'We are here to rebuild' At least 400,000 black men are drawn to Capitol for march

Farrakhan speaks 2 hours

Schmoke, Mfume also on hand for 'uplifting experience'

October 17, 1995|By JAMES BOCK | JAMES BOCK,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The biggest gathering of black Americans ever joined Louis Farrakhan at the Million Man March yesterday in an emotional pledge to strive for self-improvement and to forswear drugs and violence.

More than 400,000 people, nearly all black men, converged on the U.S. Capitol, according to U.S. Park Police estimates, for a day that was more spiritual revival than political demonstration. Organizers claimed that up to 2 million attended.

It was an unprecedented outpouring of black pride and a major achievement for Minister Farrakhan, who has growing influence among black Americans despite a record of anti-Jewish, anti-white rhetoric.

Minister Farrakhan spoke for more than two hours from the west front of the Capitol, attacking the "poisons" of white supremacy and black inferiority. In a conservative message, he urged African-Americans to embrace the traditional values of family and religion.

"Clean up, black man, and the world will respect and honor you," he said.

Black men came from all corners of the United States. Their voices, chants and songs echoed along The Mall, from the Capitol to the Washington Monument and beyond. The turnout easily surpassed that of the 1963 March on Washington, which drew about 250,000 -- black and white, men and women.

Whether the rally would have anywhere near the social impact of the 1963 event, which led to the passage of major civil rights legislation, was unclear. The leaders brought no legislative agenda to Washington, but they vowed to register millions of black voters.

In a rambling speech that touched on numerology, Egyptology and music theory, Minister Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, led black men through an eight-step program of atonement and castigated white America for a history of racism.

He said he had received the "call of God" to hold the march and at one point likened himself to biblical prophets. Part of the immense crowd drifted away during Minister Farrakhan's self-described "lecture," but many stayed with him until the final word.

"We are not here to tear down America," Minister Farrakhan said. "America is tearing itself down. We are here to rebuild."

'We all need this uplift'

Rick Sanders, 40, a paralegal from Shawnee, Okla., said after the speech: "This is something I needed. We all need this uplift."

"A lot of people think it's a race thing. It's more of a brotherhood. I believe most of the people here are engulfed in brotherhood and doing better -- something they've never felt and something someone should have told them a long time ago," he said.

Rep. Kweisi Mfume of West Baltimore, who made a two-minute speech, said afterward that he hoped the march would send a powerful message to the nation.

"More than anything, the march will say to America that there is from this point on a different manner of African-American men," he said. "I'm convinced we cannot effectively reach out to help our communities until we reach in and help ourselves."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke of Baltimore, who also made brief remarks, described the event as "one of the most uplifting experiences I've ever had." He came with his son, Gregory, 24, and a delegation of city officials.

Mr. Schmoke won applause when he told the crowd: "I was here in 1963 as a teen-ager. At that time, we were to ask something of the government. Today, we ask nothing of the government; we ask everything of ourselves."

He then asked neighbors to grasp hands and repeat: "Brother, my brother, let's get busy."

Stand up and be counted

There was a sense that the most important statement of the day was to simply stand up on The Mall and be counted. The atmosphere was upbeat but sober. Red, black and green liberation flags waved in the stiff breeze.

From atop the 550-foot-high Washington Monument, the view was of a dense crowd close to the Capitol steps, smaller crowds near the giant video screens and steady streams of people walking on The Mall and crowding the concession area on Constitution Avenue.

One man emerged from the Smithsonian Metro station, surveyed the scene and said in awe: "It's a new generation."

Nearby, a 10-member Fruit of Islam drill team went through precision moves. In mid-afternoon, Nation of Islam security men passed cardboard boxes through the crowd and men stuffed them with dollars.

Norman Bradfield, 59, of Dayton, Ohio, made the 10-hour bus trip to Washington with his 17-year-old son, also named Norman.

"I'm so glad I came, I don't know what to do," Mr. Bradfield said. "It may happen again, but it won't be in my lifetime."

He called Minister Farrakhan "probably the only African-American the United States that could have called the march and got people to come. Farrakhan isn't controlled by any establishment. He don't have to bow."

No hostility

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.