Lasting images of the March Book: Roderick Terry went to the Million Man March to photograph all-too-rare positive images of black men.

March 03, 1997|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Roderick Terry spent the Million Man March searching for faces.

He wanted the young and the old, the serious and the joyful. He was an amateur photographer using an Olympus auto-zoom camera to snatch memories for his own personal remembrance. Instead, the pictures became "One Million Strong" (Duncan & Duncan, $24.95), a glossy hardback of photos and affirmations.

"I wanted black men to be seen in a positive light," says Terry, 32. "That was my main focus. That was my main concern."

The book is unabashedly positive and uplifting. It is Terry's counter to the black-man-as-bogey-man notion that too often distorts perceptions about African-Americans. He saw an example of this in the weeks before the march. The D.C. Office of Corporation Counsel, where he works as a lawyer in the enforcement division, held workshops in anticipation of mass arrests at the march. The office handles misdemeanor, traffic and juvenile cases.

"We had never done this before, and we have protests in this city all the time," says Terry, still chafing at the idea. "For me, it was a slap in the face."

So, he took his camera to the Capitol Mall, setting out at 5: 30 a.m. He was there all day, wandering through the thousands, shrugging off the big-time pros with their cameras and array of lenses. His day ended at 7: 30 p.m. By then he had more than 300 photos. He had seen men in the dress of West African griots, in the blue uniforms of the U.S.C.T. of the Civil War, in the business suits of corporate America, in the loose, baggy style of rap and hip-hop.

"I guess, as a black man, it had to be one of the best experiences of my life. It made me proud," he says. "You could feel the brotherhood. You could feel the camaraderie. You could feel the genuine concern that all of us had for our future in this country."

Six months after the march, he dipped into his pocket and mounted a gallery show of his work. It was a high point in a hobby begun years ago in Pine Bluff, Ark. Terry grew up in that small central Arkansas town, population 50,000. His father worked at the International Paper plant, while his mother stayed home to raise the four children, of which Terry is the oldest. He read Jet magazine articles about Thurgood Marshall, Vernon Jordan and other prominent black lawyers. By sixth grade, he had found his career.

"Once the seed was planted in my mind, it made my life much easier because it gave my life a goal," he says, sitting in the living room of his comfortable, one-bedroom apartment in Northwest Washington. Framed posters of Mahalia Jackson, Paul Robeson and James Baldwin adorn his walls. "It made my life a lot more structured."

First camera

In eighth grade, his class made a primitive camera from an oatmeal box. Two years later, his mother bought him a 35mm camera and a subscription to American Photographer. The rest he did on his own, years of trial and error leading to "One Million Strong."

The idea began with a proposal sent to Duncan & Duncan, a local publisher off U.S. Route 40 in Edgewood. Terry had queried the company before about a book of affirmations, but was rejected. This time, Michael E. Duncan, the company's founder, did not send him away.

Duncan had seen other photographers' work from the Million Man March, but none seemed to convey what he wanted to say as a publisher. He wanted a book not simply about the march, but one that spoke to black men, that celebrated them while at the same time revealing their pain, their often uneasy place in America.

"What was so powerful to me is that black men made up their own minds that day, regardless of what was said," says Duncan, who left MNC Financial nearly seven years ago to start his publishing house. "Many of their ministers opposed the march. Many of the black organizations opposed the march. Many black women opposed that march, but black men made up their minds."

Cover photo

Both men single out the cover photo of 78-year-old Dewitt Hunter as their favorite. It is a face seen in a passing crowd, the kind of face you see for an instant and wonder: Who is that? What is his life? Terry says he took five pictures of Hunter, a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

"He just represented everything that the march was about," says Terry, noting that Hunter was a man of few words. "He just said, 'Son, I'm just so happy to see this in my lifetime.' "

Hunter's words and thoughts are not captured in the book, nor are the words of any of the others. "One Million Strong" uses affirmations from black men as diverse as Gen. Colin L. Powell and Malcolm X, all of them meant to inspire and provoke. Many bTC came from Terry's collection. He has published dozens under the title "Brother's Keeper." Together, the words and pictures form the counterweight Terry set out to find on Oct. 16, 1995.

"The beauty of the march is that we completely defied public perception," he says. "There's a Latin phrase: Res ipsa loquiteur. The thing speaks for itself. The march spoke for itself. It's something that I will never forget."

Pub Date: 3/03/97

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