The Nation of Islam opened its annual convention today with a keynote address by Rep. Gus Savage (D-Ill.), who said "it is plumb foolish" to expect Congress and politicians to "liberate" or give power to blacks.
Savage was introduced by Louis Farrakhan, the Muslims' leader, as "our fighter in Congress." Savage defined 1980s-style black liberation as "not integration . . . [but getting] our rock -- not small, individual pieces of their rock."
"As a U.S. congressman I know it is plumb foolish to depend on legislation from a white Congress to provide for black liberation," Savage said. "And furthermore, most politics and politicians -- that is, the government -- is established to serve the economic interests of this nation. In the United States the wealth of a few is dependent on the poverty of many . . . . [The goal] is money, and profit, not serving and helping people."
Savage compared Farrakhan, whose statements stirred controversy during the presidential campaign, to black leaders from W.E.B. DuBois to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Savage was joined here by former representative Katie Hall (D-Ind.), Chicago Alderman Allan Streeter and several black activists, including Kwame Toure, formerly known as Stokely Carmichael, the head of the All African Peoples Revolutionary Party. There were also representatives from the Libyan government, American Indian groups, a few black Christian priests and Chicago Bears football star Willie Gault.
In an interview, Savage said he was attending the convention because he was encouraged by Muslim participation in the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. He said it paralleled black churches' growing involvement in politics.
There was no mention of the controversy surrounding Farrakhan's description of Judaism last year as a "dirty religion." Savage later said that had been a "distraction" from Jackson's campaign for increased black involvement in politics.
Hall, like Savage, saluted the Muslims for their political activity and noted that until Jackson's campaign, the all-black group's leadership had advised the approximately 10,000 Muslims in the country to stay out of American politics.
"The oppressor never gives anything away," Hall said. "It must be taken by the oppressed . . . . We know we are being taken backward by a president who does not understand."
In an interview, Savage said his remarks to a group that has been on the fringe of black radicalism should not be seen as criticism of Congress for not properly representing minorities. He said Congress could help minorities with "Band-Aids and salves" such as jobs programs and voting-rights bills. He said those were "helpful, essential even to survive, but not liberation for black people."