WASHINGTON -- After a week of silence over the crumbling relationship between the Nation of Islam and the nation's African-American leaders, the NAACP yesterday said it was satisfied with black Muslim leader Louis T. Farrakhan's condemnation of an aide Thursday and believes that the controversial leader is neither anti-Semitic nor racist.
The nation's leading civil rights organization issued the written statement a day after Mr. Farrakhan's provocative news conference, in which he said he was disciplining his aide, Khalid Abdul Muhammad, for the "repugnant, malicious" manner in which he spoke against Jews, Catholics and whites, but stood by the "truths" of his speech.
"The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is satisfied with the condemnation and disciplinary action taken by Minister Louis Farrakhan against his aide Khalid Abdul Muhammad," the NAACP's statement said.
"The NAACP is prepared to believe Minister Farrakhan's statement that he is neither anti-Semitic nor racist, and we look forward to concrete deeds in the future that would affirm his statements."
In stark contrast to the Congressional Black Caucus, which three days ago resoundingly rejected a formal working relationship with the Nation of Islam, the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., executive director of the NAACP, said that Mr. Farrakhan would be "welcomed by the NAACP" at a "private" meeting of African-American leaders that Dr. Chavis proposed.
In his news conference Thursday, much of which was devoted to harsh attacks on the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, Mr. Farrakhan called on black leaders to hold a summit to prevent a "total rupture" of relations within the black leadership.
The NAACP, in its statement, said it intended to sponsor such a leadership summit.
"The purpose of the summit is not to focus on a single issue but rather a myriad of life-and-death issues currently impacting on the quality of life of the African-American community," Dr. Chavis said.
But other black leaders said they would not participate in a summit of any kind with the Nation of Islam, in light of Mr. Farrakhan's defense of the substance of his aide's remarks.
Mr. Muhammad said in a speech at Kean College in New Jersey that Jews were the "bloodsuckers of the black nation."
"I would be reluctant to participate in any meeting, any summit, any conference until people are prepared to renounce and denounce this kind of message," said Georgia Rep. John Lewis, a senior member of the Black Caucus and veteran of the civil rights movement.
"There's not any room in our society for the teachings or preachings of any doctrine or philosophy of racism, bigotry or anti-Semitism."
Mr. Lewis was not ready to accept Mr. Farrakhan's statement that he is neither anti-Semitic nor racist, given that the minister "condemned the way the message was delivered, but did not condemn the message."
And he said he was "surprised" at the response by the 85-year-old civil rights organization.
"It's important for all of us to pull together and to put this behind us, but you don't heal wounds by trying to cover up the sore," he said. "You have to bring the filth from under the rug and out of the dark corners so we can deal with it."
Caucus met with Farrakhan
A senior House member of the Congressional Black Caucus said yesterday that the lawmakers had held three unpublicized meetings with Mr. Farrakhan over a long period before their relationship with him ruptured this week, the New York Times reported.
In a written message made public yesterday, Rep. Major R. Owens of New York bitterly denounced Mr. Farrakhan's movement as a "hate-mongering fringe group" that he said was spreading "dangerous poison" and must be repudiated, the newspaper said.
William F. Gibson, chairman of the NAACP board, said in a telephone interview that he felt Mr. Farrakhan made enough of a denunciation of his aide to "qualify" for further discussions with the NAACP.
Ready for discussions
"We're not saying we're prepared to walk with Mr. Farrakhan in his direction. We're just saying we're prepared to sit down at the table to talk about bridging gaps in the African-American community and solving problems that affect all of us as a race. The NAACP feels that talking is not indictable."
Dr. Gibson said he was not disturbed by Mr. Farrakhan's defense of the "truths" in his aide's speech, because, "[Mr. Farrakhan] didn't specify which truths he was talking about. I would assume that if you give a speech for over an hour, there are going to be some truths in it."
Furthermore, Dr. Gibson said, he was satisfied that Mr. Farrakhan was not anti-Semitic -- even in light of Mr. Farrakhan's declaration that "75 percent of slaves owned in the South were owned by Jewish slave-holders" -- because he said that he wasn't. "We have no reason to call the man a liar," said Dr. Gibson.
Asked if he or the NAACP believed Mr. Farrakhan's contention about Jewish slaveholders, an assertion dismissed by historians grossly inaccurate, he said, "We haven't done research. We're not trying to quantify every statement he [Mr. Farrakhan] said. I don't know who owned the slaves."
He said his organization's budding relationship with the Nation of Islam had been disrupted after the aide's speech but could now be mended.
Rodney Orange, president of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP, said that while he could understand how Jews and whites would see Mr. Farrakhan's remarks as anti-Semitic and racist, "things are said in the black community that have a different meaning or purpose."
In agreeing with the overture to the Nation of Islam, Mr. Orange said, "We think that very often statements made against African-Americans are not taken in the same light as statements made against Jews or whites. So it's difficult to get very worked up about statements made about others when they're not showing you the same kind of consideration."