Farrakhan, Louis (1933-), Religious and Political Leader

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Farrakhan, Louis
(1933-), religious and political leader.

On November 8, 1977, Minister Louis Abdul Haleem Farrakhan, the former Louis Eugene Walcott, rebuilt the Nation of Islam, a militant and millenarian religious sect that preached black nationalism. He succeeded Master W. D. Fard, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and Wallace Muhammad as the key leader of the Black Muslim movement. Born on May 17, 1933, in the Bronx, New York, Louis was raised in Boston by his West Indian mother. He was an Episcopalian altar boy in the Roxbury section of Boston and graduated with honors from the prestigious Boston English High School, where he also was on the track team and played the violin in the school orchestra. After attending Winston-Salem Teachers College from 1951 to 1953, he dropped out to pursue his favorite avocation, music, intending to make it his career. An accomplished musician, Walcott performed professionally on the Boston nightclub circuit as a singer of calypso and country songs. He was known as the "Charmer." In 1955, at age twenty-two, Louis Walcott was recruited by Minister Malcolm X of the Nation of Islam. Following the custom of the Nation, he dropped his surname and took an "X," which meant "undetermined," ex-slave, ex-Christian, ex-smoker, exdrinker, ex-mainstream American. After Louis X proved himself for a number of years, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, the supreme leader of the Nation of Islam, gave him his Muslim name, "Abdul Haleem Farrakhan." He was appointed to be the head minister of Boston Temple No. 11. As a rising star within the Nation, Minister Farrakhan also wrote the only song, "A White Man's Heaven Is a Black Man's Hell," and his only play, Orgena ("A Negro" spelled backward), allowed by Elijah Muhammad.

After Malcolm X's assassination on February 23, 1965, Minister Farrakhan replaced Malcolm as the head minister of Harlem's Temple No. 7 and as the national representative of the Nation, the second in command. Like his predecessor, Louis Farrakhan was a dynamic, charismatic leader and a powerful speaker with the ability to appeal to the masses of black people.

When the Honorable Elijah Muhammad died on February 25, 1975, the Nation of Islam experienced several large schisms. Wallace Muhammad, the fifth of Elijah's six sons, was surprisingly chosen as the Supreme Minister by the leadership hierarchy. Disappointed that he was not chosen as Elijah's successor, Minister Louis Farrakhan led a breakaway group and began rebuilding his own Nation. Farrakhan disagreed with Wallace Muhammad's attempts to move the Nation to orthodox Sunni Islam by getting rid of Elijah Muhammad's separatist teachings and radical black nationalism. Wallace eventually replaced the Nation with the American Muslim Mission and called himself Imam Warith Deen Muhammad.

Farrakhan's Nation of Islam has been successful in getting rid of drug dealers in a number of public housing projects and private apartment buildings. It has established a clinic for the treatment of AIDS patients in Washington, D.C. A cosmetics company, Clean and Fresh, has marketed its products in the black community. The group's weekly newspaper is The Final Call. Farrakhan has allowed his members to participate in electoral politics and appointed five women ministers, both of which were forbidden under Elijah Muhammad. Farrakhan came to national attention in 1984 through a series of allegedly anti-Semitic comments that triggered protests by Jewish groups.

On October 16, 1995, the Honorable Louis Farrakhan's Million Man March was held in Washington, D.C., drawing a crowd largely of black men, estimated from 800,000 to more than 1 million. It was the largest black gathering in history, surpassing the 250,000 people at the March on Washington rally led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in August 1963. Although the core of Farrakhan's Nation of Islam is estimated to be 50,000 to 100,000 members, his influence is much greater. His speeches across the country have attracted crowds of more than 40,000 in large cities. His group is the fastest-growing of the various Muslim movements, helped by the influence of rap groups such as Public Enemy and Prince Akeem. International branches of the Nation of Islam have been formed in Ghana, London, Paris, South Africa, and Caribbean islands.

Minister Louis Farrakhan and his wife, Khadijah, have eleven children, several of whom serve in the Nation of Islam's hierarchy.

See alsoAnti-Semitism; Black Muslims; Fard, W. D.; Islam; Malcolm X; Muhammad, Elijah Karriem; Muhammad, Warith Deen; Nation of Islam.


Farrakhan, Louis. Seven Speeches by Minister Louis Farrakhan. 1974.

Farrakhan, Louis. A Torchlight for America. 1990.

Gardell, Mattias. In the Name of Elijah Muhammad: LouisFarrakhan and the Nation of Islam. 1996.

Lincoln, C. Eric. The Black Muslims in America. 1960.

Mamiya, Lawrence H. "From Black Muslim to Bilalian: The Evolution of a Movement." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 21, no. 2 (1982): 138–151.

Mamiya, Lawrence H. "Minister Louis Farrakhan." In Contemporary Black Leaders, edited by David De-Leon. 1994.

Lawrence H. Mamiya

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