Many see march as win for its leader Farrakhan's standing )) is on the rise, but what comes next?

October 18, 1995|By JAMES BOCK | JAMES BOCK,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Ann LoLordo contributed to this article.

The Million Man March gave Louis Farrakhan his biggest audience yet and vaulted him into greater prominence as an African-American leader.

But the Nation of Islam leader won't necessarily be able to harness all the energy created by Monday's rally, which drew at least 400,000 black men to Washington's Mall.

"The problem of Farrakhan as a leader is that while his critique of racism resonates widely, his solution -- black separatism -- does not," said David Bositis, an analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington.

From the Washington think tank to a Baltimore barbershop, the consensus yesterday was that the Million Man March was clearly a victory for Minister Farrakhan, the former calypso singer whom some black leaders have regarded warily and white Americans have scorned because of his anti-white, anti-Jewish diatribes.

But some questions remain: What will he do for an encore? Will the march, which affirmed black brotherhood, grow into a movement with specific political aims?

Mr. Bositis compared Minister Farrakhan's success in calling the march with Ross Perot's 1992 independent presidential campaign. He said the Perot phenomenon's real impact came in 1994, when Republicans captured Perot voters in congressional elections.

"Perot voters were dissatisfied with the status quo and the choices they had, and followed Perot because he represented an alternative even though they didn't agree with everything he stood for," Mr. Bositis said.

"Is there somebody out there who wants these men mobilized in the Million Man March?" he asked. "Is this the first chapter or was this it?"

Alderman Carl O. Snowden, an Annapolis civil rights activist, said the march could be the precursor to a movement. He likened it to the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage, when the Rev. Martin XTC Luther King Jr. spoke to 30,000 people on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Six years later, he spoke to a quarter-million during the March on Washington.

"It was precisely what happened in '57 that led to '63. What happened in '95 will lead to things in the 21st century," he said. "What Minister Farrakhan said in 1995 will not be remembered, but what happened to the masses of people on The Mall will affect a new generation."

Del. Howard P. Rawlings of Baltimore was most impressed by the organizational capacity evident in bringing hundreds of thousands of men to Washington without incident. Among black leaders, only Minister Farrakhan has a disciplined following, he said.

But Mr. Rawlings brushed aside media speculation about whether Minister Farrakhan was now black America's top leader.

"Is Newt Gingrich the No. 1 white leader? Is Bill Clinton? We are a very diverse community. Who is the No. 1 Jewish leader in America? No one raises the question. It's unfair and bigoted," he said.

A Washington Post survey of more than 1,000 men at Monday's event showed that 87 percent had a favorable impression of Minister Farrakhan, more than the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson (81 percent), who addressed the crowd, or retired Gen. Colin L. Powell (73 percent), who stayed away.

But the survey also found that only 5 percent said their most important reason for participating was "to show support for Louis Farrakhan." They said they came to support unity, responsibility and the black family.

Minister Farrakhan told CNN's Larry King on Monday night that he was called by God to lead the march and that no other black leader could have done it. "If [God] had placed the call in Colin Powell's mouth, the people would not have shown up," he said.

The minister and the march were the talk of the O. M. Jones Barbershop in East Baltimore.

"All the way past the [Washington] Monument, as far as you could see, nothing but people," said Daniel Lee Edwards, 62, a longshoreman who attended the rally. "It was well over 2 million people there yesterday."

The U.S. Park Police officially put the crowd at 400,000. With such huge numbers and the event an undisputed success, what difference did it make?

"It shows how much power the man has," Geraldine Sharp, the 54-year-old barber, said of Minister Farrakhan. "Some people don't like that."

Added barber Robert Williams: "They didn't think he could draw that many people."

"All I know is, to me, he speaks the truth and he's not afraid to speak the truth," Ms. Sharp said. "A lot of people may not go along with everything he says, but he does speak the truth. The truth hurts sometimes."

The mainstream media's focus on Minister Farrakhan's past comments angered some blacks, who wanted to revel in the glory of the march's success.

"Everybody tries to make Louis Farrakhan such a devil," said Janice Stokes, 33, a community health worker in East Baltimore. "He's only trying to speak up and help his people. Anytime they see black people coming together they try to knock us down."

Many Americans heard Minister Farrakhan speak with no media filter for the first time, said Ronald Walters, a Howard University political scientist.

"I think he seized too much of the moment," said Dr. Walters, referring to the length of the 2 1/2 -hour speech. "You don't make a speech that long if you actually want people to remember it. There was a lot of numerology and mysticism that was unnecessary. But when he got down to concrete stuff, he made a lot of sense."

Minister Farrakhan has shown signs of moderation. He has encouraged blacks to join the political process, which the Nation of Islam has scorned. He even said on "Donahue" that whites might eventually be welcomed into the Nation, a black separatist organization with an estimated membership of 30,000 to 50,000.

But Lawrence Mamiya, a Vassar College expert on the Nation of Islam, said there are limits on Minister Farrakhan.

"Farrakhan himself has said publicly that if he deviates from Elijah Muhammad's message, you can kill him. That puts a damper on how broadly Farrakhan can spread his wings," he said.

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