American religious leader
Alternate titles: Louis Abdul Farrakhan, Louis Eugene Walcott
By Lawrence A. Mamiya Last Updated: Nov 2, 2022 born May 11,
1933 (age 89) New York City New York Role In: Million Man March
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Louis Farrakhan, in full Louis Abdul Farrakhan, original name
Louis Eugene Walcott, (born May 11, 1933, Bronx, New York, New
York, U.S.), leader (from 1978) of the Nation of Islam, an African
American movement that combined elements of Islam with Black
Walcott, as he was then known, was raised in Boston by his mother,
Sarah Mae Manning, an immigrant from St. Kitts and Nevis. Deeply
religious as a boy, he became active in the St. Cyprian's Episcopal
Church in his Roxbury neighbourhood. He graduated with honours
from the prestigious Boston English High School, where he also
played the violin and was a member of the track team. He attended
the Winston-Salem Teachers College from 1951 to 1953 but dropped
out to pursue a career in music. Known as "The Charmer,"
he performed professionally on the Boston nightclub circuit as
a singer of calypso and country songs. In 1953 he married Khadijah,
with whom he would have nine children.
In 1955 Walcott joined the Nation of Islam. Following the custom
of the Nation, he replaced his surname with an "X,"
a custom among Nation of Islam followers who considered their
family names to have originated with white slaveholders. Louis
X first proved himself at Temple No. 7 in Harlem, where he emerged
as the protégé of Malcolm X, the minister of the
temple and one of the most prominent members of the Nation of
Islam. Louis X was given his Muslim name, Abdul Haleem Farrakhan,
by Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam. Farrakhan
was appointed head minister of Boston Temple No. 11, which Malcolm
had established earlier.
After Malcolm X's break with the Nation in 1964 over political
and personal differences with Elijah Muhammad, Farrakhan replaced
Malcolm as head minister of Harlem's Temple No. 7 and as the
National Representative of the Nation, the second in command
of the organization. Like his predecessor, Farrakhan was a dynamic,
charismatic leader and a powerful speaker with the ability to
appeal to the African American masses.
When Elijah Muhammad died in February 1975, the Nation of Islam
fragmented. Surprisingly, the Nation's leadership chose Wallace
Muhammad (now known as Warith Deen Mohammed), the fifth of Elijah's
six sons, as the new Supreme Minister. Disappointed that he was
not named Elijah's successor, Farrakhan led a breakaway group
in 1978, which he also called the Nation of Islam and which preserved
the original teachings of Elijah Muhammad. Farrakhan disagreed
with Wallace Muhammad's attempts to move the Nation to orthodox
Sunni Islam and to rid it of Elijah Muhammad's radical Black
nationalism and separatist teachings, which stressed the inherent
wickedness of whites.
Farrakhan became known to the American public through a series
of controversies that began during the 1984 presidential campaign
of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, whom Farrakhan supported. Farrakhan
withdrew his support after Jewish voters protested his praise
of Adolf Hitler, and he has been embroiled in a continuing conflict
with the American Jewish community because of his making allegedly
anti-Semitic statements; Farrakhan has denied being anti-Semitic.
In later speeches he blamed the U.S. government for what he claimed
was a conspiracy to destroy Black people with AIDS and addictive
In 1995 the Nation sponsored the Million Man March in Washington,
D.C., to promote African American unity and family values. Estimates
of the number of marchers, most of whom were men, ranged from
400,000 to nearly 1.1 million, making it, at the time, the largest
gathering of its kind in American history. Under Farrakhan's
leadership, the Nation of Islam established a clinic for AIDS
patients in Washington, D.C., and helped to force drug dealers
out of public housing projects and private apartment buildings
in the city. It also worked with gang members in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, the Nation continued to promote social reform in African
American communities in accordance with its traditional goals
of self-reliance and economic independence.
In the early 21st century, the core membership of Farrakhan's
Nation of Islam was estimated at between 10,000 and 50,000-though
in the same period Farrakhan was delivering speeches in large
cities across the United States that regularly attracted crowds
of more than 30,000. Under Farrakhan's leadership, the Nation
was one of the fastest growing of the various Muslim movements
in the country. Foreign branches of the Nation were formed in
Ghana, London, Paris, and the Caribbean islands. In order to
strengthen the international influence of the Nation, Farrakhan
established relations with Muslim countries, and in the late
1980s he cultivated a relationship with the Libyan dictator Muammar
al-Qaddafi. After a near-death experience in 2000 resulting from
complications from prostate cancer (he was diagnosed with cancer
in 1991), Farrakhan toned down his racial rhetoric and attempted
to strengthen relations with other minority communities, including
Native Americans, Hispanics, and Asians. Farrakhan also moved
his group closer to orthodox Sunni Islam in 2000, when he and
Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, the leading American orthodox Muslim,
recognized each other as fellow Muslims.
In 2010 he publicly embraced Dianetics, a practice of Scientology.
Farrakhan also said that he wanted all Nation of Islam members
to become "auditors," practitioners of Scientology's
one-on-one counseling process that is meant to facilitate individuals'
handling of their "engrams," which, according to the
practices of Scientology, are mental images of past experiences
that produce negative emotional effects in one's life. In 2015
he led a march in Washington, D.C., to mark the 20th anniversary
of the Million Man March.
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