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Behind Million Men, black women

student protests

'No girls allowed' request leaves community divided

October 16, 1995
Web posted at: 10 a.m. EDT

From Correspondent Norma Quarles

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The Million Man March has drawn thousands of African-American men to Washington. But black women stand divided on the event. For one thing, march organizers originally said, "no girls allowed," asking their female counterparts to stay home with the children. Some black women said that's just fine, but others were angered.

men gathered in D.C.

At New York University, members of the Organization of Black Women were generally supportive but still had questions about the Million Man March.

In a lively group discussion, one young member observed, "I'm still unclear of the role we play."

"I think our role is one of support," another responded. "If we stop supporting each other, who is going to support us?"

"I think it is a positive movement," Autelia Oteng-Sarkodie said later. She's one of the organization's leaders and a senior from Ghana, Africa. "We've been waiting a long time for it to happen. People have been waiting, waiting for something from the black community, from the black people, and I think this is it."

Jewell McCabe

'How dare anyone ask us to show unity by silence? What price for our own dignity and what price for our community's dignity?'

--Jewell Jackson McCabe, activist

These women believe they can support the goals of the march while not endorsing its leader, Louis Farrakhan, and his organization, the Nation of Islam. "Just because they are the organizers doesn't mean that what they are doing is something you shouldn't support," argued NYU's Natasha Hines.

But longtime civil right activist Jewell Jackson McCabe feels differently. She defined the march as a hoax, a way for Farrakhan to claim leadership of the black community.

"People have got to be very careful not to be manipulated," she warned. McCabe decried a leadership vacuum in the black community and said Farrakhan's powerful oratory will surely sway some. "You have to look at the lips that it's coming from," she said (119K AIFF sound or 119K WAV sound).

Gayle Hawkins

'They have asked the women to stay home which I think is very wonderful. Because I think you have to concentrate on one thing, which is the men.'

--Gayle Hawkins, New York

At Sylvia's restaurant in Harlem, Farrakhan's organization provides security. Sylvia's employees said they are in favor of the march.

"I really think it is a wonderful movement as far as the men are concerned," Gayle Hawkins said. She described the march as a peaceful "coming together" for men of all ages (128K AIFF sound or 128K WAV sound).

She said the idea of asking women to stay at home ''is very wonderful. Because I think you have to concentrate on one thing, which is the men."

But McCabe called the request blatantly sexist. "How dare anyone ask us to show unity by silence," she said. "What price for our own dignity and what price for our community's dignity?"

The opinions range from denouncing the march as sexist with questionable motives to praising it as a positive force for the black community. Black women united in their support of black men are deeply divided on how they view the message of this march.

Related story

An overview of CNN Interactive's coverage - The Million Man March


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