MILLION MAN MARCH
OCTOBER 16, 1995
Jim Lehrer gathered five different perspectives on the march and its potential impact. Congressman Charles Rangel, Democrat of New York, spoke at the rally. Congressman J.C. Watts is a freshman Republican from Oklahoma. Julianne Malveaux is an economist, syndicated columnist, and radio talk show host on Pacifica Radio. Robert Woodson is president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. Hugh Price is president of the National Urban League.
JIM LEHRER: Hugh Price, was this march today a good thing for America?
HUGH PRICE, National Urban League: I think if the energy that's been galvanized is turned toward the development of the African-American people to participate in the mainstream from a position of strength, it will have been a good thing. Certainly, the potential is there. It was a triumph of organizing it. It obviously touched very deeply millions of Americans.
JIM LEHRER: J.C. Watts, do you agree?
REP. J.C. WATTS, (R) California: (Oklahoma City) Well, in spite of what we, what we saw and what we heard from some of the leadership, in spite of I think of the lack of credibility that many of the people that spoke today brought to the arena, I think the key is going to be determined by how those that came to the march with, with great intentions of unity, how they execute, once we go back to the grassroots level, and, and try and make a difference.
JIM LEHRER: But generally speaking, you would agree it was a successful event?
REP. WATTS: Well, I think in terms of numbers, I think Minister Farrakhan accomplished what he set out to accomplish. The numbers will continue to grow probably, but I think we all agree there was somewhere from half a million to eight hundred thousand people there, but I think the success is going to be determined by how those that were there execute--will go back to the communities and deal with the problems that are there.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Rangel, you were there. What--what did you think of it, did it work?
REP. CHARLES RANGEL, (D) New York: (Capitol Hill) It was one of the most exciting experiences in my lifetime, and to see that many people sharing brotherhood, sisterhood, and love, and to come to the nation's capitol, where we've had tens of thousands before to express their grievances, and the black male, who finds more than their share of justice and poverty and lack of opportunity, just coming together was an electrifying experience, and so the critics are going to have to really search long and hard to find anything critical of this great American experience.
JIM LEHRER: A great American experience, Ms. Malveaux?
JULIANNE MALVEAUX, Radio Talk Show Host: Well, I'm one of the critics of Congressman Rangel, and I must say this morning when I went out at 4:15 and watched them set up, I too was moved by the spirit and the energy. But at the same time, I think the foundation of this march was fundamentally flawed. When the rhetoric says that the women should stay home, I've got to take issue with that. And although black men did--this was a rally--a feel-good day for African-American men, it really is a pity that African-American women were not welcome there. I cringe at the notion that these people place themselves as inheritors of Dr. King's dream. Dr. King never said, women stay home.
JIM LEHRER: Overview, Mr. Woodson.
ROBERT WOODSON, National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise: I think, as I have said, I approached this with cautious optimism, and I was very pleased, because I always supported the mission of it. And I think that the resume of this march was written in the experiences of those young people. First of all, there was no drinking; there was no rowdiness; the police said it was the most orderly crowd that they had ever experienced; and I think that some of these small gains are very important for African-American men. I don't think that the leadership necessarily understands the impact of what happened out there, as Charlie Rangel said. It wasn't about grievances or complaining or whining. I think the young people came for, genuinely for atonement and affirmation, and so that's--
JIM LEHRER: Well, what about Minister Farrakhan? Many people suggested that the biggest winner of this day, this was going into it, that the biggest winner of this day was going to be Louis Farrakhan. Do you agree?
MR. WOODSON: No. I think the biggest winner was the young men who gathered in great numbers to demonstrate to not only themselves but to America that young black men can assemble and do it in a lawful manner and that they can begin to come together. That--they are the real winners. We've got to understand why Farrakhan has such an influence is because young people don't listen to very much of what we say, but what we do. And they see young men who were drug addicts, who were thieves, standing tall, clean, they're not engaged in drug activity, so he has demonstrated, or at least the Nation of Islam has demonstrated that they can transform people when in the face of the last 25 years, all of the programs that Charlie Rangel and others have hailed as being the saviors of our people and all the civil rights leaders, all of these $5 trillion that was spent, all of these have not done, delivered for our young people, and that's one of the reasons why there's a leadership vacuum.
MS. MALVEAUX: Bob, you know better than that.
JIM LEHRER: Go ahead.
MS. MALVEAUX: I mean, he knows better than to--he's using this opportunity to bash social programs, but, indeed, we can demonstrate that social programs have made a difference. Farrakhan made the call, but there were fliers up that said Farrakhan made the call, the march belongs to us all. The winners were African-American men who are able to turn their image around. These are the people who have been vilified, and now you saw them as you say--you're 50 percent correct--as you say, umm, really turning that image around. But this does not indict social programs, and again, one of the flaws of this march is you can talk about personal responsibility, but you must also talk about institutional responsibility. And many of the speakers like Rev. Jackson who came to the podium talked about the government role, about what Newt Gingrich and others have done, and about the fact that part of this march was a political call.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Watts--go ahead, Congressman Rangel.
REP. RANGEL: I don't think Bob Wood was indicting social programs. What I thought he was saying is that these programs were not reaching these youngsters. They don't have any hope that they would finish school. When they finish school, they don't have hopes for a job. There's no emphasis on education and teachers as much as there is on, on cops and police. Drugs are the only thing that they know that's in the street, so I think what Bob was saying, that there has been a lack of, of leadership or lack of anybody that I can think of that has been able to understand that these people were looking for something, and they found it with each other today. And so anyone can find something that they think is wrong, but in terms of the totality of this day, I think that for America it was a very educational experience.
MR. PRICE: Let me just interject, if I could.
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
MR. PRICE: I think that there is a history of very effective programs being run in this country. We of the Urban League operate very effective after-school programs and education programs across the country. What has been missing is a constituency for these and for an expansion of the kinds of things that make a great deal of sense for young people, that reduce crime and help foster their development. This mobilization effort really provides that potential to get that constituency behind these issues.
JIM LEHRER: But let me go back to you, Hugh Price, on this question of Louis Farrakhan. Going into this, everyone said--a lot of people said--I won't say everyone said--everyone never says anything--but some people suggested that if this was, in fact, a successful event--and I think everybody agrees that at some level this was a huge success--that Louis Farrakhan would emerge in the mainstream, even though he denied he wanted to be in the mainstream--he would be "the leader" of the black community of America, do you agree?
MR. PRICE: Well, I'm not interested in the question of who is "the leader."
JIM LEHRER: Right.
MR. PRICE: I don't think there is any such thing as "the leader." I think what's most important is the point that Bob Woodson made. Millions of people will emerge as leaders in their own communities, and if the kinds of things that we care about around social justice and the development our community are to take place, then we have to assume leadership personally and within our own organizations and communities. And that's what I think was ignited today.
JIM LEHRER: So--do you think Louis Farrakhan has been cleansed as a result of this today?
MR. PRICE: I don't know that he's been cleansed, and I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that term. He certainly took some gingerly steps toward the mainstream. There was a reaching out to the Jewish community and an indication that there's a willingness to dialogue. I think this was a very constructive day. The jury is out on what becomes of it, but it certainly was a constructive and powerful day.
JIM LEHRER: J.C. Watts, how do you see what Farrakhan accomplished in his own terms today?
REP. WATTS: Well, I, I think I'd much rather focus on the thrust of the 1/2 million or 600,000 or so people that gathered today. Like I said, I think the essence of--or I think the way we're going to gauge the success of this thing is just how people will execute when they go back to, go back to their respective communities. You know, I think it's--you know, we, Bob and we've talked here about the social policy over the last 30 years. You know, long before I became an elected official, I was talking about renewing the culture in this country, and I was talking about renewing the culture in the black community. The black community's culture is not crime and it's not stealing and killing, and it's not prostitution, contrary to what people might think, but, however, it's interesting to me, today I saw some of this come from--or some of the articulation that was had by many of the speakers, you know, attacking people like Clarence Thomas. I mean, what has Clarence Thomas talked about? He's talked about personal responsibility; he's talked about the family; he's talking about strengthening community, dealing with crimes and drugs. But Clarence Thomas has been sold to the American people as--or to many in the black community as a sellout, as an "Uncle Tom." You know, I would much rather--if we're going to talk about getting people into Washington--I would much rather have seen 20 million people of all colors, red, yellow, black, and white, man and woman, Jews, gentiles, Protestants, Catholics, come and have, and have prayer for real racial healing, racial reconciliation, but, you know, you can't have--you can't reconcile a marriage if only one partner shows up at the marriage counselor. There has to be many seats at the table. There has to be many people represented at the table, and, you know, we can't have a great America if we just strengthen the white community or the black community, the Hispanic, the native American community. We all are a family, whether we like it or not. We are a family. We all started from Adam and Eve, contrary to what people might think. And, you know, if we advance in this country by leaving any one of the family members behind, I think we've failed.
JIM LEHRER: And that was one your points earlier, Ms. Malveaux, was that by not including women or anybody else, that that was a divisive act in itself, at the beginning.
MS. MALVEAUX: Well, I would certainly distance myself, however, from the comments that Congressman Watts has just made. I don't think we're quite coming from the same place. I think there was room and there is always room for, given the racial economic gap and the other racial gaps, for African-American people to rally. I just wish that there had been room here for African-American women. Now, many women did come anyway. Some of them were members of the media. But others came--they were in the minority, but they were there simply to show support. What you see often coming from a strain of men in the African-American community is a strong patriarchal tendency. If men can step to the head of their families, then everything will be fine in black America, and that simply isn't the case. African-American people have also been at the cutting edge of the feminist revolution, which has been very important, and we can't attempt to negate that by having this Million Man March.
JIM LEHRER: So the atonement thing for the point of these million men coming and, and atoning for their sins never went down well with you?
MS. MALVEAUX: Not at all. I really do feel that--I'm glad that I amuse you, but in any case, I--
JIM LEHRER: You're talking about Bob Woodson, not me, right?
MS. MALVEAUX: About Mr. Woodson, not you at all. But in any case, I mean, I think the notion of atonement, if people want to talk about self-examination, that's fine, but we live in an institutional context, and I think that that was something that at least was missing early on. Now many of the speakers addressed it, so I don't want to be hypercritical here. But, no, I didn't--I was never a fan of the atonement edge of this march.
JIM LEHRER: Bob Woodson.
MR. WOODSON: Somebody who wants to find insanity is doing the same thing the same way and expecting a different result, and I think that's what we've been doing in the black community for 20 years. I think it's unfortunate that all of the speakers were about my age or maybe a little younger, because we are still hung up with the same remedies of the 60's and just want to apply them to the 90's, when young people are looking for moral absolution. They're looking for spiritual guidance that will transcend partisan politics, Clarence Thomas. I don't think they care about any of that. Feminism, they want to know that 10,000 young black men are blowing each other's brains out on the streets every day--I mean, ever year, and they want to know what they can do to change what they're doing. And that kind of guidance will come from them moving in a different direction. But what they are fed, unfortunately, by a lot of the adults, and even from the podium today is revisionist black history. They're only taught the pain of slavery, the pain and suffering of discrimination. They do not share with our young people those who triumph against slavery, those who triumph against discrimination. When we were in 1863, when a thousand blacks were fired from the docks of Baltimore, Maryland, for striking, we didn't march on Washington demanding jobs, peace, and freedom; we took our own money and established our own railroad, the Chesapeake, Maine Dry Dock & Railroad Company, and operated it successfully for 18 years. When we were denied access to hospitals, hotels, we built our own with our own architects, but our young people are prevented from hearing about what we've accomplished economically and socially before.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Rangel, how would you describe the message that came from that podium today by Louis Farrakhan on back to the beginning this morning?
REP. RANGEL: Well, what Bob Woodson had said was that we don't need one message and it was a variety of different messages, and I think the most exciting thing for the people who came here, these young people who came, the diversity among the group, the lovingness, the reaching out, the feeling that they were in their nation's capital, and they were wanted, the fact that the Capitol police were there as a part of a supportive team. Sure, I would have loved to have seen women there. I can't stretch my imagination to see what role Clarence Thomas would have played, but certainly I would not--I would not have objected to him being there. The thing is that so many different people could have done it in so many different ways, but they didn't call for it. So what I'm saying is I'm not knocking the critics. I'm saying it was a beautiful day, and I think it was a beautiful day for America to be able to see a young black male and not be scared to death to go into an elevator or to talk with him. They were reaching out; there was pleading for a way to get--to be a part of this American dream. They have been cut out of the budget we're dealing here. They're cut out in the street; they're cut out in jobs; they're cut out in hope. And the only time you know that you can really get a young African-American, young man, is when there's a draft or a war to fight. Now, they come in peace and in harmony, and I hope that some of the people that have been so critical might find some way to say these are Americans, they came to our United States capital. Surely, they hope they register, we hope they vote, we hope they participate. But at least, they showed America that they're not invisible, they have pain, but they have love. What a beautiful day for America!
JIM LEHRER: Hugh Price--
REP. WATTS: Another message--you know--a message I think I would love to have heard articulated today is that the unity of the black community doesn't require unanimity. I mean, if you notice, a lot of the articulation that was had today, it was a, it was a group mentality. We all had to think alike. I mean, Charlie, you say you stretch to figure out what role Clarence Thomas would have played in this thing. Clarence happens to be--he's a man whose skin color happens to be black. Clarence Thomas advocates an individual mentality. You know, he steps outside the group mentality, and says, I reserve the right to disagree with J.C. Watts or Charlie Rangel or Bob Woodson or anyone else.
REP. RANGEL: He should have been there then!
REP. WATTS: So I would like to have heard that articulated today.
MS. MALVEAUX: But he also said--
REP. WATTS: We say that, you know, we hear about what the 104th Congress is doing and, and, you know, we debate these issues, and we talk about Medicare being cut and Medicaid being cut and all the social programs being cut--that's helped the black community. Over the last 30 years, we have spent $5.3 trillion in the welfare system. There are people on welfare, they need to be on welfare, but there's a lot of people that should not be there. But the fact is we've spent $5.3 trillion on welfare since 1965.
REP. RANGEL: I don't think that was an issue today.
REP. WATTS: No, no, but we're talking about social programs, as has been mentioned in the last 10 minutes. We are poor. The black community today is worse off today than they were 30 years ago. What have we gotten for that investment? And that's what--those are the kind of things that we need to get up and we need to tell the truth about.
REP. RANGEL: But racism is higher today too!
MS. MALVEAUX: But you might also ask how much we've spent on corporate welfare, No. 1. I mean, I think it disingenuous to talk about the money that we spend on public assistance without talking about the money we've spent on corporate welfare. But, No. 2, if you're stretching your brain to think about Clarence Thomas--
JIM LEHRER: Wait a minute. You can't all talk at once.
MS. MALVEAUX: --if you're stretching your brain to think about Clarence Thomas, there was a strong component of this march that talked about incarcerated African-American men, and Clarence Thomas is the person who wrote that it was not cruel and unusual punishment to break somebody's dental plate while it was in their mouth. So I think in some ways I don't know--I was not invited to be at the march, but I think that Associate Justice Thomas, quite frankly, might have been very uncomfortable there.
REP. WATTS: Why--
JIM LEHRER: Whoop, whoop, whoop! Let me ask Hugh Price a question. Hugh Price, I have a question for you. What happens as a result of this today if--in the ideal world--nobody knows what's going to happen, but if you had your druthers, what good results could come from this? What did you see? Did you see any seeds that were planted that could result in something that from your point of view?
MR. PRICE: Yes. I saw a number of seeds that were planted. I think in an ideal world, if everyone who was there registers to vote and gets five other people to register to vote, and not only to register but actually participate in the political process that empowers the African-American community enormously. I think if every one who's a parent goes back and makes sure that they understand clearly what their children must know and be able to do in order to participate in the 21st century economy and assumes that responsibility for their children, that will be important. I think that message came through. If we go back and organize to make sure that our children have caring adults in their lives after school and we don't spend all of our anti-crime money on more policemen, the fight that Charlie Rangel and the Congressional Black Caucus has been fighting, if we build a constituency for after-school programs for kids so that there's someone there with them after school, that will be good. And I think we saw many of those seeds planted today. The proof will be in whether we organize, mobilize, and assume responsibility to press toward full participation in the mainstream of American life.
JIM LEHRER: What positive seeds did you see planted today?
MS. MALVEAUX: Minister Louis Farrakhan in his over-long speech did have many glimmers of a road map. He asked people to go back and join organizations. He mentioned specifically the Urban League, the NAACP, and a number of others. He asked men to go back and join their churches. If some of the people who were there will go back and work in their communities--there are many blighted African-American communities where just the elbow grease would make a difference--I think that would be good. And I think that when Rev. Jackson and some of the others talked about the role of women, in some ways, they attempted to undercut that exclusionary message of women to stay home. If men go home and think about the issues of gender relations in the African-American community, about all those things that are unacceptable, domestic abuse and other things, those are positives.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Watts, do you think that the black people in Oklahoma will be affected positively by what happened here today, and do you think it's possible that they could be?
REP. WATTS: Well, I think there are many people that attended the march rally today that had great intentions. I know some people that attended. I was aware that they were going. But I think the--
JIM LEHRER: Did you urge them to go, or did you discourage them from going?
REP. WATTS: Pardon me.
JIM LEHRER: Did you encourage or discourage them from going?
REP. WATTS: Well, I, you know, I find if you're seven times three, that means you pretty much have a mind of your own, so I had an uncle that attended the rally today, and he, you know, he told me that he was coming, and I wished him well. But I think the success of this is going to be determined, again, by--not by Minister Farrakhan or what Jesse Jackson said. I think those people with good intentions, it's going to be determined by how they go out into the grassroots level and how they execute. That's going to be very critical.
MR. PRICE: There's work to be done in churches, in Urban League affiliates, in community centers all across the country, and if this becomes an army to do that work for our young people and for our adults, then it will have been a remarkable, positive day.
JIM LEHRER: Bob Woodson, how would you judge--what criteria would you lay out of judging the success of this ultimately?
MR. WOODSON: Well, first of all, I wouldn't apply all of the secular kind of solutions that Hugh Price just articulated. That's a part of what we have been pushing for 25 years. The, the killings--
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Watts has to leave. Congressman Watts, thank you very much for being with us tonight. I'm not sure he heard me, but I said good-bye. Okay.
MR. WOODSON: That's okay. But the killings that are occurring are not because Medicaid is being cut, or because social programs. That is a moral and spiritual--I would like to see these young people go back to their churches. I'd like to see them come together--
JIM LEHRER: Do you expect them to do it?
MR. WOODSON: I expect them to do it, but one other thing I would recommend, that a follow-up conference would be held back in their communities, where for three days they would meet and not talk about white people at all, and talk about what the black community can do, and not talk about any problem for which they don't have a solution and begin to build on our strengths. Let's stop just looking at the young people who are destroying themselves and their community and find out why some families are raising children in those neighborhoods infected by crime and violence but their children are not dropping out of school, in jail, and find out what can we learn from them. They are the real experts, not the people up on that podium.
MR. PRICE: Do you feel--
JIM LEHRER: Excuse me.
REP. RANGEL: I think we all--
JIM LEHRER: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Let me ask Bob Woodson question. Do you expect that to happen?
MR. WOODSON: Absolutely.
JIM LEHRER: Based on what happened here today?
MR. WOODSON: Yes, I do.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Charlie Rangel, what do you--
REP. RANGEL: I think we all are reading from the same page. I've been out there all day. I have never seen the enthusiasm and the sense of pride in young people in my district or anyone else's district that has a predominantly large number of poor black kids. They--they don't have the hope and the vision because it's not there. They see the cop on the beat. They see the courts. They see the jails. They see the lack of job opportunities. They see the schools that have failed them. Now they come and they feel like they're somebody. Don't tell me, Bob, that they don't need support. Our school systems are not working for our young people; there has to be businesses for them; there has to be job opportunities. And certainly there has to be more support for our women and for our children. That goes without saying, but this is a terrific beginning. And for those people who just feel committed to have to knock Minister Farrakhan, hey, get another rally. There's so much more that has to be done, but today I don't think is the time for criticism. It was done the American way. It was done at the U.S. Capitol steps, and I think that now you see faces on the hopes and the dreams and the aspirations of a lot of young kids who didn't think much of themselves but go home ten feet tall.
MR. PRICE: Let me just add--
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
MR. PRICE: --there is a study which shows that juvenile crime is going to double in the next 10 years. The peak period for juvenile crime is in the afternoon from 3 o'clock until 6 o'clock. A program of caring adults in churches and community centers is not a social program. It is an absolutely essential feature of the civilized society. And we have disinvested in those programs for the last ten or fifteen years, while we've built a massive prison industry. That's the point I'm trying to make. While parents are out working their needs to be someone with the teen-agers so that they are put on a constructive course. That's not a social program. That's not pork. That's the essence of a civil society.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Now I'm going to ask all four of you to play historian, future. Is this going to go down some day along on the--on the list with the march on Washington, where Martin Luther King gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, Hugh Price?
MR. PRICE: It's certainly got that potential. All the markings are there if it's turned to constructive action.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, Congressman Rangel?
REP. RANGEL: It's already knocked off the tops in terms of numbers, but each generation, it's each decade is a different problem that begs out for a new solution. Their bringing together of young people of our community I think in and of itself exceeds anything of this type.
JIM LEHRER: Bob Woodson.
MR. WOODSON: I would agree. It confounded all of the experts who predicted that the O.J. trial would go on, I mean, would be settled in weeks, so I think it confounded the experts too, and I'm just pleased that it was a success in terms of these young men proving to themselves that they can come together in peace.
JIM LEHRER: Potential for a historic impact?
MS. MALVEAUX: It absolutely was a historical moment. I was there this morning, and I saw the people coming in at 5:30 in the morning; they were halfway down the Mall. I said, you know, to one of my producers, hey, they've got a hit on their hands. Regrettably, this historical moment is marred by the exclusion of women, and I do hope that it does not mean that African-American gender relations are set back a generation.
JIM LEHRER: But you think generally--
MS. MALVEAUX: It's a historical moment but a flawed one.
JIM LEHRER: Okay, thank you all four very much and Congressman Watts, who had to leave early.