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Million Man messenger, not message, causing division

October 15, 1995
Web posted at: 11:45 a.m. EDT

From Senior Washington Correspondent Charles Bierbauer

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Many are already on their way, by bus and car, from all corners of the country, to a rendezvous in Washington. Monday's Million Man March is meant to rally and strengthen the black community, but it's also causing painful divisions.

Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan organized the march, calling for "a million sober, disciplined, committed, dedicated, inspired black men" to show the public that its image of African-American men is flawed. (210K AIFF sound or 210K WAV sound)

flier March supporters point out that instead of the stereotypes, often perpetuated by the media, of criminals, druggies or dropouts, most African-American men are hardworking people with families and communities. And many are troubled themselves by the reality that some black men have not measured up to their responsibilities.

"I have taken the position that this march is directed first at the African-American community, and secondly at the nation at large," said Ron Walters, a professor at Howard University.

But both the nation and the African-American community have reservations. Not with the message, but with the messenger: Farrakhan.

Chaplin The controversial head of the nation of Islam is, to many, a racist and separatist. A number of black churches, especially Baptists, have refused to endorse his march.

"If it had originated from our end, we would be there," said Levi Chaplin of Pleasant Lane Baptist Church. "But we can't support somebody that talks against us in one breath, and in one breath hugs us. I mean, that's not right."

Farrakhan's exclusion of women from the march has drawn cries of sexism. Myrlie Evers-Williams, chair of the NAACP, said she's fought long and hard to get past the "double whammy" of being black and a woman. (213K AIFF sound or 213K WAV sound)

And the Jewish Anti-Defamation League considers Farrakhan unrepentantly anti-Semitic and wants the marchers to say so.

"We have a problem with the fact that the man who calls us together continues to be a racist, sexist, homophobic, \ anti-Christian," said Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League. Unless people say those things, Foxman complained, "We are delivering a message that it doesn't matter."

March organizers have concerns about their own security. "This is going to be a non-violent demonstration, a peaceful demonstration, a lawful assembly, and we want to make sure that our first amendment rights are equally protected," stressed the Rev. Benjamin Chavis.

sixties march There was another march on Washington in 1963 to ensure those rights for minorities. The civil rights movement included men, women, whites and Jews. A quarter million protesters gathered at Lincoln's monument to hear Dr. Martin Luther King's dream for them.

Payne The black men will face the other way, toward a Congress they do not entirely trust. Congressman Donald Payne, D-New Jersey, marched with King and will join this march as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. Payne said he believes the event will serve as a "wake-up call" to congressional leaders. (165K AIFF sound or 165K WAV sound)

The Million Man March may turn out to be an exaggeration, but its success is not likely to be a mere measure of numbers.

"Nothing can be done in one day except to mobilize interest and a program," Walters said. "And if that happens and people begin to do the work when they get home, then the march would've been successful"

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