Reference Entry

Farrakhan, Louis

Zachery R. Williams

in Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present: From the Age of Segregation to the Twenty-first Century

Published in print January 2009 | ISBN: 9780195167795
Farrakhan, Louis

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controversial Nation of Islam leader. Louis Eugene Walcott was born in the Bronx, New York. His mother, Sarah Mae Channing Clarke, of West Indian heritage, raised him and his brother Alvin in a deeply religious household. As a youth, Louis attended the local Episcopal church and served as an altar boy.The discipline he received early in his life contributed to his academic success at high school in Boston. There, he graduated with honors and began his love affair with the violin. At the age of thirteen, he acquired experience playing with the Boston College Orchestra and the Boston Civic Symphony. He attended Winston-Salem Teachers College in North Carolina for two years before leaving in order to pursue his musical interests. Subsequently he performed in Boston as a calypso singer.In 1955, at the age of twenty-two, Louis was recruited by Malcolm X to join the Nation of Islam (NOI), an indigenous American version of the Muslim faith. Louis solidified his commitment to the principles of the Nation upon meeting its leader, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad (1897–1975), at the Chicago headquarters. In 1964 Malcolm left the Nation amid a heated scandal that arose around Muhammad involving alleged sexual indiscretions. Farrakhan was caught between his two beloved mentors as a struggle ensued between them. Farrakhan later admitted that he contributed to the growing tensions within the Nation by speaking ill of Malcolm in the aftermath of his break with Muhammad. He and other members felt that Malcolm had betrayed the Nation. In February 1965 Malcolm X was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York.In May 1965, after Farrakhan had served the Nation for ten years, Elijah Muhammad recognized his student's faithful service by giving him a new name—Abdul Farrakhan. He was also appointed as the head of Harlem's Temple No. 7 (the position that Malcolm had held until his split with the Nation), and was named to be the national representative of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, with the responsibility of introducing him during the annual Savior's Day ceremonies.In 1975 the Nation experienced a severe schism in the leadership hierarchy of the organization. Prior to his death, Elijah Muhammad selected his son Wallace as the next head of the Nation of Islam, despite rumors that Farrakhan was being groomed to assume the position. In the aftermath of Muhammad's death, Wallace set out to redesign the Nation, especially adopting more mainstream orthodox Islamic teachings while discarding that of his father. By 1976 the Nation as it had been known was no longer in existence. It was renamed the World Community of Al-Islam in the West.In response to this, Farrakhan determined that he would rebuild the Nation of Islam, along the original structure designed by Elijah Muhammad. In 1977 he achieved this goal. In the revamped Nation, Farrakhan reestablished the teachings, philosophy, program, and organization of Elijah Muhammad. Speaking tours across the nation helped to galvanize the base of this renewed Nation. In 1979 he created a news organ, the Final Call, harkening back to earlier newspapers of the group, in order to distill the teachings of the Nation.Under Farrakhan's leadership, the Nation of Islam has gained increased respect, popularity, and support from a wide cross section of people of African descent. Further, the Nation has continued to catch the attention and ear of many of America's youth, especially members of the hip-hop generation. Hip-hop artists as diverse as Public Enemy and Ice Cube have incorporated the imagery and lessons of the Nation leader. He has admonished members of hip hop to become more responsible about their lyrics and has brokered peace deals among warring factions of the culture.Within the organization, Farrakhan has administered many progressive changes despite continued criticisms to the contrary. In addition to providing security for housing projects in embattled neighborhoods, the Nation has remained active in resolving gang disputes, establishing AIDS clinics in urban communities, and helping to curb violence in those same communities. Farrakhan has led efforts to allow women to become ministers and public leaders of the group. Also, under his leadership, members have been permitted to participate in electoral politics.Over the years, he has been both celebrated and vilified. Supporters have emphasized his messages of black empowerment and self-determination, while his many critics have concentrated on allegations of anti-Semitism attributed to him in remarks made during various public speeches. He has commented publicly on his relationship with Malcolm X and expressed regret at the circumstances of his assassination. Farrakhan achieved a peace with Malcolm's widow, Betty Shabazz, and the Shabazz family, following years of animosity.On 15 October 1995 Farrakhan spearheaded a massive demonstration in Washington, the Million Man March, where black men were urged to “atone” for their past and present failings. Ten years later on 16 October 2005, he followed up the success of the Million Man March with the Millions More Movement. Farrakhan hoped to develop what had been a very powerful march into a full-fledged social and political movement driving black America and the poor.He has served as an ambassador from black America to people of African descent around the world. His growing influence across the continent of Africa as well as among Muslim nations has increased with time. Farrakhan's speaking engagements have inspired millions, and he continues to represent a prophetic figure to many.In the early 1990s he began being treated for prostate cancer, and in 2006 he surrendered temporary control of the Nation in order to fully recover. In a stirring letter, he charged members of the Nation to prove to the United States and the world that it was built on more than the charisma of one man. He defined this period as a time of intense testing that would demonstrate the true character of the group. Farrakhan gave the keynote address at the 2007 Savior's Day titled “One Nation Under God” to a crowd of fifty thousand.

Reference Entry.  1126 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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