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Louis Farrakhan has led the Nation of Islam, an African American movement that combined elements of Islam with black nationalism since 1978.
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Louis Farrakhan was born Louis Eugene Walcott on May 11, 1933, in the Bronx, New York. He joined the Nation of Islam in 1955 and in 1978 led a breakaway group of the Nation of Islam that preserved the original teachings of Elijah Muhammad. In the 1980s, Farrakhan was criticized for making anti-Semitic remarks; he denies being anti-Semitic. In 1995, he led the Million Man March on Washington, D.C.
Born Louis Eugene Wolcott, Louis Farrakhan grew up near Boston. He was raised by his mother, who came to the United States from the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. At first, Farrakhan sought to become an educator, winning a scholarship to Winston-Salem Teacher's College. But he left after two years to pursue his passion for music. He had many talents, including being a skilled violinist and a good singer.
Known as the Charmer, Farrakhan enjoyed some success in his career. He had a hit with the song "Jumbie Jamboree." But Farrakhan soon discovered a different calling after attending a Nation of Islam event while performing in Chicago. The organization had been established by Elijah Muhammad in the 1930s. In his teachings, Muhammad called for the establishment of a separate nation for African Americans, and he decried whites as their oppressors. With encouragement from Muhammad's right-hand man, Malcolm X, Farrakhan joined this Muslim movement in 1955. He took the name Louis X. Using his musical abilities, Farrakhan penned the song "A White Man's Heaven Is a Black Man's Hell" for his new religious group.
Farrakhan rose up in the organization's hierarchy. He worked as assistant minister to Malcolm X at a Boston mosque and then took over Malcolm X's place when he went to preach at the Nation of Islam mosque in New York City's Harlem neighborhood. The movement's leader, Elijah Muhammad, also bestowed a holy name upon him, calling him Farrakhan.
When Malcolm X split from the group in 1964, Farrakhan quickly filled his shoes, growing even closer to Elijah Muhammad. His relationship with Malcolm X turned bitter as Malcolm X started to speak about the group's divisive racial theology and possible abuses of power by Muhammad. Some thought that Farrakhan may have been involved in Malcolm X's assassination the following year. Three members of the Nation of Islam were later arrested for Malcolm X's murder.
When Elijah Muhammad died in 1975, the Nation of Islam eventually fragmented. Muhammad had appointed as his successor his son, Warith Deen Mohammad (or Mohammed, according to some sources), who sought to take the group toward a more traditional practice of the Muslim faith. Farrakhan was not happy with this turn of events, and he eventually broke away from the group.
In the late 1970s, Farrakhan started up a new Nation of Islam, one that adhered to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad. He started a newspaper, The Final Call, to help him communicate his views to others around this time. In his new position, Farrakhan remained outspoken on social and political issues, sometimes drawing fire for his racial and religious comments.
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