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Louis Farrakhan (born Louis Eugene Walcott, May 11, 1933), is the head of the Nation of Islam. Farrakhan is the leader of African-American Muslims inside and outside the Nation of Islam.
Farrakhan has been the center of much controversy, and critics have, among other things, claimed that his views are racist and antisemitic. Farrakhan denies these charges.
Farrakhan was born in the Bronx, New York and raised as Eugene Wolcott within the West Indian community in the Roxbury section of Boston, Massachusetts. His mother, Sarah Mae Manning, had emigrated from Saint Kitts and Nevis in the 1920s; his father, Percival Clarke, was a Jamaican cab driver from New York, but was not involved in his upbringing.
As a child, Gene received training as a violinist. At the age of six, he was given his first violin and by the age of 13, he had played with the Boston College Orchestra and the Boston Civic Symphony. A year later, Louis went on to win national competitions, as well as the Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour. He was one of the first blacks to appear on the popular show. A central focus of his youth was St. Cyprian's Church (Episcopal) in Boston's Roxbury section, a part of Boston which also produced Leonard Bernstein.
He had been inspired by Malcolm X and he had accepted a friend's invitation to attend the Nation of Islam's annual Saviours' Day address by Elijah Muhammad. Walcott accepted Elijah Muhammad's teachings that day and was renamed "Louis X."
Adoption of the "X" surname is a tradition within the Nation of Islam. In mathematics, "X" represents an unknown variable. In the purview of the Nation of Islam, followers accept the "X" surname as the rejection of their "slave name". Eventually, the "X" name is replaced by a proper Muslim name more descriptive of the individual's personality and character.
After joining the Nation of Islam, Farrakhan quickly rose through the ranks to become Minister of the Nation of Islam's Boston Mosque. He was appointed Minister of the influential Harlem Mosque and served in that capacity from 1965 to 1975.
In 1977, after wrestling with the changes and consequent dismantling of the NOI structure by Warith Deen Muhammad, Farrakhan walked away from the movement. In a 1990 interview with Emerge magazine, he expressed his disillusionment with the changes and said he decided to "quietly walk away" from the organization rather than cause a schism among the membership. In 1978 with no public notice, Farrakhan and a small number of supporters privately decided to rebuild the original Nation of Islam upon the foundation established by Wallace Fard Muhammad and Elijah Muhammad.
In 1979, the Nation of Islam's newspaper, Muhammad Speaks was reestablished by Farrakhan under the name The Final Call. In 1981, Farrakhan and supporters held the first annual Nation of Islam Saviours' Day convention in Chicago since 1975. At the convention's keynote address, Farrakhan made his first public announcement of the restoration of the Nation of Islam under Elijah Muhammad's teachings.
On January 12, 1995, Malcolm X's daughter, Qubilah Shabazz, was arrested for conspiracy to assassinate Farrakhan. It was later alleged that the FBI had used a paid informant, Michael Fitzpatrick, to frame Shabazz. After Shabazz's arrest, Farrakhan held a press conference in Chicago in which he accused the FBI of attempting to exacerbate division and conflict between the Nation of Islam and the family of Malcolm X. Nearly four months later, on May 1, U.S. government prosecutors dropped their case against Shabazz.
On May 6, 1995, a packed public meeting in Harlem, New York, termed A New Beginning, featured Louis Farrakhan and Malcolm X's widow, Betty Shabazz. Originally organized by community activists as a fund raiser for Qubilah Shabazz's legal defense, the meeting marked the first public reapprochement between Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam and the Shabazz family.
On October 16, 1995 Farrakhan convened a broad coalition of roughly five hundred thousand black men in what many say was the largest march in American history, the hyperbolically named Million Man March. Farrakhan, along with New Black Panther Party leader Malik Zulu Shabazz, Al Sharpton, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Illinois) and other prominent black Americans marked the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March by holding a second march, the Millions More Movement on October 14, 2005 through October 17, 2005, in Washington.
In a 2005 Black Entertainment Television (BET) poll, Farrakhan was voted the 'Person of the Year'.
In a February 2006 AP-AOL "Black Voices" poll, Farrakhan was voted the fifth most important black leader with 4% of the vote.
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