Louis Farrakhan on the Millions More Movement
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya, in for Ed Gordon.
Thousands are gathering in Washington, DC, for tomorrow's Millions More Movement March. The event marks the anniversary of the Million Man March, which also took place in the nation's capital 10 years ago.
Reverend LOUIS FARRAKHAN (Nation of Islam Leader): This was a beautiful and a peaceful meeting...
Unidentified Man #1: Yeah, that's right, man.
Rev. FARRAKHAN: ...probably one of the best that ever was held in Washington, held by black men...
Unidentified Man #2: Yes, sir.
Unidentified Man #3: Yes, sir.
Rev. FARRAKHAN: ...who want to atone to God and clear our slates. Beautiful black brothers, beautiful brothers.
CHIDEYA: That was Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan in 1995. He also organized this weekend's march. Minister Farrakhan discussed the event with Ed Gordon.
ED GORDON, host:
Minister Farrakhan, good to talk to you, as always. Thank you so much for joining us.
Rev. FARRAKHAN: It's my pleasure. And peace to you and peace to all of your many listeners.
GORDON: Before we get into the Million More Movement March, I want to talk to you about your reflections on the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March. Can you give me the single most prominent reflection for you on that day?
Rev. FARRAKHAN: Well, to be very honest, Ed, I am an instrument that was being used by a higher force. Now I can look back at it and thank God, as I did then, for using me as an instrument to call for one million black men and nearly two million black men came.
GORDON: Obviously, I would assume that you believe that day was successful, but there was also a want to initiate a movement, if you will. Do you believe that the movement itself was successful?
Rev. FARRAKHAN: No, because our focus was truly on the day. The thing that motivated me to do the Million Man March was the image of young black men that was portrayed around the world showing black men with colorful bandanas on their head and shotguns in their hand. This image made the black man look like a bestial, savage thug. And so if government or the National Guard or police force moved against black youth and destroyed many, there would be no outcry in the world because it would seem as though America were ridding itself of an unwanted piece of the fabric of American society. So I went on that speaking tour, stopped the killing. And at the end of that tour, I asked black men in New York City if I came back, would they come out to hear what I have to say to black men, and they said yes. And within four to six weeks, I was back in New York and out of my mouth came a call for a million black men to come to Washington. And that went around the world. And the image that black men had through media was shattered in one day. Many good things happened as a result of that march, but today, you know, those persons that were not with the march and came because they saw an unprecedented number of black men and grabbed a microphone and wanted to make speeches, many of those persons were not with me.
This time, Ed, I have brilliant, brilliant men and women surrounding me, not just persons from the Nation of Islam or nationalists, but those who are highly learned, highly skilled, highly trained visionaries. And we are concerned about the day of and the day before, but we are now planning the day after.
GORDON: We should note, you talk about people who were not on board initially. This time you do have the blessing, the auspices of the NAACP, for instance, the Congressional Black Caucus and others who, quite frankly, 10 years ago were hesitant to be a part of this.
Rev. FARRAKHAN: I feel that this is such a great blessing to have the NAACP, the Urban League, SCLC, Rainbow/PUSH, all the members of black organizations, black doctors, black lawyers, black nurses--I mean, this is an unprecedented coming together to look at the condition of our people since no one leader, no one organization can solve the problems of our people, but together in unity 95 percent of the problems of our people can be addressed successfully.
GORDON: Let me ask you this, Minister. Ten years ago there was criticism of the Million Man March, that it was not inclusionary enough, that women had been left out; while not excluded, not called to join. There was a question about homosexuals and whether they were, quote, "welcomed." Now, without question, you are saying that this is an inclusive march, that not only are you including families to be a part of this but others that heretofore, many would say, that you were not inclusive, that the tent had not been open to them--i.e., homosexuals and the like. What do you say to that?
Rev. FARRAKHAN: Well, first, women were an integral part of the Million Man March. Without women such as Dr. Dorothy Height and Cora Masters Barry and Dr. Skinner and others--women did grunt work in all the major cities. They were a part of it, but we were starting, like the Bible starts in the book of Genesis, God said, `Let us make man in our image and after our likeness.' So I thought that this would be a genesis, a new beginning. So we started where God started, with black men, to get black men to be responsible husbands and fathers and builders of community and protectors and providers for our women and children. Now, as Julianne Malveaux said, what army would go into battle leaving half of its troops behind? And so this time, women are involved. There were gay men at the Million Man March. I never made sexual orientation some badge of honor or dishonor. I called for black men and they responded.
GORDON: All right, let me ask you this, Minister. There are people who--and I know that you have heard this--found disappointment in the Million Man March in saying that there was not enough follow-up, that programs died, that there was not enough to do after the fact. You've already spoken to the importance of the day after. Talk to me about why people should believe that this march, this movement, will be any different.
Rev. FARRAKHAN: Well, first, as I told you honestly before, my focus was not so much on the day after but the day of. And many of the naysayers and critics that rightly so said that there was not enough plan or follow-through after--if we were together in 1995 as we are today, maybe they wouldn't have to criticize the after part of the march because then they would've been involved. So today we are involved. And because all of us are involved, the day after will not only be important for us to talk about, but it will become a reality by the grace of God.
GORDON: Finally, Minister, tell me what you want this march to become, what you want the movement to be?
Rev. FARRAKHAN: I would like to see the movement address the serious concerns of the black, brown and poor of this nation. We have voted in these elections for Democratic leaders and some Republican leaders, none of whom have addressed the serious needs of the poor. We voted for Senator Kerry in unprecedented numbers, but Senator Kerry, in his speeches, never mentioned the poor. He mentioned the middle class and he mentioned that the middle class was being squeezed. And of course President Bush never mentioned the poor. Well, if the poor have no advocate, then Katrina becomes real; the disparity of poverty and want in the midst of plenty is real. So how do we address it? Do we sit around and complain and talk to government and beg them to do what they do not have the will to do or do we mobilize and organize and make government respond to the needs of the weak, the poor, the helpless, the homeless of this society? Can you imagine that symbol of freedom in the harbor of New York saying, `Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores, send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door,' and you have 15 million homeless people in America, 45 million Americans that don't have health insurance, millions of Americans being left behind by an outdated educational system, political corruption, the president lying to the American people about weapons of mass destruction, 2,000 young Americans dead, thousands, tens of thousands more wounded, the treasuries of America raped of $340 billion?
What do we hope for? We hope to make a difference in a country that has not shown that it cares for the black, the brown, the weak, the poor; it cares for the rich. But we care. So we will mobilize, we will energize, we will sensitize, we will organize our people so that we can make a difference in public policy and help America to reshape her errant foreign policy. That is my hope. That is what I will work for, live for, and die in behalf of.
GORDON: Minister Louis Farrakhan, as always, thank you very much. I appreciate your candor about how you viewed things 10 years ago and I will see you on Saturday.
Rev. FARRAKHAN: God willing, I look forward to it. And thank you, Ed, for having me on this distinguished National Public Radio broadcast. God bless you and God bless your listeners.
CHIDEYA: This is NPR News.