From the PWW archives, Oct. 21, 1995: African Americans March

This article was reprinted from the October 21, 1995 issue of the People’s Weekly World.

All rights reserved - may be used with PWW credits.

WASHINGTON - From the west steps of the Capitol as far as the eye could see, to the Washington Monument hundreds of thousands of African Americans gathered Monday, Oct. 16 for the “Million Man March.”

A feeling of togetherness and pride was evident in the mainly working-class crowd that filled the nation’s capital in response to the rising racist offensive and an economic crisis that has devastated African American families and their communities. Marchers warmly embraced friends and total strangers alike. Many young people were present as were some women.

Considerable controversy had been generated prior to the march for its theme of atonement and its exclusion of women, other racially and nationally oppressed peoples and whites. On the march’s eve, organizers relented under the pressure and broadened the invitation.

While the theme of atonement and reconciliation predominated, a tone of struggle and protest was struck by several speakers. U. S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), who had criticized the atonement theme and threatened not to participate, greeted the march saying, “We are not at fault for what’s wrong with America.”

Rosa Parks, who sparked the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, opening the era of the Civil Rights Movement, was greeted by a thunderous ovation by the mammoth gathering. Greeting the demonstration, she called for greater unity in struggle.

Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women recalled the spirit of “righteous indignation” of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and told the crowd a similar mood of fightback anger is needed now. “Those who have benefited from the work of women like Rosa Parks have forgotten how the doors were opened,” she said. She urged the crowd to use their stay in Washington to protest the Republican drive to destroy welfare, Medicare, affirmative action and other lifeline programs for poor people.

“We must urge the president not to sign any Medicaid bill that destroys the safety net for children,” she said. Height also quoted the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. saying that African Americans and white people need each other for mutual advancement.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson was greeted warmly by the crowd and called for greater multi-racial unity in the fight against the Contract on America. Jackson rejected the right-wing Republicans charge of Black racism saying, “We are here because we are under attack. We are not the racists.”

Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said, “Each day here in Congress, we see assaults on programs like Head Start, Section 8 housing, student loans, job training, Medicaid and Medicare. Yet this Congress finds $2 billion to spend on B-2 bombers ... and $245 billion for a tax cut for the wealthy.”

Organizers signed up tens of thousands of march participants in the kickoff of an effort to register eight million new African American voters before the 1996 elections, with the aim ousting from office politicians who have unleashed the racist offensive.

Tony Harris, who headed up voter registration at the march, said he began with 125,000 voter registration forms and had to send out for more by early afternoon. Harris said that 350 people were registering new voters at over 30 sites throughout the city.

“Looking at what’s happening to Black people, the attacks on affirmative action and social programs and programs for the elderly. We need to get our people to vote.”

Marchers interviewed by the World said the day had a religious and personal significance for them, but they also said the rally sent a political message to Congress. James Holloway from Columbia, S.C., had made a banner which attacked social cuts and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

“I don’t know if the march was geared to a political message but it got to be such,” he said. “My theory is that Congress has declared war on poor people and Medicaid and Medicare, people on welfare, children and African Americans. We need to register people and get out to vote. People are going to leave today with that message. They’re going to go home and register people to vote.” Dwain Midget of Tulsa, Oklahoma, said that African-Americans can be a potent political force, but not if the Democrats ignore “jobs, economic development, urban revitalization and issues that impact the African American community. Any attempt to lessen support for those issues will impact how we vote.”

Reverend Douglas Sands of Morgan State University in Baltimore said “it was impossible for a million people to come to Washington without making a political statement. Whether it was intended or not, the message is clear,” he said.

“There is no tolerance in the Black community for the kinds of decisions that Congress is making. The community is prepared to make itself heard and felt.”

The main speech was given by Louis Farrakhan. Lasting almost three hours, it was filled with references to numerology and mysticism.

Commenting on Farrakhan’s role and speech, Jarvis Tyner, Communist Party USA legislative and political action director, said, “Calling for the people to atone for the sins of capitalism is basically serving the ruling class, as is his anti-Semitism. This is not a time for division and atonement for the people but a time for united organized protest actions against those who are truly responsible for all the violence, oppression and chaos in the life of our nation.”