IT'S BEEN MORE than a year since some folks cheered the impending death of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
Those of you who did know who you are. When word of Farrakhan's prostate cancer hit newspapers, television and radio, some grinned and chuckled and cackled at the prospect of the "Jew-baiting black racist's" impending demise. Some, no doubt, danced a joyous jig.
There was only one problem: Farrakhan wasn't dead yet.
On Thursday, just before 8:50 p.m., one Louis Farrakhan, resplendent in an impeccably tailored, double-breasted, royal blue suit, walked in front of an overflow crowd at the Bread of Life Cathedral. He smiled warmly as he walked to the front of the altar and bowed to the assemblage. For a dead guy, he looked darn good.
The thunderous ovation and cheers lasted three to four minutes. It was a scene anybody who has ever heard Farrakhan speak has witnessed. But there was a slight, yet significant variation this time. In the back, some five or six rows from the rear in the far left of the cathedral, sat four young white women - college students, perhaps - who were standing and cheering as fervently as any black person in attendance.
Farrakhan began his speech in his usual style, one that he has mastered over 40 years. He spoke softly, talked slowly, as if he were almost hesitant to speak at all. But his voice crescendoed and quickened as he drove home points about the black family, reparations, white supremacy and black responsibility.
At one point, Farrakhan addressed the issue of what blacks must do to solve their problems.
"The burden is not on white America," he said. "The burden is on you and me to do what needs to be done." That statement received well-deserved applause. But had black Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said the same thing verbatim to this audience, he'd have been tarred, feathered and dumped into the polluted waters of the Inner Harbor.
But in seeming contradiction to his challenge to black Americans to lift their own burdens, Farrakhan shifted to the topic of reparations. It turns out he supports reparations, but with some caveats.
"Reparations is more than dollars, because a fool and his money are soon parted," Farrakhan cautioned those assembled. "The white man may say, 'We'll give every one of you who's a descendant of slaves $50,000.' Some of you would settle for that."
Farrakhan paused a few seconds and looked over the audience. Then he told everyone just when black folks settling for $50,000 a pop should happen.
"Not as long as I'm alive," he said, to more cheers. He said that some blacks would be the same "dumb Negroes" they were before they got the money and would blow all $50,000 within 10 days.
Reparations must "repair the damage done under the system of white supremacy," Farrakhan thundered, and must be linked to land. That's a demand the Nation of Islam has made for years, since Elijah Muhammad called for the formation of a separate black nation within the borders of the United States, with the government providing money for technological and economic assistance.
Muhammad's plan called for one payment and a final parting of the ways of white and black Americans. That plan is simple and straightforward. What's been proposed now by blacks outside the Nation of Islam - suggestions run the gamut, from free college tuition for black students to money to other forms of reparation - is pretty much a mass of confusion.
Having buoyed the egos of those who support reparations, Farrakhan took them down a peg. He called black Americans a "savage people."
"You're a Cadillac-driving, Mercedes Benz-driving, diamond earring-wearing savage," Farrakhan said. "It's a savage thing to put a gun in your hand and drive down the street and shoot somebody who's not doing anything to you to prove a point. Godly life is not lived in the black community."
All blacks didn't fit that description, Farrakhan quickly observed, "but all of us are in that category of lacking knowledge of self."
There's a lesson here to be learned from whites and Jews who claim Farrakhan is racist. In almost all of his speeches, he's tougher on blacks than he is on other groups. He may step on your toes, but he amputates ours. If we have to take this kind of abuse, so should everyone else.
Truth sometimes can be quite abusive. Farrakhan gave it in doses large and small Thursday, during a week when two presidential candidates, a U.S. senatorial candidate and the president of the United States came to town. At the end of his speech - in which he alternately humored, exhilarated and challenged those assembled - the audience, including the four white women, stood to cheer him again. It was quite a piece of work - for a dead guy.