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The Million Man March, one year later

Million Man March

Impact both obvious and debatable

October 16, 1996
Web posted at: 1:45 p.m. EDT

In this story:

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Wednesday's one-year anniversary followup to the Million Man March won't approach the size of the Washington original, but organizers hope this year's events in New York will have a similar impact on the lives of African-Americans.

The 1995 gathering of hundreds of thousands of black men was aimed at promoting personal responsibility and community involvement. Participant Raymon Murchison says he probably already had those qualities, but they needed a "swift kick in the butt to get going." (12 sec./256K AIFF or WAV sound) icon

Inspired by the Million Man March, the Washington, D.C., resident and computer specialist now does volunteer work that includes delivering computer equipment to schools.

Wednesday's events

Farrakhan

At Wednesday's march and rally, being held near the United Nations, the previous year's theme of personal atonement is being turned outward. Organizer Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam is calling for countries to make amends for injustices.

"We intend to call upon all nations, all governments, to end injustice, to end exploitation, to end oppression, to end war, to end violence," said Benjamin Chavis, another march organizer and former executive director of the NAACP.

Chavis, a Christian minister, denied that the aim of Wednesday's march was put blame on specific religious or ethnic groups. "Atonement is for everybody," Chavis said in New York on Tuesday. He also denied charges that Farrakhan is anti-Semitic or anti-white. "He is a man of integrity who practices what he preaches." (19 sec./422K AIFF or WAV sound) icon

Winnie Mandela, the ex-wife of South African President Nelson Mandela, and comedian Dick Gregory are among the scheduled speakers, along with Chavis and Farrakhan himself. Organizers said Wednesday's events may draw up to 100,000 people. Unlike last year's march, women and children will be included this time to underscore a theme of family unity.

Plans call for speeches to be broadcast by satellite to five continents, 50 countries and 75 cities.

Several of the nation's top civil rights leaders will not participate, including Jesse Jackson, Kweisi Mfume, Chavis' successor at the NAACP, Hugh Price, president of the National Urban League and Joseph Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Proven results?

In Murchison's case, the Million Man March's emphasis on self-reliance and affirmation had a tangible impact on an individual. Organizers cite wider results, but their claims are not easily proven:

    Rundown neighborhood
  • Chavis says the march helped bring down the crime rate in the black community. But the latest crime figures are for 1995, and the march did not take place until October of that year.
  • Chavis also says more than a million new black voters have been registered in the past year. But one expert, Curtis Gans of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, said the claim can't be verified.
  • March organizers promised to create a fund to invest in impoverished black neighborhoods, but they acknowledge no projects have received funding.

On top of this, the Million Man March is still saddled with a $66,000 debt.

"Don't talk to me about irresponsibility and red ink," Farrakhan responded in a recent interview on CNN's Late Edition with Frank Sesno. "Go talk to Dole and Clinton and those who mismanage the wealth of the American people, then come back and talk to me," Farrakhan said.

Farrakhan's critics

But that does not satisfy his critics, including Jonetta Rose Barres, an associate editor of the weekly Washington City Paper. "This is about integrity and honesty and you can't do that if you are playing games."

Also cited by Farrakhan's critics are his controversial trips in the past year to Libya, Cuba, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria and Sudan. He should have been translating the excitement and energy generated by the march into political action, Jesse Jackson charges. (11 sec./237K AIFF or WAV sound) icon

If the Million Man March brought about widespread change, it did so in small ways, Mfume said. He described what happened last year as an "internal revolution" that changed "the mind set of individuals." (15 sec./334K AIFF or WAV sound) icon

Raymon Murchison is a case in point. He said he hadn't been doing his part. Now he is.

Correspondent Jeanne Meserve and Reuters contributed to this report.

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