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A more conciliatory Farrakhan: 'I've evolved'

Story Highlights

• Farrakhan says he wants to work with all people for world peace
• Nation of Islam leader says cancer has changed him
• Farrakhan: 'I've evolved'
By Don Lemon
CNN
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Editor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents and anchors share their experiences in covering news and analyze the stories behind the events. Here, CNN's Don Lemon recounts his recent interview with Louis Farrakhan.

CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) -- When I sat down with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, I was surprised by what I found: a softer, more conciliatory Farrakhan -- a man who says his battle with cancer has changed him in ways he'd never imagined.

He says he now wants to work together with all people and all religions to bring about peace in the world.

When I asked him what happened to the old Louis Farrakhan, he responded, "I was a warrior then, defending myself against people who called me a black Hitler. Now is a different climate. I've evolved."

It was quite the revelation for a man whose fiery rhetoric often stirred anger. He has been accused of anti-Semitism for his comments about Jews over the years, such as referring to "wicked Jews" in one speech.

But he's also well-respected in the African-American community. He helped organize the Million Man March in 1995, and BET.com users selected him in 2005 as their "Person of the Year." (Watch Farrakhan describe his cancer battle and how he was "dying" Video)

Just last month, in what could be one of his final public appearances, Farrakhan announced to members of the Nation of Islam he would be stepping down for health reasons.

"I was trying to set things in place inside the Nation in case I passed away," he told me.

I have to say not many people intimidate me or make me nervous. However, Farrakhan is one who does. At least that's what I thought going into the interview.

I came to CNN from Chicago, Farrakhan's hometown, and had covered him for years as a local news reporter. But I had never sat down with him one-on-one, let alone in his home in his living room.

It was a snowy Chicago morning when we arrived at his home in historic Hyde Park. A few hours after setting up our equipment, Farrakhan walked downstairs. But before his entourage announced him, I already knew he was there.

You could feel it in the room.

He looked good; like himself. But I could tell he was a little frail, a little wobbly. And although he put on a good face, his handshake confirmed his frailness.

When he sat down, he immediately put me at ease. He told me I could ask him anything. So I put away my note pad with all the questions I wanted to ask and said, "How are you doing?" We had an extremely open conversation that lasted for nearly two hours. He touched on everything from his health to Barack Obama.

"I think he's capable of being an answer," he said of the senator from Illinois.

He also talked about his battle with prostate cancer over the last several years. He'd tried to fight it holistically, and had had irradiated seeds implanted into his body to kill the cancer. But the seeds had burned holes into some of his vital body parts.

He recounted the horrific day he almost bled to death in his bathroom, losing four units of blood in his home and then in the ambulance en route to the emergency room. There, he says, doctors told him that if he didn't have traditional surgery to remove the cancer and repair the damage from the irradiated seeds, that he would "surely die."

He had the operation and survived. And, at 73, he's still going. But he also says when you reach his age, you're always "concerned about your mortality."


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Louis Farrakhan says he wants all people to bring about world peace.

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