Louis Haleem Abdul Farrakhan was born Louis Eugene Walcott in the Bronx, during the Great Depression. His West Indian mother, Mae Clark, reared him and his brother in Boston, where she took in laundry to help make ends meet.
In his 1993 book, A Torchlight for America, Farrakhan said his mother tried to abort him three times. "Although she eventually decided to have me, the effect of her thinking is on me," he wrote.
Mae Clark and her boys attended St. Cyprian Episcopal Church, where young Louis was in the choir and came under the influence of a fiery priest, Nathan Wright, who eventually wrote a shelf of books on black liberation and religion.
"I was very, very fond of him," Wright said of Farrakhan. "I felt he was a young man with tremendous promise. I was right."
Farrakhan left Boston for Winston-Salem Teachers College in North Carolina, where he dropped out after two years. When he returned to Boston, he married his high school sweetheart, Khadija, with Wright presiding. They have nine children.
As a boy, Farrakhan stuttered and threw himself into music, taking up the violin. Before he joined the Nation in 1955, he made his living as a musician, performing as "the Charmer."
He first came to Chicago to perform at a nightclub on the city's predominantly white North Side. But because he was black, he said, he could not find a place to stay near the club.
Two generations later, Farrakhan lives in a mansion and stays in the best hotels wherever he travels.
But his early days in Chicago seem to haunt him.
"You act as though hate is something to be ashamed of," he roared during a speech on Sunday. "Well, if I've got hate in me, what is it that I hate? I can't love evil if I say I'm with God. I must hate evil. And if the evildoer won't change his or her ways, I can't love them, either."