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Has Farrakhan’s stock fallen in the black community?

October 16, 2010 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

( It was vintage Louis Farrakhan. The controversial Nation of Islam leader delivered a free-wheeling, take no prisoners speech at the sold out Atlanta Civic Center speech on June 26 to a wildly cheering audience. He knocked Jews for allegedly controlling the entertainment industry, and lambasted black athletes and entertainers as slaves and racial betrayers. He also said he sent copies of his The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews to various media outlets and members of the Obama administration.

In times past, that would have drawn howls of protests from the Anti-Defamation League, a quick distancing from civil rights leaders, and cries of fowl from black athletes and entertainers. This time it drew barely a ripple of response from the ADL and silence from all other quarters. The muted response raises one question about Farrakhan. Does he still have the name, cachet, and power to move tens of thousands?

The question and the answer are important for two crucial reasons. Fifteen years ago Farrakhan was the only black leader that had the message and the dynamism to draw a roughly a million plus persons to the largest black gathering ever held on America’s shores — the Million Man March. His leadership was deemed vital enough to move blacks to rally behind the fight against racism, poverty and political apathy. Farrakhan then seemed to fill a significant leadership gap. He was an unchallenged go-to-guy for black America.

That brings up the second reason Farrakhan’s rise and fade from the top black leadership perch is important. With the brief exception of the sole unifying crusade black voters mounted in order to elect Barak Obama, the same political confusion, inertia, and malaise still divides and tears African-Americans apart. The hunger for a leader and organizations that can stir the masses is still just as great.

Farrakhan showed in his Atlanta speech that he can still pack a hall and bring a crowd to their feet with his fiery rhetoric, but that’s no substitute for the type of sustained, focused leadership and planning to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic, failing inner city public schools, massive black prison incarceration, police abuse and gang and drug violence.

Farrakhan was right for the times two decades ago when there was still the residual vestige of the 1960s militancy, defined in part by black leaders who could deliver rip roaring, give the white man hell speeches. Long after black militants H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael, and Malcolm X, was gone and the Black Panthers, SNCC, and CORE were decimated by government assaults, and self-destructed from infighting and criminal gangsterism, Farrakhan was the last galvanizing militant standing. His longevity and the hunger among blacks for strong, outspoken leadership created the perfect storm for the Million Man March, with him as titular leader. The backlash against Farrakhan’s racially polarizing and frequent anti-Semitic sentiments made him an even more alluring anti-hero to many disenfranchised blacks.

But that was then. A signal that his role as a national galvanizing force has past was the reaction of the Obama campaign when it got wind of Farrakhan’s virtual endorsement of Obama’s presidential bid. A spokesperson for Obama issued a terse dismissal of the endorsement. They did not even mention Farrakhan by name.

Though Farrakhan clearly cannot move racial mountains the way he once did, he’s not totally a fringe figure within the black community. The throng in Atlanta packed the house, and cheered him in his full-throated assault on the usual suspects, Jews, black elite, and racist whites. His most recent columns in the Final Call calling for a national mobilization for Haitian relief effort, denouncing attacks on black leaders, and black organizations, the crucifixion of Michael Jackson and a blistering attack on the Iraq war still punch the hot button political issues.

In times past, black politicians were careful not to actively seek the endorsement of or open support from Farrakhan. But they were just as careful not to say or do anything publicly that could be construed as Farrakhan bashing. The risk was great that they’d be pilloried as sell-outs and Uncle Toms. That fear is gone, not because of any dislike or disdain of Farrakhan, but because black politicians no longer feel any need to make him the focal point attention.

Farrakhan still has the name recognition, and the many years he’s spent on the racial circuit still get a few tongues wagging with his occasional well-placed dig at Jews or whites. But the man who once had the power and charisma to literally move a million blacks to make their pilgrimage of discovery to Washington D.C. is no more. While his place in history for that accomplishment is assured, it’s just a place in history. That’s where Farrakhan’s importance lays today.

Written By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

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