Rep. Mickey Leland (D-Tex.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, yesterday called Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan's verbal attack on D.C. Mayor Marion Barry and other black leaders a "real mistake" and said Farrakhan is jeopardizing his credibility by criticizing black politicians.
In a speech in Baltimore Thursday night, Farrakhan said that Barry, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and other black politicans have criticized him because they are trying to "placate the Jews."
Leland, interviewed after a black caucus antiapartheid march and rally in downtown Washington, said that it was inappropriate for Farrakhan to question Barry's credentials as a black leader. Black politicians "are going to defend Marion Barry in terms of his history and what he has done," Leland said.
Three D.C. City Council members, John Ray (D-At Large), John Wilson (D-Ward 2) and Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), also defended Barry and praised the mayor for labeling as anti-Semitic remarks Farrakhan made in a July 22 speech at the Washington Convention Center.
Barry recently criticized the Nation of Islam leader for speaking of the "wickedness" of Jews. Barry, who made the criticism seven weeks after being urged to do so by Jewish community leaders, did not repudiate Farrakhan personally. In a speech to the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, the mayor said Farrakhan's statements about Jews "didn't help our city at all."
Angered by Barry's speech, Farrakhan told an overflow crowd of more than 1,400 persons at Morgan State University Thursday that "these wicked leaders of ours are being put on the spot" by Jewish leaders.
Yesterday, Barry declined to comment on Farrakhan. The mayor did say that he stands by his earlier remarks.
Leland said that despite "some outlandish statements" Farrakhan has made in the past, black leaders have "pretty much remained silent" even though they are under strong pressure to attack Farrakhan.
"When he Farrakhan turns on black leaders, he's making a real mistake," Leland said.
Council member Ray said that it is incumbent on black leaders to criticize Farrakhan's remarks about Jews.
"They mayor was correct," Ray said. "I don't think any reasonable-thinking person would agree with the anti-Semitic statements Farrakhan is making.
"Black leaders like Barry and Bradley have been out there a long time fighting for civil rights and the rights of blacks," Ray said.
Wilson said the mayor has a duty to speak out when anyone utters remarks such as those made by Farrakhan. "I think the mayor should speak to the needs of all the citizens of this city," said Wilson, who was active in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, a civil rights organization Barry also worked in.
"Anti-Semitism is wrong, and the mayor is right to speak out against it," said Jarvis.
Council member Frank Smith (D-Ward 1), also a former civil rights activist, reccomended ignoring Farrakhan's remarks. "My view is that if we don't stop commenting on it, it will never go away," Smith said. "I think it is pretty clear that most of the black leadership does not" agree with Farrakhan's remarks on Jews, Smith said.