I went to the Million Man March with my father. He wasn't originally going to go, but when he learned that I was going, he asked to come with me. We had a good day out there on the Mall and Constitution Avenue just being a part of it all...2 in a million, as the sum of our buttons say...and knowing that we were there helping to put a good face on the Black man in the US.
My mother didn't come with us. She didn't feel the need. Her words were, "Yes, women ARE important [to the Black community], but there's no NEED for us to be there." She then went on to say that it's the men who have the more publicized problems, and that just because we aren't "side-by-side" all of the time, doesn't mean that there isn't support. She THEN went on to criticize Min. Farrakhan in no uncertain terms. That's my mother.
My father and I arrived at about 9:45 am. The Mall was already filled with people from the Capitol to the Freer Art Gallery and the Smithsonian Metro station (that's about .75 mile for those of you unfamiliar with the area) with greatest density in front of the Air & Space and Natural History Museums (they face each other on the mall). People would stream continuously and in massive numbers from the Smithsonian station until about 12:30. By that time, the crowd was fully down to 14th Street, with the greatest density back to the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Additionally, a significant portion of the crowd at the base of the Washington Monument across 14th Street (you sit on benches that encircle the pylon as you wait for entry), and up and down Independence Avenue was of the dark male persuasion.
Naturally, that was the case with most of the crowd. Black men of all ages, shapes, and sizes were EVERYWHERE. One man on the dais was reported to be 109 years old. At the other end, small boys of 4, 3 or less--too young perhaps, to grasp the magnitude of the whole thing--were there in tow by their fathers or MOTHERS. Women were there, too, though despite what the media might lead one to believe, I don't think most of them were there out of defiance (though some certainly were). Many brought their sons, not wanting them to miss this historic event. Others were there with their husbands, boyfriends, etc. probably because they wanted to support their men in this cause, Farrakhan or no. There were also groups of young women who were obviously there to check out the boys (nothin' wrong wit' dat!).
The news media were there too, naturally. I won't say too much about them as the hatchet job that the "mainstream" media did on this March--particularly their unreasonable focus on Farrakhan--could only have been worse if there had been a mass riot (which, I believe, many were hoping for just so they could say, "I told you so").
A smattering of non-Black, non-press folks were there, too. Several were there out of curiosity, some lingered to listen to speakers, some were tourists who obviously were caught off guard (my father and I had to laugh at the Alabama family who floated out of the subway amidst the dark mass at one point). A number of them followed their noses. I'll explain. Many of the vendors on Consitution Ave.--all Black-owned businesses--were owners of cook shacks and lunch counter restaurants. Those suburbanite Federal workers usually have to deal with government cafeterias or high-priced, processed tourist fare during their lunch breaks on regular days. How could they resist the opportunity for some down-home cookin' at midday? Federal workers aren't stupid.
My father and I decided to seek out the vendors which we remembered were to be there. Constitution Avenue from 1st to 14th Streets NW was closed to vehicle traffic. This is, no doubt, where a fair number of the "missing" 600,000 were. Food (mentioned above), t-shirts, souvenirs, African, Afro-American, and Afro-Caribbean crafts, and of course, NOI literature were back to back down this mile stretch. As I mentioned above, all of these businesses were Black-owned (or at least played a significant role in local Black communities). I had no problem giving these people my money. The food was GREAT!
My father and I left at about 3 pm. I had to get back to Virginia so I could pack my things and RETURN to downtown to catch my train (I actually got on at New Carrollton, Maryland). We each had our red, black and green buttons--plus one for my mother--and I also carried back a nice tasteful t-shirt (w/o Min. Farrakhan's picture) as a commemorative.
I think any Black man who stayed away for reasons other than inability (i.e., prohibitive cost, no time off work, illness, etc.) did themselves a disservice. I am no fan of the Minister Farrakhan, nor even Ben Chavis, for that matter, but this wasn't about them. Yes, the Black community has its problems with homophobia, and no, no one specifically mentioned "us" in their inspirational speeches, but even speaking as a gay man, I can't finger that as the biggest problem the Black community...or the Black male...is facing today. Black boys are being killed before they're even old enough to HAVE a true sexuality. Young Black men are being thrown into jails where they can become someone's "bitch" whether they prefer men or not. I'm sorry, but that's more important in the big picture than some drunken sot calling me "faggot."
I listened to Farrakhan's speech. He had ample opportunity at several points, to finger "us" as one of the problems of Black America (especially during his eight steps to glory speil...I was just waiting to be ired). He didn't. He could have, with one passing remark, added fuel to the fires of Black homophobia. For whatever reason--and I'm not going to even begin to try and figure it out--he chose not to. That is a small--very small--but significant step.
In closing, I'll comment on my trip back to NYC. I said that those who didn't attend when they could have missed out. What you missed out most on, was scenes like my ride home. I wish you could have been there to experience the love and positivity and--dare I say it?--brotherhood that existed on that trainload of Black men heading north from DC. We talked. We had real discussions about real issues (like, "Where do we go from here?"). We played cards. We hugged when we parted company. I actually spoke to people on the subway. That is what this was about, people.
That, at the very least.
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Last updated: 18 January 1996 by Chuck Tarver