October 14, 1995
Web posted at: 2:55 p.m. EDT
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With the Million Man March just days away, Minister Louis Farrakhan made just the kind of statement about Jews that makes some people very nervous.
"Many of the Jews who owned the homes, the apartments in the black community, we considered them bloodsuckers because they took from our community and built their community," the leader of the Nation of Islam told the Reuter news agency in an interview broadcast Friday.
And not only Jews, Farrakhan said, take advantage of the black community, but "when the Jews left, the Palestinian Arabs came, Koreans came, Vietnamese and other ethnic and racial groups came. And so this is a type, and we call them bloodsuckers."
Jewish leaders reacted quickly and angrily, as they often have. "A hatemonger should not be leading a (civil rights) march on Washington," said David C. Friedman, executive director of the Washington office of the Anti-Defamation League of B'Nai B'rith. "It's an illusion for people to feel that they can participate and endorse this march without in any way showing support for Farrakhan."
But many people disagree. They say that Farrakhan's stated purpose for Monday's march -- "a holy day of atonement and reconciliation" for African-American men" -- far outweighs Farrakhan's rhetoric.
"If the house is on fire, I'm not going to sit there and let the house burn just because I have differences with the person who sounded the alarm and started the water going," said the Rev. Joseph Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
"Why are black men responding to this call? Who of us in America could have issued this call and get this type of response?" said march national director Benjamin Chavis. "So you know this attempt to separate the message from the messenger is not going to work."
In other words, Farrakhan's good deeds -- the Nation of Islam's fight against drugs and crime, the minister's often repeated message of black self-determination -- mean more than Farrakhan's inflammatory rhetoric about Jews, Catholics, and others. But the Anti-Defamation League is not Farrakhan's sole critic.
"I don't want to be associated with or identified with anything that tends to demonstrate signs of racism, bigotry or anti-Semitism," said Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia), a veteran of the civil rights movement.
And some women take issue with the march's call for men only -- for black men to resume responsibilities they have abdicated and to again take their places as community leaders.
"No march, movement or agenda that defines manhood in the narrowest terms and seeks to make women lesser partners in this quest for equality can be considered a positive step," said long-time black activist Angela Davis.
Davis is a member of African American Agenda 2000, a group formed in opposition to Farrakhan's Million Man March. At a press conference Friday, she said she understood "the attraction of the march, but added that "there are ways of understanding black masculinity that do not rely on subjugating women."
March organizers have asked women to stay at home while the men come to Washington, a request that civil rights activist Jewell Jackson McCabe says is sexist at its heart.
"How dare anyone ask us to show unity by silence?" she said. "What price for our own dignity, and what price for our community's dignity?"
Still for some, the issue is that something needs to be done, and Farrakhan is willing to do it.
"I think it is a positive movement," said New York University student Autelia Oteng-Sarkodie of Ghana, Africa. "We've been waiting a long time for it to happen. People have been waiting, waiting for something from the black community, from the black people, and I think this is it."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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