Hundreds of thousands of African American men joined together on the Mall, in Washington, D.C. Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam which organized the assembly, asked those gathered to reflect on their responsibility to themselves, their families, and their community. Charlayne Hunter-Gault files this report.
MILLION MAN MARCH
OCTOBER 16, 1995
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: As dawn broke in the capital, the images of black men on the Mall began to take shape. Many of them had come in the night and slept here so they wouldn't miss a moment of the Million Man March that brought them here. An Arabic prayer pierced the air. The day of atonement and reconciliation had officially begun. (Muezzin Call) As the sun grew warmer against a bracing morning chill, so did the mood as the growing crowd of black men of all ages and walks of life, friends and strangers, acknowledged each other and seemed to celebrate this call for black men to stand up.
DICK GREGORY, Civil Rights Activist: I love you. God bless you. Go back home and take care of the family, your family, our family, God's family. Thank you.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: In the early part of the day, both Christian and Muslim ministers helped establish the tone and themes of the day. Chicago Minister Al Sampson, longtime supporter of Minister Louis Farrakhan, hailed his leadership.
REV. AL SAMPSON, Fernwood United Methodist Church, Chicago: I stand here today to ask your permission to make a motion. I make a motion that we accept Minister Louis Farrakhan as our leader all over the world for black men, for generations yet unborn, that he be our leader today, yesterday, and tomorrow.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: No matter what was going to be said by the leaders here today, the people who have gathered for this Million Man March have come from all over America with some ideas of their own. On Minister Farrakhan, many said, as far as they were concerned, the march was bigger than any one person.
DeLANE GARNER, Atlanta, Georgia: We don't need to play into the nonsense about Louis Farrakhan. It's bigger than Louis Farrakhan. This million men, who else in America could have called for a march and got this many people? Name me somebody!
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But few echoed the kinds of criticism of Minister Farrakhan's alleged anti-semitism and racial hate mongering that caused some black leaders not to endorse the march and to stay at home.
CHARLES OGLETREE, Harvard Law Professor: And I'm particularly disturbed that so many of our black leaders, so-called leaders, told people to stay away. This is--it really is a day of atonement and redemption. Men are here. They're sober. They're articulate. People are praying. People are happy. I've probably stepped on a hundred black men's feet today and, and not a single incident. I've made--you know, created relationships with other people. My son came up from college, and for both of us, who couldn't be in the march in 1963, this is our opportunity to come forward and give thanks for being alive in America in 1995, and also our time to, to have a sense of responsibility for the next generation.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: It was a diverse crowd, geographically and professionally: Doctors, lawyers, academics, and educators, students, hospital workers, and the unemployed. All came with ideas and hopes about this day, their words and the words of the speakers almost interchangeable at times.
JESSE BOYKIN, Brooklyn, New York: This day is a day of atonement. This day we come together, and I believe when we leave here, and go back to our various homes, we will have something to build upon. If nothing else, we have come together as a people.
UMAR KASHIFF, Houston, Texas: What I hope to be accomplished today is that, uh, unity amongst African-American males who have felt as though for many years that their voices have not been heard, have not been seen, and have really, has been taken the wrong way, so much negative in the media about our roles and the way we are perceived: We're lazy; we don't want to work. So today this is why I came, and my brothers, you know, from all over the world, from all over the world have come to say that that's not the image that we want the world to see us here.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: There were even some who said they saw this as a turning point for black leadership.
MEL PERRY, New York City: What's starting to occur right now is the beginning of a paradigm shift. You have people from different economic backgrounds, social backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, who are meeting together to sit down and have a dialogue. I think it's very important that men have come together to sort of reason. I think the women who are really serious about it should have been here, and I'm glad those who were concerned showed up, and it's about unity. It's not a black thing; it's a people thing.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Where are you from?
CARMEN ANDERSON, Burlington, North Carolina: Burlington, North Carolina.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Oh. What are you doing here today?
CARMEN ANDERSON: I just came out to support my black men, to let them know we're standing behind them all the way.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What do you think is going to be accomplished here today?
CARMEN ANDERSON: I hope that unity will be accomplished, that we show that we can get together for something that's good and not something that's always bad.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: A scattering of women attended the march and some were also featured on today's program. Although some women's groups took exception to the call for women to stay at home, one of the women featured was civil rights leader Dorothy Height.
DOROTHY HEIGHT, National Council of Negro Women: I am here because you are here. I am glad that you are here, because so much is said negative about the black family and about our black men. We know that one out of every four may be in the correctional system or may be in some kind of destructive pattern, but what is seldom said is that three out of four are not. Three out of four are responsible parents, are good citizens, are carrying their responsibility, and I salute you, because you are the demonstration that there are strong African-American men who are not only our leaders but who are working in all of our communities. African-American women are women who seldom do what they want to do but always do what they have to do. And I feel that we are part of a partnership that is strong, but each of us honors the other.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Some of the most prominent black leaders spoke in the afternoon, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who broke ranks with other blacks to support the march.
REV. JESSE JACKSON, National Rainbow Coalition: We can change our self-destructive behavior and use our vote to bring about change. What can a million men do when you go home? If I could get a million men to do five things, take your child to school, meet your child's teacher, exchange home numbers, turn off the TV three hours a night, pick up report card every nine weeks, and sign your child's report card, we can send our children from jail to church to home. What can a million men do? What can a million men do? Meet with judges. Let them--let us nurture our children and let them come home and not jail. What can a million men do? Eight million unregistered black voters on this Hill. Gingrich--they keep asking on television, who organized the march? Who gets credit for the march? Who organized the march? Did Minister Farrakhan organize the march? No. Clarence Thomas and Gingrich organized the march just like Bull Connor organized the march in 1963. (applause) Clarence Thomas, who betrayed our trust, organized the march. Gingrich organized the march. We will not bow. Here's the good news. The Gingrich forces won--this is what they don't want to hear--the Gingrich forces won by 19,000 votes. They're cutting Medicaid. They're cutting Medicare. They're cutting scholarships. They're cutting legal assistance for women who are battered, victims of domestic violence. Well, my friends, we've got the power. Victims. We've got the power. Kennedy beat Nixon by 112,000 votes. What does 8 million votes mean? Nixon beat Humphrey by 500,000. What does 8 million votes mean? We have the power by 1996 to send Gingrich and Gramm and Dole back in private life. Use your vote! We have the power to change the course! (applause) When you go back home today, somebody is going to ask you, you didn't come to work today, you went to Washington, what did you do, say I turned pain into power and promise. What did you see? Well, I didn't see your face. Tell them, I was one of a million. I was one in two million. I didn't see you. Tell 'em they were in the trees, in the cars, in the hospitals, in office buildings, in parks. Tell them for a moment the world stood still. They'll ask you, who are you, I didn't see you in Washington. Well, I was one in a million. Tell them, I have a light and I'm going to let my light shine. Tell them I'm dreaming now, my dream is bigger than my ghetto. Tell them, I'm dreaming again, it's bigger than my jail cell. Tell them, I saw a number like John that no man can number. Tell them, I'm on Patmus Island and yet I see something now, I see power in unity and coalition.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The last word of the day was reserved for Louis Farrakhan. He responded to President Clinton's remarks on race earlier today.
MINISTER LOUIS FARRAKHAN, Nation of Islam: Now, the President spoke today, and he wanted to heal the great divide. But I respectfully suggest to the President, you did not dig deep enough at the malady that divides black and white in order to effect a solution to the problem. And so today, we have to deal with the root, so that perhaps a healing can take place. I heard the President say today "E pluribus unum"--out of many one. But in the past, out of many comes one meant out of many Europeans come one people. The question today is: Out of the many Asians, the many Arabs, the many native Americans, the many blacks, the many people of color, who populate this country, do you mean for them to be made into the one? If so, truth has to be spoken to justice. We can't cover things up, cover them over, give it a pretty sound to make people feel good. We have to go to the root of the problem. Now, why have you come today? You came not at the call of Louis Farrakhan, but you have gathered here at the call of God, for it is only the call of Almighty God, no matter whom, through whom that call came that could generate this kind of outpouring. God called us here to this place, at this time, for a very specific reason. And now, I want to say my brothers, this is a very pregnant moment, pregnant with the possibility of tremendous change in our status in America and in the world. And although the call was made through me, many have tried to distance the beauty of this idea from the person through whom the idea and the call was made. Some have done it mistakenly, and others have done it in a malicious and vicious manner. Brothers and sisters, there is no human being through whom God brings an idea that history doesn't marry the idea with that human being, no matter what defect was in that human being's character. You can't separate Newton from the law that Newton discovered. It would be silly to try to separate Moses from the Torah, or Jesus from the Gospel, or Mohammed from the Koran. Well, you say, Farrakhan, you ain't no Moses, you ain't no Jesus, and you're not no Mohammed, you have a defect in your character. Well, that certainly may be so; however, according to the way the Bible reads, there is no prophet of God written of in the Bible that did not have a defect in its character. So today, whether you like it or not, God brought the idea through me, and he didn't bring it through me because my heart was dark with hatred and anti-semitism. He didn't bring it through me because my heart was dark and I'm filled with hatred for white people and for the human family of the planet. If my heart were that dark, how is the message so bright, the message so clear, the response so magnificent? (applause) And now, in spite of all that division, in spite of all that divisiveness, we responded to a call, and look at what is present here today. We have here those brothers with means and those who have no means, those who are light and those who are dark, those who are educated, those who are uneducated, those who are business people, those who don't know anything about business, those who are young, those who are old, those who are scientific, those who know nothing of science, those who are religious, and those who are irreligious, those who are Christian, those who are Muslim, those who are Baptists, those who are Methodists, those who are Episcopalian, those who of traditional African religion. We've got 'em all here today! And why did we come? We came because we want to move toward a more perfect union, and if you notice the press triggered every one of those divisions. You shouldn't come, you're a Christian, that's a Muslim thing. You shouldn't come, you're too intelligent to follow hate. You shouldn't come. Look at what they did! They excluded women. You see, they played all the cards; they pulled all the strings, all but you better look again, Willie, there's a new black man in America today, a new black woman in America today, but I stand here today knowing, knowing that you are angry that my people have validated me. I don't need you to validate me. (applause and cheers) I don't need to be in any mainstream. I want to wash in the River of Jordan and the river that you see and the sea that is before us and behind us and around us is validation. That's the mainstream.
MR. MAC NEIL: Minister Farrakhan spoke for nearly two and a half hours standing behind a shield of bulletproof glass.