The Million Man March: Message and purpose
The Redmond Collection contains flyers advertising the Million Man March and encouraging African American men to participate. The examples on this page were issued by the national March organizers (led by Louis Farrakhan and Benjamin Chavis) and by the LOCs (local organizing committees).
Louis Farrakhan first proposed the idea of the Million Man March to an African American Leadership Summit organized by Benjamin Chavis in June of 1994 (West 98). The leader of the Nation of Islam, Farrakhan was a controversial figure at the time. This was largely due to his positions about Jewish people that many considered antisemitic, and his polarizing comments about race in general.
Discussions leading up to the Million Man March and in its aftermath examined the efficacy and validity of separating the "message" from the "messenger" (Clines; Higginbotham; Madhubuti 2).
The message of the March is communicated in this flyer distributed by Million Man March, Inc. The March is intended for the unification and political and economic empowerment of African American men.
The reverse side of the flyer shown above gives additional details about the purpose of the March.
By physically assembling together, black men will demonstrate to America, politicians, and themselves that they can join together on issues.
All African Americans are called to effectively go "on strike" from engaging with non-black enterprises on the day of the March. This will reveal the vital contributions of black people to these enterprises.
Finally, the March will show that despite their differences from one another, black men have a universal strength of character.
Everyone is encouraged to participate in or support the March on October 16th by considering it as a holy day of atonement, by registering to vote, and/or by celebrating African American heritage and history.
This St. Louis flyer offering information about registering for and arranging transportation to the Million Man March refers to the March as a "National Day of Absence" ("no work/no school/no shopping"). Further down, in smaller print, are the words "Day of Atonement."
The March's mission statement includes an explication of three basic themes: atonement, reconciliation, and responsibility. Atonement "is to recognize wrongs done and make amends, to be self-critical and self-corrective." By overcoming conflicts and settling disputes (reconciliation), the marchers can "stand together, organize our community and solve the problems in it." They are to take responsibility "for our lives and the welfare and future of our families and our community" (Karenga 142-144).
Some felt the "self-help" aspect of the March displaced focus from the external forces limiting African American success. As Luke Charles Harris wrote: "Black disempowerment does not reflect an unwillingness ... [to] take responsibility for their lives; it reflects acute political, economic, and social isolation." He observed that the call for atonement was ironic "in a society that has yet to atone for slavery and Jim Crow" (Harris 59).
This East St. Louis flyer shouts that the purpose of the March is for black men to "unite to save ourselves."
Many prominent African American women -- including Dorothy Irene Height, Coretta Scott King, Myrlie Evers, Betty Shabazz, and Rosa Parks -- endorsed the March (Malveaux). In the flyer shown here, the "sisters in support of the Million Man March" voice their solidarity with this "historic unification of the black man."
Some people, however, protested the fact that women were deliberately excluded from the March.
As Julianne Malveaux wrote a week before the March: "[I]f this march is so important that it will change African-American life, why are women relegated to the periphery?" (Malveaux). Angela Davis, Jewel Jackson McCabe, and Michele Wallace also objected to the sexism inherent in the Million Man March design (Nelson 250).
Kalamu ya Salaam stated that he boycotted the March "mainly because I disagreed with the exclusion (& diminishing) of women both explicit and inherent in the call" (Salaam 110). Luke Charles Harris wrote that the March's exclusion of women reflected patriarchy in the black community and "falsely suggest[s] that there is not enough room for attention to the problems of both Black men and Black women" (Harris 64).
Clines, Francis X. "Organizers Defend Role of Farrakhan In March by Blacks." New York Times, October 13, 1995. Online access is restricted to SIUE users.
Harris, Luke Charles. "My Two Mothers, America, and the Million Man March." Black Men on Race, Gender, and Sexuality: A Critical Reader. Ed. Devon W. Carbado. New York: New York University Press, 1999. 54-67.
Higginbotham, Jr., A. Leon. "Why I Didn't March." Black Men on Race, Gender, and Sexuality: A Critical Reader. Ed. Devon W. Carbado. New York: New York University Press, 1999. 22-25.
Karenga, Maulana. "The Million Man March/Day of Absence Mission Statement." Million Man March/Day of Absence: A Commemorative Anthology. Eds. Haki R. Madhubuti, Maulana Karenga. Chicago: Third World Press, 1996. 140-149.
Madhubuti, Haki R. "Took Back Our Tears, Laughter, Love and Left a Big Dent in the Earth." Million Man March/Day of Absence: A Commemorative Anthology. Eds. Haki R. Madhubuti, Maulana Karenga. Chicago: Third World Press, 1996. 2-4.
Malveaux, Julianne. "A Woman's Place Is in the March; Why Should I Stand by My Man, When He's Trying to Step Over Me?." Washington Post, October 8, 1995. Online access is restricted to SIUE users.
Nelson, Jr., William E. "Black Church Politics and the Million Man March." Black Religious Leadership from the Slave Community to the Million Man March: Flames of Fire. Ed. Felton O. Best. Lewiston, N.Y.: The Edwin Mellen Press, c1998. 243-257.
Salaam, Kalamu ya. "A Million Is Just A Beginning." Million Man March/Day of Absence: A Commemorative Anthology. Eds. Haki R. Madhubuti, Maulana Karenga. Chicago: Third World Press, 1996. 110-111.
West, Cornel. "Historic Event." Million Man March/Day of Absence: A Commemorative Anthology. Eds. Haki R. Madhubuti, Maulana Karenga. Chicago: Third World Press, 1996. 98-99.