Farrakhan Leads the Million Man March

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan organized and led a massive march of African American men in Washington, D.C., with the aim of changing public and private perceptions of African American males. The event resulted in critical discussions within the African American community and placed Farrakhan in a prominent and powerful leadership role.

Summary of Event

In 1995, more than 50 percent of the individuals incarcerated in the United States were African American men, yet African Americans made up only 12 percent of the nation’s population. There were more African American men unemployed and underemployed than attending college, and the numbers registered to vote were even lower. Moreover, the black and white races in the United States were more divided than unified. Feelings in the African American community were still raw after the acquittal of Los Angeles police officers who were videotaped beating black motorist Rodney King a few years earlier. The subsequent riots in Los Angeles in 1992 and the acquittal of former professional football player O. J. Simpson for the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman gave evidence of a serious racial divide in the country. In addition, popular culture was feeding negative perceptions of African Americans, particularly males, through films, television programs, and music that highlighted violence and illegal drug activity among members of this group. African Americans;Million Man March
Million Man March
[kw]Farrakhan Leads the Million Man March (Oct. 16, 1995)
[kw]Million Man March, Farrakhan Leads the (Oct. 16, 1995)
[kw]March, Farrakhan Leads the Million Man (Oct. 16, 1995)
African Americans;Million Man March
Million Man March
[g]North America;Oct. 16, 1995: Farrakhan Leads the Million Man March[09330]
[g]United States;Oct. 16, 1995: Farrakhan Leads the Million Man March[09330]
[c]Religion, theology, and ethics;Oct. 16, 1995: Farrakhan Leads the Million Man March[09330]
[c]Social issues and reform;Oct. 16, 1995: Farrakhan Leads the Million Man March[09330]
Farrakhan, Louis
Chavis, Benjamin

Minister Louis Farrakhan, the impassioned leader of the Nation of Islam Nation of Islam
Religious groups;Nation of Islam religious organization, used the unrest of African Americans and negative images of African American males specifically as an impetus to call for one million African American men to join in a march to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on October 16, 1995. Farrakhan called the event a holy day for African American men to reconnect with themselves, their families, one another, and the African American community. The Million Man March would encourage African American men to take their rightful place in their communities as fathers, leaders, and providers. The event, which Farrakhan organized in cooperation with the Reverend Benjamin Chavis, former executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and approximately three hundred local community organizations, became the stimulus for public and private discussion of many issues related to the African American community and race relations in the United States.

In October, 1995, hundreds of thousands of African Americans converged on Washington, D.C., heeding the call of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan (visible on television screen) for a million men to demonstrate the commitment of black men to building strong families and communities.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

The mission statement of the Million Man March required African American men to repent or atone for their “sins” against themselves and humanity. The purpose of the march was to emphasize the need for African American men to be accountable and responsible while taking primary steps toward self-sufficiency in their personal, social, political, and economic lives. The march brought together young and old, rich and poor, professionals and unemployed.

Speakers at the event included a number of popular and politically prominent African American men, among them Kweisi Mfume, Mfume, Kweisi former U.S. congressman from Maryland and president of the NAACP; the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Jackson, Jesse founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition; actor and entertainer Bill Cosby; Cosby, Bill former professional baseball player Reggie Jackson; Jackson, Reggie and scholar Cornel West. West, Cornel Farrakhan spoke for more than two hours, during which he asked participants to recite a long pledge to engage in civic, social, political, cultural, and religious activities.

Famed poet Maya Angelou Angelou, Maya also participated in the official program, although the Million Man March was exclusively for African American men—women and men of other races were not invited. Several women spoke at the event, but African American women in general were encouraged to participate only in supporting, background roles. It was suggested that African American women should stay home and support the men by making the day a “holy day.” In addition, all African Americans who did not attend the march were asked to avoid spending any money that day, to demonstrate the economic power of African Americans as a group. Many African American women did attend the event to show their support, but others adamantly objected to the gender divide it imposed.

The organizers intended the march to be nondenominational and nonpolitical; nevertheless, debates quickly arose concerning the reception, treatment, role, and participation in the march of Christians, Jews, and others who were not adherents of the Nation of Islam, as well as homosexuals and women, who were excluded. Moreover, the participation of Farrakhan, a man known for rhetoric that was often considered sexist and racist, added to the debates surrounding the event. Before, during, and after the Million Man March, observers pointed out the need in the African American community for further discussion and action concerning the gender divide, religious differences and mutual respect, economic self-empowerment, and political and social involvement and advancement.

In regard to Farrakhan’s participation, many found it difficult to separate the message from the messenger. The often politically incendiary and radical rhetoric of the Nation of Islam leader tended to separate him and others from the idealistic and positive goals of the march. Another widespread sentiment, however, was that although the controversial Farrakhan originated the idea for the march, the event’s goals superseded his personality and rhetoric. Still, many condemned the march as a separatist event that served what they believed were sexist, patriarchal, and even racist motives on the part of Farrakhan.

Another controversy that followed the march concerned the numbers of people in attendance. The National Park Service originally estimated the crowd gathered in the nation’s capital at 400,000, whereas the Nation of Islam’s estimate was closer to 2 million. Some charged that the low “official” estimates of the size of the crowd reflected attempts by the political establishment to minimize the event’s importance. Later review of panoramic photographs of the event led to some consensus that the number was actually around 835,000. This was not the only area where there was a lack of agreement, as responses to the Million Man March varied widely within and outside the African American community.


It is believed that one result of the Million Man March was that thousands of African American men registered to vote and participated in the 1996 elections. Also, according to the National Association of Black Social Workers, adoption rates of African American children by African Americans increased after the march. Membership in national African American organizations such as the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Nation of Islam grew significantly after the march as well. Many individuals who had been concerned about the march or even opposed to it because of the often controversial and heated rhetoric of Louis Farrakhan later saw the overall impact of the event as positive, representing a welcome renewal for African Americans.

The organization and implementation of the Million Man March demonstrated the political and social impact that one person can have on the United States and within the African American community. Farrakhan gained additional public prominence from his role in organizing the march, and his success in creating an event aimed at encouraging the empowerment, self-determination, and self-sufficiency of African American men demonstrated the Nation of Islam leader’s influence and power.

The march clearly highlighted the state of race relations in the United States in the 1990’s, showing the divisions that existed within the African American community as well as the division between white and African Americans. The event renewed debates surrounding questions that had been asked for years in the United States: What is the nature of the roles of African American women and African American men? Is there a composite leader for the African American community? Among African Americans, whose voices are heard most and whose are heard least? Who is responsible for racism in the United States? Will African Americans and white Americans ever truly be treated as equals?

The Million Man March demonstrated to all Americans that a large group of African American men can congregate together in a peaceful manner for a positive purpose. Although the ultimate goals of the march were not met in the decade following—given that the numbers of African American men incarcerated, unemployed, underemployed, and without housing did not decrease significantly—the event did encourage discussion around the country on the many issues that Farrakhan proposed to address concerning the empowerment of African Americans. African Americans;Million Man March
Million Man March

Further Reading

  • Dyson, Michael Eric. “Words Unsaid: African American Women and the Million Man March.” Christian Century, November 22, 1995, 1100. A march participant addresses the need to focus on both men and women in the African American community. Sets some distance between Farrakhan and the issues important to African Americans.
  • Karenga, Maulana. “The Million Man March/Day of Absence Mission Statement.” Black Scholar 25 (Fall, 1995): 2. Mission statement for the event highlights the social, economic, and spiritual focus of the day. The author, a participant in the march, focuses on key behaviors, principles, and responsibilities of African American men.
  • Walton, Hanes, Jr. “Public Policy Responses to the Million Man March.” Black Scholar 25 (Fall, 1995): 17-22. Focuses on the political and social ramifications of the march.
  • West, Cornel. “The Million Man March.” Dissent 43 (Winter, 1996): 97-98. Distinguished African American scholar focuses on his own participation and input in the march. Discusses how the march spoke to the greater good of African Americans and the possibilities for African American men in a democratic U.S. society.

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