Twenty-five years ago, on Oct. 16, 1995, Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. helped to spearhead perhaps the most significant call for freedom, justice, and equality since Dr. King’s 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
As national director of the Million Man March, Chavis and other organizers, including the Nation of Islam Leader Louis Farrakhan, led more than 500,000 African-American men to the nation’s capital to declare their rights.
Minister Farrakhan called for the march, insisting that “able-bodied African-American men come to Washington to address the ills of, and unify and revitalize, Black communities.”
He declared that Black men should take responsibility for their actions, atone and make a personal commitment of responsibility to their families and communities to help improve their lot.
“I recall that the overall public reception throughout the D.C. Metro Area, including Maryland and Virginia, concerning the six months to organize and mobilize the success of the Million Man March was very enthusiastic, energetic and efficacious,” Chavis recounted this week.
He noted that the Million Man March’s national office was located on Kennedy Street in Northwest, inside the national headquarters of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.
“What I remember most was the tremendous support for the Million Man March from The Honorable Mayor Marion Barry and the City of the District of Columbia that involved every city agency,” Chavis reminisced.
Chavis remembered that the D.C. Local Organizing Committee met twice a week for five months leading up to the Oct. 16 March.
In reporting on the event, the Nation of Islam’s official website noted that “there was a sea of Black men, many who stood for 10 hours or more sharing, learning, listening, fasting, hugging, crying, laughing and praying. The day produced a spirit of brotherhood, love, and unity – like never experienced among Black men in America.
“All creeds and classes were present: Christians, Muslims, Hebrews, Agnostics, nationalists, pan-Africanists, civil rights organizations, fraternal organizations, rich, poor, celebrities and people from nearly every organization, profession, and walk of life were present. It was a day of atonement, reconciliation and responsibility,” the statement read.
While some estimates placed the attendance at about 500,000, others suggested as many as 1.7 million attended.
Impressively, Chavis attested that the march received very little pushback, not even with Minister Farrakhan’s involvement.
“Minister Farrakhan’s leadership of the Million Man March was not a problem or issue for D.C. officials,” he said. “However, the mainstream media publications, TV and radio in D.C., Maryland and Virginia were all mainly publishing and broadcasting negative and counterproductive news coverage about the Million Man March days before, on the day of and days after the march,” he pronounced.
“It was, however, the Black Press of America via the National Newspaper Publishers Association [NNPA], and especially The Washington Informer, The Washington Afro, The Afro in Baltimore, The Baltimore Times, The Journal and Guide in Norfolk and the Richmond Free Press who covered the Million Man March truthfully, accurately and authentically,” he stated.
Throughout most of his life, Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., has marched for justice, freedom and equality.
The civil rights icon, who serves as president and CEO of the NNPA and host of the Public Broadcasting Service show, “The Chavis Chronicles,” began his life of service as a youth coordinator for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
A North Carolina native and member of the famed Wilmington 10, Chavis formerly served as president of the NAACP and co-founded the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network. In the immediate aftermath of the 1995 March, Black-on-Black crime reportedly decreased to an all-time low in the District and across the country.
The immediate results of the march proved impressive.
Following the event, 1.7 million Black men registered to vote and the NAACP, along with numerous Black churches and civic organizations, reported major increases in membership.
Additionally, in the weeks following the March, the National Association of Black Social Workers reportedly received more than 13,000 applications from families of color seeking to adopt African-American children.
The now legendary event also inspired the Million Woman March, Million Father March and the Million Hoodie March, the latter in support of justice for Trayvon Martin.
In 2011, a Million Man March in Tahrir Square took place in Egypt, demanding the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
While one scholar recently referred to the original Million Man March as an act of solidarity and commitment in the Black community that’s been difficult to replicate, Chavis lamented that crime among those in the Black community has surged once more. He said many have forgotten or are unaware of the message of the March.
“The mission and message of the Million Man March are needed again today as it was an effective mission and message 25 years ago,” he said. “We do not need to repeat history necessarily. However, what is needed today is to learn from our history in America and throughout the world.”
“When Black people come together in greater unity to end poverty, oppression and self-destruction, we will have the ability and the power to build stronger Black families, communities, businesses and lasting institutions that will all serve together to mitigate and to seriously decrease Black-on-Black crime and all other forms of Black self-destruction,” he said.