By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
One UAM insider told the Voice that relations between Maddox and Muhammad cooled after Maddox invited Muhammad to Poughkeepsie to monitor the defamation trial in which he, C. Vernon Mason, and the Reverend Al Sharpton recently were ordered to pay more than a quarter of a million dollars to former Dutchess County prosecutor Steven Pagones. The activists had publicly accused Pagones of being part of a gang of white men who raped Brawley 10 years ago when she was just 15.
The UAM source said that when Muhammad showed up during one of the courtsessions, Maddox advised his friend to remain in his hotel room and not show his face to the throng of media. "Maddox hid him," the source insists. "On second thought, he figured that Khallid would be a distraction and an embarrassment to him. Khallid was not pleased."
Maddox did not return phone calls for comment. Muhammad acknowledges that he was in Poughkeepsie around the time of the trial but refuses to confirm or deny that he was snubbed by Maddox. Last Friday night, at a dinner in honor of Brawley at the Masonic Temple in Fort Greene, which was attended by Sharpton, Maddox--who normally would have seized the opportunity to promote Muhammad's ventures--seemed to distance himself further from the Million Youth March. There was "no mention of it at all" in Maddox's remarks, says one UAM member, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
But a black political analyst, who asked not to be identified, speculates that Maddox had begun to view Muhammad's Million Youth March as the prelude to a new era in black nationalist politics. Set in the context of a broader argument, Muhammad would be regarded as the nation's leading black nationalist if he successfully pulls off the march.
"All of the other nationalist groups in town become minimized," the analyst says. "Khallid becomes the new nationalist leader because this march becomes the epicenter of the nationalist movement. It would be the largest gathering under the nationalist banner. Remember that everybody, including Jesse Jackson and Kweisi Mfume, responded to the Million Man March. But this is a more narrowly focused and defined national march. If he succeeds, the losers will be the hardcore nationalist groups and the Nation of Islam. They are the ones that he better watch out for."
The analyst says that for the first time since the early '80s, when Farrakhan draped himself in the mantle of nationalist leader, hardcore nationalists have a new celebrity.
"Khallid Muhammad is a personality, and movements are also built around personalities," the analyst asserts. "The civil rights movement has Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Since Farrakhan has been moving his NOI more mainstream, the nationalist movement has had no rallying figure of its own. None of their figures can walk through airports and have kids say, 'That's so and so!' Khallid has a persona which people like Alton Maddox and Ben Chavis [the disgraced former NAACP executive director who is now a minister in the NOI]can't compete with. He has a definable image. Whether you like him or not, he's star quality. They can do cartoons with a bald head and a bow tie, and everybody will know who that is. Just like they do Sharpton with the hair and the whole bit. How do you do a cartoon on Alton Maddox or Ben Chavis?"
What is most evident as Khallid Muhammad struggles to hold his Black Power Committee together are the efforts by his own coordinators to separate him from the march. At news conferences and in radio and TV interviews, the coordinators have been stressing that Muhammad, who dreamed up the march, is not thesole organizer.
Insiders say that former members of the New York 8, who dominate the committee, frown on "the cult of personality" and are upset when Muhammad is portrayed by the media as their leader. The coordinators have been running the committee their way and are feuding with Muhammad over his association with political and religious leaders like Reverend Sharpton and Dr. Maulana Karenga, the originator of Kwanza, executive director of the Organization US, and chair of Black Studies at the University of California at San Jose. The revolutionaries have long claimed that Sharpton and Karenga were FBI informants who should not be involved in the black liberation cause.
Despite his misgivings about the internal squabbling over himself and Karenga, Sharpton has been one of the march's loudest advocates.
"I'm sure there are tensions in the group about my support and, if the rally takes place, what part I will play," Sharpton says. "I think most white New Yorkers do not understand that there are elements--not among the youth, but among the older organizers--that are absolutely anti-me. Which is why it would have been understandable to a lot of our constituents in the African American community if I stayed out of it. But it's partly because of Rudy Giuliani that I take this position, even though I know I may be attacked by some of the organizers of the march because of their feelings about me. They have a right to do that. But I'm not going to give in to petty infighting."