Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan is scheduled to speak Friday at an annual conference of Mississippi civil rights veterans, drawing criticism for his past comments about Jews and Roman Catholics _ both instrumental groups in the struggle for equality in the 1960s.
Farrakhan leads the Chicago-based Nation of Islam, which published two books last year on what Farrakhan calls the "anti-black behavior" of Jews.
A group of scholars and leaders of local businesses, churches and synagogues signed a statement Tuesday criticizing Farrakhan's past statements on Roman Catholicism, Judaism and homosexuality.
Jewish support was critical to the civil rights movement. Jewish leaders helped found the NAACP and many of the white college students who joined black marchers for civil rights protests were Jewish.
"Minister Farrakhan has spoken out against Catholics for 'subjecting black people to a white-kind of theology,' Jews for having a 'dirty/gutter religion,' and homosexuals, who he recently referred to as 'swine,' according to the letter.
A spokesman for the Nation of Islam wasn't immediately available for comment. Owen Brooks, director of the Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, didn't respond to requests for comment.
Farrakhan is scheduled to speak at the conference on Friday night at Jackson State University. The conference focuses on education and activism, but will include a discussion titled "Islamophobia and Religious Intolerance."
The letter, however, encourages people to attend two other events that day: a speech by Hank Thomas, who participated in the anti-Jim Crow "Freedom Rides of the 1960s," to be held at Millsaps College, and a prayer session at Congregation of Beth Israel in Jackson in collaboration with New Horizon Church, a Christian congregation.
Signing the letter were several members of a local multifaith forum called the Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference, which grew out of opposition to attacks on black churches during the civil rights movement.
The group was founded as the Committee of Concern, developed after a 1969 Christmas Eve sermon by the Most Rev. Joseph Brunini, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Natchez-Jackson.
"It was an effort to try to halt that violence and to bring about racial equality and justice peacefully," said Rockoff, who leads the history department at the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life in Jackson.
Rabbi Perry Nussbaum, who served at Beth Israel in the 1960s, was also involved with the anti-violence group. The Ku Klux Klan bombed the synagogue and Nussbaum's home in 1967, in part for his support for racial integration.
"Minister Farrakhan has shown a history of repeatedly and unapologetically distorting the facts of history in order to perpetuate very hurtful stereotypes that create division in American society, rather than bring us together," said Rabbi Marshal Klaven, who leads services at the Institute of Southern Jewish Life.
The Nation of Islam has espoused black nationalism since it was founded in the 1930s, though in recent years has included other groups such as Latinos.
Conference schedule: http://www.mscivilrightsveterans.org/
Nation of Islam: http://www.noi.org/