With the upcoming Nation of Islam conference in Detroit, this week’s column explores its leader’s anti-Semitic rhetoric.

As readers know by now, I really love spending time in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History. Every time I dip into the Archive, I find interesting and “cool” stories, and always learn something. In some cases, however, the stories I find may have useful information, but they are also maddening.

The catalyst for this week’s “Looking Back” was an announcement that the “Saviors’ Day 2020” conference will be held in Detroit Feb. 21-23. This is the national conference of the Nation of Islam (NOI), which is led by Louis Farrakhan — or as the online advertisement promotes him, the “Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.”

The conference is also celebrating the 40th anniversary of the NOI’s publication, The Call. The conference, therefore, is honoring a person and thing — Farrakhan and The Call — that are widely known for anti-Semitic views.

Louis Farrakhan coverage in the Jewish News

Louis Farrakhan coverage in the Jewish News

I went into the Davidson Digital Archive to see what I would find about the NOI and Farrakhan.

The JN and its predecessor, the Detroit Jewish Chronicle, often reported about and discussed the issue of anti-Semitism over the past 100 years. As I suspected, there were lots of stories and letters about Farrakhan: 429, to be precise. Most of them cited some of the awful statements Farrakhan made in the past — and still makes.

To be fair, historically speaking, we might all agree upon much of what the NOI seems to promote: freedom, justice, equality and self-empowerment. This all sounds good on paper.

So, why does Farrakhan continue to spout anti-Semitism? Would he tolerate people promoting racist views of African Americans?

Farrakhan’s words are well-documented in the JN. For example, see the story in the July 27, 1984, issue of the JN: “Unrepentant Preacher,” where he cites Jews as practicing a “dirty religion.”

Louis Farrakhan represented in the Jewish News

Louis Farrakhan in Detroit Jewish News archives

Or, if you really want a lesson in verbal gymnastics, see Arthur Magida’s interview with Farrakhan, an exclusive to the JN, in the Oct. 22, 1993, issue, where Farrakhan claims he does not hate Jews. However, it was noted that, during one of his speeches in 1984, Farrakhan asked what to do with the Jews? Someone in the crowd shouted, “Kill them.” Farrakhan response was, “I did not say that. I just seconded the motion.” And he says he does not hate Jews. Apparently, he just dislikes everything about Jews, including their “gutter religion.”

As you can imagine, there were letters to the JN criticizing the interview’s publication. In my philosophy as a historian, it’s best to know one’s enemy. This interview was, hopefully, enlightening for JN readers.

Why should I write about this now? Well, in this age of increasing anti-Semitism, we can’t ignore its promoters. To try to understand such people is not to accept anything they say. It’s just a sad state of affairs that people like Farrakhan, and many others, claim to desire respect and equality, yet are perfectly willing to bash other groups to achieve their goals.

While this is not the type of “Looking Back” column I really enjoy, it does speak to the depth of knowledge to be found in the Davidson Archive and the fact the JN has always tried to present its readers with significant content — even if about despicable people and subjects.

Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.

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