Million Man March Farrakhan factor: Nation of Islam leader's participation may taint civil rights event.

October 12, 1995

MAYOR KURT L. SCHMOKE, Rep. Kweisi Mfume and other politicians, local and national, are taking a big risk by endorsing Monday's Million Man March that is the brainchild of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

"I think, generally, this is an event that people will see years from now with the same kind of positive feelings as they viewed the 1963 march, which I attended with my mother," said Mr. Schmoke. That's a tall order to fill.

The 1963 March on Washington included the Rev. Martin Luther King's stirring "I Have a Dream" speech and set the table for passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Mr. Farrakhan says his march idea came to him in a vision, too.

But the anti-Semitism and rhetorical subjugation of women that he has spouted in the past raises the possibility that the males-only Million Man March in Washington will be the antithesis of Dr. King's dream of racial unity.

If that happens it could damage the plans of Jesse Jackson, who may yet launch a presidential bid in 1996. Retired Gen. Colin Powell, also considering a presidential bid, prudently declined an invitation to attend the march.

Mr. Jackson has been trying to mend fences with Jewish voters for years. He distanced himself from Mr. Farrakhan last year by denouncing anti-Semitic statements by NOI spokesman Khalid Abdul Muhammad. But months went by before Mr. Jackson finally said he would be in the Million Man March.

Mr. Schmoke's decision to march comes after a racially divisive re-election campaign in which he used African-American liberation colors on posters and billboards. If the march focuses too much on Mr. Farrakhan, it could play hob with the mayor's professed desire to heal relations with Baltimore's Jewish community.

The march could turn out to be a positive event: African-American men asking collective "atonement" for the sins of those among them who have done as much as racism to hurt black people; an acknowledgement that African Americans must put their own house in order; a promise to never stop fighting racist forces that, for many, have kept Dr. King's dream from moving beyond illusion. To be a success, though, the march must adhere to these themes and somehow not become the plaything of Mr. Farrakhan.

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