Million Man March

Farrakhan Rally Unites Diverse Group, Including 'Black Lives Matter' Activists

Image via James Lawler Duggan / REUTERS / RNS

Facing throngs of people on the National Mall, Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan called for justice Oct. 10 as he rallied African-Americans, Latinos, and others during an anniversary protest at the U.S. Capitol.

In a speech that lasted more than two hours, Farrakhan said the United States was hypocritical for insisting other nations were violating human rights, all the while describing its own misconduct as something that causes Americans “dissatisfaction.”

His “Justice or Else!” event came 20 years after hundreds of thousands of black men came to the same stretch of lawn between the Capitol and the Washington Monument to rededicate themselves to being better fathers, sons, and citizens.

Transcendent Power

On October 16, 1995, more than a million black men, young and younger, old and older and the stages between; prosperous, accomplished, striving, and struggling; representing every denomination of the religious spectrum and every possible phase of African-American male experience, including some recently released from jail, converged upon the Mall in Washington, D.C. Vincent Harding speaks truth when he refers to the Million Man March phenomenon as the "manifestation of a hungering and thirsting after righteousness" and quotes the electronic testimony of a marcher, "The Spirit Lives!"

Indeed, the power that has defied every attempt to reduce it to language is profoundly spiritual. Those who were present try to describe it and those who watched on television understand because it was visible and audible and tangible even through the television screen. What was it? The power was transcendent-profoundly greater than any single participant or leader or spokesman. It was imminent-as wholesome and intimate as the hug of brother and brother and father and son.

What drew so many black men from so many places to this sacred pilgrimage? The call to march touched a deep-seated yearning within African America.

For more than three centuries, black men have been vilified and demonized in this country. The breaking-in process after the horrific Middle Passage intended to destroy the identity of those men and women from Africa. They were stripped of name, language, family, and the practice of their faith.

The process has continued in the latter 20th century. The predominant media image of black manhood has been either criminal or foolish. The repeated recitation of negative data would have the world believe that African-American men are in jail, on drugs, selling drugs, and intentionally irresponsible. To be sure, there are too many who fit the popular description. But they are not the majority of black men.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1996
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Black Water: The Million Man Sea

I could swim in this sea.

this sea of Black helix hair and fleecy locks.

waves of
caramel,
honey,
Blue Black,
Red brown chocolate faces.

I could swim...baptize, resurrect, and renew...

The waves of pain, joy, sorrow, rejoice and regret

crashed upon the rocks of the

Citadel.

the sound of rushing water Black water so loud even
the Devil had to Jump back!

No lessons are needed for this body of water.

JUST
JUMP
ON
IN!

We swam all day and found lost family,
pieced together broken dreams,
and gathered together our discarded
and torn lives.

We put them together on the Altar of our Pain

offered them to God

And baptized them in Black water.

OTIS BAKARI MOSS III is a Ph.D. student in religion and social change at the University of Denver, where he is studying with Vincent Harding. He attended the Million Man March with 30 members of his home church, Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio.

 

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1996
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Challenge from Within

EACH DAY, 1,118 BLACK TEEN-AGERS are victims of violent crime, 1,451 black children are arrested, and 907 teen-age girls get pregnant. A generation of black males is drowning in its own blood in the prison camps we euphemistically call "inner cities." And things are likely to get much worse.

Some 40 years after the beginning of the civil rights movement, younger black Americans are growing up unqualified for gainful employment even as slaves. The result is a state of civil war, with children in violent revolt against the failed secular and religious leadership of the black community.

Consider the dimensions of this failure. A black boy has a 1-in-3,700 chance of getting a Ph.D. in mathematics, engineering, or the physical sciences; a 1-in-766 chance of becoming a lawyer; a 1-in-395 chance of becoming a physician; a 1-in-195 chance of becoming a teacher. But his chances are 1-in-2 of never attending college, even if he graduates from high school; 1-in-9 of using cocaine; 1-in-12 of having gonorrhea; and 1-in-20 of being imprisoned while in his 20s. Only the details are different for his sister.

According to James A. Fox, Dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University, from 1990 to 1993 (the last year for which detailed national data are available) the overall rate of murder in the United States remained virtually unchanged. For this same period, the rate of killing at the hands of adults, ages 23 and over, actually declined 10 percent; however, for young adults, ages 18-24, the rate rose 14 percent, and for teen-agers it jumped a terrifying 26 percent.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1996
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The Spirit Lives!

ALTHOUGH THE FICKLENESS of our country's public attention-span might have tempted us to file away last October's Million Man March as a piece of semi-ancient history by now, it seems clear to me that such careless inattention would be a serious mistake. For there was a profoundly moving truth in the words of the local march participant who came home that night filled with the excitement of a transformative day and posted these words for his computer-network companions: "The Spirit Lives!"

While I was 2,000 miles away from the Mall in Denver, and had to wait until I arrived home that evening to watch the videotapes that my family had lovingly made for me, after hours of intense electronic participation I arrived at the same conclusion. What glued me to the screen almost until dawn was the sense that I was witnessing an overwhelming manifestation of a great hungering and thirsting for righteousness. These erect and thoughtful brothers (and the sisters who shared the day) were surely on pilgrimage, responding primarily not to Farrakhan and Chavis, or to any other of the platform party, but seeking to answer a relentless spiritual calling that was rising up from deep levels of their being, a calling that they often found hard to articulate in words.

But in a land where words are cheap commodities, the black pilgrims did not need ordinary language. Everywhere they gathered-in airports, train stations, churches, mosques, and bus depots-they communicated in benevolent glances, in smiles and tears, in handshakes and hugs, offering new examples to the many children they brought with them. And when they did use words they often chanted, sang, and prayed half-forgotten songs, petitions, and hopes.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1996
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A New Conversation on Race

O.J.Simpson and Louis Farrakhan are as contradictory figures as two people could be. The ex-football running back who vaulted airport furniture as a rent-a-car pitchman had become perhaps the pre-eminent symbol of smiling

black assimilation into white society, while the Nation of Islam's charismatic preacher is the black community's most notorious symbol of racial divisiveness, mixing his gospel of black dignity and self-determination with a continuous chorus of vitriolic epithets directed at whites, Jews, Catholics, women, homosexuals, and even Christianity.

It is a revealing irony that both have become the lightning rods for again exposing America's dramatic racial divisions. The reaction to the O.J. verdict demonstrated how deeply most whites and blacks still completely misunderstand each other-and how little whites really know or believe about black people's experience in America.

It's understandable, in light of black experience with America's criminal justice system, that a majority black jury would come to reasonable doubt about the evidence in the case-just as it's understandable that the majority of whites trusted the police and prosecutor's case enough to find O.J. guilty.

In Stalin's Russia, it was said that no family was untouched by the terror of the communist dictator's regime. In 47 years as a white American, the majority lived in the black community, I have never met a black American whose family has been untouched by racially motivated abuse at the hands of the police and judicial system. The same week the Simpson verdict was announced, a new study found that fully one-third of all young black men are now in jail, on probation, on parole, or somehow involved with the criminal justice system.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1995
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Marching Forward

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1995
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