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The Million Man March was a mass gathering held in the United States, in Washington, D.C.marker, on October 16, 1995. Under the leadership of Nation of Islam head Louis Farrakhan, black men from across the United States converged on Washington in an effort to “convey to the world a vastly different picture of the Black male” and to unite in self-help and self-defense against economic and social ills plaguing the African American community.

The march took place within the context of a larger grassroots movement that set out to win politicians’ attention for urban and minority issues through widespread voter registration campaigns. A parallel event called the Day of Absence, organized by female leaders in conjunction with the March leadership, occurred on the same date and was intended to engage the large population of black Americans who would not be able to attend the demonstration in Washington. On this date, all Blacks were encouraged to stay home from their usual school, work, and social engagements in favor of attending teach-ins and worship services focusing on the struggle for a healthy and self-sufficient black community. Further, organizers of the Day of Absence hoped to use the occasion to make great headway on their voter registration drive.

Although the march won support and participation from a number of prominent African American leaders, its legacy is plagued by controversy over several issues. The leader of the march, Louis Farrakhan, is a highly contested figure whose biting commentary on race in America has led some to wonder whether the message of the march can successfully be disentangled from the controversial messenger. Further, men and women alike question the decision to focus on black men to the exclusion of black women. Although women were involved in the planning and execution of the event, it is a male-only occasion in both name and public image that, some argue, could be detrimental to the already tenuous gender relations in the African American community. But 2 years later the Million Woman March was held to try to settle the dispute. Finally, within the first twenty-four hours following the March a conflict between March organizers and Park Service officials erupted over crowd size estimates. The National Park Service issued an estimate of about 400,000 attendees, a number significantly lower than March organizers had hoped for. After a heated exchange between leaders of the march and Park Service, ABC-TV funded researchers at Boston Universitymarker estimated the crowd size to be 837,000, plus or minus 20%. BBC NEWS stated the number to be just over 2 million.

Economic and social woes

One of the primary motivating factors for the march was to place black issues back on the nation’s political agenda. In the aftermath of the Republican Party’s victory in the 1994 Congressional election and the continued success of the party’s campaign platform, the Contract with America, some African American leaders felt the social and economic issues facing the black community fell by the wayside of policy debates. March organizers believed that politicians were failing the black community by “papering over the most vital dimensions of the crisis in international capitalism” and blaming urban Blacks for “domestic economic woes that threatened to produce record deficits, massive unemployment, and uncontrolled inflation.”

At the time of the march, African Americans faced unemployment rates nearly twice that of white Americans, a poverty rate of more than 40%, and a median family income that was about 58% of the median for white households. More than 11% of all black males were unemployed and for those aged 16 to 19, the number of unemployed had climbed to over 50% Further, according to Reverend Jesse Jackson’s speech at the March, the United States House of Representatives had reduced funding to some of the programs that played an integral role in urban Americans’ lives. “The House of Representatives cut $1.1 billion from the nation’s poorest public schools,” and “cut $137 million from Head Start” effectively subtracting $5,000 from each classroom’s budget and cutting 45,000 preschoolers from a crucial early education program.

Environmental hazards were also seen as making the lives of urban Blacks unstable. Black men were murdered at a rate of 72 per 100,000, a rate significantly higher than the 9.3 per 100,000 attributed to the white male population. Some black activists blamed aggressive law enforcement and prison construction for leaving “two hundred thousand more blacks in the jail complex than in college” and devastating leadership gaps within black communities and families. Event organizers were further infuriated by a perceived gap in prenatal care for black women and children caused, in part, by the closing of inner-city hospitals. Event organizers were of the view that urban Blacks were born with “three strikes against them”: insufficient prenatal care, inferior educational opportunities, and jobless parents. Instead of providing young children with the means to succeed, they believed the government instead intervened in the lives of its black citizens through law enforcement and welfare programs that did little to improve the community’s circumstances.

Media portrayal

In addition to their goal of fostering a spirit of support and self-sufficiency within the black community, organizers of the Million Man March also sought to use the event as a publicity campaign aimed at combating what they percieved as the negative racial stereotypes in the American media and in popular culture. March organizers were dismayed by the sweeping stereotypes they though white America seemed to draw from the coverage of such figures as Willie Horton, O.J. Simpson, and Mike Tyson. Believing that “black men have been designated by the culture as the sacrificial lambs for male evil”, event organizers asked black male attendees to make a public display of their commitment to responsible and constructive behavior that would give the mass media positive imagery to broadcast.

The program

Although various organizations, charities, and vendors had booths and displays at the rally, the focal point of the day was the stage set-up on the west front grounds of the United States Capitolmarker building. The day's events were broken down into several sessions: Early Morning Glory (6am-7:30am), Sankofa: Lessons from the Past Linkages to the Future (8am-10:30am), Affirmation/Responsibility (11am-2pm), Atonement and Reconciliation (2:30pm-4pm).

I. Early Morning Glory

  • Rev. H Beecher Hicks of Washington, D.C. and Minister Rasul Muhammad - Masters of Ceremonies
  • Sheik Ahmed Tijani Ben-Omar of Accramarker, Ghanamarker and Rev. Frederick Haynes, III from the Friendship West Baptist Church, Dallas, Texasmarker - adhan and invocation

II. Sankofa: Lessons from the past

III. Affirmation/Responsibility

Affirmation of Our Brothers

Mothers of the Struggle - Behold Thy Sons

IV Atonement and Reconciliation

Structure of speeches

The organizers of the event took steps to lift the march from a purely political level to a spiritual one, hoping to inspire attendees and honored guests to move beyond “articulation of black grievances” to a state of spiritual healing. Speakers at the event structured their talks around three themes: atonement, reconciliation, and responsibility. The Day of Atonement became a second name for the event and for some came to represent the motivation of the Million Man movement. In the words of one man who was in attendance, Marchers aimed at “being at one with ourselves, the Most High, and our people”. Beyond the most basic call for atonement leaders of the March also called for reconciliation, or a state of harmony between members of the black community and their God. Speakers called participants to “settle disputes, overcome conflicts, put aside grudges and hatreds” and unite in an effort to create a productive and supportive black community that fosters in each person the ability to “seek the good, find it, embrace it, and build on it.” Finally, the leaders of the March challenged participants and their families at home to “expand [our] commitment to responsibility in personal conduct…and in obligations to the community”.

Notable speakers

Minister Rasul Muhammad- Master of Ceremonies

Reverend Benjamin Chavis- National Director of Million Man March- Call to Purpose

Mr. Martin Luther King III- Affirmation of our Brothers

Rosa Parks- Mothers of the Struggle Behold Thy Sons

Maya Angelou Appeal to Our Brothers

Reverend Jeremiah Wright- Prayer for Hope

Senator Aldebert Bryan- Senator, Virgin Islands

Reverend Jesse L. Jackson Sr.- National Rainbow Coalition

Minister Louis Farrakhan- The Message and VisionReverend Addis Daniel - The light.

Day of Absence

While male leaders took primary responsibility for planning and participating in the events in Washington, female leaders organized a parallel activity called the National Day of Absence. In the spirit of unity and atonement, these leaders issued a call for all black people not in attendance at the March to recognize October 16, 1995 as a sacred day meant for self-reflection and spiritual reconciliation. All black Americans were encouraged to stay home from their work, school, athletic, entertainment activities and various other daily responsibilities on the Day of Absence. Instead of partaking in their usual routines, participants were instructed to gather at places of worship and to hold teach-ins at their homes in order to meditate on the role and responsibility of Blacks in America. Further, the day was intended to serve as an occasion for mass voter registration and contribution to the establishment of a Black Economic Development Fund.

Crowd size controversy

Because of the name of the event, the number of attendees was a primary measure of its success and estimating the crowd size, always a contentious issue, reached new heights in bitterness. March organizers estimated the crowd size at between 1.5 to 2 million people, a figure agreed by BBC NEWS, but were shocked when the United States Park Police officially estimated the crowd size at 400,000. Farrakhan threatened to sue the National Park Service because of the controversial low estimate from the Park Police.

Three days after the march, Dr. Farouk El-Baz and a team of ten research associates and graduate students at the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston Universitymarker released an estimate of 870,000 people with a margin of error of about 25 percent. They arrived at this figure by enlarging aerial photographs taken by the Park Service and counting crowd density. They later revised that figure to 837,000 ±20% (669,600 to 1,004,400). This revision was made when the Park Service provided original 35mm negatives; the first count was made with scanned printed photographs.

The Park Service estimate was never retracted, and other academics have supported its lower figure.

After the Million Man March, the Park Police ceased making official crowd size estimates. Roger G. Kennedy, the Park Service director, said Congress had provided the "structure and canons" for counting people, but it had not demanded that the exercise actually be done. He contemplated informing Congress, "Thank you for telling us how to do it, but we won't be doing it." In the 1997 appropriations bill for the Department of the Interior, Congress included language that prohibits the National Park Service from conducting crowd estimates in the District of Columbia. The legislation also states that if event organizers want crowd estimates, they should contract with an outside agency.

See also

Other movements that based their name on the Million Man March


Further reading

External links

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