Farrakhan takes message to black men

June 28, 1994|By James Bock and Ivan Penn | James Bock and Ivan Penn,Sun Staff Writers

In a two-hour speech that ranged from the origins of man to O. J. Simpson, Louis Farrakhan led 9,000 black men in a pledge at the Baltimore Arena last night never to disrespect black women or to shed one another's blood.

The Nation of Islam leader repeatedly brought the crowd to its feet with darkly conspiratorial claims that black men "are being set up for slaughter," attacks on the "wicked hypocrites" of white-dominated corporate America, and gentle urgings to black men to love themselves as God's creation.

"Brothers, our community is in trouble," Minister Farrakhan told a men-only audience that filled two-thirds of the arena for the free event. "Our women and children are in need of us to be made into the kind of men that almighty God wants us to be."

The black separatist leader was alternately gentle and defiant, whispering sweetly and shouting in rage. He asked black men to "change the condition of our hearts," and he urged them to join a march on Washington and general strike next year to demand unspecified reparations for slavery because "America owes us something for what she's put us through."

Much of his talk addressed what he considers black men's self-hatred. Encouraged by shouts of "Teach!" and "Make it plain!" he contended that the black man is "the original man" created by God, but that black men have strayed from their spiritual foundation. "Each one of you is a God," he said.

Minister Farrakhan, a 61-year-old former violin virtuoso and nightclub singer, also touched on topical matters:

* He received a standing ovation when he told the few whites in the audience: "God did not make us to serve you, God made us to serve Him."

* He said O. J. Simpson, the former football star charged in a double slaying, was made a hero by corporate America to sell products and then abandoned without being proved guilty.

"You use the fame that you gave us . . . to make us idols of our people and your people so we can sell your products for you," he said, as if talking to corporate leaders. "I don't like the way you're handling my brother.

"You are such wicked hypocrites. You put O.J. on the cover of Time, you darken his face and make him look like a criminal. You put my picture on the cover of Time, and you did the same thing," he said. "But I don't care what you do to me because you didn't make me."

* He charged that the "enemy" -- white America -- has "set the black community up for slaughter" and likened the high death rate of black men from violence and AIDS to the pharaoh's plan in the Bible to "kill all the boy babies" of the Israelites for fear that they would multiply too quickly.

He told the black men that "you're now doing the job for them, killing and maiming and destroying yourselves."

* He urged blacks to use their buying power of more than $300 billion a year to purchase farmland to grow food for themselves and put the black jobless to work.

Minister Farrakhan's appearance was the eighth stop on his "Let Us Make Man" tour. He began what is billed as a series of women-only gatherings Saturday night in Atlanta.

Last night, he drew cheers when he said: "God didn't say in the Scriptures, 'Let us make Negroes. . . . God said, 'Let us make man.' "

Outside the arena, dozens of women supporters chanted slogans such as "Black man's on the rise" and "Go, black man, go."

The women eclipsed the dozen or so mostly Jewish protesters led by the Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Coalition for Jewish Concerns, a New York-based organization. The protesters included members of the Baltimore-based People Against Hate.

Minister Farrakhan's speech last night avoided direct attacks on Jews, but he has a history of anti-Jewish statements.

The protesters said they opposed that rhetoric but supported his message of black empowerment. Some of them held signs that said "Say No to Bigotry" and "Farrakhanism equals Anti-Semitism."

"His good offers credibility to his bigotry," Rabbi Weiss said. "When they say a 'strong black man,' I agree. My struggle is with Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam and only with them."

As the protesters moved closer to the men waiting to enter the arena, the group of women got between them and cheered louder.

Grafton Gray, a 38-year-old Baltimore resident, smiled and shouted back at the women, "We're going to be here for you, too."

Last night's crowd was varied. Some wore suits and ties, and some were in shorts and T-shirts.

Some were alone, and some, including James Byrd, brought their children.

"I brought them here so they can learn," the 38-year-old Mr. Byrd said of his sons -- 6-year-old James III and 3-year-old William Custon.

"I want to try and keep them out of trouble while they're young. And I want to keep them off the streets and off the corners," the father said.

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