Million Woman March fills Philadelphia streets
October 25, 1997
Web posted at: 5:34 p.m. EDT (2134 GMT)
PHILADELPHIA (CNN) -- African-American women from around the
nation jammed the streets of Philadelphia Saturday for the
Million Woman March to show solidarity and spotlight issues
they say are ignored by some mainstream women's groups.
The daylong program of prayer, music and inspirational
speeches was designed to help bring about positive change,
especially in black communities.
"Oh my gosh. So many. So many," JoAnne Royster of Arlington,
Virgina, said in a hushed tone as she looked out at the crowd.
By train, car, plane and hundreds of buses, black women
answered the call of grass-roots organizers and converged on
the city for the march that ended at the Philadelphia Museum
Organizers estimated that 2.1 million people filled a
mile-long avenue in early afternoon. Estimates made by police
officers ranged from 300,000 to 1 million.
Undaunted by chilly temperatures and light rain, marchers
began with a sunrise service by the Liberty Bell, then walked
along Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the speaker's tent and
podium outside the museum.
The march provided a forum for issues that many blacks feel
some women's groups do not focus on. Among them were human
rights abuses against blacks, the start of independent black
schools and a demand for an investigation into allegations of
CIA involvement in the crack trade in black neighborhoods.
Motivational speakers and musical performances ranging from
jazz to traditional African drumming were among the early
acts in the tent. During breaks, marchers chanted "Love and
respect," and "M-W-M, M-W-M," for "Million Woman March."
Addressing the crowd without a prepared speech, march
co-founder Phile Chionesu said, "This is a new day. Prepare
yourselves. We are taking back our neighborhoods."
Signs proclaimed "I am one in a million" and "Black Women: No
more AIDS, abuse, addiction." Women clamored to buy buttons,
T-shirts, hats and flags emblazoned with march logos.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, former wife of South African
President Nelson Mandela, also was addressing the women.
Unlike the Million Man March in Washington two years ago, the
Million Woman March relied on no big names to fuel
Businesswoman Chionesu and march co-founder Asia Coney, a
local housing activist, even bypassed established circuits of
black influence in America, including the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People, relying
instead on the organizing powers of community leaders like
themselves. They distributed flyers and posted on the
Internet to get out the news about the march.
"We (black women) have a history of doing the impossible,"
Retired Chicago police officer Cheryl Thomas-Porter, 40, said
she heard about the march from her best friend. She then
joined the regional organization board, which was sending
65,000 people to the march by bus, train and plane.
"This march is us. We made this march," she said. "The march
is the contribution of every single woman of African
Chionesu and Coney said they wanted the march to counteract
negative images of African-American women in popular culture
and the media.
"Black women have been the epitome of strength in this
country," Chionesu said.
"We want to prepare our women, no matter what their status in
life, to look at how we can begin to invest as black women
and how we can begin to vote in blocs as black women."
The pair also prepared a 12-point platform of proposals to
help African-Americans and women in particular.
Correspondent Cynthia Tornquist and Reuters contributed to