It’s time to give Minister Louis Farrakhan credit. When he issues a call for people to join him in the nation’s capital, Blacks show up. At least a million showed up for the Million Man March 20 years ago and at least two-thirds as many showed up for Saturday’s Justice or Else assembly on the National Mall.
Without a doubt, Farrakhan-led events in Washington, D.C. attract more people than marches called jointly by all of the other civil rights leaders. And whenever Minister Louis Farrakhan is involved in a major event, there is always a controversy about numbers. In his speech at the Million Man March, people were fascinated by his fascination with numerology.
In the aftermath of that event, the U.S Park Service made the ridiculous estimate that 400,000 people attended. But Boston University’s Center for Remote Sensing placed the figure between 655,000 to 1.1 million – more than twice as large as the 1963 March on Washington.
Farrakhan manages to be a magnet while withstanding withering attacks. Consider a few recent headlines:
* “Nation of Islam’s leader Louis Farrakhan: White People ‘deserve to die.'”
* “Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan: ‘We need to put the American flag down.'”
* “Cancelled: Charleston Wants No Part of Farrakhan’s ‘Justice or Else’ Movement.”
How is it that the most reviled Black man in America consistently attracts waves of people?
African Americans trust Minister Farrakhan. Even if strongly disagreeing with some of his views and the well-known antipathy between the Nation of Islam (NOI) leader and Jews, Blacks know that he won’t ever sell them out for personal gain or any other reason. They are smart enough to discern that which should be applied to their lives and that which should be ignored.
When Farrakhan suggested Saturday, for example, that Blacks should change their last name to throw off the yoke of White supremacy, many African Americans in the audience chuckled.
But they cheered when he said, “We have a purchasing power of over 1 trillion dollars but in our reckless and wasteful spending habits we have not been able to pool our resources in a collective manner to build institutions and create jobs for our people. By strategically engaging in economic withdrawal we can begin putting power behind our demands and build a new and better reality.”
For decades, many Blacks have admired their discipline but viewed the Nation of Islam as a small, Black supremacy group telling wild-eyed stories about UFOs and trips to and from outer space in spaceships.
More than any other NOI leader, Farrakhan has bridged the gulf between skeptical Christians and Nation of Islam followers, carefully repackaging his message to make it more palatable to non-Muslims.
He refers to God and Allah interchangeably and knows and quotes the Bible better than most Christians. Instead of ridiculing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as an integrationist, as he and others in the Nation of Islam have done in the past, Farrakhan now praises the slain civil rights leader, especially his call for economic empowerment.
Although women and men don’t sit together in NOI mosques, he is trying to show a greater sensitivity to and appreciation for the contributions of women.
“May I pause for a moment and say to women: Your language must change as to how you address yourselves,” he said Saturday. “You should never call another woman a ‘bitch. Get that word out of our language. No female is after a dog. Every female is after God.” Farrakhan continued, “Black men who like to use such words, pull it out of your tongue, before your tongue is pulled out of your head.”
Although his views have not changed towards Black politicians, he now befriends a few, including Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), who made arrangements for Farrakhan to hold Saturday’s rally at the foot of the capitol. But Farrakhan is better known for his scathing descriptions of Black lawmakers.
Referring to then-Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode in 1985 following a deadly confrontation between Goode and the revolutionary group MOVE, Farrakhan said: “I say, Black people, whenever you put a Black man in office and that Black man betrays the best interest of those of us who put him there, I say take him out.
“And if he doesn’t repent, brother and sister, men and women like this, we tar and feather them, we will hang them from the highest limb, we will chop off their heads and roll them down the streets, for the Black people of America are tired of Black leaders selling us out after we put them in office, working for our enemies, rather than working for ourselves.”
That’s the old Farrakhan. The new and improved one comes up with titles such as “Justice or Else,” and then let others worry about what the “else” means.
And like the McDonald’s commercial, Black people are declaring, “I’m lovin’ it.”
George E. Curry is President and CEO of George Curry Media, LLC. He is the former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA). He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at twitter.com/currygeorge, George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook, and Periscope. See previous columns at http://www.georgecurry.com/columns.