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Million Woman March fills Philadelphia streets

banner 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 of Art.

Highlights of the march
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1.1 M/35 sec./160x120
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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.

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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 attendance.

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," Coney said.

Marchers enthusiastic

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 descent."

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 this report.


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