Former Nation of Islam insider confronted 'bitter reality'

Daytona Beach News Journal/November 3, 2001
By Donna Callea

Daytona Beach -- As a young man, Vibert White considered himself a rebel, a revolutionary.

Like countless other African-Americans in the late 1970s, "I was hungry for a new type of black leadership," the noted scholar, historian, and author told students Friday at Bethune-Cookman College, his first alma mater.

"I was ready to hear the sweet words of Louis Farrakhan...He sounded like the real deal," said White, a 43-year-old University of Illinois professor of African-American studies who first heard the controversial leader of the Nation of Islam speak when he was an undergraduate at B-CC.

But after 15 years as a member of the Nation of Islam, during which he moved within the movement's highest circles, White said he was forced to confront a bitter reality.

Farrakhan's organization is corrupt, according to the professor, who is the author of the recently published expose "Inside the Nation of Islam, A Historical and Personal Testimony By a Black Muslim."

The former insider also contends that the Nation of Islam has ties to terrorist groups in the Middle East, has secretly allied itself with white supremacist groups, and has "exploited working class people and the black underclass for the leaders' own personal gain."

Telephone calls to the Nation of Islam's office in Chicago seeking comment were not returned Friday.

White, who rose in the ranks from foot soldier in the movement to minister, to an adviser for the Million Man March in 1995, said he also traveled extensively with the upper echelon of the Nation of Islam, including to meetings in the Middle East with such figures as Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Despite the fact that he opposed the hatred and anti-Semitism spouted by the Nation of Islam leadership, and saw funds going to line the people's pockets and building mansions for Farrakhan, White said he remained in the movement because he hoped he could be an agent for change. He believed in the message of black pride and responsibility, he said, and "I thought perhaps the Million Man March could change things." The money collected during that event in Washington, however, has never been accounted for, White said.

Throughout his tenure in the Nation of Islam, White said he kept journals of everything he witnessed, and eventually turned his experiences into a book, which features a forward by CBS newsman Mike Wallace.

"People said I would be putting my life on the line writing this manuscript," said White, whose B-CC lecture was taped by a film crew from the cable network C-SPAN. So far, however, he's only received "pointed e-mails and phone messages."

White -- who embraced African spiritualism as his religion since renouncing the Nation of Islam -- said what he's hoping to accomplish now is to encourage others to look at those "who say they represent us" with a more critical and analytic eye.

Although they may hunger, as he did, for a charismatic leader, White told the B-CC students that they have the power themselves to effect positive change.

"We do have an agenda," he said, which is to "make the American Constitution live up to its promise," to work hard as individuals, and together "find a way to fight against bigotry."

"Leadership comes from you...," he said.

Fact sheet: Nation of Islam

The Nation of Islam, also known as the Black Muslim movement, differs considerably from traditional Islam, according to the University of Virginia's Religious Movements homepage.

  • It was founded in 1930 in Detroit by Wallace Fard (also known as Wali Farad Muhammed). He preached that African-Americans were originally Asiatic and Muslim, and the only way for them to achieve freedom, equality and justice was by embracing their true religion and rejecting Christianity, which he said was used as a tool to enslave and subjugate blacks.

  • Fard, who considered the white man the devil, was succeeded by Elijah Muhammad (formerly known as Robert Pool). He believed Fard was God personified, and promoted the ideas of black racial superiority and racial separation.

  • Elijah Muhammad died in 1975, and his son, Wallace Muhammad, took over what had become the most powerful black nationalist group, moving it into the fold of traditional, orthodox Islam. Wallace Muhammad, who was a close friend of Malcolm X, had frequently butted heads with his father over ideology and moral issues. He rejected the doctrine of black racial superiority and racial separation and eventually changed the name to the American Muslim Mission.

  • Meanwhile, in 1977 the Nation of Islam was reestablished by Louis Farrakhan and his followers, who adhered to the legacy of Elijah Muhammad. A controversial figure, Farrakhan is known for his inflammatory statements about Jews.

  • Although the exact size of the Nation of Islam movement is difficult to determine, estimates range from 10,000 to 100,000 followers.

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