'Millions More' March Planned for Weekend
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
I'm Steve Inskeep in Washington, where organizers are preparing for a weekend event on the National Mall called the Millions More Movement. It's a daylong rally on Saturday, and it commemorates the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March. On October 16th, 1995, hundreds of thousands of black men gathered here, and they pledged to work to improve their communities, increase their political activism and support their families. Some of those same issues remain on the table a decade later, as NPR's Allison Keyes reports.
ALLISON KEYES reporting:
The good will, hope and determination in the audience at the 1995 march were tangible as speakers exhorted the crowd to take action.
(Soundbite of Million Man March)
Unidentified Speaker #1: Wake up, my father!
Unidentified Speaker #2: Wake up!
Unidentified Speaker #1: Get up!
Unidentified Speakers #1 and #2: (In unison) ...our fathers.
KEYES: The organizer, Nation of Islam minister Louis Farrakhan, spoke for more than two hours.
(Soundbite of Million Man March speech)
Minister LOUIS FARRAKHAN (Nation of Islam): Every one of you, my dear brothers, when you go home, here's what I want you to do. We must belong to some organization that is working for and in the interests of the uplift and the liberation of our people.
KEYES: About 870,000 people attended, according to Boston University researchers, although controversy over the crowd count continues. Following the march's theme of atonement, men pledged to improve themselves spiritually, morally, politically and economically. They vowed to help themselves, not seek assistance from others. But it's difficult to measure whether the goals set during the original march led to observable changes in the black community. Millions More Movement executive committee member Conrad Worrill, who also helped organize the 1995 march, says there's clear evidence that they did.
Mr. CONRAD WORRILL (Millions More Movement Executive Committee): It was documented that black men registered to vote in record numbers. It was documented that black men began to return to their church home in larger numbers. It was documented that black men began to adopt black children at a higher level than they had before.
KEYES: There's anecdotal and statistical evidence confirming those statements. Seiko Varner(ph), a ninth-grade English teacher from Portsmouth, Virginia, says he and many others became activists after the first march.
Mr. SEIKO VARNER (Teacher): Most of us who attended and we experienced the march--we're definitely changed people for now and forever.
KEYES: There were other changes attributed to the Million Man March. The National Association of Black Social Workers reported a deluge of 13,000 applications to adopt black children after the 1995 event. David Bositis senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, says there was a significant increase in voter turnout among black men.
Mr. DAVID BOSITIS (Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies): In 1992, black men represented 3 percent of all voters, according to the exit polls. In 1996, following the Million Man March, black men represented 5 percent of all voters.
KEYES: Bositis says that increase has persisted since the march, but not all the statistics or feelings about the march are positive. Sixty-eight-year-old retired social worker Arthur Klee(ph) of Chicago went in 1995, but says he isn't going this year because the first march changed nothing.
Mr. ARTHUR KLEE (Social Worker): It was a great gathering for some guys who wanted to get together and say that they were there and shake hands, you know, and socialize. But that was it.
KEYES: There are other signs of discouragement. The number of African-American men in state and federal prison nationwide jumped from about 511,000 in 1995 to nearly 587,000 in 2002. Advocacy groups like the Sentencing Project blame the increase on harsher sentencing practices and racially skewed prosecution and drug cases. Unemployment also rose for black men. A group of black conservatives held a conference in Washington this week to suggest that another march is not the way to help the African-American community. Shelby Steele, a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, was one of the panelists.
Mr. SHELBY STEELE (Hoover Institution): The problems it is trying to address in the black community are problems that can really only be addressed from the point of view of individual responsibility. Groups don't open businesses or raise children; individuals do that. And so my feeling is rather than face this reality, we continue to act as though mass movements are going to have an effect.
KEYES: Organizers of the Millions More Movement acknowledge that 10 years ago, they weren't concentrating on what would happen after the march, but this time around, executive committee member Conrad Worrill says there's a specific 10-point policy agenda dealing with issues ranging from ending substandard education and establishing a black economic development fund to demanding freedom for political prisoners and reparations for slavery. Also this rally is much more inclusive than the original march. Women are invited as partners, and despite some initial resistance, a gay activist will be among the speakers. Organizers say this gathering is the beginning of a movement that will offer action plans for what people should do when they get home. Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.