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Attendees of the Million Man March

The Million Man March was a large gathering of African-American men in Washington, D.C., on October 16, 1995. Called by Louis Farrakhan, it was held on and around the National Mall. The National African American Leadership Summit, a leading group of civil rights activists and the Nation of Islam working with scores of civil rights organizations, including many local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (but not the national NAACP) formed the Million Man March Organizing Committee. The founder of the National African American Leadership Summit, Benjamin Chavis Jr., served as National Director of the Million Man March.

The committee invited many prominent speakers to address the audience, and African-American men from across the United States converged in Washington to "convey to the world a vastly different picture of the Black male"[1]: 152  and to unite in self-help and self-defense against economic and social ills plaguing the African-American community.

The march took place in the context of a larger grassroots movement that set out to win politicians' attention for urban and minority issues through widespread voter registration campaigns.[2]: 245  On the same day, there was a parallel event called the Day of Absence, organized by women in conjunction with the March leadership, which 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.[1]: 147 

A conflict arose about crowd size estimates between March organizers and National Park Service officials. The National Park Service issued an estimate of about 400,000 attendees,[3] a number significantly lower than march organizers had hoped for.[2]: 243  After a heated exchange between leaders of the march and the NPS, ABC-TV-funded researchers at Boston University estimated the crowd size to be about 837,000 members, with a 20% margin of error.[3]

Two years after the march, the Million Woman March was held in response to concerns that the Million Man March had focused on Black men to the exclusion of Black women.[4]

Economic and social factors

March attendees

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 believed that the social and economic issues facing the black community fell by the wayside of policy debates.[2]: 243  March organizers believed that politicians were failing the black community by "papering over the most vital dimensions of the crisis in international capitalism"[2]: 243  and blaming urban blacks for "domestic economic woes that threatened to produce record deficits, massive unemployment, and uncontrolled inflation".[2]: 244 

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 men were unemployed and for those aged 16 to 19, the number of unemployed had climbed to over 50%.[2]: 244  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. He said, "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.[5]: 33 

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 white men.[2]: 244  Some black activists blamed aggressive law enforcement and prison construction for leaving "two hundred thousand more blacks in the jail complex than in college"[5]: 33  and creating devastating leadership gaps within black communities and families.[2]: 244  Event organizers were infuriated by a perceived gap in prenatal care for black women and children that was caused, in part, by the closing of inner-city hospitals.[5]: 33 

Event organizers believed that urban Blacks were born with "three strikes against them":[5]: 33  insufficient prenatal care, inferior educational opportunities, and jobless parents.[5]: 33  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.[5]: 34 

Media portrayal

Members of the Nation of Islam at the march

In addition to their goal of fostering a spirit of support and self-sufficiency within the black community, organizers of the Million Man March sought to use the event as a publicity campaign aimed at combating the negative racial stereotypes in the American media and in popular culture. March organizers were dismayed by the sweeping stereotypes they thought white America seemed to draw from the coverage of such figures as Willie Horton, O. J. Simpson, and Mike Tyson.[2]: 245 

Stating that "black men have been designated by the culture as the sacrificial lambs for male evil",[1]: 129  event organizers asked the black men in attendance to make a public display of their commitment to responsible and constructive behavior[1]: 143  that would give the mass media positive imagery to broadcast.


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 Capitol building. The day's events were broken down into several sessions: Early Morning Glory (6 am–7:30am), Sankofa: Lessons from the Past Linkages to the Future (8 am–10:30 am), Affirmation/Responsibility (11 am–2 pm), and Atonement and Reconciliation (2:30 pm–4 pm).[6]

I. Early Morning Glory

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"[2]: 249  to a state of spiritual healing. Speakers at the event structured their talks around three themes: atonement, reconciliation, and responsibility.[8]: 115  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".[8]: 115 

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.[1]: 143  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."[1]: 143  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".[1]: 144 

Notable speakers

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.[1]: 146  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.[1]: 147 

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.[1]: 147  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

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.[9] March organizers estimated the crowd size at between 1.5 to 2 million people but were incensed 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 low estimate from the Park Police.

Three days after the march, Farouk El-Baz, director of the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University released a controversial estimate of 870,000 people with a margin of error of 25%, meaning that the crowd could have been as small as 655,000 or as large as 1.1 million.[10] It later revised that figure to 837,000, with a 20% margin of error (669,600 to 1,004,400).[9] The Park Service never retracted its estimate.[9]

After the Million Man March, the Park Police ceased making official crowd size estimates. Roger G. Kennedy, the Director of the National Park Service, said that his agency planned to study the possibility of no longer counting crowds, noting that most organizations that sponsor large events complain that Park Service estimates are too low.[10] When it prepared the 1997 appropriations bill for the United States Department of the Interior, the Committee on Appropriations of the United States House of Representatives stated in a June 1996 report that accompanied the bill that the Committee had not provided any funding for crowd counting activities associated with gatherings held on federal property in Washington, D.C. The report further stated that if event organizers wish to have crowd estimates, they should hire a private sector firm to conduct the count.[11][12]

Media reaction

Louis Farrakhan acquired unfavorable attention from African-American Christians and was compared to "Adolf Hitler" by the Jewish community for anti-Jewish rhetoric and views.[13] His supporters said that Farrakhan was "against those Jews who have sacrificed their deep moral-religious heritage for a set of values grounded in capitalist exploitation and oppression."[14] Newsweek observed that Farrakhan's apparent political agenda could become a concern for the Democratic Party, as his effort to register black men as independent voters could create a "voting bloc [with a] mix of social conservatism, economic 'empowerment' and black solidarity."[15]

Richard Lacayo and Sam Allis wrote that Farrakhan may have organized the march to "simply prove that he was the man who could make it happen; he would then capitalize on the prominence he hoped it would confer."[16]


A group of black feminists including Angela Davis, Barbara Ransby, Evelynn Hammonds and Kimberlé Crenshaw formed an alliance called the African American Agenda 2000 to oppose the Million Man March.[17] E. Frances White would recall in 2010 that the march had "frightened many black feminists because we felt that it would herald a dramatic resurgence in black male sexism."[17]

Creating a separation in the movement became a topic of great controversy since it has been argued that, "Organizers excluded women from the march to send a two-part message" that men need to improve their character and women need to recognize their place "in the home."[15]

In his 2005 book New Black Man, Mark Anthony Neal emphasizes the "small percentage of black women in attendance that day."[18] Neal offers the perspective of Debra Dickerson, a woman writer who attended the march: "Dickerson noted the aura of politeness and chivalry she experienced walking...there was an element of performance taking place that day for international media, corporate America."[18] The Million Man March that excluded black women was a "call for atonement [that] spoke to the need for those black men engaged in acts of criminality, violence, and blatant misogyny."[18] However, black women faced backlash for exposing the March's flaws, such as "gender apartheid and nostalgia for patriarchy."[18]

20th anniversary

Main article: 20th Anniversary of the Million Man March: Justice or Else

The 20th anniversary march

Farrakhan held the 20th Anniversary of the Million Man March: Justice or Else on October 10, 2015, in Washington, D.C.[19][20][21]

The New York Times published an opinion piece by Charles M. Blow, who found it difficult to "separate the march from the messenger", and criticized Minister Farrakhan's speech, calling it homophobic and patriarchal.[22] In an opinion piece for The Washington Post, Janell Ross called Farrakhan's speech "striking", a "stemwinder", and the "apex" of the event.[23]

Cultural impact

The 1996 motion picture Get on the Bus was released exactly one year to the day of this event, directed by Spike Lee as his first movie that he did not act in himself. The road-movie plot has a group of African Americans on the titular bus on the way to the Million Man March.

See also

Non-African American related:


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Million Man March National Organizing Committee (January 1996). "Million Man March Fact Sheet". In Madhubuti, Haki R.; Karenga, Maulana (eds.). Million Man March / Day of Absence; A Commemorative Anthology; Speeches, Commentary, Photography, Poetry, Illustrations, Documents. Chicago: Third World Press.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Nelson Jr., William E. (1998). "Black Church Politics and The Million Man March". In Best, Felton O. (ed.). Black Religious Leadership from the Slave Community to the Million Man March; flames of fire. Lewiston, New York: The Edwin Mellen Press.
  3. ^ a b "BU Remote Sensing Million Man March page". Archived from the original on 2017-10-12. Retrieved 2010-09-19.
  4. ^ Quarles, Norma (16 October 1995). "Behind Million Men, black women". Cable News Network, Inc. Retrieved 17 April 2009.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Jackson Sr., Reverend Jesse L. (January 1996). "Remarks Before One Million Men, Monday, October 16, 1995". In Madhubuti, Haki R.; Karenga, Maulana (eds.). Million Man March / Day of Absence; A Commemorative Anthology; Speeches, Commentary, Photography, Poetry, Illustrations, Documents. Chicago: Third World Press.
  6. ^ a b c d "Official Program". Washington, D.C.: Million Man March. 1995-10-16: 8. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ "Noted civil rights leader". Vanderbilt University. 1998-01-06. Retrieved 2009-01-03.
  8. ^ a b McIntyre, Ph.D, Charshee (January 1996). "Why Focus on the Men?". In Madhubuti, Haki R.; Karenga, Maulana (eds.). Million Man March / Day of Absence; A Commemorative Anthology; Speeches, Commentary, Photography, Poetry, Illustrations, Documents. Chicago: Third World Press.
  9. ^ a b c McKenna, David (2009-01-29). "The 3 to 5 Million Man March: Crowd estimates could lead to post-swearing-in swearing, history shows". Washington City Paper. Archived from the original on 2010-09-10. Retrieved 2021-08-20.
  10. ^ a b Janofsky, Michael (1995-11-21). "Federal Parks Chief Calls 'Million Man' Count Low". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-09-14.
  11. ^ Leef Smith, Wendy Melillo. If It's Crowd Size You Want, Park Service Says Count It Out; Congress Told Agency to Stop, Official Says Washington Post: Oct 13, 1996. pg. A.34
  12. ^ Regula, Ralph, Committee on Appropriations (1996-06-18). "House of Representatives Report 104-625: Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, 1997, to accompany H.R. 3662" (PDF). p. 28. Retrieved 2010-11-30. The Committee has provided no funding for crowd counting activities associated with gatherings held on federal property in Washington, D.C. If event organizers wish to have an estimate on the number of people participating in their event, then those organizers should hire a private sector firm to conduct the count.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link). Note: The Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, 1997 (H.R. 3662), was incorporated into the "Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act, 1997 (Public Law 104-208, Sept. 30, 1996)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-05-27., at 110 STAT. 3009-181.
  13. ^ Amana, Harry. "Million Man March's Success: Media Misses the Real Story, Focuses on Controversy." Black Issues in Higher Education 12.18 (1995): 40-. ProQuest. Web. 26 Apr. 2013.
  14. ^ Yancy, George. "Analyzing the rift between Farrakhan and Jews: Jews should Recognize Farrakhan as a Legitimate Black Leader." Philadelphia Tribune: 6. Nov 28 1995. ProQuest. Web. 26 Apr. 2013
  15. ^ a b "Farrakhan On The March". Newsweek. 1995-10-08. Retrieved 2023-08-26.
  16. ^ Lacayo, Richard, and Sam Allis. "I, Too, Sing America. (Cover Story)." Time 146.18 (1995): 32. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Apr. 2013.
  17. ^ a b E. Frances White (2001). Dark Continent of Our Bodies: Black Feminism and the Politics of Respectability. Temple University Press. ISBN 978-1-56639-880-0.
  18. ^ a b c d Neal, Mark (2005). New Black Man. New York : Routledge. pp. 16, 17. ISBN 0415971098.
  19. ^ "20th Anniversary of the Million Man March". Retrieved February 15, 2016.
  20. ^ "20th Anniversary of Million Man March Calls for Policing Reform". CBS. October 10, 2015. Archived from the original on June 24, 2021. Retrieved February 15, 2016.
  21. ^ Ernst, Douglas (June 25, 2015). "Louis Farrakhan calls for American flag to come down". The Washington Times. Retrieved February 15, 2016.
  22. ^ Blow, Charles (11 October 2015). "Million Man March, 20 Years On". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 November 2015.
  23. ^ Ross, Janell (11 October 2015). "Louis Farrakhan's striking two-hour stemwinder at the Million Man March anniversary". The Washington Post. Retrieved 4 November 2015.

Further reading