- Associated Press - Sunday, February 23, 2014

DETROIT (AP) - The black community must unite across Christian-Muslim lines and recognize the common goals among the diverse approaches of its past leaders, from Malcolm X to W.E.B. DuBois, because they all “wanted our liberation,” Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan told thousands of supporters Sunday in Detroit.

Farrakhan spoke to a packed Detroit Joe Louis Arena during his keynote address during the annual four-day Saviours’ Day convention. He touched on a range of topics, including problems facing the bankrupt host city, where the National of Islam started.

He spoke of the common reverence for Jesus that that Muslims and Christians share, and praised the work of Christian ministers in spreading the word of God. Farrakhan went through what he called his “Pantheon” of black leaders, describing how Martin Luther King, Booker T. Washington, DuBois and Malcolm X were part of a common struggle.

“All of them wanted our liberation,” Farrakhan told the crowd. “Can you hold onto the common thread that binds them all together as one?”

Farrahkan, who exchanged bitter words with Malcolm X shortly before his 1965 assassination following a break with Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad, said Malcolm X would have only positive things to say about other black leaders.

During the two-hour speech, he addressed problems just outside the arena’s walls. Acknowledging that the majority-black city recently elected a white mayor, Mike Duggan, Farrakhan said the mayor needs to help resurrect Detroit’s blighted neighborhoods and not just promote its reviving downtown.

“We hope he’ll be successful,” Farrakhan said.

As he has done in the past, he also lashed out at Jews, saying they fostered division among blacks as well as misrepresentations of black leaders through what he said was their control of the publishing industry. Farrakhan also compared himself to Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company who actively promoted the idea of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy through his local newspaper.

Ford was “a great man who was called an ant-Semite,” Farrakhan said, praising the auto pioneer’s measures to improve the living conditions of his employees through higher pay. “I feel like I’m in good company.”

His comments Sunday drew quick criticism from Heidi Budaj, Michigan regional director of the Jewish rights advocacy group the Anti-Defamation League.

“Expressing pride for being called anti-Semitic is shameful,” she said. “A person in this day and age should be ashamed to say that.”

Budaj said religious bigotry and dividing people along racial or ethnic lines was the last thing a struggling area like Detroit needed. Whatever positive things Farrakhan may have to say about black solidarity, “those are negated by the hatred he spews from the pulpit,” she said.

The Nation of Islam is now based in Chicago.


Follow David N. Goodman at https://twitter.com/davidngoodman

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