MILLION MAN MARCH
OCTOBER 13, 1995
ROBIN MACNEIL: Now, two different perspectives on the march. Congressman Donald Payne, Democrat from New Jersey, is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and supports the march. Michael Meyers is the executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition who opposes it. Congressman Payne, what do you hope this march is going to achieve?
REP. DONALD PAYNE, (D) New Jersey: Well, I hope that the march will really be a beginning, a beginning for African-Americans to see that the problems out there are so severe that we have to come together, put aside some of the differences that have divided us, and come together in unity to work towards making a better quality of life for our people and a better future for our children. And so I hope that the march, one, by it bringing together large multitudes of men from throughout the country, will be the first step. It's like a trip of a thousand miles. That begins with the first step, but after the march is over, to go back into the community, to talk about our educational system, to get the drugs out of our community, to get people registered to vote, so that we can change the landscape of this nation.
ROBIN MACNEIL: Mr. Meyers, what quarrel do you have with those goals?
MICHAEL MEYERS, New York Civil Rights Coalition: Well, I have other quarrels with those goals, as well as Charlayne Hunter-Gault's puff piece on the Million Man March. No. 1, this Million Man March, so-called, is racist, it is sexist, it is regressive, and it is divisive. It stereotypes, and it castigates, and scapegoats black males for very serious complex social problems, such as crime, such as out-of-wedlock births, such as drug abuse. That's a very serious offense. It also sets men ahead of women in a demeaning fashion, in a fashion of patriarchal authority. But of all of the reasons to be opposed to this march--and there are many more--the sum of those reasons can be stated in two words: Louis Farrakhan. Louis Farrakhan is the apostle of black racism and anti-semitism. He represents a philosophy of a black nation within a nation. He constantly and perpetually always rants against Jews. He is a divisive force in America. He believes, as his nation of Islam believes, that whites do not have a place in the Civil Rights Movement. He believes and says in his newspapers that whites are devils. This is a horrendous occurrence that hate has now gone mainstream with the support of so-called mainstream civil rights leaders and black leaders.
ROBIN MACNEIL: How do you respond to all that, Congressman Payne: The march is divisive and racist, and in the case of Mr. Farrakhan, not only racist but anti-semitic?
REP. PAYNE: I think that the gentleman speaking is reading some old material.
MR. MEYERS: I'm reading the "Final Call," Minister Farrakhan's paper.
ROBIN MACNEIL: Let him say his piece, and then we can go back.
REP. PAYNE: Some of the problems that we've had has been because of people like yourself. We are trying to talk about unity. We're the only group of people that have tried to fine tune everything. I've looked at other leaders around the country from other races. I have not met a leader yet--even with Newt Gingrich leading the Republican Party, I have found more people in that party that have disagreements with a number of the principles that Newt Gingrich stands for, and so I say that I disagree with some things that Minister Farrakhan has said in the past. I'm sure he probably disagrees with some things that I've said. I think that's secondary. I think the overall objective and goal, the quality of life of African-Americans in this country, is slipping and continuing to decline. I think that what we need to do is to put away our petty differences, come together to find common ground, as Rev. Jackson talked about many times, to get our political leaders to be more effective and honest and work hard to get our young people seeing that there is hope at the end of the tunnel. These are the things that I think are more important.
ROBIN MACNEIL: What about Mr. Meyers' point that this stereotypes and scapegoats black men by making them for the call--through the call for atonement, to seem to be responsible for the problems that black men have, drug abuse, crime, unemployment, and so on?
REP. PAYNE: Well, I certainly can agree with the fact that many of the problems that confront black men are certainly because of racism and discrimination in the system. Some of them are also brought upon by themselves, and so I don't think that it makes a record of saying that, therefore, we are scapegoated. I don't necessarily feel that--I think that people are coming for different reasons. I don't believe that everyone is coming to atone. I've heard people come to say that this is the way they can express themselves. I've heard others come to say that they want to get involved in a feeling of the Baptist old time religion. I've heard some that say they believe in Minister Farrakhan's message, and so there are many, many reasons why there's three or four hundred thousand people going.
ROBIN MACNEIL: Let me ask Mr. Meyers, what harm could come from all these people coming together for all these different reasons?
MR. MEYERS: Well, first of all, we cannot have unity around racial idiocy. And we should not have unity--
ROBIN MACNEIL: Around racial--
MR. MEYERS: Racial idiocy.
ROBIN MACNEIL: --idiocy?
MR. MEYERS: Right. And we should not have unity around a demagogue. The demagogue's tactic, the demagogue's role is to reduce complexities to the lowest, most simplistic agenda. That's what Farrakhan does, and he--he takes the marginalization of blacks, the ghettoization of blacks and he knows that blacks are angry about that and frustrated and despair as--in terms of being disproportionately unemployed, disproportionately undereducated, that the family make-up is in some ways dysfunctional because of ghettoization. Does he want to break up the ghettos? No. He wants ghettos, because it serves his agenda. It serves his, his purpose. And his purpose is to have a black nation within the nation. When they talk about community, they're talking about a racial community. They're talking about no racial mixing. That is Farrakhan's agenda. That is his religion.
ROBIN MACNEIL: Well, is your, is your concern that by him leading this march and people like Congressman Payne following that this somehow legitimates or legitimizes Farrakhan as a national black leader?
MR. MEYERS: That's what Farrakhan has said. In fact--and I listened to the tape just very recently today--Farrakhan talks about himself in the third person, and he says that Farrakhan is now going to be the voice of the black masses. This is exactly what his objective is. He wants one million men to come to Washington and to hail Farrakhan, to bow on their knees and say, Farrakhan is our leader, and he becomes legitimate and mainstream, and this is unacceptable. This is not unity. We cannot have that, and I will disagree, and many other people will also disagree.
ROBIN MACNEIL: Congressman Payne, how do you respond to that, that that is Mr. Farrakhan's aim, as seen by Mr. Meyers?
REP. PAYNE: I think if Mr. Meyers lacks confidence in himself, that's his problem. I think that people who have a purpose of mind, people who are confident about themselves, people who know what direction they want to go in, these people who are coming are saying we want a new direction, this is a very timely call. I think that much of it has to do with the time that we're in. I think that with the assault on African-Americans through the government, through the new contract, through the fact that jobs are leaving our communities, that there has to be a real wakening and a new direction, and so all of the things that Mr. Meyers has mentioned is a--is what we're trying to get our black men to overcome, that feeling that they need to be defensive about positions, be strong about what you believe in, and march there, march for whatever you want to march for.
MR. MEYERS: These are not our communities. These are communities of which blacks have been consigned because of pervasive discrimination. I don't know why you take the worst communities, the most--the manifestations of, of ghettoization, and say these are our communities. We want equal access. We want integration. We want just what everybody else in America is striving for. We do not want a demagogue as our leader; we do not want a demagogue, a hater, to be hailed by a million black men in Washington, D.C., or in New York, or anyplace else. It is time for black leadership like yourself and the Congressional Black Chorus to get off that same old siren song of separatism and get relevant again, and you should be delivering for your people, you should be delivering effective programs, you should be delivering effective educational programs. You should negotiate with the system which you have been elected to do and stop this racial balkanization, this racial rhetoric, and this racial nonsense.
ROBIN MACNEIL: Congressman.
REP. PAYNE: We will be doing that. As I mentioned, this is a step of a trip of a thousand miles. It's beginning again with this step. It's not the first march. I was at the march on Washington in '63. There have been marches of women back in the 1880's, of the veterans after World War I. This is not a new idea. It's an idea whose time has come, and it's an idea that I think has caught on. And I will be proud to be there. And I wish that Mr. Meyers, perhaps before the weekend is over, might change his mind and join standing tall, marching proudly with other African-Americans.
MR. MEYERS: I will never stand with Louis Farrakhan. You speak of atonement. Let Louis Farrakhan bow on his knees and make himself atone to his God--
REP. PAYNE: Then stand--
MR. MEYERS: --and ask for forgiveness for his anti-semitism and his anti-white attitude.
ROBIN MACNEIL: Excuse me, gentlemen. Congressman, lots of black women leaders are unhappy about being told to stay home. How do you square Mr. Farrakhan's view of the women's role with your own Black Caucus's traditional support for women's rights?
REP. PAYNE: Well, I, I think that there was a main focus. Women have been carrying the burden. Louis Farrakhan felt that if he could speak to the men, to say, men, the challenge is for you to have a million men here, if he said let's have a million person march, you may have had six or seven hundred thousand women and the men would maybe feel that the women would take care of it. I think that it was an interesting charge for men. You are the one that will be accountable. You get out there, and you do the job. And I don't think that they're telling women that you're not welcome. The call was for men, and I believe that once again it's a small issue. Some women have made it a bigger issue, but I believe--not to marginalize the role of women--women have been our real leaders--that's why Minister Farrakhan decided that he ought to get Ms. Rosa Parks and Mrs. King and Mrs. Dorothy, Dr. Dorothy Height, and Maya Angelou, and so it's not an all-male show.
MR. MEYERS: That was--as you obviously clearly know, that was a sop to the women after protests, and if you read the words of Louis Farrakhan in the "Final Call," he makes it very clear, he asks women to stay at home to take care of their children. He even asks children to stay out of school, and he asks both black athletes and black workers not to go to work, and to show white America what it means not to--
REP. PAYNE: I've asked children to stay in school. So we differ. We are not monolithic.
ROBIN MACNEIL: Gentlemen, thank you both for joining us this evening.