Minister Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam whose fiery orations often land him in the center of controversy, touched on history, religion, education, politics and the skimpy fashions of the day during a wide-ranging speech Friday night.
Appearing at N.C. Central University, the outspoken Farrakhan criticized President Bush and the government's relief effort for victims of Hurricane Katrina. He saved a tongue-lashing for former President Clinton, who won the support of many black voters, for shifting too close to the political center.
But much of Farrakhan's fiery rhetoric Friday was reserved for the low-cut tops, belly-revealing shirts, tight pants and low-rider jeans that many young men and women sport these days.
"Some of you older women, in here, you remember when you couldn't wash your underwear and leave them on the [clothes] line," Farrakhan told to the near-capacity audience in the 3,000-seat McDougald-McClendon Gymnasium at NCCU. It was a time, Farrakhan recalled, when women worried that their neighbor or male children might see their undergarments.
"Today," Farrakhan added with his head shaking back and forth, "drawers everywhere."
Farrakhan urged the youngsters in the crowd to market their minds, not their bodies.
He also had mocking words for professional African-American women who are leaving unemployed men behind -- jesting that the women were out working for "all my children," while the men stayed at home "as the world churned," then having domestic squabbles that would land one or the other in "general hospital" never having seen "the guiding light."
Farrakhan's stop in Durham was one of three scheduled in North Carolina this week.
He is on a national tour to promote the creation of a national "African-American contract." The idea emerged in February at a State of the Black Union symposium. Those who support such a contract see it as a unifying way to address economic, health and political disparities.
The nationwide tour is to rally support Millions More Movement events in Washington on Oct. 14-16. The gatherings are to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March.
Farrakhan has tried through the years to stir black Americans to fight for more justice and equality.
In recent years, he has tried a more unifying approach.
His message worked for some Friday night.
"He still has the same influence he had years ago," said Ulysses Martin, 17, a NCCU student from Fort Washington, Md. "I thought it was very spiritual."
Stacey Green, 18, an NCCU student from Detroit, had few kind words for the speaker.
"I thought it was a bunch of B.S.," Green said. "He comes in here trying to tell us how we should live our lives like he was sent from heaven or something. Who is he to say that?"
Staff writer Anne Blythe can be reached at 932-8741 or firstname.lastname@example.org