Reflections on the Millions More Movement March

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Thousands showed up this past weekend in Washington, D.C., for a rally organized by a coalition of religious groups to mark the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March, an unprecedented gathering of mostly African-American men. Saturday's march was billed as a more "inclusive" event — but like the mass rally of 1995, it was not without controversy.

ED GORDON, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

Thousands showed up this past weekend in Washington for the Millions More Movement March. It took place 10 years after the unprecedented number of black men rolled into the nation's capital for the Million Man March. Saturday's march was billed as a more inclusive event, but like the mass rally in 1995, it was not without controversy. NPR's Roy Hurst reports.

ROY HURST reporting:

They began arriving as early as 5 AM from places across the country: Detroit, Pittsburgh, Mobile, New Orleans, Los Angeles. They marched along the gravel pathway of the Mall toward the stage on the Capitol steps. By 9 AM, thousands had already laid out lawn chairs.

(Soundbite from the black national anthem)

Ms. BRENDA JACKSON: (Singing) Lift up your voice and sing...

HURST: The program began with the black national anthem performed by opera singer, Brenda Jackson. A long line of speakers followed. Each were limited to two minutes. They addressed a myriad of issues.

Unidentified Speaker #1: We must fight for the right to have health care.

Unidentified Speaker #2: ...essential nature of all religion is recognizing God.

Unidentified Speaker #3: We have to be a community that supports strong marriages.

Unidentified Speaker #4: We know that economic development can be achieved in our communities.

Unidentified Speaker #5: We're here on behalf of the labor movement.

Unidentified Speaker #6: We need to create a national housing corporation.

Unidentified Speaker #7: We're going to move against police brutality.

HURST: But the thing most often head throughout the day was the plight of the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the federal government's response.

Reverend AL SHARPTON: Broken levees are weapons of mass destruction.

HURST: Reverend Al Sharpton.

Rev. SHARPTON: You lookin' in Baghdad. All you had to do is look in New Orleans and stop breaking down and cutting the budget that brought the weapons of mass destruction on our people.

HURST: Meanwhile, various political luminaries were addressing clusters of media on the grass in front of the stage.

Reverend JESSE JACKSON: We're going to have a major march on October 29th in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, focusing on reconstruction.

HURST: There was Reverend Jesse Jackson talking about Katrina.

Rev. JACKSON: We must demand--ask--the housing and jobs.

Mr. RUSSELL SIMMONS (Hip-Hop Mogul): Hard work, dedication, focus.

HURST: And hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons on personal responsibility.

Mr. SIMMONS: Anything you can imagine you can do so long as you take this route.

HURST: And just off the Mall, on Constitution Avenue, vendors were cleaning up.

Unidentified Vendor #1: Tenth anniversary of the Million Man March. The official ribbon.

Unidentified Vendor #2: Souvenir buttons, one of a kind buttons, two for $5. Souvenirs...

Unidentified Vendor #3: We have the Millions More Movement hats on sale.

Unidentified Vendor #4: Fix your price, sir. Fix your price.

Unidentified Vendor #5: We got everything. We got barbecued chicken. We got rice, Spanish rice.

HURST: The most notable thing about the Millions More Movement March was the mass representation of women and girls. It was in great contrast to the event of 10 years ago.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

Ms. LORETTA DIXON(ph): I think that it's a wonderful thing because women are the gate of life.

HURST: Loretta Dixon traveled from Brooklyn with her daughter.

Ms. DIXON: We gave birth to the nation, and I think it's wonderful they included us in this and it's an honor to be here.

HURST: But while this sense of unity pervaded the event, one group did protest. About 200 African-American gays and lesbians moved through the crowd behind a banner that read: Let us speak. They accused the Nation of Islam of reneging on a promise to let one of their leaders address the event. Spokesman Alexander Robinson said he isn't discouraged.

Mr. ALEXANDER ROBINSON (Gay Protester): Well, we continue to knock on the door. We continue to encourage black gay and lesbian people to come out to challenge bigotry and homophobia wherever we see it.

HURST: But the Millions More program did include one gay speaker.

Mr. CLEO MANAGO (Black Mens' Exchange): So I'm here to bring the perspective of a black man who's a same-gender-loving black man.

HURST: Cleo Manago is founder of a small organization called Black Mens' Exchange. He says his organization has one thing in common with Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam: a black nationalist perspective.

Mr. MANAGO: There was no other organization of homosexual, bisexual people that he could think of that had a similar mission to the nation in terms of African affirmation, etc., than us. So it was a natural fit.

(Speaking) ...which would include same-gender-loving sisters and brothers...

HURST: By mid-afternoon, the corridor was awash with mainly black faces.

Mr. RUBERT GREGORY(ph): Yeah, I expected it to be more diverse.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

HURST: Rubert Gregory came in with his wife from Jacksonville, Florida.

Mr. GREGORY: I expected to see different ethnic groups and different nationalities and all here today.

HURST: There was some diversity represented among the speakers. Patrick Hawley of Quebec is a Canadian Indian activist. He says native Canadians have much in common with African-Americans.

Mr. PATRICK HAWLEY (Canadian Indian Activist): We have problems with local police forces. I myself have been beaten up by the police a number of occasions, merely for standing up for my rights as an individual, as a free person.

Unidentified Speaker #8: We finally commit ourselves...

Unidentified Crowd: (In unison) We finally commit ourselves...

Unidentified Speaker #8: spiritually bond ourselves...

Unidentified Crowd: (In unison) spiritually bond ourselves...

Unidentified Speaker #8: ...with one another...

HURST: At one point in the program, as in 1995, marchers were asked to reaffirm their commitment to their families and to their communities.

Unidentified Speaker #8: ...and unity.

Unidentified Crowd: (In unison) ...and unity.

Unidentified Speaker #8: Amen.

Unidentified Crowd: (In unison) Amen.

Unidentified Speaker #8: Give yourselves a hand.

(Soundbite of applause)

Minister LOUIS FARRAKHAN (Nation of Islam): This is more than a moment in time...

HURST: But the time Minister Farrakhan spoke in the midafternoon, the Mall seemed completely full.

Minister FARRAKHAN: But if there's a million or less or more, the meaning of this day is not today. The meaning of this day will be determined by what we do tomorrow to create a movement.

HURST: Roy Hurst, NPR News.

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