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.
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.