Once in 1970, I believe, when I first came into the Nation of Islam, I was selling the Muhammad Speaks newspaper in dusty Milpitas, California, a tiny East Bay suburb of San Jose. Black residents were few and far between. I remember a female customer of mine there who tearfully confessed that she was overcome with grief after reading an article by Elijah Muhammad condemning abortion. She had just had an abortion and was torn with sorrow.
I wondered to myself how fortunate I must be to be alive. I was reared in a single- parent home by my mother, a college graduate who bore a child out of wedlock in the age of the baby boomer: the shame. That was just never done then, in picture-perfect America. My mother never let me know any of her grief from having a child with no father in the home. I was so fortunate, doubly fortunate that she did not abort me.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson recalls that he too was born to a single mother.
But the most touching story I know about this was told by Minister Louis Farrakhan during his address to the Justice or Else 20th anniversary commemoration of the Million Man March. You see Farrakhan has a fairly light complexion. His older brother, Alvan (now deceased), was brown-skinned. His mother, Mother Maryam, was an even darker-skinned woman from the island of St. Kitts.
So, when Maryam knew another child was on the way, she knew the child’s father, a fair-skinned Jamaican chap by the name of Percival Clark might produce lighter-skinned offspring. The minister said his mother wrestled with the difficult social stigma and how she might explain a baby with a fair complexion in a dark-skinned family. She tried three times to abort him, he said.
After the third unsuccessful abortion attempt, she resolved to go ahead with the birth. Thank God (Allah) her amazing son was born. He grew to become a scholar, a track athlete and an incredible musician, singing calypso and playing classical violin. His brother, Alvan, was a gifted pianist who even recorded on a jazz date with the immortal trumpeter Miles Davis.
That’s three men — Farrakhan, Jackson and yours truly — whose mothers did not get abortions at the time when out-of-wedlock child bearing carried a heavy negative social stigma. I am very happy they chose to birth and rear those boys. I know a variety of men and women my age in similar circumstances who also happily escaped the butcher’s knife.
I had the distinct honor of making the acquaintance of Maryam Farrakhan. First in Boston, with her Muslim assistant, Jon Yasin of the Boston Mosque, and then later when she lived with her son in his home in Chicago’s Beverly Hills neighborhood, where the Minister first began producing and publishing the Nation of Islam’s newspaper under his leadership, The Final Call.
Mother Maryam Farrakhan was such a wise woman. She would say that everyone has the capacity to save a little money always, no matter how dire the circumstances in which a person might live. She told me that she was on welfare for a time while her boys were in school. She would take in laundry and ironing in order to earn money to pay for their music lessons. They both became fine musicians.
One day she said, after the minister (who was known then by his middle name, Eugene) graduated from high school, she went down to the relief office and told them to take her off the rolls because she no longer needed the assistance.
When I met Mother Maryam Farrakhan, she owned her own home and had substantial savings in the Nation of Islam Charity Bank. She practiced what she preached.
In his remarks, the Minister acknowledged that now, as then, women have complex choices to make about their own bodies and their own health. But today, he reminded us, abortions are much more easily had. That means that many — some who might have been greater even than he is —may have been among the millions of Black babies lost in the 40-plus years since abortion was legalized.
Every great person in this world is born from a woman. None of us knows the life that might have been had any of these children been born and given the love and nurturing environment that produce good people.
Justice or Else! Long Live the spirit of the Million Man March.