Welcome to DU! The truly grassroots left-of-center political community where regular people, not algorithms, drive the discussions and set the standards. Join the community: Create a free account Support DU (and get rid of ads!): Become a Star Member Latest Breaking News General Discussion The DU Lounge All Forums Issue Forums Culture Forums Alliance Forums Region Forums Support Forums Help & Search


(950 posts)
Mon Oct 16, 2023, 09:39 AM Oct 2023

On This Day: Million Man March takes place in Wash., D.C. - Oct. 16, 1995

(edited from Wikipedia)
The Million Man March was a large gathering of African-American men in Washington, D.C., on October 16, 1995. Called by Louis Farrakhan, it was held on and around the National Mall. The National African American Leadership Summit, a leading group of civil rights activists and the Nation of Islam working with scores of civil rights organizations, including many local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (but not the national NAACP) formed the Million Man March Organizing Committee. The founder of the National African American Leadership Summit, Benjamin Chavis Jr., served as National Director of the Million Man March.

The committee invited many prominent speakers to address the audience, and African American men from across the United States converged in Washington to "convey to the world a vastly different picture of the Black male" and to unite in self-help and self-defense against economic and social ills plaguing the African American community.

The march took place in the context of a larger grassroots movement that set out to win politicians' attention for urban and minority issues through widespread voter registration campaigns. On the same day, there was a parallel event called the Day of Absence, organized by women in conjunction with the March leadership, which was intended to engage the large population of Black Americans who would not be able to attend the demonstration in Washington. On this date, all Blacks were encouraged to stay home from their usual school, work, and social engagements, in favor of attending teach-ins, and worship services, focusing on the struggle for a healthy and self-sufficient Black community. Further, organizers of the Day of Absence hoped to use the occasion to make great headway on their voter registration drive.

A conflict arose about crowd size estimates between March organizers and Park Service officials. The National Park Service issued an estimate of about 400,000 attendees, a number significantly lower than march organizers had hoped for.  After a heated exchange between leaders of the march and Park Service, ABC-TV-funded researchers at Boston University estimated the crowd size to be about 837,000 members, with a 20% margin of error.

Two years after the march, the Million Woman March was held in response to concerns that the Million Man March had focused on Black men to the exclusion of Black women.

Economic and social factors

One of the primary motivating factors for the march was to place black issues back on the nation's political agenda. In the aftermath of the Republican Party's victory in the 1994 Congressional election and the continued success of the party's campaign platform, the Contract with America, some African American leaders felt the social and economic issues facing the black community fell by the wayside of policy debates. March organizers believed that politicians were failing the black community by "papering over the most vital dimensions of the crisis in international capitalism" and blaming urban blacks for "domestic economic woes that threatened to produce record deficits, massive unemployment, and uncontrolled inflation".

At the time of the march, African Americans faced unemployment rates nearly twice that of white Americans, a poverty rate of more than 40%, and a median family income that was about 58% of the median for white households. More than 11% of all black men were unemployed and for those aged 16 to 19, the number of unemployed had climbed to over 50%.  Further, according to Reverend Jesse Jackson's speech at the March, the United States House of Representatives had reduced funding to some of the programs that played an integral role in urban Americans' lives. "The House of Representatives cut $1.1 billion from the nation's poorest public schools", and "cut $137 million from Head Start" effectively subtracting $5,000 from each classroom's budget and cutting 45,000 preschoolers from a crucial early education program.

Environmental hazards were also seen as making the lives of urban Blacks unstable. Black men were murdered at a rate of 72 per 100,000, a rate significantly higher than the 9.3 per 100,000 attributed to white men.  Some black activists blamed aggressive law enforcement and prison construction for leaving "two hundred thousand more blacks in the jail complex than in college" and devastating leadership gaps within black communities and families. Event organizers were further infuriated by a perceived gap in prenatal care for black women and children caused, in part, by the closing of inner-city hospitals.

Event organizers were of the view that urban Blacks were born with "three strikes against them": insufficient prenatal care, inferior educational opportunities, and jobless parents.  Instead of providing young children with the means to succeed, they believed the government instead intervened in the lives of its black citizens through law enforcement and welfare programs that did little to improve the community's circumstances.

Media portrayal

In addition to their goal of fostering a spirit of support and self-sufficiency within the black community, organizers of the Million Man March also sought to use the event as a publicity campaign aimed at combating the negative racial stereotypes in the American media and in popular culture. March organizers were dismayed by the sweeping stereotypes they thought white America seemed to draw from the coverage of such figures as Willie Horton, O. J. Simpson, and Mike Tyson.

Stating that "black men have been designated by the culture as the sacrificial lambs for male evil",  event organizers asked the black men in attendance to make a public display of their commitment to responsible and constructive behavior that would give the mass media positive imagery to broadcast.

Media reaction

Louis Farrakhan acquired unfavorable attention from African-American Christians and was compared to "Adolf Hitler" by the Jewish community for anti-Jewish rhetoric and views. His supporters said that Farrakhan was "against those Jews who have sacrificed their deep moral-religious heritage for a set of values grounded in capitalist exploitation and oppression." Newsweek observed that Farrakhan's apparent political agenda could become a concern for the Democratic Party, as his effort to register black men as independent voters could create a "voting bloc [with a] mix of social conservatism, economic 'empowerment' and black solidarity."


A group of black feminists including Angela Davis, Barbara Ransby, Evelynn Hammonds and Kimberlé Crenshaw formed an alliance called the African American Agenda 2000 to oppose the Million Man March. E. Frances White would recall in 2010 that the march had "frightened many black feminists because we felt that it would herald a dramatic resurgence in black male sexism."

Creating a separation in the movement became a topic of great controversy since it has been argued that, "Organizers excluded women from the march to send a two-part message" that men need to improve their character and women need to recognize their place "in the home."

In his 2005 book New Black Man, Mark Anthony Neal emphasizes the "small percentage of black women in attendance that day." Neal offers the perspective of Debra Dickerson, a woman writer who attended the march: "Dickerson noted the aura of politeness and chivalry she experienced walking...there was an element of performance taking place that day for international media, corporate America." The Million Man March that excluded black women was a "call for atonement [that] spoke to the need for those black men engaged in acts of criminality, violence, and blatant misogyny." However, black women faced backlash for exposing the March's flaws, such as "gender apartheid and nostalgia for patriarchy."

The 20th anniversary march

Farrakhan held the 20th Anniversary of the Million Man March: Justice or Else on October 10, 2015, in Washington, D.C.

The New York Times published an opinion piece by Charles M. Blow, who found it difficult to "separate the march from the messenger", and criticized Minister Farrakhan's speech, calling it homophobic and patriarchal. In an opinion piece for The Washington Post, Janell Ross called Farrakhan's speech "striking", a "stemwinder", and the "apex" of the event.

Cultural impact

The 1996 motion picture Get on the Bus was released exactly one year to the day of this event, directed by Spike Lee as his first movie that he did not act in himself. The road-movie plot has a group of African Americans on the titular bus on the way to the Million Man March.


On This Day: First synthesis of an oral contraceptive - Oct. 15, 1951

On This Day: First Ministry of Education created, later introduces lay educators - Oct. 14, 1773

On This Day: Knights Templars arrested, then tortured to confess - Friday Oct 13, 1307

On This Day: America's first insane asylum opens - Oct. 12, 1773

On This Day: Japanese school segregation in San Francisco leads to war scare - Oct. 11, 1906

Latest Discussions»Editorials & Other Articles»On This Day: Million Man ...