[Editor’s note: In an exclusive interview with The Final Call eight years after the overwhelming success of the Million Man March, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan shares his reflections on maintaining unity, developing international relationships, enduring media and government attacks, and sacrificing to build a better world. This text originally appeared in Vol 23, No. 5, November 4, 2003]
In The Name of Allah, The Beneficent, The Merciful.
The Final Call (FC): What did Allah (God) allow you to see that sparked the call for the Million Man March?
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan (MLF): I was shown in a vision-like experience that the President of the United States in early September of 1985 had met with his Joint Chiefs of Staff to plan a war. I was told that I should make it known and tell the world that I got this information from Elijah Muhammad from where he was at the time. He said he was on the Great Wheel.
As time went on, I learned that the government of the United States had planned a war with Libya and I recognized that that war was on two fronts: one dealing with the Libyan-Arab Jamahiriyyah; the second dealing with Black youth in the streets of America.
This insight caused me to go on a tour to stop the killing, and then another tour to speak to men only about the condition of the Black man in America. Out of that came the call for the Million Man March.
FC: How was the aim and purpose of the March directly linked to the insight that Allah (God) gave you? What did you hope the March would achieve?
MLF: During that time period, there was the arrival on the scene of crack cocaine; an increase in gang activity starting on the West Coast moving eastward with the Bloods and the Crips; and movies that portrayed our youth throughout the world, like “Colors” and “Menace to Society” that put Black men in particular, in a very ugly light. So that call for the Million Man March then led to efforts to organize for the success of it.
FC: Please share your vision of the success of the March at that time, what you felt it produced then and since then?
MLF: We knew from the tremendous turnout of Black men that it was a great success; the unity that was present, the peace that was present. The commitment of those men to make life better for their wives and children, and to bring a greater amount of peace and security to our communities, that remained to be seen–whether we would follow through on that commitment.
There was great fear that these men would act in a way that would create the necessity of the National Guard, federal troops and others to intervene. So, government–city and federal–closed down on that day and the Million Man March became a major media event. This worldwide media attention put the nearly two million Black men who were present, and all of those who spoke, in the view of billions of people around the planet.
The way the March was characterized by the media caused me to be somewhat depressed and I went into solitude and quiet to ask Allah’s (God’s) guidance for what the next step should be.
FC: Can you elaborate on how the media portrayed the March?
MLF: First, they played down the numbers that were present. They mocked the value of the speech that I gave. Others tried to separate the success of the March from the man in whom Allah (God) had deposited the idea for the March.
I asked those men to join an organization of their choice that is working to better our condition. I also asked them to join a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple of their choice that would re-ignite spiritual values in our young men. As a result, organizations, churches and mosques grew with Black male participation.
So, in my solitude, I reflected on the actual fact that the President of the United States went to the Egyptian leadership and government asking them to send troops on the ground to attack Libya and promising to give them air cover, while CIA operatives in Libya would rise up internally against Muammar Gadhafi. As I looked at the geographical position of Egypt, seeing that it was east of Libya, and feeling that the government and the media propagation would try to say to the Muslim world that we, in the Nation of Islam were not true Muslims,
I decided that I should go east in order to connect the Nation of Islam with our Muslim brothers and sisters throughout the world, and also to connect the struggle of Black people in America to the struggle of Black people and Indigenous people throughout the planet. As I reflected on my more-than-a-vision experience, it came to me that I should cement friendships with Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
FC: You are referring to your World Friendship Tours, after which you began another national tour to explain your motive, because of more negative media attention on your tours. Why did the media and the government continue to take a negative position?
MLF: There never has been a desire on the part of the government that the struggle of Black people in America should be linked to the struggle of our people in every part of the earth. Every leader that was international in scope and in reach became the target of the government–Paul Robeson, Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. DuBois, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Kwame Ture and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Any Black leader who would try to connect us to our brothers and sisters in Africa and Asia were seen as a threat and became a target.
This is written in the prophecies of the Old Testament–that the enemy, Pharaoh, saw the Children of Israel multiplying and that they would try to unite with an enemy and come against them. So, they devised a plan, not only to cut the Children of Israel off inside the house of their torment, but to keep them from being in unity with anybody outside of Egypt that Egypt believed was its enemy.
If you look at our leaders historically, all of them were persecuted. I don’t believe we have ever had a Black leader that was so widely accepted among the masses of people, as well as the leadership, in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, the Caribbean, Central America, as Allah (God) has blessed me to be accepted. Thus, this meant to the government that I was indeed a threat. The movement of us to link with our people around the world was also seen as a threat.
FC: What is it that we, as a people, are headed for, in relation to our enemy’s plan, that would make the Million Man March and your World Friendship Tours impact that journey?
MLF: Everywhere we went in the world on behalf of our people we were received as a head of state. Both the leadership and the people saw the Black male in a different light than the savage condition that was being projected by Hollywood. The people of the world saw Black men now as a potential force politically that might impact and make positive change in the way the government formulated its policy toward Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Central and South America and Asia. The Million Man March, in one day, helped to defeat all of the evil propaganda spread about Black men throughout the world.
FC: What benefits of your World Friendship Tours do we enjoy today? And how will we benefit in the future from cementing those friendships?
MLF: We are blessed to grow up in a country that is the world’s leader. We are blessed to be some of the most well-educated Black persons anywhere to be found in the world. This education and talent can be used in a friendly relationship with Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean and Asia to develop the wealth and resources of these nations. The friendship of us with our kith and kin around the world would cause both sides to benefit exponentially, based upon how well we develop these relationships.
FC: I want to get back to a point that you had made earlier in reference to the attack on youth. In 1997, you convened a Hip Hop Summit that brought peace to a feud between East and West Coast rappers. Now, we are facing a similar feud. What lessons did we learn in 1997 and perhaps have now forgotten?
MLF: The lesson learned by those who learned the lesson causes those who learned the lesson not to repeat the error or mistake that caused that split, which caused the loss of life of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur and others.
As time moves on, a new generation arises that may not have experienced what the former generation of rappers experienced. So, the wisdom gained from the learning of that lesson has to be passed on to succeeding generations, otherwise the enemy will cause what was to become what is and to destroy the future of what could be. So, with God’s help, we will work to diffuse this kind of thing again.
FC: In light of the worsening conditions in our communities, with Black men in particular, is there a need for another Million Man March, or do we miss the point in seeking to recreate what happened in 1995?
MLF: It’s not necessary to have another March. The worsening conditions in our community is not necessarily directed toward those men who came to the Million Man March and are still working as mentors and in business, education, politics, and other areas to make the condition of our people better. As the condition of America and the world degenerates, it is we who are the weak or the poor or the ignorant who feel it worse.
Now we have to think, not in terms of what is good for an individual or a segment of the population or an organization or a sect of Christianity or Islam or Judaism, we have to think today of what is in the best interest of the whole of our people. The conditions that we are suffering force us to address the real issues that affect the life and well-being of the majority of our people. That is why the call for reparations and justice in dealing with the problems of Black people is so relevant now.
FC: Why was it significant that the men paid their own way to the March?
MLF: The Million Man March was held on a Monday. Most marches were always held on a weekend and most marches were paid for by philanthropic groups and organizations and labor unions, etc. So, the people who came did not necessarily have to make a great sacrifice to be there.
Our going to Washington was not to petition government, but to petition our God and Creator, that we may regain His favor and come into a position of power with Him that would allow us to correct our own condition.
I wanted to see if we, as men, in the spirit of atonement, reconciliation and responsibility, would accept the responsibility to be there on our own, to pay our own way, to stand in front of God and each other, after having made a sacrifice of that day of work, of school, that we were not going to go into any place of business or spend money on that day; that we were going to fast and pray and meet in our churches and meet in our mosques and in our homes to reconcile differences. It wasn’t just the March itself, but it was the whole country of our people involved in a Holy Day of Atonement.
God showed us, on that day, His favor. I learned that the National Security Agency of the United States Government had recruited some of our young people to come to the March to create a problem. But the spirit of the brothers that were there was so strong that they could not. The favor of God was on us, so that those nearly two million men were present and there was not one arrest, and the crime in Washington, D.C. on that day was almost zero.
From the Million Man March to this day, the crime and murder rates have significantly decreased in the major cities of America, according to police reports. I believe that the Million Man March was a significant part of the reason for the decrease.
There was greater voter registration and voter participation by Black men since that time and an increase in economic enterprise and entrepreneurial spirit among Black men. So, there’s great benefit that has come from it, but in order for us to truly be free, even greater sacrifice will have to be made by all of us.
FC: In your 2003 Holy Day of Atonement address, you outright declared that, “this government of the United States is our worst enemy. “Why is it necessary to keep that at the forefront of our minds, in light of all the positive things that you just pointed out?
MLF: As long as the Children of Israel saw Pharaoh as a friend, they could not see Moses and Jehovah as their true friend. As they came into consciousness–by the wicked things that Pharaoh continued to do against them–that Pharaoh was indeed their enemy, then Moses and Jehovah’s call to them to separate from Pharaoh to build a nation of their own became a reality.
As long as we see America and her wealth as something that we want, we will never leave Pharaoh. As God’s hand touched the wealth of Pharaoh, it is now touching the wealth of America. As the Black man and woman become more awakened to the wicked machinations of government, the aim is the same today: We should never be free of their influence and power.
As Abraham Lincoln said, if there is to be a superior position, he would rather that superior position be assigned to the White race. That superior position must be protected by those who believe in White supremacy and they will do everything in their power to make sure that that position will always be throughout the generations.
So, our path is clear: We refuse to be inferior. We want to be exactly what Allah (God) has desired for us to be and we can’t be that in their house. We either have to take over their house or go and build a house of our own.
FC: Let’s focus on your critics and their attacks on your credibility. The Nation of Islam won a discrimination lawsuit brought by a woman in Boston against the Men’s Only meeting held there, as part of the two-year organizing effort for the March. Why did you choose to put the men first? What didn’t that sister, and others like her who criticized this aspect, understand about your motive?
MLF: Why, in the scriptures of the Bible and Holy Qur’an, did God create man first? I believe that we are in the genesis or the beginning or the birth of a new world order, so then man and woman have to be made new again. We started where God started–with men. If we can reform the man and make him a better man and a God-fearing man, then we have a chance, we believe, to build a better world.
Our talking to men may have been seen by some as a threat to women, but most Black women loved the idea of our trying to raise the level of consciousness of Black men. Many mothers brought their sons to the “men-only” meetings; many wives encouraged their husbands to come. When the women at home saw what the men committed themselves to do, they rejoiced. And, in fact, the Million Man March would never have been successful if it were not for the women who stood with us and helped to organize to make the March what it eventually became.
FC: Why was it important to conduct and publicize the complete audit of the Million Man March?
MLF: The enemy has always been able to point the finger of suspicion and/or guilt to Black leaders that they are enriching themselves at the expense of the people. Before the Million Man March took place, in my hotel room a very highly respected AME Bishop asked me two questions. One was about proselytizing Islam on that day where we had unprecedented Christian support. I told him that was not my purpose; that I would send these men to join mosques, synagogues, churches and temples. Secondly, he asked, what about the money? I said I would hire respected CPA firms, make a complete audit, and give to the world the results of that audit. I gave my word and I fulfilled my word.
A lot of the money that we saw in the hands of people we couldn’t collect because the lines were so tight, there was no aisle to go through. But whatever we were blessed to get, within three months or so, we had the complete audit of every aspect of the Million Man March. The press was called; and, of course, they who were pointing this finger of suspicion at us, now when the audit was a reality, they wouldn’t spread the news that the Minister had fulfilled his word.
This is the first march that we know of that was paid for completely by the people. We ended up with a loss, which the Nation of Islam paid. The Nation of Islam was the biggest contributor to the Million Man March, but poor people gave their nickels, dimes and dollars; some wealthy Black people gave money to make that March a success–and every nickel, every dime, every dollar was accounted for.
FC: You mentioned that there was unprecedented unity between Muslim and Christian communities and organizations. There are now leaders who have been taking credit for the March when they only participated but were not instrumental in organizing it. How can this play into the enemy’s plan to break that unity and how can we avoid it?
MLF: The Minister was used by God to call the Million Man March. The Nation of Islam became the principle organizer, but all who participated can take credit because we didn’t do it by ourselves. Every brother, every sister, all of the local organizing committees, there were countless hundreds of persons who helped to organize the success of this March. The Minister can only say with truth that Allah (God) inspired him with the idea. It was hundreds, maybe even thousands, that helped in the organization of the March that made it successful. So, all can claim it as theirs and that will never break our unity, except that any of us become vain.
I could never take credit for this great event. That’s why on October 16, the eighth anniversary of the March, I asked the question from the scripture, will a man rob God? The scripture says not only in tithes and offerings, but man will rob God of the credit that He is due. If I ever tried to take credit for what God deserves the credit, He would be displeased with me, and I’m more interested in pleasing Him than pleasing ego or vanity.
So, all who participated, all who helped to organize, all that worked, are the organizers of the Million Man March. And in its success, all who worked can claim their part of its success.
FC: Since the initial days after the March, what do you see as a continuation of the enemy’s effort to attack your credibility? The most recent example is the sniper murder case, where it was often repeated on the news that the suspect attended the Million Man March.
MLF: At the Million Man March, a group of brilliant young men and women, the Wellington Group, did a poll that determined that 80-85 percent of the men who were present claimed Christianity as their religion. Twelve percent said they were Muslims and the remaining percentage was other. When it was known that a Muslim made a call and 85 percent or so of those who answered that call were Christians, it was decided at another level that never again should a Muslim make a call and Christians respond.
As I went about the country again thanking the people for their support and encouraging the principles of the March, I found that, in the churches that were opened to me during the Men’s Only Tour and in the pastors that I talked to, there was a new spirit. The 700 Club and other religious broadcasters were painting Louis Farrakhan as the anti-Christ.
Five years after the success of the Million Man March, we were able to go back to the Mall on Washington for the Million Family March. There were a little over 1.2 or 1.3 million people. Although less than the success of the Million Man March, it was a great success again and it showed the Minister’s impact still with Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Native Americans and Hebrews.
So, they were unsuccessful in destroying the beautiful unity created by the Million Man March, but there definitely was–and is–a great effort to erode that working together of Muslims and Christians for the benefit of our total community.
Now, to answer the other part of your question, John Allen Muhammad was definitely at the Million Man March. Of those two million men at the March, I don’t know how many have had some run in with the law or have been institutionalized or are on probation, etc. But we are not responsible for the behavior of anyone that goes contrary to what we teach, any more than the Pope of Rome or the Archbishop of Canterbury or a religious leader who teaches moral law and values can be charged with the errant behavior of a parishioner or congregant who may violate their moral teachings. That is on the individual.
I don’t know of Brother John Allan Muhammad’s guilt in this, but he definitely was a member of the Nation of Islam. At the time of his arrest and being charged, he was not in good standing with the mosque. They’re saying that the Minister taught him hatred and this is the reason why he did what he did. But he was also a member of the armed forces of the United States of America. Did they teach him hatred? We certainly didn’t teach him how to shoot a rifle. He learned that from whomever his teachers were; we were not that.
These are all part of the ongoing effort to discredit the Minister and the Nation of Islam as terrorists, because we disagree with the government’s position with respect to the war, which is our right to do. But to link us with terrorists and terrorism is a big, big stretch.
FC: There has been very little publicity overall about the Nation of Islam. Is that because the Nation is not doing anything worth mentioning in the public or because of some other motive to ignore the works of the Nation and separate the Nation from you?
MLF: The Honorable Elijah Muhammad said no matter how much they attacked him and the Nation of Islam under his leadership, they only helped the Nation to grow. So, the more they attacked me and the more I withstood that onslaught, the more thousands of people came out to, at least, hear a man that was being so vilified in the media. When they recognized that they were not hurting but helping me, they decided they wouldn’t say anything except to continue to discredit. So, there is a conscious effort not to publicize anything that the Nation is doing of value.
But we are not a creature of the media, so we are not depending on the media publicizing us to make us successful. The media can if they will, and they don’t have to if they don’t wish to. Our work is the work of resurrection and reform of our people and we will continue that work, in the light of the media or out of the light of the media. Our success depends on us, our unity, and our willingness to submit to the will of Allah (God).
FC: What I just heard in your answer was that much of our strength, or all of our strength really, comes from seeing you properly and seeing you in response to what is done to you. What enables you to withstand these attacks?
MLF: We must remember that it is written that we would undergo these kinds of attacks. In the Bible and Holy Qur’an, God shows us through the life of His prophets and messengers that none of them came into the world to do their work without severe opposition against them. That was with Abraham, Noah, Lot, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, peace be upon them all and all the prophets and messengers in between. That is our role today.
If we do what Allah (God) has asked us to do–to unite on the basis of truth, to reform our lives, to civilize ourselves and others, and to form a nation for His glory–and we are attacked by the government and maligned and evil spoken of, that is exactly why Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount said, “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for My namesake.”
Then, Jesus said when these kind of things happen, we should not be sad by it and walk around with our shoulders drooped and our head hung down; we should rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is our reward in heaven, for so did they, the prophets that were before us.
So, we are in a prophetic mode. We cannot escape what the prophets of God did not escape. If we bear it patiently and remain strong and united, Allah (God) says in the Qur’an that He loves those who are patient and steadfast under trial. We want to be those whom Allah (God) loves.
FC: Thank you.