If I Must Die

The Last Will of Minister Khallid Abdul Muhammad

In 1998, Khallid staged the Million Youth March in Harlem, which ended in clashes between some of the estimated 10,000 participants and an army of 3000 cops dispatched to the event. Mayor Rudy Giuliani called it a "hate march." A year later, Khallid softened his rhetoric at a second Million Youth March, urging about 2000 people to commit their lives to the black liberation struggle. A third Million Youth March last September drew only a handful of participants. Khallid insisted that was because he had heeded calls from some of his advisers to further tone down his attacks on the mayor and black politicians who did not support the march. Through it all, only Sharpton, among mainstream civil rights leaders, voiced support for Khallid's right to espouse his political views.

"Minister Khallid wanted to lead black nationalists and Reverend Sharpton wanted to lead people in the civil rights movement," Timothy Ford said. "Minister Khallid saw Reverend Sharpton as a true believer in Dr. Martin Luther King, and Reverend Sharpton viewed Minister Khallid as a true follower of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Although Minister Khallid sometimes referred to Reverend Sharpton as 'a glorious fool' for believing in Dr. King, they never got in each other's way. They found a way not to hurt each other."

With Khallid on board, the new Panthers were infused with the additional concept of a new black Muslim movement.

Black nationalist sources say many of Khallid's followers were hurt by his rumored split with Aaron Michaels, the original founder and chair of the then Dallas-based New Black Panther Party. "Aaron felt Khallid stole the reins of the group from him," said one Panther insider. "Khallid started making decisions that were not approved by the National Central Committee; he was pushing a dictatorship." Michaels could not be reached for comment.

Rather than repeat the same mistakes that led to the breakup of the old Black Panther Party, Michaels, the source said, "decided to let Khallid have the group." Khallid aligned himself with the New Black Panther Party at a time when he was searching for an organization to lead and when the party was facing stiff opposition from remnants of the old Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. The latter group had filed a lawsuit to stop the newcomers from using the Black Panther name. Some, like co-founder Bobby Seale, called the New Black Panthers a "black racist hate group."

The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was founded in 1966 in Oakland, California, by Seale and Huey Newton, who called for an end to police brutality and patrolled the city to document excesses by authorities. They had conflicts with police and startled California with a fully armed protest inside the state legislature. But they also ran breakfast programs, conducted sickle-cell anemia testing, and pushed for better housing and more jobs.

The party spread to other cities and had as many as 5000 members at its peak. Trouble spread as well. In all, 28 party members and 14 police officers died in armed conflicts. By the late 1970s the party had fallen apart; Newton died in 1989 in a shootout on a drug-infested street in Oakland. The New Black Panthers' party platform is based on the 10-point program of the original Black Panther Party, with some revisions. It also calls for free health care and "full reparations for our people." The new group says it has worked on voter registration and food distribution programs, and is fighting for justice just like the black power groups of the 1960s.

With Khallid on board, the new Panthers were infused with the additional concept of a new black Muslim movement. Khallid restructured the group and ran it with the military precision of the Fruit of Islam, the Nation of Islam's elite military guard. Michaels, who accepted the post of minister of defense, allegedly complained to other members that he didn't like the way things were going. "He didn't like the way Khallid treated members and handled the growing pains of this young organization," the source said. Michaels did not speak to Khallid for about four months last year, the source added. Steeped in turmoil, the organization has been losing membership.

According to other sources, Michaels heard that the New Panthers had been infiltrated by the Joint Terrorist Task Force after the agency learned of alleged operations that Panthers planned to carry out across the country. "Only certain people knew about the moves that the New Black Panther Party planned to make," said an insider. "Aaron checked out why he was being followed and discovered that some people close to him were agents."

As rumors spread that Khallid lay brain dead in Atlanta, conspiracy theorists began to come forward. Among the first were those who linked what had happened to former president Bill Clinton's plan to set up offices in Harlem. "They say he had a massive stroke, but I don't know if that's true, because Clinton had just moved to Harlem, and they don't need a rabblerouser [like Khallid] up there stirring up trouble," claims one Khallid supporter. "[There] are big corporate interests up there who may find it convenient to put poison in his food or drink."

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