Memories From the Mall

Two perspectives on the 1995 Million Man March and a look at the coming Millions More event

History

October 02, 2005|By LINELL SMITH | LINELL SMITH,SUN REPORTER

On Oct. 16, 1995, hundreds of thousands of African-American men from around the nation poured into Washington, D.C., in search of spiritual renewal and fraternal strength.

As they stood together on the Mall, basking in the autumn sun, the men of the Million Man March pledged to take responsibility for their actions, to serve their families and their communities, and to improve themselves and the world in which they lived.

Kurt Schmoke, then mayor of Baltimore, brought his 24-year-old stepson. He later wrote that the march reminded him of "a huge family reunion where you know everyone is your cousin, but you don't know everyone's name."

It was a day of personal epiphanies: Generations of family members rediscovered common ground, strangers embraced one another while they reclaimed their sense of dignity. Framing such moments were the inspiring words of such national figures as Jesse Jackson, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou and Louis Farrakhan, the Muslim minister who conceived the march.

This month, in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March, another Farrakhan-inspired event is planned for the Mall.

The Millions More Movement, aimed primarily at African-Americans but open to all, hopes to inspire participants to push for political and economic change. Whereas the Million Man March called upon African-American men to take a hard look at themselves, the Millions More Movement seeks to organize a social force of men and women to improve education, health and economic opportunities in the nation's poor communities.

This march, like the Million Man March, has drawn criticism from the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization, because of anti-Semitic remarks attributed to Farrakhan. However, national leaders such as Julian Bond, Dorothy Height, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Jesse Jackson and Floyd H. Flake have also endorsed the event.

After the 1995 march, voter registration by black men soared -- 1.5 million additional men registered to vote in 1996 elections, according to some estimates. And the National Association of Black Social Workers attributed 2,000 in- quiries into adopting black children to the inspiration of the event.

Following are sketches of two Baltimore men who attended the march 10 years ago. They recount their reasons for returning -- and for staying home.

Clinton Coleman Jr.

Ten years ago, Clinton Coleman Jr. went to Washington with his 12-year-old son, Clinton Coleman III. This year, however, the 54-year old Coleman says he is not planning to join the anniversary event.

"I went to the Million Man March not because of who organized it or the beliefs of some of the people behind it, but because I agreed with the principle of it. I wanted that experience not only for myself but for my son," says Coleman, who is director of communications at Morgan State University.

"We had a wonderful time. He learned a lot about the African-American experience. At one point he said, 'Dad, why are all these people speaking to you? You don't know them and they don't know you.' I told him, 'That's what it was like in the late '60s, early '70s. We spoke to each other and treated each other better than I think we do now.' It was refreshing to see and feel that kinship again with people I didn't know. I think my son has seen a much harder society, so that experience at the Million Man March was very important.

"At the time, when people asked me if I was going, I said, 'Each individual goes for his own reason. If you don't have a reason, you ought not to go.'

"I'm thankful for that day. It meant a lot to me and I think it meant a lot to my son. But I have no personal reason to attend this time."

Farajii Muhammad

Farajii Muhammad remembers arriving at the Mall at 3 a.m. with his brother Jibrii Rasulallah and their father, Hazzon. He was 16, a student in theater at the Baltimore School for the Arts who had spent many days passing out leaflets about the Million Man March to his fellow students.

"I knew it was for unity and solidarity and to give black men a sign that they could stand up, but at the same time I didn't understand the impact that march would make," he says. "I was just excited about the possibility of having a million black men standing together in Washington D.C. It was like 'No way I'm going to miss this!'... At the time, I thought going to this march was the distinction between being a boy and being a man."

He was not disappointed. As the sun rose and men began filling up the Mall, the place became so packed that it was difficult for him to turn around. Someone lifted Muhammad up so that he could see the crowd.

"I'd never seen that many black men in one place at one time," he says. "Thousands and thousands, miles and miles. I was just blown. You saw brothers in the trees, brothers standing on cars. ...We stood on that Mall for 14 hours."

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