Rassoull asserts in his recent appeal to black Muslims. “Those who have not met with The Honorable Elijah Muhammad shall be reunited with him and you shall see and hear him for yourselves, and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is the truth. His sheep would know His voice.”