A great column on the Nation of Islam’s and its leader Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism was posted recently on al.com, Alabama’s largest news site, by Janita Poe, one of Alabama’s leading African-American journalists. Ms. Poe responded to a story in our Birmingham Jewish Federation e-newsletter on a Tablet magazine article debunking Farrakhan’s and the Nation of Islam’s claims against Jews regarding slavery and oppression of blacks.
The Update story, written by Federation Assistant Executive Director Daniel Odrezin, noted that in the wake of our Federation speaking out against Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism when he visited our state last June, our staff and other members of our Jewish community received vicious anti-Semitic emails from the Nation of Islam. Ms. Poe clearly was bothered by this.
“Come on Nation of Islam,” she wrote. “As a reporter for The Chicago Tribune from 1992 to 1999, I marveled at the safe, clean business district you built on the South Side of Chicago. In metro Atlanta, where I grew up and also worked as a news reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, I was equally impressed with the work you did with young black males who were on a road to nowhere until you pulled them under your wings. And, who hasn’t forgotten Farrakhan’s calling for his successful ‘Million Man March’ in October of 1995?”
“But, in 2013 — 50 years after major civil rights protests in this state and country — are you telling me that you are still blaming our Jewish brothers and sisters…for the oppression of black people in Alabama?” she wrote with indignation.
“My parents and schoolteachers — and those of people I grew up with in southwest Atlanta in the 1970s and early 1980s — taught me that members of the Jewish community were huge supporters of the 1960s-era civil rights movement,” added Ms. Poe. “In fact, I learned that not only did Jewish people march and, in some cases, die for the rights of black Americans, they invested thousands of dollars into the effort, as well.”
Her column is worth reading. The Birmingham Jewish Federation thanks her for writing it. The three emails sent to Federation staff by the Nation of Islam were full of exaggerations, historical “facts” taken out of context and hateful anti-Semitic sentiments. They were designed to suggest that Jews have been and continue to be a prime source of America’s and Alabama’s racial problems.
“Let us ‘Never Forget’ that the collected bile of notorious haters like Rabbi (Milton) Grafman (of Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El), George Wallace, Strom Thurmond, Lester Maddox, and Bull Connor had its source in the Jewish Talmud, a book of tricks and lies crafted by the rabbis of ancient times,” the Nation of Islam’s “Research Group” claimed in one of the emails. (Rabbi Grafman was no segregationist.)
In another email, the Nation of Islam expressed outrage that Anne Frank, the young Jewish girl who died in the Holocaust, was memorialized at Birmingham’s Kelly Ingram Park, an important Civil Rights era site. The email claimed, among other things, that this is a slight to the four young black girls who died in a 1963 racial bombing at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which is across the street.
What got them going on Anne Frank, a young woman wise beyond her years who through her diary has inspired millions worldwide, was a piece in our Federation’s e-newsletter commenting on the incongruity and offensiveness of the anti-Semitic Farrakhan speaking at Kelly Ingram Park just a short distance from the park’s Anne Frank remembrance tree. It was planted there as a universal symbol against hatred and bigotry.
Referring to her world famous diary that came to be published posthumously, the Nation of Islam wrote, “Through her experiences we are to come away believing that Blacks and Jews share a common history of suffering and oppression, even though Jews actually were the architects of slavery, Jim Crow oppression, Black sharecropping, and white supremacy here in America.”
“So how did a German girl come to have a tree planted in Black sacred soil in America?” the Nation of Islam asked and then added, “Turns out, the Anne Frank tree idea was advanced in 2010 and spearheaded by the same Birmingham Jewish Federation that now uses the tree as a rhetorical weapon against Minister Farrakhan and Alabama’s Black leaders!”
“The Jews in America have practiced the most incredible and sophisticated form of identity theft in human history,” the Nation of Islam continued. “They have successfully removed significant historical markers of Black people’s experiences… and replaced them with their own Jewish ones. Installing an Anne Frank memorial tree on Black America’s sacred Civil Rights ground is a blatant example of this Jewish scheming.”
What the Nation of Islam neglected to mention was that among the speakers at the tree’s dedication was Carolyn McKinstry who survived the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, and among the sponsors of the Anne Frank initiative was the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Birmingham Public Library and Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.
Black self-empowerment is a goal to be lauded. In addition, concerns over a recent US Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act, which was the catalyst for Farrakhan’s coming to Alabama in June, are legitimate. We, as Jews, should listen to and attempt to understand these concerns. What is not to be lauded, however, and what is not legitimate is painting an entire group of people, in this case Jews, in such a dastardly and divisive way as Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam have done for years and continue to do.
Journalist Janita Poe’s column is important. She credits Farrakhan for “the outstanding work his organization has done in urban economic development, keeping some young black men out of prison and building the overall self-esteem of American slave descendants.”
“But,” she adds loud and clear, “when Farrakhan — and his followers — say anything negative about Jewish Americans, I pull out from the ranks.”