The Untold Truth Of Louis Farrakhan

There might not be a more controversial or divisive figure in the activist community than the leader of the Nation of Islam, Minister Louis Farrakhan. For example, though he influenced modern-day activists Carmen Perez, Tamika D. Mallory, and Linda Sarsour, who would go on to lead the Women's March in 2017 (via The Atlantic), their connection with Farrakhan and rumors of anti-semitism eventually led Sarsour, Mallory, and Bob Bland to leave the Women's March Board before the 2019 Women's March (via ABC News). His views were hardly new, though. The Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center view Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam (NOI) as anti-semitic, anti-white, homophobic, and misogynist based on their ideologies and statements made throughout the decades. 

At the same time, when Farrakhan gave an address on July 4th in 2020, in attendance were several Black celebrities, including former NBA champion and activist Stephen Jackson (per Forward). Farrakhan has criticized the United States government in a conspiracy theory for pushing AIDS into the African American community and has also established AIDS clinics to combat the crisis in Washington D.C., as told by Britannica

This probably best describes Louis Farrakhan: In one breath, he will preach conspiracy and unproven theories, many times with other groups like the LGBT community and Jewish community being unjustly blamed, and in the next breath, he will lead community empowerment projects in African American, Muslim, Native American and many other communities. This duality has followed him for over half a century.

Louis Farrakhan was a musician before joining the Nation of Islam

Long before he was Louis Farrakhan the devil or Louis Farrakhan the saint, Louis Eugene Walcott was born on May 11, 1933, in the Bronx, New York (per Britannica). His mother, Sarah Mae Manning, immigrated from St. Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean and eventually moved her family to Boston. The young Louis Walcott excelled in school, graduating with honors from Boston English High School where he also ran track and played violin. He was a deeply religious Christian while growing up. 

Farrakhan attended Winston-Salem Teachers College from 1951 to 1953 before dropping out to become a professional musician and to start a family. According to The History Makers, in 1953, he married his wife, Khadijah Farrakhan (then named Betty Ross). During his time as a musician, Farrakhan went by the stage name, "The Charmer" and "Calypso Gene" and toured the Boston nightclub circuit performing country and calypso songs. He grew so popular in his city, he even rivaled musician Harry Belafonte, who is credited for popularizing the Caribbean music genre in the United States (via The Washington Post).

In 1955, Louis Walcott joined the Nation of Islam. As a tradition in the NOI, he removed his last name and replaced it with the letter 'X' to symbolize the removal of his family name given to him by white slave owners. Louis X would occasionally work as a musician, though his songs became explicitly political for the NOI and its ideology.

Malcolm X mentored Louis Farrakhan

The newly named Louis X was sent to Harlem to prove himself under the minister of Temple No. 7 (per Britannica). Louis' mentor so happened to be the most prominent member of the Nation of Islam — even more than the founder and leader of the NOI, Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm X was the National Representative of the entire organization. Malcolm would mentor Louis X until he had proved himself worthy of leading his temple, this one in Boston. That temple, like many others, was established thanks to the popularity of Malcolm X (via Biography).

Malcolm X is credited for growing the NOI from around 400 members in 1952 to over 40,000 by 1960. Farrakhan credits Malcolm for being his mentor in an interview with Sway (via YouTube).

"Brother Malcolm was my mentor. I never met a more disciplined man. I was very fortunate to have him as my teacher," Farrakhan said. 

This admiration would not last. In 1964, Malcolm X publicly broke with the NOI in large part because of his discovery that the organization's leader and his own teacher, Elijah Muhammad, had violated his teachings and fathered children with multiple women. Farrakhan would take Malcolm's spot as the leader of the Harlem Temple, the National Representative, and the right-hand man to Muhammad. He, with the rest of the NOI, would lambast Malcolm, going so far as to say he was "worthy of death," The Washington Post reported. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X would be assassinated while speaking in Harlem.

Louis Farrakhan Becomes the Leader of the Nation of Islam

With Malcolm X no longer around, Louis X became the most recognized minister in the Nation of Islam and its most probable successor. During this period, Elijah Muhammad bestowed upon his new National Representative his current name, Louis Abdul Farrakhan (via CNN). Over the next decade, Farrakhan would work in the Harlem community, as well as throughout the NOI, as told by The History Makers. While in Harlem, Farrakhan coordinated the building of temples, schools, rehabilitation programs, and business, as well as established a radio ministry at Elijah Muhammad's request (per Final Call).

In 1975, Elijah Muhammad passed away, leaving a void in the NOI's leadership and future. While Farrakhan was seen as the minister at the right hand of Elijah Muhammad, Muhammad's son, Wallace Muhammad (now known as Warith Deen Muhammad) was selected as the new leader, according to Britannica. Despite being his son, Warith Deen rejected much of his father's Islamic teachings and sought to move the NOI from its radical form of Islam to a traditional Sunni Islam and changed the name of the organization to "World Community of al-Islam." This change led Farrakhan and many other members to separate from Muhammad and reform the traditional NOI.

In 1978, Farrakhan assumed leadership of the new Nation of Islam. Three years later, after traveling around the country and world to build relationships and study other groups, the first Savior's Day established the "second resurrection" of the NOI.

Louis Farrakhan's Contentious Relationship with the Jewish Community

In the 1980s, Louis Farrakhan sought to work with other organizations and even the United States government. According to CNN, Farrakhan was a delegation with Rev. Jesse Jackson to help free U.S. Navy pilot Robert O. Goodman. During Jackson's run at the White House in 1984, Farrakhan provided the presidential candidate with volunteers and security. However, Farrakhan withdrew his support after being criticized by Jewish groups for using part of a speech to compliment German dictator Adolf Hitler (via Britannica).

The first iteration of the NOI and the Jewish community was in no way allies. With Farrakhan in the public light and continuing classic NOI teachings, his comments against Judaism garnered more eyeballs and critics in the public. The Anti-Defamation League has tracked down an exhaustive list anti-Jewish quotes from Farrakhan over the past 30 years, yet Farrakhan has always denied being anti-Semitic and has even attempted to reach out to the Jewish community, speaking at a synagogue in Jamaica in 2002 (via the Jamaican Gleaner).

Those efforts have done little to improve his image in the U.S. and many Jewish communities. Eventually, in 2019, Farrakhan was banned from Facebook and Instagram, (via CNN).

Farrakhan's Standing in the African American Community

While many people and communities view Minister Farrakhan as a fiend, other communities and organizations have a very different view of the Nation of Islam leader. His most well-known act came in 1995 when he led up to 1.1 million individuals in the famed Million Man March, which sought to promote African American unity and family values (via Britannica). During the 1980s and '90s, Farrakhan and the NOI launched the "Stop the Killing" initiative to end gang violence around the country, per Moguldom.

According to NBC News, Farrakhan was given a standing ovation when he spoke to the Navajo Nation Council in 2006. Today, the Nation of Islam's membership ranges between 10,000 and 50,000 individuals, with branches in London, Ghana, Paris, and the Caribbean Islands. In 2000, he met with Warith Deen Muhammad and the two recognized each other as Muslims. He has pushed to move the NOI closer to traditional Sunni Islam. Minister Farrakhan has also has reached out to Malcolm X's family. In 2000, he spoke to his teacher's eldest daughter, Attallah Shabazz, on "60 Minutes" (via The Washington Post) and acknowledged that his rhetoric contributed to her father's death.

Farrakhan has dealt with recurring cancers since 1999, but various treatments have kept him alive, according to abcnews. A 2018 Rasmussen Poll (via Final Call) found that around 21% of US voters have a somewhat favorable view of  Farrakhan. Down racial lines, black voters supporter Farrakhan 50% to 42% against white voters who largely have an unfavorable view, 12% to 57%.