Millions More March Draws Black Activists

Black leaders, politicians, musicians and supporters gathered to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March on the National Mall Saturday. The Millions More Movement included an address by Nation of Islam Louis Farrakhan, who criticized the response to Hurricane Katrina.

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BRIAN NAYLOR, host:

In Washington, DC, yesterday, large crowds of people gathered on the National Mall to celebrate black culture and to hear messages from black leaders, politicians and musicians. Organizers called it the Millions More Movement and the goal was to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March. NPR's Eric Niiler has more.

ERIC NIILER reporting:

This time it wasn't just men, but women and children who took part as well.

Mrs. PAM ROBERTS(ph): This one is extra large and this one right here is the 2X.

Mr. DREW ROBERTS(ph): And the 10th anniversary one is for you.

NIILER: Drew Roberts and his wife, Pam, drove down from Boston with a carload of T-shirts bearing the words `Spirit of Unity.' They came to hear a positive message and earn a few dollars.

Mr. ROBERTS: More so than anything for the movement, we also came down for entrepreneurial reasons, you know.

NIILER: Roberts had been here 10 years ago. He says the entire black community needs to pull together to improve its lot.

Mr. ROBERTS: We don't need to be worried about the white man don't do this for us or they doing this for other people in other countries more so than us. We need to focus on us.

(Soundbite of music)

NIILER: By midafternoon, the corner of Constitution Avenue and 7th Street was packed with vendors selling smokey barbecue, colorful clothing and political material. Reggae rap star Wyclef Jean attacked the Bush administration.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WYCLEF JEAN: (Singing) Instead of spending billions on the war, we can use that money so we can feed the poor.

NIILER: Former presidential candidates Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton urged the mellow crowd to stand up against injustice and racial inequality. March organizers also announced a 10-point plan of education, economic and political reforms, as well as a relief fund for hurricane victims.

Reverend LOUIS FARRAKHAN (Nation of Islam): The government did not act.

NIILER: But many people, like Sonya Randolph(ph) of Baltimore, came to hear the Reverend Louis Farrakhan. He's the spiritual leader of the Nation of Islam.

Ms. SONYA RANDOLPH: We always hear him and feel good, but we don't go back and do. So I'm hopeful that in this day and time that we live in, that his message will galvanize and spark more movement rather than just a feel-good.

NIILER: Randolph said she wanted to take home Farrakhan's message of self-empowerment and black pride. For his part, Farrakhan talked for more than an hour about what he said were injustices done by the US government against the black community, especially after Hurricane Katrina.

Rev. FARRAKHAN: That if the people on those rooftops had blonde hair and blue eyes and pale skin, something would have been done in a more timely manner. We charge America with criminal neglect.

NIILER: Farrakhan said last week that he believed the New Orleans levee had been sabotaged by the US government. Yesterday he backed away from that statement, but still urged a lawsuit against federal officials. Farrakhan also compared the intensity of Hurricane Katrina to the political organization of the black community.

Rev. FARRAKHAN: The more we are organized, the more we can generate power to change reality.

NIILER: The reality of this event was fewer people than the big march 10 years ago. Even so, one speaker said that turnout was not as important as the deeds to be accomplished by the marchers once they return home. Eric Niiler, NPR News, Washington.

NAYLOR: It's 18 minutes past the hour.

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