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What Was the Million Man March?

The US Capitol Building.
Sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr., who spoke at the million man march.
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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
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  • Last Modified Date: 04 April 2014
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The Million Man March was a political and spiritual event held in Washington, DC, on 16 October 1995. The goal of the march was to renew a spirit of political activism the in African American community. It was meant to be reminiscent of the 1963 march on Washington organized by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which resulted in Dr. King's famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

There were multiple factors that brought together the plan for the Million Man March. African American spiritual and political leaders were extremely troubled by the high unemployment, crime, and poverty level statistics that plagued black communities throughout the country. Additionally, the newly powerful Republican Congress voted to roll back funding on programs that were providing funding to some of America's poorest public schools, many of which were in areas with large African American communities. The plan for the march was lead by Louis Farrakhan, a controversial head of the Nation of Islam.

Farrakhan's involvement led to considerable controversy throughout the country. Known for his leadership in the black community, Farrakhan also had a history of racially controversial comments, including accusations of anti-Semitism by many Jewish religious and political groups. While many saw him as a powerful leader with deep conviction and compassion, detractors viewed him otherwise and feared his presence would harm the turnout and media perception.

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The Million Man March consisted of a march through the streets of Washington, DC, followed by several hours of speeches, prayers, and presentations. Female leaders in the black community organized an event on the same date called the Day of Absence, encouraging African Americans not attending the march to devote the day to activism and spiritual pursuits.

Many leaders and major figures from the Civil Rights Movement spoke at the rally, including Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King III, Maya Angelou, and Betty Shabazz. The speeches were broken down into several topics, including affirmation and responsibility, atonement, and lessons from the past. The overall goal of the march was to induce inspiration to help improve African American communities throughout the country through both political activism and spiritual renewal.

There is some controversy over the actual number of attendees at the Million Man March. Several contradictory estimates were released, with numbers anywhere between 400,000 and 800,000. Regardless of the actual statistics, the event proved an inspiring one for many Americans and has lead to several similar public events, including the Million Mom March and the Million Woman March.

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Discuss this Article

browncoat
Post 4

@irontoenail - I have to say, I actually wish that it wasn't such a big deal. I wish the Million Man March in 1995 wasn't just a one time event (even if it did inspire other, similar events).

I think it should be an annual, or at least, a regular event. There are, unfortunately, always civil rights issues that need attention, not only for African Americans, but for many other minority groups as well.

They could make it a regular event, like a Pride parade and keep it in the public consciousness. I think that one of the enemies of minorities right now is that many people think there aren't any problems left to solve, which is obviously not true. Public perception needs to be changed.

irontoenail
Post 3

@Iluviaporos - I've seen pictures of people who went to both this march and the one where Dr. King made his famous speech. In a way, it must have been difficult to live up to that. I mean, it's one of the most iconic and well known speeches ever made and they were deliberately setting out to recreate the moment in tribute. I would not have wanted to be someone expected to give a speech on the same subject and in the same place as that most famous of speeches.

lluviaporos
Post 2

It must have been amazing to go and hear such wonderful speakers. I would have gone for that alone. Maya Angelou has always been an idol of mine, and of course Rosa Parks is an icon.

It must have also felt good to be doing something in the same spirit of previous civil rights marches, with a lot of people joined together in peaceful protest.

In terms of the civil rights timeline it might not have been the biggest event, but I wish more of these would be organized in modern times.

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