October 17, 1995
Web posted at: 8:30 a.m. EDT
From Senior Washington Correspondent Charles Bierbauer
Washington (CNN) -- Minister Louis Farrakhan called for "a million sober, disciplined, committed, dedicated, inspired black men to meet in Washington on a day of atonement." The African-American community -- and much of the white -- found the idea admirable.
It is much of what else the Nation of Islam leader has said over the years that is less welcome. Farrakhan has been branded a racist, separatist, sexist and anti-Semite.
Farrakhan's rhetoric has not been tempered by the popularity of the march and his potential ascent to a more powerful place of leadership in the black ranks.
"Many of the Jews who owned the homes, the apartments in the black community, we considered them bloodsuckers because they took from our community and built their community but didn't offer anything back to our community," Farrakhan told Reuters Television in an interview recorded on October 4 and released Friday.
Farrakhan had other targets. "When the Jews left, the Palestinian Arabs came, Koreans came, Vietnamese...and we call them bloodsuckers," he continued. Farrakhan says he is neither racist nor anti-Semitic.
The dilemma for many black men was whether to march for a message they can believe in -- unity -- without marching to a drummer they may not follow -- Farrakhan. Only a fraction of those who gathered on the mall in Washington Monday were his actual followers, just as only a fraction of America's Muslim population belongs to his Nation of Islam.
The message in Farrakhan's wincing, but unmincing words: "The image of the black community is horrendous in the world. The image of black men in particular is that of a bestial, maniacal and savage group of persons."
The march, Farrakhan says, will say to the world "the image you have of black men is not the image of who and what we really are."
They are not all criminals and druggies and dropouts. They are men with jobs and families and communities and concerns that many black men have not measured up to their responsibilities. Those concerns permeate the African- American community in the United States.
"We don't have to think alike. We're not monolithic," says Congressman Donald Payne, a New Jersey Democrat who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus. The Black Caucus deliberated, then endorsed the march. That is, all but its one Republican member, Congressman Gary Franks of Connecticut.
"The Ku Klux Klan hates blacks, Jews and Catholics. The Nation of Islam hates whites, Jews and Catholics," says Congressman Franks. "Both should be despised for these warped beliefs."
The Jewish Anti-Defamation League took out newspaper ads critical of Farrakhan's involvement in the march.
"A march in which the stated purpose is atonement, whose avowed purpose is to stand against racism is a hollow message if it's led by someone who's unwilling to rid himself of racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism," says ADL National Director Abraham Foxman. The Anti-Defamation League's concern is long-standing. So are Farrakhan's comments about Jews.
"The Jews don't like Farrakhan, so they call me Hitler. Well, that's a good name. Hitler was a very great man," Farrakhan said in a speech last year.
It's not just Jews that find Farrakhan's disdain: "Murder and lying comes easy for white people." -- 1994 speech. Farrakhan has angered many black women -- the bulwark of the community -- by excluding them from the march.
"I encourage black men to stand up and take care of their families," says Myrlie Evers-Williams, president of the NAACP. "But in all honesty, to eliminate women completely from this march does bother me a great deal."
Women complained of Washington mayor Marion Barry's attitude toward women. And of former NAACP executive director Benjamin Chavis, ousted from the venerable civil rights organization amid sexual harassment charges. Chavis is now the chief organizer of the march for Farrakhan.
Many black churchmen have a similar dilemma with Farrakhan's leadership of the march.
"I am a Christian. I do follow Christ, and for me to follow under a banner, it has to be under Christ," says the Reverend John Chaplin of the Pleasant Lane Baptist Church in Washington. "I cannot follow under any other banner."
Reverend Chaplin said so from his pulpit. So did Pastor Woodrow Walker a the Abundant Life Church in Lithonia, Georgia.
"Don't let him draw a million of you Christians to a cause that denies the virgin birth," Pastor Walker told his congregation.
"It's like trying to mix oil and water," Walker explained. "Our belief systems are totally different. Christianity is diametrically opposed to Islam."
But that did not keep black men from turning out in great number to acknowledge that they share responsibility for the plague of despair in much of the black community (1.25M QuickTime movie).
"I can march with Farrakhan and hundreds of thousands of people because we're marching for unity," Congressman Payne explains.
In 1963 Payne was among the 250,000 who heard the famous "I have a dream" speech of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
An anti-Vietnam War demonstration brought 600,000 to Washington. More than a million were on the Mall of the nation's capital for a 1976 bicentennial celebration.
The black men's march on Washington will rank with them as one of the biggest. They came by busloads from across the country. Thousands of buses. Many chartered. Some commandeered from schools. Others volunteered from churches. Black churches own lots of buses which, until now, probably no one has ever counted.
Organizers expected more than 10,000 buses. Bumper to bumper they would stretch 100 miles.
Getting everyone into Washington was hard enough. Most filtered in throughout Sunday night for the late Monday morning rally. Getting everyone out -- most leaving all at once -- will be the nightmare.
They won't be staying. Or partying. Farrakhan has urged them to return swiftly to their communities. To waste no time on frivolity. To spend no money. Black men who did not come -- and the women who were not invited -- were urged to stay at home, not to work, to engage in no commerce. Farrakhan calls it a "Day of Absence".
For so large a crowd, police expected little trouble. No incidents were reported. The Nation of Islam is itself a sober, disciplined organization. Other blacks who are drawn to Farrakhan's march are likely to be similarly serious of purpose.
"The real test of the success of this march is going to be what the people do when they get home," says Ron Walters, head of Howard University's political science department and a march supporter.
Regardless of how people now feel about Farrakhan, Walters feels the march could propel him to a place of prominence in the African-American community rather than on the periphery. To a lesser degree it can redeem Chavis' influence. Jesse Jackson, once the preeminent black political figure, played a supporting role. Colin Powell, perhaps more inspiring to whites than blacks and certainly more comforting, will be engaging in commerce -- selling his book -- while Washington hosts hundreds of thousands--perhaps a million--marching black men.
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