October 16, 1995
Web posted at: 7:45 p.m. EDT
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan spoke for over two hours at Monday's Million Man March, telling hundreds of thousands on the Mall in Washington that white supremacy is the root of the country's suffering ( 199K AIFF sound or 199K WAV sound).
"That makes you sick," Farrakhan said, "and you produce a sick society and a sick world."
The response to his call for a day of atonement and reconciliation for black men strengthened his position as a leader in the African American community, Farrakhan said, "like it or not."
The U.S. Park Service estimated that 400,000 heard Farrakhan and other speakers in the all-day rally.
And while Farrakhan may have been the inspiration for Monday's Million Man March, he wasn't necessarily the reason huge numbers of people showed up. In interviews with CNN, several African-American participants said they hoped the rally would generate self-reliance and black unity. "We're not here to overthrow anyone," said John West, an educator from Chicago. (111K AIFF sound or 111K WAV sound).
Organizers claimed attendance at the rally exceeded the million mark but that estimate could not be immediately verified. U.S. Park Police were expected to release their own figure on the crowd size later in the day. Despite the gathering's name, there were many women speakers, including civil rights movement pioneer Rosa Parks and poet Maya Angelou. Several children also addressed the crowd. (180K AIFF sound or 180K WAV sound)
The crowd was entertained by pulsing African drums (88K JPEG photo) and music before it heard uplifting speeches from a platform set up just below the congressional terrace where U.S. presidents deliver their inaugural addresses. (1M QuickTime movie)
Speaking in Texas, President Clinton praised the inspirational goals of the rally but he rejected "one man's message of malice and division" -- a reference to Farrakhan, whom he did not mention by name. Farrakhan has angered Jews, Catholics, gays, feminists and others with his comments over the years. He has called Judaism a "gutter religion" and recently defended his use of the term "bloodsuckers" to describe Jews, Asians and others who open businesses in minority communities and take the profits elsewhere.
But those who poured into Washington by bus, car and train shrugged off criticism of Farrakhan as they massed shoulder-to-shoulder in a festive mood on the vast Washington Mall, cheering and applauding as speakers shouted "March on, black men!" and "God bless the black man!"
"Many of our young people are in prison or dropping out of school," West said. "I would like to send a message to them that there is hope and there are people who care about them. If we all pull together as a community and as a race, I think we can lick some of these problems."
Farrakhan conceived the rally as a "a day of atonement" in which black men would repudiate the crime, drug addiction and family abuse that have crippled American black communities and dedicate themselves to a self-started economic and spiritual resurgence. With the "Million Man March" slogan, he had set out to achieve the biggest public demonstration in Washington history, surpassing the legendary civil rights rally led by the late Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963.
"We who are at the bottom of the pile need to climb out and not wait to be lifted out," said one Farrakhan aide, Abdul Allah Muhammad. "In the process of doing that, we must ask for God's help and be worthy of God's help. That's why this is called a day of atonement." (more from Muhammad on Farrakhan's message to African-Americans - 94K AIFF sound or 94K WAV sound)
"I'm here for atonement," said Stephen Jones, an assistant school principal from Chicago. "I'm here to unify the black community, to be role models for our students to let them know there is hope in America. We are here to inspire all people of our country to get an education." (179K AIFF sound or 179K WAV sound)."
"It's not about Farrakhan," said Philip Branker of St. Paul, Minnesota. "(It's about) black men uniting for a cause." There's "a need to unite," he said, because "there hasn't been a strong (black unity) movement for some time now."
That's also why Jerry Parries of Cleveland drove to Washington with friends. "What motivated me was the African-American brothers getting together, doing something for their community and supporting one another," he said. "It's an economic thing. ... It's not about Louis Farrakhan." (more from Parries (119K AIFF sound or 119K WAV sound)
Many federal employees arranged to take Monday off. Several government agencies and local school districts reported a high absentee rate.
"...We are coming together..."
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"It's an opportunity for black men..."
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CNN Inteactive's coverage of the Million Man March.
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