*Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan was finally able to voice public praise for President-Elect Barack Obama after months of silence, which was rooted in fear that his support would hurt the historic campaign.
In February, Farrakhan praised Obama, calling him "the hope of the entire world that America will change and be made better" at a Saviours' Day event in Chicago. But Obama quickly distanced himself from Farrakhan, denouncing the minister's support during a presidential debate with then-Democratic rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Obama said he objected to Farrakhan's past statements about Judaism, which many have considered anti-Semitic. Nation of Islam officials have said Farrakhan's comments are often taken out of context.
During an address Sunday at Mosque Maryam in Chicago's South Side, Farrakhan said Obama faced unfair scrutiny for his associations with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's former pastor, who was shown making fiery statements about the U.S. government in widely circulated video clips. Obama was also criticized because of the Rev. Michael Pfleger, a Chicago priest who mocked Clinton at Wright and Obama's former church, Trinity United Church of Christ.
"For nine months, I kept quiet because I saw that the good words that I spoke about this beautiful young man at our Saviours' Day convention and the way they were misused," Farrakhan said of Obama. "I decided it would be better for me to just be quiet rather than be drawn into the controversy that was swirling around his pastor, Father Pfleger, and others."
Farrakhan then added with a smile, "I feel freer today to say the things that are in my heart."
The Nation of Islam leader said Obama has the God-given ability to handle any burdens he'll face as the nation's leader. He added that Obama will be able to make positive changes only with help from "God and people of goodwill," and he urged followers of the Chicago-based black nationalist movement to do their part, reports the Associated Press.
"President-Elect Obama has energized all segments of the depressed, downtrodden, rejected and despised," Farrakhan, 75, said in a 90-minute speech. "Now it is up to us to take the new energy that he has given us ... and channel that energy into making ourselves better."
The once-ailing leader spoke to more than 1,000 followers in an address called "America's New Beginning: President-elect Barack Obama." He thanked black leaders including the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, for laying the foundation for Obama's victory, which he called Divine.