Certainly Farrakhan had his moments, when he lashed out at white supremacism and particularly towards the end as he led the great multitude in a pledge of black male responsibility, love and pride. But by then many were already leaving, slipping off through the shadows cast by the late afternoon sun, baffled, bewildered and - dare one say it - bored.
Thirty-two years ago, Martin Luther King Jnr took just 19 minutes to deliver his "I have a dream" speech. To this day, its cadences vibrate and thrill, leaping even from the printed page. Come the year 2027, few will remember the interminable brew served up by the leader of the Nation of Islam.
It had, literally, everything: biblical quotes interleaved with thoughts from the mystical Sufic branch of Islam; Masonic allusions to ancient Egypt; references to Africa; not to mention numerology, dollops of American history (frequently distorted), tirades against white racists from presidents Washington and Jefferson on - and, of course, the calls for atonement (the original purpose of the exercise).
In the end, the Philippic just fizzled out, exhausted and crushed by the sheer weight of words. But the fact remained that Louis Farrakhan had succeeded in organising himself the biggest national platform for a black leader in history.
President Clinton, America is ... wounded and there's hostility between the people. Socially, the fabric of America is being torn apart, and it's black against black, black against white, white against white, white against black, yellow against brown, brown against yellow. We are being torn apart, and we can't gloss it over with nice speeches, my dear Mr President.
Sir, with all due respect, that was a great speech you made today. [Clinton, speaking in Texas, had appealed to Americans to "clean our house of racism".] And you praised the marchers, and they are worthy of praise. You honoured the marchers, and they are worthy of honour. But, of course, you spoke ill, indirectly, of me as a purveyor of malice and hatred.
I must hasten to tell you, Mr President, that I'm not a malicious person, and I'm not filled with malice. But I must tell you that I come in the tradition of the doctor who has to point out, with truth, what's wrong. And the pain is that power has made America arrogant. Power and wealth has made America spiritually blind. And the power and the arrogance of America makes you refuse to hear a child of your slaves pointing out the wrong in your society.
Do you want a solution to the dilemma that America faces? Then don't look at our skin colour because racism will cause you to reject salvation if it comes in the skin of a black person. Don't look at the kinkiness of our hair and the broadness of our nose and the thickness of our lips, but listen to the beat of our hearts and the pulsating rhythm of the truth. Perhaps, perhaps you might be as wise as the pharaoh and save this great nation. ...
All of these black men that the world sees as savage, maniacal and bestial, look at them. A sea of peace. A sea of tranquility. A sea of men ready to come back to God, settle their differences and go back home to turn our communities into decent and safe places to live.
America. America the beautiful. There's no country like this on the earth. And certainly if I lived in another country, I might never have had the opportunity to speak as I speak today. ... But because this is America, you allow me to speak even though you don't like what I may say. Because this is America, that provision in the Constitution for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and freedom of religion, that is our saving grace, because what you're under right now is grace, and grace is the expression of divine love and protection which God bestows freely on people.
God is angry, America. He's angry, but his mercy is still present. ...
Matthew said: "As lightning shines from the east even unto the west, so shall the coming of the son of man be, for wheresoever the eagles are gathered together, there shall the carcass be." Here's the carcass, the remains of a once-mighty people, dry bones in the valley, a people slain from the foundation of the world. But God hath sent the winds to blow on the bones. One of those winds is named [House Speaker Newt] Gingrich, and the companion wind is named [Senate Majority Leader Robert] Dole. And the other is called Supreme Court decisions. The other is fratricidal conflict - drugs and dope and violence and crime.
But we've had enough now. This is why you're in Washington today.
There is a great divide, but the real evil in America is not white flesh or black flesh. The real evil in America is the idea that undergirds the set-up of the Western world, and that idea is called white supremacy. ...
Now, wait, wait, wait. Before you get angry, those of you listening by television, you don't even know why you behave the way you behave. I'm not telling you I'm a psychiatrist, but I do want to operate on your head.
White supremacy is the enemy of both white people and black people because the idea of white supremacy means you should rule because you're white. That makes you sick, and you produce the sick society and a sick world. ...
So Mr Clinton, we're going to do away with the mind-set of the Founding Fathers. You don't have to repudiate them like you've asked my brothers to do me. You don't have to say they were malicious, hate-filled people. But you must evolve out of their mind-set. ...
You're not well. And in the light of today's global village, you can never harmonise with the Asians, you can't harmonise with the islands of the Pacific, you can't harmonise with the dark people of the world, who outnumber you 11 to 1, if you're going to stay in the mind of white supremacy. White supremacy has to die in order for humanity to live.
Now, white folks, see, the reason you could look at the OJ Simpson trial in Harlem and the reason black folk rejoiced had nothing to do with the horror of the tragedy. Black folk would never rejoice over the slaughter of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson. Black folk saw that with compassion. Many black folk grieved over that reality. You say: "OJ sold out." No, he didn't sell out. He was drawn out.
Black folk, they've got talent. They all grew up in the 'hood. When we sing, we sing in these old raunchy nightclubs in the 'hood. When we play sandlot ball, we play it in the 'hood. But when you spot us, you draw us out. You say: "That Negro can run." "Look at how high he jumps." So you give us a scholarship to your university.
But the blacks who are in college who play basketball for you, who play football for you, who run track for you, you disallow them to get involved with black students and the suffering of black students on all-white campuses. You hide them away, give them privileges, then they find themself with your daughter. Then you take them into the NBA [National Basketball Association] the NFL [National Football League], and they become megastars or in the entertainment field.
And when they become megastars, their association is no longer black. They may not have a black manager, a black agent, a black accountant. They meet in parties in posh neighbourhoods that black folk don't come in to, so their association becomes white women, white men, and association breeds assimilation. And if you have a slave mentality, you feel you have arrived now because you can jump over cars running in airports, play in films. I'm not dregrading my brother; I love him. But he was drawn out. He didn't sell out, he was drawn out.
And so to all the artists that are present, you wonderful, gifted artists, remember that your gift comes from God. ... So when you sing, you don't have to get naked to sing. Demonstrate your gift, not your breast. Demonstrate your gift, not what is between your legs. Clean up, black man, and the world will respect and honour you.
But you have fallen down like the prodigal son and you're husking corn and feeding swine. Filthy jokes. We can't bring our children to the television, we can't bring our families to the movies because the American people have an appetite like a swine. And you are feeding the swine with the filth of degenerate culture. We got to stop it.
We're not putting you down, brothers. We want to pick you up, so with your rap you can pick up the world, with your song you can pick up the world, with your dance, with your music you can pick up the world.
So my beloved brothers and sisters, here's what we would like you to do. We must belong to some organisation that is working for, and in the interests of, the uplift and the liberation of our people. Go back, join the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] if you want to. Join the Urban League. Join the All African People's Revolutionary Party. Join us; join the Nation of Islam. Join the Congress of Racial Equality. Join SCLC, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
But we must become a totally organised people, and the only way we can do that is to become a part of some organisation that is working for the uplift of our people. We must keep the local organising committees that made this event possible, we must keep them together. Go back and join the local organising committee. And then all of us as leaders must stay together and make the National African-American Leadership summit inclusive of all of us. ...
Now, brothers, moral and spiritual renewal is a necessity. Every one of you must go back home and join some church, synagogue, temple or mosque that is teaching spiritual and moral uplift. I want you, brothers. There's no men in the church, in the mosque. The men are in the streets, and we got to get back to the houses of God.
But, preachers, we have to revive religion in America. We have to revive the houses of God that they're not personal fiefdoms of those of us who are their preachers. But we've got to be more like Jesus, more like Muhammad, more like Moses, and become servants of people in fulfilling their needs.
Brothers, when you go home, we got to register eight million eligible but unregistered brothers, sisters. So you go home and find eight more like yourself. You register and get them to - "Well, how should I register? Should I register as a Democrat? Should I register as a Republican? Should I register as an independent?"
If you're an independent, that's fine; if you're a Democrat, that's fine; if you're a Republican, that's OK, because in local elections you have to do that which is in the best interests of your local community. But what we want is not necessarily a third party, but a third force, which means that we're going to collect Democrats, Republicans and independents around an agenda that is in the best interests of our people.
And then all of us can stand on that agenda, and in 1996 whoever the standard bearer is for the Democratic Party, the Republican Party or Independent Party, should one come into existence, they got to speak to our agenda. We're no longer going to vote for somebody just because they're black. We've tried that. We wish we could. But we got a vote for you if you are compatible with our agenda.
Now, atonement goes beyond us. I don't like this squabble with the members of the Jewish community. I don't like it. The honourable Elijah Muhammad said in one of his writings that he believed that we would work out some kind of an accord. Maybe so. Rev [Jesse] Jackson has talked to the 12 presidents of Jewish organisations, and perhaps in the light of what we see today it's time to sit down and talk, not with any preconditions. You got pain, but we got pain, too. You hurt; we hurt, too. The question is if the dialogue is proper, then we might be able to end the pain. And ending the pain may be good for both and ultimately good for the nation. We're not opposed to sitting down.Reuse content