[Editor’s note: The following text is taken from an interview with Minister Louis Farrakhan by the late John F. Kennedy Jr. for his publication, George Magazine. The interview occured on July 31, 1996 at the home of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad in Chicago, IL.]
MINISTER FARRAKHAN (MLF): Mr. Kennedy, first let me just say that there is no question that would be considered inappropriate. As one who was alive during the time of your father’s work and one who watched him and studied him as best I could, I am very pleased to be interviewed by you and pleased to know that you, the son of such an illustrious mother and father, are here in the home of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. I want you to feel as though you are at home and welcome here.
John F. Kennedy Jr. (JFK): Thank you very much. Minister, from the perspective of me and the magazine, what is interesting particularly is your development from a religious leader to one who is an active participant in politics. I want to start by exploring how that development occurred. I guess the 1984 election in which you got involved with Reverend (Jesse) Jackson’s campaign was somewhat of a watershed event for you and for the Nation of Islam and you got in politics, and I gather, broke with a long-standing tradition started by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad to keep politics and religion separate. Why did you make that decision, and what was the preamble to that decision being made by you?
MLF: First, everything that I am attempting to do is based on my understanding of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and what he wanted for his people. Of course he kept us out of politics during his time among us. But he left hints in his writings that would suggest what I am attempting to do today.
In his writings he began to tell us to elect our own candidates, meaning try to put your own people into positions of power that we might change the reality of our lives. He said that what we need is a Muslim politician; and when he said that, there were no Muslims running for any public office. And then he said put the Muslim Program before Congress. We couldn’t put it before Congress unless there were those in Congress who would favor it, or unless we ran people for public office who would become congresspersons. And lastly, when [Richard] Nixon was running [for president] the second time, [the Hon. Elijah Muhammad] wrote an article saying that if any presidential hopeful looked at his program and would back it, he would put the weight of the whole Nation of Islam behind that presidential candidate.
As I reflect on his words, I know that that could not happen unless we were registered to vote. He took us out of politics and his words were separation. Separation because we needed to heal from 400 years of injustice and alienation from self. And when he had instilled in us a knowledge of self, a love of self and an enlightened self- interest, then, I believe it would be the proper time for us to enter politics, not to be subservient but to go for that which is in our self-interests because it is necessary for us to become politically powerful in order for us to change the reality of our lives. That is in a nutshell where we have moved today.
ON MINISTER FARRAKHAN’S CONSTITUENCY
MR. KENNEDY: What sort of connotation does becoming more mainstream have for you? You are making more overtures to be received by that mainstream, yet, certainly in your own case that has some pitfalls potentially within your devoted following, does it not?
MLF: I cannot act in a way that violates the mission of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, but I must act responsibly by what the time demands. … Farrakhan sees that the American democratic scene has made a provision for voices of discontent and dissent. I represent a people who are mainly democratic but have not gotten from the Democratic Party that which satisfies our needs, our interests and all of our rights. You have between 30 and 40 million Black people, you have a fast growing Hispanic community, you have an Asian and an Arab and an Indian community, and given the dissatisfaction in the country, we need to establish a national agenda that all of these groups can stand on so that in a united way we can leverage our vote to influence the direction of this nation toward the best interest of the poor and the weak rather than a nation held hostage by the rich and the powerful. This is leading, in our humble judgment, to the destruction of this democracy. I felt and feel that it is time now for me as a spiritual teacher to broaden my own understanding of the message of Islam so that the message does not become exclusive, but inclusive.
JFK: Who is your constituency?
MLF: That is a wonderful question. … I have a duty to Black people, but I think I also have a duty to the whites of this nation because of the interaction between Blacks and whites that started from a very negative position. Even at this moment there is a great divide between Black and white largely because we have dealt with each other falsely and hypocritically.
I want to deal truthfully but not in a manner that would be considered an enemy to the goal. If my goal is to reach you, how best can I communicate with you without being so vicious in the manner of my speaking of truth that I turn you off or others off from what might be a truth that could save the country from its fall.
ON THE JEWISH CONTROVERSY
JFK: Instead of saying whites, you say Jewish in particular? Why make that distinction? Why not just leave it at, you know, at white folks?
MLF: Because the Jewish community has a particular feeling toward Louis Farrakhan, and the Jewish community …
JFK: And you have a particular feeling towards the Jewish community.
MLF: Yes, but it is certainly not hate or anti-Semitism at all. When Reverend Jesse Jackson decided to run for the Presidency of the United States, the Jewish community, not in totality, felt threatened by the Reverend Jackson because the Reverend Jackson had visited with Yasir Arafat, had embraced Arafat. They feared any change in the posture of the American community and the Black community with respect to the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. So out of their fear, they felt the need to attack the Reverend Jackson in a specific way.
And while Blacks were saying “Run, Jesse, run,” some members of the Jewish community took a big ad in major newspapers saying, “Ruin, Jesse, ruin.” To me that is not wise. To ruin somebody, what does that mean? Do you have the right to ruin me? Do I have the right to ruin you simply because our views are not convergent?
JFK: That’s inflammatory rhetoric, just like you use inflammatory rhetoric. It works.
MLF: But …
JFK: It gets people’s attention.
MLF: But inflammatory rhetoric for a Black man in this society, inflammatory rhetoric from the Jewish community and the ADL, the Anti-Defamation League, who have dossiers on all of us that they feel might be a threat to their own interests. For them to put out in the media a dossier that is designed to show Reverend Jackson as an anti-Semite, and to create a climate by the use and misuse of the media that my brother could be assassinated for standing up for what he believed, that I totally disagreed with. That is what put me in the position to speak specifically to the Jewish community, because they were specifically addressing Reverend Jesse Jackson in a way that alienated Blacks and Jews. I was literally trying to encourage them to stop that rhetoric if they desired to see Blacks and Jews work together.
JFK: Why make a separate distinction for Jews?
MLF: From that day, Jews, those that control, saw Farrakhan as a threat. And after that, I saw the inordinate control that members of the Jewish community have over Black life. That kind of control is totally unacceptable and that kind of control makes you paternalistic and we are like your little children. And I refuse to be a little boy or gal to any white man, any Jew, any ethnic or racial group on this earth. We must sit down at the table as equals. And until that happens, I will be fighting control of the Black thought process by false educators, politicians that are controlled from outside our community, business people that can’t make independent decisions for fear of somebody cutting off their ability to put their products in different places in the country and in the world. That kind of control I hate, and I see that kind of control over the political process.
It’s an inordinate amount of control over the United States government and that is sentencing this country to death. And until that control is broken by us and by you, America is in trouble.
JFK: The word “control” is a loaded one. It connotes a lot of myths. Money, perhaps, is the biggest element of control in American politics. Why not speak to it in terms of those with money and those who are without, instead of those who are Jewish in control and those who aren’t.
MLF: I don’t want to say that Jewish people are the only people who have a measure of control. But compared to their numbers, they are absolutely powerful. And I am not forbidding them the right to have power and to use their power and influence to further their own interests. But we live in a nation, and this nation has interests. And no ethnic or racial group’s interest should be put above the interests of a nation. And if I cannot subordinate my interests to further the interests of a nation, then my interests can become destructive of national purpose. This is what I see going on in America today, that those who have power and influence have put their own interests above what is in the best interest of the nation as a whole.
ON BLACK EMPOWERMENT
JFK: What is the principle threat for Black America? Is it an internal condition or is it an external condition?
MLF: It is both.
JFK: But what is more? Black conservatives … a Clarence Thomas speaks less about white racism and more about the need for Black self-realization. You and the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, to what I understand, speak, it seems, in equal parts. But there seems maybe a certain contradiction in that.
MLF: No. We have to take responsibility. If you go back to the speech that I was blessed to give at the Million Man March, the focus was on us, because in reality neither government nor white racists can impede our progress if we get our own foot out of our own way. But, if we get blind to the effect of racism in government circles and don’t give adequate attention to that, we might try to get our foot out of our way and end up with no foot at all.
What do I mean by that? Demographers say that by the year 2056, Blacks could be equal to or the majority population in this country. There is fear on the part of certain whites that if Blacks continue to multiply at the rate that we are multiplying, given any higher degree of education, intelligence, and given any alliance with Hispanics and others, we could, in the latter part of the next century, be governors in many states. We could be the majority in terms of Congress. We could be in a position to direct the future of this nation. That thought to some is abhorrent.
So the next question is, what is government policy? What is public policy of the U.S. government to stem the growing tide of Black development, Black population growth, Blacks in power? J. Edgar Hoover had a counter-intelligence program under the guise of fighting against anti-Americans and communists but hindering Black advancement. Then there are those who see our population growth as a threat. What do you do about that? What is the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s thoughts about over 500 Black mayors; six to eight thousand Black persons in some semblance of political power? Why are Blacks targeted in this harassment of our Black elected officials for doing what white politicians have been doing for years? There is a threat from the government against Black aspirations. So not only must we take our own foot out of our own way, we must cut off the foot and the hand of the United States Government in its evil plotting and planning against the legitimate aspirations of Black people that are not un-American, that are in the best interest of the Black community, and in the best interest of this nation. We have to go down both tracks.
ON THE FAILURE OF GOVERNMENT
JFK: The question that I have always puzzled over is when every presidential election Rev. Jackson and others say, the Democratic Party shouldn’t take Blacks for granted. But why shouldn’t they? Why should mainstream politicians listen to Black leaders when Blacks vote in minimal proportion? They give little money to campaigns? Those are the normally accredited benchmarks of political power (that) do not come out of the Black community. Why should they listen?
MLF: And what does that say about our immaturity, in giving us the right to vote but not educating us to the responsibility that goes with that right and how to effect those in positions of power? What you are saying, Mr. Kennedy, in effect, is … you (political parties) are with us but you shouldn’t listen to us and pay attention to our legitimate cries because we don’t give money in sufficient numbers. That says that you cater to those who have learned the use of money and votes, and you care nothing for those who are poor and weak and ignorant.
Jesus talked about judgment and he talked about the separation of nations. And there was a standard that Jesus raised that was the basis for the separation of nations and people for the judgement of destruction and for the judgement of salvation. And it hinged on a question that a disciple asked Jesus. He said, “Master, when were you hungry and we fed you not? When were you naked and we clothed you not? When were you out of doors and we gave you not shelter? When were you sick and imprisoned and we ministered not unto you?” And Jesus answered unto them saying, “Inasmuch as you have not done this unto the least of these my brethren, you have not done it also unto me.” And that, my dear sir, is the failing of the U.S. government.
ON A THIRD POLITICAL FORCE
JFK: Do you affiliate with one party or another. Do you call yourself a democrat or a republican?
JFK: I saw Dr. (Ben) Chavis on a television show and he said that if the Democratic Party doesn’t pay sufficient heed to the concerns of African Americans, then he would counsel abstaining from voting all together. Do you agree with that?
MLF: I would ask our people to do what their conscience would direct. Many of our people are so fearful of what a Dole presidency would mean that, of course, whether we get anything out of the Democratic Party or not the Black constituency would say this is certainly the lesser of two evils so we are going with Mr. Clinton. My own thought is that we should try to extract from either party that which is in the best interest of the mass of the people. … I don’t know if I would ever ask our people not to vote, although I have said what do we gain from voting if our own needs and rights and interests are not considered by the party that we have given so much to.
JFK: What’s the alternative?
MLF: I think the alternative is to create a third force that embraces the legitimate interests of our people.
JFK: Is that a party or a force …?
MLF: A third force that could grow into a third political party, a party that would challenge the two prevailing parties for supremacy. … I have met with leaders in the Hispanic community, I have met with some leaders in the Arab community, and I plan to meet with leaders of the Asian community. And wherever our interests converge, then I feel that as a bloc, either the Democrats or the Republicans address the needs of, really, the majority of the American people or they lose all of their constituents to a whole new force that is moving in the country.
JFK: You’ve often been accused of being a separatist, but what you described sounds something different from that. Is your vision a separate one for Blacks and whites, or those who are part of your Third Force, and those who are not?
MLF: The Honorable Elijah Muhammad saw separation as a final solution to the problem of Black/white relationships. To put separatism on me and on the Nation and on the Honorable Elijah Muhammad is grossly unfair because the real separatists are the white people themselves. We were in the holds of the ships and even after we got here we were separated. Even after emancipation we were separated and segregated. It was just 30 years ago that we were finally able to go to school with separatists. We couldn’t even be buried in the same graveyard with the real separatists.
ON THE WORLD FRIENDSHIP TOUR
JFK: After the Million Man March you were in a really unique position and had increased your exposure and acceptance ten fold. A lot of people (who) viewed your trip (World Friendship Tour) as a step back (and) a loss of momentum were angry with you and called you seditious. What do you think? Did you loose momentum? Did it set you back?
MLF: Maybe so, but I’m not thinking about momentum. In reality I knew that when you are able to call for a million and nearly two million show up I’m in a dangerous position. When Martin Luther King spoke in 1963 to a quarter of a million people and made his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, the next day one of the field officer’s of the FBI sent a memo to J. Edgar Hoover saying that Martin Luther King was the most dangerous Negro in America.
Now Martin King was a much different man than Louis Farrakhan. But if Martin was viewed as a threat by saying “I Have A Dream,” when he did not organize that march (but) here is something that Farrakhan called and was the motivating spirit behind this march. Here is a man that is considered a bigot, which Martin King wasn’t; anti-Semitic, which Martin King wasn’t; and a racist, which Martin King wasn’t. I’m considered all of that and now all of these people come out, I’m in danger. And when I say danger I mean from that element in government that is frightened of any Black leader who gains a measure of influence and is not under control.
I saw, in that danger, government working to alienate this little Nation of Islam from the broad Muslim world and I felt it was incumbent upon me, should anything happen to me, to tie the Nation of Islam to the broad Muslim world. …
ON THE LEGACY OF LOUIS FARRAKHAN
JFK: When you are in your dotage with your great grandchildren on your knee, what would you like people to say about you? What would you like your legacy to be?
MLF: When I saw the grandchildren of (Israeli Prime Minister) Yitzhak Rabin at his funeral and his granddaughter said, “you don’t know my grandpa like I know him,” the warmth of his embrace and the tenderness that he showed his grandchildren in spite of (what) he showed to the enemies of Israel, I thought on Yitzhak Rabin and I thought on a man who was a warrior all his life for Israel. I thought of a man who reaches the age of 70 and knows that he doesn’t have as much time in front as he has behind. And all of us as we mature begin to think of what we will leave to our grandchildren. And certainly Mr. Rabin wanted to leave a legacy of peace because he loved his grandchildren and didn’t want to see his grandchildren afflicted by the wars that took so many young lives when he was a young man. …
We have ideals that we love and we get to a point in our lives where we see there are practical realities that young people may not see. You don’t lose your ideal but you temper the pace of moving toward your ideal, or you even abandon certain ideals so that you can pass on to your children something better than was passed on to you.
It takes men and women of courage and vision and strength of character even to sacrifice their lives to make something better for their future. And I say with all candor, I hope that my children will build on the sacrifices of their grandfather and their father. And because your dad and your grandfather, particularly your grandfather, struggled on one level to produce wealth, his children would not have to struggle on the same level but struggle on a higher level. …
I’m trying to lay a foundation for my children and grandchildren that they can struggle on another level–not worried about food, clothing and shelter. And with every morsel that I fed my children, Mr. Kennedy, when they ate a bowl of soup, no matter how meager it was, I would tell my children that that bowl of soup came from the charity of poor people. So when you grow you must also fight for and defend and work for the alleviation of poverty. … So perhaps, Mr. Kennedy, while there is time left we can all work to change the reality of the course of this world. And believe me, Mr. Kennedy, it doesn’t take a lot of people. God turned a world around with one man, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad. You would be surprised at what power you have or I have or the next person has if we commit our lives to the highest principles and then sacrifice for the fruition of those principles. Then, if we are assassinated or if we die a natural death, we never die.
To me, the eternal flame that is over your father’s grave–and I think your uncle’s as well–is the flame of freedom, justice and equity. These are eternal principles that never die. And if you fight for those principles, in those principles is eternal life. So my friend, I thank you very, very much.
JFK: I thank you. I really enjoyed that immensely.
MLF: I’m just putting the thought there. You may reflect on it at some point in the future but the earth and the world, Mr. Kennedy, await visionaries, people who won’t just go along with the status quo but live to make a change, especially when change is so vitally necessary. Really, I appreciate it.
JFK: Thank you.
MLF: Give your family my warm regards.
JFK: I shall.