If I Must Die

The Last Will of Minister Khallid Abdul Muhammad

If we must die, let it not be like hogs Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot, While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs, Making their mock at our accursed lot. If we must die, O let us nobly die....
—"If We Must Die," Claude McKay

Lying helpless and hooked up to a machine in the white man's hospital in Georgia is not how Khallid Abdul Muhammad envisioned he would die. Over the past five years, every time I interviewed him for The Goddamned White Man, a book we were planning to co-author, the leader of the New Black Panther Party and founder of the Million Youth March, would begin the session by reciting Claude McKay's epic poem "If We Must Die."

At times, Khallid changed some of the words to reflect the alienation he sensed from his followers, an alienation he believed was closely related to his own estrangement from his spiritual father, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. "If I must die," Farrakhan's domey ex-mouthpiece would declare, "though far outnumbered let me show me brave/And for their thousand blows deal one death blow/What though before me lies the open grave?/Like a man I'll face the murderous, cowardly pack/Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!"

I would like to think that is how Khallid faced down death on February 10. Sources told the Voice that five days before the 53-year-old black ultranationalist fell gravely ill, members of a disgruntled faction of the Panthers in Atlanta were planning a violent showdown in New York to settle once and for all their challenge to the legitimacy of Khallid's group. Some members of the New York chapter were warned to stay indoors, the source said. Hashim Nzinga, a spokesman for the new Panthers, did not return Voice calls for comment.

Khallid, who had been renovating a brownstone on Harlem's historic Strivers Row, was in New York City on February 10. He had met with a group of vendors at the Harriet Tubman School in Harlem. After the meeting, Khallid returned to Atlanta, where he had a home. His wife told supporters that Khallid complained about "feeling tired and achy," went to lie down, and began vomiting profusely. He was taken by ambulance to a hospital at which the family was told that they did not have the facilities to handle neurological emergencies. He was then driven to WellStar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta, a suburb of Atlanta. On Wednesday afternoon, Akbar Muhammad, a top Farrakhan aide, rushed to Khallid's bedside and prayed with the family.

"Family members said he suffered a stroke and was on life support," said James Muhammad, editor of The Final Call, the Nation of Islam newspaper in Chicago. "Our prayers are with him and his family." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on Friday that Khallid had suffered a brain aneurysm and had been taken off life support on Thursday afternoon.

However, as the Voice went to press Friday, Khallid was still on life support in an intensive care unit, despite the extensive media reports that he had died. Reverend Al Sharpton, leader of the Harlem-based National Action Network, was the first prominent civil rights figure to go to the hospital. "His family seemed stunned," recalled Sharpton, adding that he did not question them about Khallid's medical condition. After praying with Khallid's wife and top aide Malik Zulu Shabazz, the Baptist minister was led into a room where the once fiery activist lay motionless. Sharpton again prayed and after about one minute he was escorted from the room.

"Khallid was just lying there," said Sharpton, who struck up a friendship with Khallid after being stabbed in Bensonhurst by a white man in 1991. "He sent me a note after the incident," Sharpton remembered. After Khallid was gunned down by a former NOI minister in 1994, Sharpton wrote Khallid a letter of support. "Imagine that! When I saw him, I couldn't physically do anything for him," the activist said.

When Khallid got into trouble several years ago and was sentenced to community service, he went to Sharpton, who arranged for Khallid to serve out his term delivering a series of lectures to street gangs Sharpton had been trying to mentor. "Reverend Sharpton and Khallid developed a strong relationship over the years," said Timothy Ford, who ran the program at Sharpton's headquarters. "One of the reasons Reverend Sharpton is so touched by this tragedy is that he and Minister Khallid had both vowed never to duplicate the mistakes of their respective heroes, Jesse Jackson and Farrakhan," Ford explained.

Eight years ago this month, Khallid first drew harsh criticism for his strident anti-Semitic and anti-white rhetoric and his verbal attacks against gays and Catholics. Farrakhan rebuked "the tone" of his virulent attacks after a November 1993 diatribe against Jews delivered to black students at Kean College in Union, New Jersey, and removed him as his top national assistant. In the speech, Khallid called Jews "bloodsuckers," and called for the slaughter of white South Africans. Farrakhan suspended him indefinitely from the Nation of Islam in 1994 after Khallid called non-black merchants, Koreans and Italians with businesses around Harlem's Malcolm X Boulevard, "white Jews and bloodsuckers."

Next Page »