Over the course of a week or so, Black Westchester has received a plethora or calls, emails and messages about the controversy over Minister Louis Farrakhan’s image on the Manhattan Avenue Mural in the Fairview section of Greenburgh. What should have been a historic celebration of Black History and Black protest has become controversial. We’ve talked to the mural organizer, the artists, the town supervisor, a councilmember and a few residents and one thing is for certain everyone is not on the same page or even being told or telling the same story.
Dr. Bob and I personally visited the mural the evening of August 2nd and saw the mural in progress and interviewed Cliff and a few of the artists. With the Congressional election going on, I hadn’t been able to totally focus on this. Wednesday, while I planned to rest and do nothing all day, the phone kept ringing to the point where it became apparent I couldn’t not at least look into what is really going on. We have been working diligently all day, speaking to everyone to try to bring you answers, but there more we look into it, we were left with more questions than answers. One thing became very apparent, its time for some REAL TALK on the subject. So here are some of the facts as we were able to ascertain.
Black Westchester obtained an email sent from Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner to take the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan off the Manhattan Avenue Mural;
You have the right to decide who your heroes are. You have the right to place images of Farrakhan on your own property, in your home. This mural was paid for by taxpayers and it was very expensive: $100,000. Some of the taxpayers who have contacted me are children of survivors of the Holocaust. Farrakhan called Hitler (who exterminated six million Jews) a great man. Some of my constituents and friends lost parents, uncles, cousins, family, friends at the gas chambers organized by Hitler. I don’t think it is appropriate to spend taxpayer dollars honoring a Hitler admirer –someone who hates the Jewish people. I’m glad that everyone on the Board agreed to have his image removed. You should be sensitive to the horrors that other cultures experienced. And should oppose hate against everyone.
For over a week we have been given conflicting information whether the town indeed wanted Min, Farrakhan’s image removed. We were also told they just wanted Cliff and his children’s image removed because the town was getting several complaints from residents of Fairview. We found out Tuesday night the image of Minister Louis Abdul-Haleem Farrakhan Muhammad Sr., better known simply as Louis Farrakhan, was to be removed. But it wasn’t clear who voted to remove him. We were told from one side that the town board voted on it and then told the mural committee voted to remove it. Paul Feiner’s email clearly states that he was “glad that everyone on the [Town] Board agreed to have his image removed.”
Activist Mechelle Brown started a petition to keep Minister Louis Farrakhan on the Manhattan Avenue Mural. The petition states: “The Manhattan Avenue Mural is a depiction of Black History beginning in 1619 to present and the future! Minister Louis Farrakhan is part of Black History and every person on this Mural is too! Do not let the Greenburgh Town Board rewrite, omit and erase Black History as only Black people know it to be true!”
Community Advocate Clifton Earl Abrams tells Black Westchester he has been fighting to get this mural for over two years and despite a few restrictions that the mural cannot display any guns and violence, there was no mentions of any Black leaders who could not be included. These are all facts that’s have been relayed to Black Westchester, but here is where the confusion begins.
We are told the money came from grants, but Supervisor Feiner and the Town Board refer to the money as Greenburgh taxpayers’ money. Despite our numerous requests from several sources we are no closer to being able to report where the money came from. Why is that important? Well if the money is from federal and/or state or county grants, then we have to see the original grant(s) to see if it states any limitations of what can or cannot appear on the mural. If it was financed by grants does the town have the power to state what Black leaders can appear on the mural?
Now when I was first told there were demands to remove the image of Min. Farrakhan, my first response well why didn’t they mention Malcolm X who was accused of being as offensive in the 1960’s as Min. Farrakhan is today. I received no clear answer to that question from any of those involved. One of the many questions I asked Paul Feiner in my email requesting a quote. He never addressed the Malcolm X question but did say in his email response;
“The goal of the mural is to encourage people not to hate each other. Many people in the Jewish community have been very offended by Farrakhan’s hateful comments targeting the Jewish community. He said the Jewish people were responsible for the slave trade. He compared Jews to Satan. He praised Hitler. He called Hitler a great man. (Hitler killed 6 million Jews. He was not great). He suggested that Jews “infected the whole world with poison and deceit.” He said that the “Jews are my enemy.” He referred to Jews as insects,” Paul Feiner shares with Black Westchester. Before I go further, there is a lot to unpack in the town supervisor’s response.
One, while Min. Farrakhan is credited with saying Jewish people were responsible for the slave trade, he is not the only one. I found an article on MyJewishLearning.com (which describes itself as ‘all about empowering Jewish discovery for anyone interested in learning more. We offer thousands of articles, videos and other resources to help you navigate all aspects of Judaism and Jewish life — from food to history to beliefs and practices’) that states in an article titled ‘Jews And The African Slave Trade’;
The role some Jews played in the Atlantic slave trade, both as traders and as slave owners, has long been acknowledged by historians. But allegations in recent decades that Jews played a disproportionate role in the enslavement of African Americans — and that this fact has been covered up — have made the topic a controversial one.
There are other articles and historians who also state what Feiner – who is Jewish – states as one of the statements made by Min. Farrakhan as a disqualification of his image being on the mural. Agree or disagree that’s up to you but there is plenty of sites on the internet and videos on YouTube to back up that claim.
Moving forward, Feiner states; “…He praised Hitler. He called Hitler a great man. (Hitler killed 6 million Jews. He was not great).” Now I heard this mentioned before so I decided to look into it and came across 1984 articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post, just to name a few. I will start by saying if everyone in political office, every leader was held to comments they made 38 years ago in 1984, you may not still hold the position you have. People grow. But lets look at exactly what he said. He said Hitler was wickedly great, that’s a big difference then saying someone is great. Wickedly is defined as ‘bad in behavior, moral state, or effect : evil.” When you put that word in front of great or good is not praise of the individual you are describing, the way using the word diabolical is not the same as ingenuous. So that is a misquote which is often done to Black leaders.
Lastly I would like to point out while I respect Paul Feiner strong opinions and feverishly fighting for how Jewish people might feel, but I would love to have seen that same passion in respect for how Black people felt when the All Lives Cannot Matter Until Black Lives Matter sign was ripped out the ground and Black people were calling his office to have it considered a hate crime. I do not remember Feiner talking about how Black people were offended. When will it be shouted how others should be sensitive about what Black people have faced here in this country by this country. I do not mean to be insensitive but there is so much talk about a crime (the Holocaust) that took place in another country and not address slavery and the horrors committed against Black People in this country by this county. Black people being offended is never consider and has never been considered when things happen and things are said, like Kenneth Chamberlain Sr, being called a Nigga by members of the White Plains Police Department before they killed him when they came to his apartment for a welfare call to check on his welfare. I heard none of these leaders, including Feiner worried about how uncomfortable and offended it made many Black people. The recording wasn’t even allowed to be admitted in court, by I digress.
Is Min. Farrakhan a controversial figure, maybe, but his presence on the mural next to the White House to depict bringing us together for the Million Man March in October 1995 bringing together a number of marchers, most of whom were African American men, ranged from 400,000 to nearly 1.1 million, ranking it among the largest gatherings of its kind in American history. Whether you agree with everything this man has said, one can not deny his place in Black History and how he has fought for Black People more than just about anyone else in this generation.
If the purpose of this mural is to depict Black history and Black protest, the Million Man March and Min Farrakhan have been pivotal in both. Why are others always allowed to dictate who and who we can not celebrate in our history. Why are others allow to pick our heroes for us. To many Min. Farrakhan is a hero and is Black History.
Now Mr. Feiner says in his response; “Many people in the Jewish community have been very offended by Farrakhan’s hateful comments targeting the Jewish community.” There are no offensive comments targeting the Jewish community on the mural but a depiction of the Million Man March. Secondly I too have heard from a few Jewish people including Peter Bernstein;
I would normally not give my opinion on anything having to do with the amazing mural you [Clifton Abrams] have championed. As a white resident of Irvington, an area that excluded Black people for many, many years, it’s not my business who is or isn’t depicted on the mural. But since this issue relates to anti-Semitism and I am Jewish, I thought my perspective might be helpful to the discussion.
I fully support the current mural including the depiction of Minister Farrakhan, even though I believe him to be anti-Semitic. Of course, hearing anti-Semitic comments are hurtful to me and all Jewish people. But there is no doubt that Minister Farrakhan is an important historical leader in the Black community. Historical leaders can be complex with imperfect backgrounds. We have founding fathers like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson who are on our currency and have streets and cities named after them even though they enslaved fellow human beings. We have Andrew Jackson on the twenty dollar bill even though he murdered thousands of indigenous people.
Public art can be controversial. It can create conversations that we all can grow from. I would hope that my Black brothers and sisters respect that most Jewish people believe that Minister Farrakhan is anti-Semitic and I hope that my Jewish brothers and sisters accept that Minister Farrakhan and the NOI have made historic positive contributions and are a part of Black history.
There were other Jewish people who spoke in support of Min, Farrakhan remaining on the mural, but due to space limitations I could not include all of them here.
The purpose of the editorial is to start the conversation, get to the facts and maybe put to bed some of the rumors and misinformation circulating and well as getting to some answers once and for all like is this funded by taxpayers of the town of Greenburgh’s dollars as Mr. Feiner states or was it in fact funded by grant(s). I want to hear from my readers. How do you feel should the image of Min. Farrakhan remain or be removed from the mural? Should others be able to determine what Black leaders appear on a mural in the Black Community that was created to celebrate and highlight Black History and Black Protest? Should Black People have to worry about what makes others uncomfortable when celebrating our history?
I want to hear from all of you, no matter what side you are on, please leave your feedback in the comment section below this editorial or feel free to write letters to the editor and email them to BWEditorInChief@gmail.com. Yes this is a controversial issue and many may have strong opinions and feelings but we ask all our readers to be respectful to others in your comments and not only leave your feedback so you can be heard, but listen and read respectfully what others feel. I’m sure this will not be the last we will be writing about this especially with rumblings of press conferences and members of the Nation of Islam coming to Greenburgh to show their support of the mural coming in the near future. This is part of a much bigger issue, but we will deal with that in part two!
We want to hear from all of you because it’s time for some REAL TALK!!!!