Event reflects on Million Man March

Joe Carlson

The Million Man March sparked several national debates in the days leading up to and following the Oct. 16, 1995, rally in Washington, D.C. The discussions left unanswered the question of whether such a singular event could have long-lasting effects for the African-American community and the nation in general.
It was the focus on the immediate impacts of the march and its controversial organizer, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, that has overshadowed discussion of the lasting social and political effects, said Robert Allen, a visiting professor of African-American and Ethnic Studies at the University of California–Berkeley.
“It was a good first step, but the real value will be in terms of the continued efforts that come out of it,” Allen said.
Allen was part of a presentation and discussion of the Port Chicago Mutiny incident Thursday night in the Social Sciences Building. Allen gave a lecture titled “The Meaning of the Million Man March for Women and Children in Policy Implications” Wednesday night in the Earle Brown Center on the St. Paul campus.
The lasting effects of the march are reflected in recent increases in black volunteerism and social activism, especially through the nearly 300 organizations thatformed as a result of the march, Allen said.
One such group is Minneapolis-based Men Are Responsible to Cultivate Hope.
“Our principal purpose before the march was to gather men together and educate them about what the Million Man March was supposed to be about,” group volunteer Raven Mason said.
After the rally in Washington ended, the 10 volunteers involved in the group remained organized and continue to hold forums and promote volunteerism in the black community. The group is also politically active, registering voters and educating them with discussions and meetings.
The group tries “to get people educated so they understand how to make good choices which help black people as a cultural group,” Mason said.
But discussing the group, and the Million Man March, in strictly political terms ignores the important social ideals that embodied the event, a web of atonement, respect and knowledge, Allen said.
“It was a pilgrimage of affirmation on the part of African-American men,” Allen said, “not really a protest march.”
Allen cited a 15 percent rise in the number of adoptions by African- American men since the march as an example of the gathering’s long-lasting social effects.
The march’s emphasis on self-determination and mutual respect made it unique among African-American gatherings, Allen said. One thing that differentiated it from past rallies was the oath taken by those present in the march. Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan led the following pledge:
“I pledge that from this day forward I will strive to love my brother as I love myself … I will never raise my hand with a knife or a gun to beat, cut or shoot … I will never abuse my wife by striking her … I will never engage in the abuse of children … I will never use the B word’ to describe any female.”
Allen said “no other leader, black or white, has had a large number of men … disavow domestic abuse.”