Soundtrack: Public Enemy “Don’t Believe The Hype”
Let me start by saying why I care about this subject. The Nation of Islam saved my life. When I was in the streets, in the 90’s, it was Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam that gave me a way to turn my life around. I care very much about today’s youth and future generations getting the opportunity to be touched by the Nation of Islam in the same way. The last twenty years have seen a steep drop in the Nation of Islam’s visibility and level of influence in the streets and among the youth. I want us to examine why that is the case.
To properly put the Nation of Islam’s current position in context, we have to go back 40 years, to 1975. In that year the
Nation of Islam was destroyed. The FBI’s attacks on Black Nationalist groups had succeeded in getting rid of the
organization. A January 7, 1969 FBI internal memorandum, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, stated:
“Although the Nation of Islam (NOI) does not presently advocate violence by its members, the group does preach hatred of the white race and racial separatism. The membership of the NOI is organized and poses a real racial threat. The NOI is responsible for the largest black nationalist newspaper, which has been used by other black extremists.
The NOI appears to be the personal fiefdom of Elijah Muhammad. When he dies a power struggle can be expected and the NOI could change direction. We should be prepared for this eventuality. We should plan how to change the philosophy of the NOI to one of the strictly religious and self-improvement orientation, deleting the race hatred and separate nationhood aspects.
In this connection Chicago should consider what counterintelligence action might be needed now or at the time of Elijah Muhammad’s death to bring about such a change in NOI philosophy. Important considerations should include the identity, strengths, and weaknesses, of any contenders for NOI leadership. What are the positions of our [BUREAU DELETION] informants in regard to leadership? How could potential leaders be turned or neutralized?
The alternative to changing the philosophy of the NOI is the destruction of the organization. This might be accomplished through generating factionalism among the contenders for Elijah Muhammad’s leadership or through legal action in probate court on his death. Chicago should consider the question of how to generate the factionalism necessary to destroy the NOI by splitting into several groups. [BUREAU DELETION]”
With Elijah Muhammad no longer running the show, his son Warith Deen Mohammed took over and made the group one that sought the approval of the white world and the Arab world. That is until September 1977 when the man who had been the group’s national spokesman, Louis Farrakhan, decided to rebuild the work of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
Now we have to look at the psychology of the two opposing groups here. We have the United States government Intelligence and National Security apparatus working to achieve the aims of the 1% (the super rich). They don’t wanna see any shift in wealth distribution or power distribution in this country. That is clearly the Nation of Islam’s aim. They have already succeeded in getting rid of this group. Now they see a man rising up to attempt to undo what they have done. Of course, they don’t want to see him succeed.
On the other side you have Farrakhan who in 1977 is motivated solely by love for Elijah Muhammad and love for his people. He believes that his teacher is dead, which shifts some of his thinking about what had motivated his work pre-1975. It was and is the position of the Nation of Islam that Elijah Muhammad was taught by God Himself and charged with leading the mental resurrection of Black people in America and warning of the destruction of the old world order. 1977 Farrakhan still believes that his people must be resurrected and the program of Elijah Muhammad is the best way to do it, so he commits to rebuilding Elijah Muhammad’s work.
Consider the audacity of this man Farrakhan to even attempt to rebuild this thing. An organization that had all this real estate and bakeries and schools and printing press and trucking system and bringing fish in internationally and so on. Almost everyone has either gone with Warith Deen or walked away from Islam altogether. He and a handful of other people are gonna rebuild this enormous organization. He either really believes in his God or in himself or a combination of the two.
Also at this time the people are becoming aware of exactly how far the government had gone with its Counter Intelligence Program (CoIntelPro). The info has become public so he knows of a surety that the weight of the whole US government can and will be brought against him in attempting to rebuild what they have already torn down.
So now the stage is set. Farrakhan spends 1978 and 1979 doing a large amount of paid speaking engagements, largely at
universities, raising the money to get his organization off the ground. He is talking to some of the old ministers about
joining him to rebuild. He has Muslim stalwarts like Tynnetta and her sons, Jabril, Khallid, Abdul Allah, Akbar. In 1980 he has attracted enough old followers back and got enough new ones to announce the 1981 Saviours’ Day celebration (the Nation of Islam’s annual convention honoring its founder). Jabril has convinced him that Elijah Muhammad is alive (if you don’t know about that, another subject for another time). Now his self concept has changed. He isn’t just a man acting out of love for his teacher. He is the fulfillment of prophecy. It was destined for him to step into the role of Paul to Elijah’s Jesus. It is his job to let the world know that Elijah is alive and that Elijah was the Messiah and to finish Elijah’s work of resurrection.
Now it’s ’83 and ’84. He’s helping Jesse Jackson campaign for the Democratic Party nomination for president. Jesse slips up and makes the hymietown remark. Now the white community is moving against Jesse but especially the Jews. Farrakhan goes into war mode, warning them not to touch Jesse, and speaking on their hypocrisy and their dirty religion. Now the sights are set on him.
Once Jesse turns away from him then he is able to focus his attention completely on Elijah’s program. A black man named Al Wellington out of Philadelphia was promoting this idea to tap into the huge amount of money spent by the Black community on beauty and hygiene products. Farrakhan became the face and the spokesman of this idea. The plan was to use underutilized Black-owned manufacturing plants to produce a line of beauty and hygiene products and establish a home delivery system where Black households order products every month directly from a catalogue. Farrakhan secured a $5 million loan from Colonel Muammar Qaddafi to get the program off the ground in February 1985. The program is called POWER (People Organized and Working for Economic Rebirth) and the product line is called Clean n Fresh. Now things are really heating up. Again the 1%’s main objective is to prevent any change in the economic status quo. You got this man Farrakhan who is speaking to thousands of poor people at a time and is now threatening to turn their attention completely toward economic self-sufficiency. It’s crunch time.
They go to work seeking to assassinate Farrakhan’s character, at the very least. And they are simultaneously working to
destroy the program he is building. Farrakhan and Wellington had negotiated for a Black-owned bank to house the seed money for the program. The Johnson Products company was to serve as the primary manufacturer. The Johnson Publishing Company, owners of Ebony and Jet magazine, were to provide advertising space for the program. And before things could get going, all of that dissolved. Pressure applied from the Jewish community made everyone afraid to stand next to Farrakhan.
The POWER program is now seriously crippled because the Nation isn’t big enough to push this thing all on its own just going door to door. Though they attempt to do just that. And also it becomes a top national security concern to kill Muammar Qaddafi. In the summer of 1985 the Reagan Administration plans his assassination. On February 5, 1986 Farrakhan participated in a press conference, organized by Kwame Ture, with the theme of HANDS OFF LIBYA. Later that night he embarked on a world tour starting in the Caribbean and then moving on to Africa. The Africa portion of the tour was cut short as he realized that a war was being planned against Libya, and he went to Libya to warn Muammar Qaddafi and the Libyan people.
The realization of these war plans came from him reflecting on a vision that he had on September 17, 1985. Again, that’s another subject for another time. Then he spends a few years focused internally on the Nation of Islam. He is teaching like
no one has ever taught before in Black America and his ministers are working to grow the mosques and build new ones. Then around 1988 a new phenomenon starts.
Rappers are causing people to want to join the Nation of Islam. After Elijah was gone, the only people really talking about
Elijah’s teachings were the Five Percenters. They were gaining tremendous amounts of influence over youth culture throughout the Northeast but especially New York and New Jersey. When Hip Hop came out of this area, those youth started speaking the language of the 5%. And Farrakhan was their hero because he was the only national leader who spoke their language. Farrakhan and his young national spokesman named Khallid. The rappers started putting Farrakhan and Khallid in their songs and videos and all of a sudden a whole lot of children born somewhere around 1970 were joining the NOI (Nation of Islam) with youthful exuberance and a love for the teachings (of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad) instilled in them by Hip Hop.
In 1989 Farrakhan gives the announcement that the war in Libya was a sign of a war against him and Black America, especially Black youth. And that war was very real as we discussed in our writing about Hip Hop. Based on his insight from this vision, in 1989 he starts his Stop the Killing Tour (immediately after announcing his expanded understanding of his vision). In December 1993, he starts his Let Us Make Man tour, speaking to audiences of men only. Thousands upon thousands of people filling up arenas all over this country to hear him speak.
Also in 1993 the FBI tries to take advantage of the popularity of Spike Lee’s movie X to fan the flames of hatred for Farrakhan in Malcolm’s children and get Malcolm’s daughter Qubilah to work with a guy to kill Farrakhan. Ultimately, that plan fails.
In 1994, the Let Us Make Man tour turns into plans for a Million Man March. Now let’s look at the two opposing sides.
The 1%’s biggest fear is for the millions of angry black youth to get linked up with a charismatic black nationalist leader
who can turn all that anger and potential for violence against them. From that perspective this possibility of a Million Man
March is especially troublesome. In February 1995, Farrakhan gives a speech called Jesus Saves in which he mentions the
members of the 1% by name and puts the focus of “ENEMY” clearly on them. Then he goes around the country building up
support for the Million Man March.
October comes and the 1% and government are scared as s*@t. They shut down the government that day. President Clinton gave some excuse about why he had to leave town. The military was waiting in the tunnels for a war. And 2 million men showed up in response to Farrakhan’s call. And we were the most peaceful and loving group of Black men that any of us had ever seen. And we were down to do WHATEVER Farrakhan would’ve asked of us.
The 1% has been doing everything they possibly can to get rid of this man. Slander, attempted murder, attempting to neutralize his power base among the youth and hip hop. Nothing has worked. He keeps coming and getting more powerful. Now he has this army standing in front of him on the steps of the US Capitol, as loyal to their General and as motivated as any army in the world.
Farrakhan is scared. He has actually achieved what he has been working toward for almost twenty years. He is standing as
Father over the house which is Black America. The eyes of the whole world, literally, are on him. He knows that the military
wants to wipe us out. He feels his own doom pending. He feels like Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. He has told his
followers that him going to DC is like Jesus going to Jerusalem. His crucifixion is on the way. He feels it. So many things
to weigh. What does he do?
He gives the most politically correct speech of his career. He tries not to get us all killed. He tries not to give them any
reason to bring those tanks out of the tunnels. He acts more out of fear of the enemy than he does out of faith in his
backing. The end result is that those two million men return home that night and the next day not really knowing what to do.
They have this vague sense of duty to be a good person. They’ve pledged to not fight each other and all that. Good stuff.
But not exactly marching orders for an army. The army energy that had been built up quickly dissipates. There is no
organizational follow-up on the march. Farrakhan goes around the world on a World Friendship Tour and doesn’t do anything to directly connect the Million Man March, those two million men who attended, with these heads of state who he is meeting with.
The 1% breathes a humongous sigh of relief. They’ve been faced with the moment they feared. The most perilous situation they’ve ever faced. And Farrakhan doesn’t pull the trigger. Hip Hop is becoming increasingly inept. It isn’t driving people toward Farrakhan anymore, it is driving people away from Farrakhan.
Farrakhan has separated from Khallid. The man who was his link to the youth. The link is gone. Hip Hop isn’t connecting the masses to Farrakhan. Khallid isn’t connecting the masses to Farrakhan. The masses are upset at Farrakhan for wasting their time.
Then Tupac is killed. Tupac was Farrakhan’s last hope of maintaining relevance. He has made an album called Killuminati and has kept with the tradition of quoting Farrakhan and Khallid. He is personally moving back toward the black nationalist
people who are his closest family. He was in prison on the day of the March. But now he is out and he is the most famous rapper in the world and he is serving to keep the threat alive (black youth + black nationalism). But less than a year after the march, Tupac is dead.
Now Biggie is the biggest rapper left. He would be dead in less than six months, replaced with a slew of copycats who are
all about getting money. Our gang peace treaties around the country are losing their grip. The angry white male has been
unleashed all over the country under the leadership of Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich. Farrakhan gives a one year march anniversary speech about world leaders and avoiding a war of Armageddon that fails to make a splash among Black America. The man who was crowned King of Black America just a year before is now quickly becoming a thing of the past.
There had been a lack of appreciation for the marriage between Farrakhan and the NOI and Hip Hop. Hip Hop music and culture throughout the late 80’s and early 90’s was keeping the topics of freedom, justice, and equality in the front of the minds of Black youth. And Farrakhan was the real life Black Nationalist Hero who could give them something to do with that energy that Hip Hop was producing. With Tupac dead, Ice Cube back in NWA mode with a new group called Westside Connection, Public Enemy had fell off, Tribe Called Quest and the Native Tongues were breaking up and falling off, and Khallid trying to figure out his life after being separated from Farrakhan…there was no longer any glue between the masses and a now 63 year old Farrakhan. The youth were trying to get jiggy, get money, get high. Fighting the power and yelling fuck the police just wasn’t important anymore.
So the energy dissipated. It became less and less common to see the Muslims on the block in Any Ghetto, USA selling bean pies and The Final Call newspaper. The mosques stopped growing as quickly, if their numbers increased at all. And Farrakhan became a man dealing with a crisis of self identity.
Remember this is a man who believes himself to be an extension of the Messiah, chosen by God to lead the resurrection of the mentally dead and to be a driving force behind God’s Judgment and Destruction of the former world order. He worked tirelessly from 1977 until he saw the climax of his work coming in 1995. He was absolutely convinced that with the Million Man March he was walking into his own crucifixion and ultimately being saved from death by God. That didn’t happen. He was told in his September 1985 Vision that he had to do one more thing then he could see his teacher, Elijah Muhammad, face to face. He just knew that the one more thing was the Million Man March. But nothing happened. Now he becomes a man who is frantically searching for the “one more thing” while appearing to calmly guide his followers. He is the leader of the faith for thousands of people while battling to not fall victim to a crisis of his own faith.
Farrakhan becomes desperate and vulnerable. Every year or two he gets an idea or someone comes to him with an idea that sounds like it might be the One More Thing. And every time he tells his followers that this is it. He won’t have much longer to be with them. After a while, he becomes a bit like the Boy Who Cried Wolf. One More Thing has happened at least a dozen times and Farrakhan is still here. Desperate and Vulnerable. Needing something to be the thing that works.
It’s 2015. There was a time when the barbershop and beauty shop conversation was about how there were no Black leaders left except Farrakhan. Now the conversation is about how there are no Black leaders left, period. Farrakhan is almost 82 years old. He has almost died multiple times in the past 10 years from prostate cancer and complications in the treatment of it.
When he first stood up in 1977 it was Farrakhan and Tynnetta and Jabril. Tynnetta died recently. Jabril has been seriously
sick for quite some time now. The Nation has been recently attempting to return to where it all started with a focus on
economic development. Unfortunately, that effort has yet to gain any traction among the masses of the people. The only
movement energy that we have right now centers around protest politics and that has no real connection with Farrakhan or the Nation of Islam. Those who aren’t in the streets protesting are at home watching reality TV. The prospects for a Nation of Islam resurgence are bleak.
It is my belief that Minister Farrakhan is held hostage by his own sense of destiny. His belief in what his life is supposed to produce, combined with his own sense of mortality, hinder him from instilling the best possible habits into the Nation of Islam under his leadership. The Nation could have a very long-term view toward achieving its aims; determined to chip away, a little bit at a time, at a mountainous goal of restoring Black people to our former glory. One fundraiser, one workshop, one new member at a time. But what the Nation has seemed to do for a while now is to swing for the fences; searching for the One More Thing. As time moves on, a slight shift in the group’s ideology/theology could serve to relieve some of this pressure which causes some desperate moves.
There are a couple of reasons for optimism regarding the relationship between the Nation of Islam and the Black youth of 2015. They are named Jay Electronica and Wesley Muhammad. These two men have been friends for over 20 years. Jay Electronica is a Hip Hop artist signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation record label. He was the most buzzed about rapper in 2009 and 2010, working closely with Diddy, Just Blaze, Jay-Z, Erykah Badu, Nas, and others. He has still yet to release a full-length album and his fans are beginning to wonder if he ever will. Yet he still has a tremendous amount of buzz surrounding every move he makes in the public eye. He might be the might famous rapper in the world to have never released an album. Wesley Muhammad is a historian of religion with a PhD in Islamic Studies. He is one of the founders of The Allah Team, a group that straddles the fence between the Nation of Islam and the Five Percenters, of which Jay Electronica is a former and newly reinstated member. He works in Chicago directly for Minister Farrakhan as an in-house scholar.
These two men and the team that surrounds them have the potential and ability to inject a large dose of intellectualism back into the Hip Hop conversation. If Jay Electronica releases an album and does the full gamut of promotional activities that should accompany that. It could be a spectacle of Hip Hop culture the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the heyday of Public Enemy, Ice Cube, and Tupac. We shall see what happens with that.
Kanye West had these words to say about Minister Farrakhan a couple of weeks ago:
“Right now I’m working on a documentary with him, about him, and about his music. He’s a classically trained violinist. In the same way my wife got stamped with a sex tape, the Minister was stamped with [bigotry], and it’s important that while he’s still alive he sees the people appreciate his message. If you ever hear him talk, it’s about humanity, it’s about one race.”
Kanye West is a pretty big deal. If anyone can shine a positive light on Farrakhan where the youth are concerned, it is Kanye. Kanye’s words lead me to my conclusion. Louis Farrakhan is not receiving the level of appreciation that he deserves from the community that he has worked to serve for the past 60 years. No other organization destroyed by CoIntelPro has reached anywhere near its former level of glory, besides the Nation of Islam. He has built an organization that gives our people something to be proud of and a sense of hope for our future. Whatever the weaknesses of the Nation of Islam may be, its level of organization and dedication give it a chance to make monumental moves on behalf of Black America at any given time.
In the 2014 Major League Baseball season, Derek Jeter received what many called a Farewell Tour. It was his last season in the league at the end of a historically great career and everywhere he went in the world of baseball he was praised and celebrated and thanked for his achievements. Farrakhan deserves a similar round of applause at this time in his life. For however much longer he has to be among us, he should see his people celebrating his life and devoting their energy toward helping him achieve his lifelong goals.
THE THREE YEAR ECONOMIC SAVINGS Program was established by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad in 1964. This program called for black people to pool their resources by contributing $10 a month to help fight against poverty, want, unemployment, abominable housing, hunger and nakedness of the 40 million black people in America. Minister Farrakhan re-established this program in October 1991 because we still continue to face these same problems today. The Program’s name might imply that it was to last for only three years. However this will be an ongoing program until the problems of our people are eradicated.
Every Black person in America should be encouraged to give $60 to this program in honor of the past 60 years of Minister Farrakhan’s work on behalf of our people. The billions of dollars raised in such an effort could start a program of long term development that carries us through the rest of the 21st century, taking us from a powerless people to a powerful people. We deserve it, and Minister Farrakhan’s legacy deserves it.
As with all things, this kind of appreciation will only go as far as the youth (and Hip Hop) push it to go. I fast and pray that I see a time in the very near future where a proper conclusion is given to Minister Farrakhan’s career, for the benefit of all of us.