Remembering The Million Man March

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Written by Ann Brown
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The Million Man March has an anniversary coming up. It will turn 24 this year. The march, which drew a large number of African-American men, first hit the streets of Washington, D.C., on October 16, 1995. Co-created by the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan, it was held on and around the National Mall. The National African American Leadership Summit and the Nation of Islam partnered with a variety of civil rights organizations, including many local chapters of the NAACP to form the Million Man March Organizing Committee. Dr. Benjamin Chavis, Jr., founder of the National African American Leadership Summit, was the first National Director of the Million Man March.

One of the purposes of the march was to “convey to the world a vastly different picture of the Black male” as well has helped inspire and empower Black men. 

There has been some dispute over the attendee figures, the National Park Service issued an estimate of about 400,000 attendees, while  ABC-TV-funded researchers at Boston University estimated the crowd size to be about 837,000 members.

“The March focused on the plight of black American males emphasizing the theme of atonement. It also covered a range of social and economic issues relevant to urban America. Reflecting a tradition of black empowerment, the March speakers promoted unity among American black males as a source of community strength and development. They called for men to challenge the violence in their communities and fulfill their roles as husbands, fathers, and leaders,” The Islamic Monthly reported. 

The Million Woman March was launched in 1997.

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The Million Man March event inspired a film by Spike Lee. In 1996 he released “Get on the Bus,” a film about a group of African-American men who are taking a cross-country bus trip in order to participate in the Million Man March. The film premiered on the one-year anniversary of the march.

There was a lot going on in the United States when the Million Man was launched. One was the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that was pushed by President Bill Clinton and was passed with bipartisan support in 1994. “The bill disproportionately hurt African Americans and worsened racial inequality in the justice system. Black Americans represent 13 percent of U.S residents but account for 40 percent of the incarcerated population, according to PrisonPolicy.org,” Moguldom reported.

In 2015 Clinton apologized for the crime bill, admitting it actually mass incarceration worse. “Too many laws were overly broad instead of appropriately tailored,” he said.

The Million Man March itself could be credited with a decrease in crime in Black communities, the march and the unity of pastors helped combat crime and promote moral and cultural reforms. Although President Obama credited now-President candidate Joe Biden with helping crime decreasing from 1994 to 1999, but according to stats show crime had already started going down and one of the reasons was internal forces within the Black community that worked to lessen crime.

The interaural Million Man March attracted notables like rapper Ice-T, Dr. Betty Shabazz, Martin Luther King III, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, and Dr. Cornel West. And the 20th anniversary, 20th Anniversary of the Million Man March: Justice or Else, attracted several celebrities such as Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith (who also donated money to the cause), Barack Obama, who attended the first march. 

“This is a very special moment for me. Twenty years ago, I was by myself,” said Joey Davis, 47, of Detroit, told The Salt Lake Tribune while attending the 20th anniversary march. “And 20 years later, I come back with my wife and five children. And so I like to think that over the last 20 years I’ve been doing my part in keeping the promise of the spirit of the original Million Man March.”