A Brief Biography of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan Because References To Him Keep Following Me And I’m Thinking If I Write This They’ll StopBy Megan Power
April 02, 2008
Louis Eugene Walcott was born on May 11, 1933, in the Depression-era Bronx.
Around the same time, a preacher in Detroit named Wallace Fard Muhammad disappeared.
This is significant.
A white man by some accounts and Arab by others, Wallace Fard Muhammad was a salesman. Peddling raincoats door-to-door afforded him just the right opportunity to evangelize.
Fard’s message went something like this: as descendants of the transatlantic slave trade, American blacks had been stolen from their spiritual and physical home in Africa. Because of Islam’s widespread influence in West Africa, most slaves had originally been Muslim. Which meant most American blacks were originally Muslim. According to the Qur’an, Muslims were Allah’s original human creation, so by proxy, Black Americans were actually God’s chosen people. The white man had been sent down as a test, a test blacks in America were failing. Once all black people returned to Islam, the only true religion, Allah would come down, return his people to Mecca and kill the white devils.
Fard’s gift of persuasion and the stress of the Depression worked in tandem; he quickly amassed a devoted following of black congregates.
Thus was founded The Temple of Islam.
Islam is the Arabic word for ‘submit’ and it refers to a person’s submission to God’s will in order to achieve peace.
Fard’s version of Islam espoused the prototypically strict moral code against drinking, smoking and pre/extramarital sex while also focusing on self-improvement and self-reliance. But the introduction of black supremacy essentially contradicted established Islamic practice, as the Qur’an explicitly rejects racial discrimination. Hatred of whites therefore defined the Temple of Islam as a distinctively American creation and heretical from an Islamic perspective.
Fard Muhammad was not the first nor the only person in America at the time preaching a mélange of Islam, Christianity, black nationalism and sundry religious elements. He picked up most of his ideas in Chicago, where the ideology was having a major moment, and in various other major cities poor and malcontent blacks were also gravitating towards similar schools of thought.
Meanwhile, Louis Eugene Walcott’s mother, a woman named Sarah Mae Manning who had come to the U.S. from St. Kitts in the 1920’s, moved Eugene and his brother Alvan from the Bronx to the Roxbury section of Boston. She was a strict disciplinarian who talked candidly to her
two sons about racial injustice and self-reliance.
Louis Eugene’s father was reportedly a Jamaican cab driver from New York uninvolved in his son’s life.
Louis Eugene went to Boston’s public high schools for gifted children, Boston Latin School and English High, where he made straight A’s, ran track and was a model student. In junior high he took up the violin. By age 13 he was performing with the Boston Civic Symphony and winning national competitions.
In 1951, at age 18, Louis Eugene won a track scholarship to the all-black Winston Salem Teacher’s College. Instead of attending Julliard to study music, he moved to North Carolina to pursue a teaching degree.
Because of the Temple of Islam’s burgeoning popularity, Fard Muhammad needed to train an understudy, and so he selected an autoworker named Robert Poole who fervently believed Fard to be Allah incarnate. As was de rigueur, Poole cast off his slave name and accepted the moniker Elijah Muhammad. Together the two continued converting hundreds of members, enjoying considerable success recruiting directly from prisons. The movement was just gaining traction when Allah incarnate was ordered out of Detroit as a result of his “cult activities” and subsequently dropped off the face of the earth. The circumstances of Fard’s disappearance have never been resolved.
Elijah Muhammad was immediately promoted to Supreme Minister.
On September 12, 1953, Louis Eugene married his childhood sweetheart, Betsy Ross, at 6:00 p.m. in St. Cyprian’s Episcopal church in Boston, where he had sung in the choir growing up.
He was forced to drop out of Winston Salem when Betsy began having pregnancy-related complications with the first of their nine children. Teaching career iced, Louis Eugene returned to music, pursuing a career in show business and recording a successful calypso record.
His stage name was The Charmer.
After playing a show in Chicago one February night in 1955 (which he headlined) Louis Eugene was invited by his saxophone player to a church gathering. The church turned out to be a mosque and the gathering turned out to be the Nation of Islam’s Saviour’s Day convention.
Elijah Muhammad was speaking that night.
Louis Eugene felt Truth dawn on him.
A few months later, in July of the same year, Louis Eugene officially joined the NOI and customarily dropped his slave name, replacing it with an X and later adopting the Muslim name Farrakhan. He convinced Betsy to convert as well. They had been married two years.
Ideological tensions between Elijah Muhammad and his most legendary convert, a young ex-convict named Malcolm X, were wreaking havoc inside the NOI. After Malcolm’s horrific but unsurprising assassination in February 1965, internal NOI politics gets so shady and twisted it cannot be adequately explored here.
Louis Farrakhan ascended to Minister at the Boston mosque in a few short years, and was transferred to Harlem Mosque in New York, where he served from 1965-1975.
In 1975, Elijah Mohammad died.
His son, Wallace (later re-named Warith Deen) Muhammad, succeeded him, and began moving the organization in a Sunni direction, closer to orthodox Islam. The NOI began accepting white members.
Although these changes had been brewing for some time (in fact Malcolm X attempted to bring about a similar transformation) Minister Louis Farrakhan freaked, walked away, then re-grouped and came back in 1978 with his own faction of the NOI, preserving its doctrine of black separatism.
Warith Deen Muhammed renamed his particular group and broke away from the NOI.
In the years after Elijah Muhammad’s death up to the 1990’s, Minister Louis Farrakhan attracted a level of attention the NOI hadn’t seen since Malcolm X. He was accepted as the NOI’s national leader and became The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.
The H.M.L.F. is a beloved figure to many prominent members of the black community regardless of their, and in spite of his, religious affiliation.
Over the course of his extremely controversial and influential career, the H.M.L.F.has stated and retracted, then stated again, then clarified and re-re-stated an enormous number of shall we say charged remarks about Jews, homosexuals and whites, which is why he ranks pretty high up on the Anti-Defamation League’s blacklist (for lack of a better term). But his rhetoric, and what the press loves to call his “rage”, is almost always taken out of the smaller context of his famously prolix sermons and out of the larger context of the black liberation tradition, in which preaching has always been characteristically loud, physical and impassioned.
And while Farrakhanist delivery is often mistaken by the mainstream as a call to violence, theology scholars argue his preaching style should be understood mainly as an aesthetic to engage listeners, challenge those in power and raise questions for society to ponder.
Perhaps the best summary of why the H.M.L.F. is so revered and hated may be this:
Farrakhan, in his unremittingly vehement rejections of integrative ideals and his shrill calls for racial separation, succinctly articulates the sentiments of an increasing number of black – and many non-black – Americans, for whom the post-civil rights era of race relations in the United States has proven to be a very deep, painful and persistent disappointment.
– The Farrakhan Phenomenon, Robert Singh. Georgetown University Press, 1997.
In 2003, the H.M.L.F. celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary to Betsy Ross, now known as Mother Khadijah Farrakhan.
It is reported the H.M.L.F. is suffering from an untreatable recurrence of prostate cancer.