My Journey to the Million Man March. (Reprint from Celebrity Report Magazine early 2000's)
After the March: Now What?
The journey to the Millions Man March.
In our last (and very first) edition of Celebrity Report Magazine we followed Elijah Shabazz on his Journey to self- knowledge. Now Shabazz takes us on another Journey from watching Farrakhan from a distance on a big screen at a mass rally in New York City to being up close near the main stage in Washington, DC of One of the most Historic Marches to ever take place. In this installment we will travel with Shabazz as he observes the many events that he witnessed leading up to the Million Man March. Buckle up and Enjoy the ride.
Today is built on Yesterday
The date is October 7th the year is 1985, the place is New York City, Madison Square Garden on a beautiful Fall evening. The Garden is a place where people usually line up for concerts but on this night a peaceful "Mob" engulfed the arena. The occasion: the champion for the cause of Black People, the uncompromising leader, a hero to some but a "racist, bigot and anti-semite" to others-Minister Farrakhan would be making his appearance. The policemen were on horsebacks patrolling the crowd. They announced earlier that a fire had taken place inside of the Garden-hoping that the crowd would dissipate. However, it felt as if the spirit of God told us not to move. So, we patiently waited and our patience was rewarded after an hour or more when we gained entry.
The ticket price was only $2 and in no time the 30,000 plus seat arena was filled. As I watched the crowd make its way through the main entrance, my first mind said "go around to the back". I don't know where these thoughts come from but I obeyed and was one of the first in line to be admitted into the Felt Forum - a building adjoining the Garden. My older sister and brothers later came around to join me on the line after the main arena filled up. We were able to watch the event on large close-circuit T.V. screens, while thousands of others had to listen on the loudspeaker outside after the Felt Forum overflowed. Though, it was comforting to at least be on the inside and not listening on the loud speaker. For many years to come my desire to be in that main arena somewhere near the front of the stage would remain a wish in my mind.
The Minister started his speech defending himself against critics who attacked him in the media daily for over 2 years prior to this event. One of his critics was the Mayor of New York City during this period Edward I. Koch, who referred to Farrakhan as "the devil himself". Farrakhan's response: "Dear Mr. Mayor….Black People in New York City are living in Hell!! …and since Black People in New York City are living in Hell and you are the keeper of Hell, then you must be the real Devil Himself!!!". The audience stood to its feet, lifted their fist while roaring and cheering in approval. After answering many of his critics he announced the P.O.W.E.R. program an acronym for People Organized Working for Economic Rebirth. The program would offer goods and services to the Black Community so that we will "no longer look to others to do for us, what we can and must do for ourselves!!". However, while Farrakhan and the P.O.W.E.R. program was planning to uplift our community - there were other forces with a different thought in mind.
The Crack Epidemic
No sooner, than Farrakhan left the stage the media began to bombard us with reports of a new illegal drug that most knew nothing about. Just like the 60's when the Black Power Movement was gaining foot in the inner cities-a purer form of heron flooded the streets. Thus, the appearance of the "dope-fiend" nodding on the corners with swollen hands and feet became a permanent fixture in our neighborhoods. Now, here we were in the mid 80's with a movement brewing among Black Youth - The Nation of God's and Earths, The Zulu Nation, and a budding new Nation of Islam with its spokesperson Louis Farrakhan on the rise. Simultaneously, a cheaper priced yet more potent form of Cocaine (which use to be a rich person's drug) called "Crack" began to hit the streets. Then the image of the dope-fiend was eclipsed by the skinny "Crackheads" on the corner selling everything from televisions, watches, sneakers, and whatever they could carry - along with the drug-weaponry that was introduced to our hood that we would only see in movies like "Rambo", "Die-Hard", "James Bond", etc. We went from brass knuckles, switch blades, and Saturday night specials to Mack 10's, Uzi's and Ak 47's!!
It goes without saying that the murder rate in our "hood" increased exponentially. More people died in our neighborhood from violence in one year - than all the years America spent in Vietnam!! It came to a point where Farrakhan had to abandon his P.O.W.E.R. tour entitled "Politics without Economics is Symbol Without Substance" and replace it with the "Stop the Killing" tour he began in 1988.
Stop the Killing and Media Propaganda
The STK tour attracted tens of thousands of people in arenas across the country. The more the media attacked and vilified the person of Louis Farrakhan-the more support he gained from the masses. I remember during our annual Saviors' Day convention in Atlanta, GA (1992) that took place on the same day and in the same city that the Atlanta Braves was competing in the World Series - a little over 30,000 people attended the World Series and over 55,000 black people came out to hear Farrakhan. It was evident that the conditions in the Black Community needed desperate attention. Farrakhan spoke directly to those concerns and the people came out to listen.
Every city the STK tour went, the following year statistics showed a decrease in murder and violent activity. It reminds me of this verse in the Bible "My people are destroyed for the lack of knowledge". Well, knowledge came to the people and they were realizing the error of their ways. However, the more Farrakhan and others worked to demote the negativity in our community-the media promoted it. We witnessed the onslaught of Movies like "Boyz n the Hood", "Menace 2 Society", "Juice" and others. While Public Enemy, KRS ONE, and others were raising conscious lyrics in Hip-Hop, the music Industry began to heavily promote groups like N.W.A. (Niggaz With An Attitude) and a whole genre of "Gangsta" Rap.
It seems like overnight the Image of the Young Black Male was being dehumanized through this new Gangsta/Thug-Music/Movie culture. It became fashionable to Hustle Crack, "Catch Bodies" (Murder) and to "Set it" on each other (commit violent acts). Then we became "Pimps" and our women became "Bitches and Hoes". Not realizing that there are people outside of our community that pay our rappers and actors big money to portray these images. As long as the masses of our people participate in this culture of self-destruction, then rich white people can continue to sit back and collect. They are secure in their power as long as the Black male is locked down, neglecting his families and dying young.
'Let us Make Man'
Nine years later - like the nine months of pregnancy - Minister Farrakhan returns to New York City to give birth to a new tour entitled "Let Us Make Man". It was during this event at the Harlem 369th armory that he announced "The Million Man March" scheduled for a year later. The objective: to change the image of the Black Male which he felt was being made fit for destruction. It stands to reason that if we are killing ourselves then it makes it easier for others to kill us wholesale. Before any war takes place, there is massive propaganda that desensitizes the people to the enemy. Whether it's communist "pigs" - Muslim "terrorist"- or "Ghetto thugs" - as long as we're portrayed as less than human - then there will be no outcry if a massive slaughter were to take place. Just like we witnessed in New Orleans - but that's another story.
As mentioned with the other tours, the Media worked overtime to try to stop its momentum. This time it lifted comments from a speech made by a National Spokesperson of Min. Farrakhan – the late Khallid Abdul Muhammad - that was delivered to 150 students at a college and gave it national attention. The President, the Vice-President and the Congress of the United States censured Min. Khallid. This was the first time in the history of this country a private citizen had been censured by the Government of the United States. Can you imagine? Comments made to 150 students drawing the attention of the Government of the most powerful nation on earth? Well what were those remarks? Minister Khallid referred to Jewish people as "hooked nose, bagel eating, lox eating imposter Jews." Even Minister Farrakhan condemned his comments as "vile, mean spirited" and "spoken in mockery of persons and individuals." However, were his comments worthy of Government censorship? Don't they have better things to do with our tax dollars like make laws or something? These types of actions lend credence to the idea that the Government itself was behind the media attacks not just to stop the man (Farrakhan) but to stop his movement to organize the Black Male.
There were other more lame and ridiculous attempts to stop his all male rallies. For example, the white lady in Boston who sued the Nation of Islam on discrimination charges. She felt "left out" because she wanted to sit with the thousand or so Black Men who came to hear Minister Farrakhan. I don't know why, she probably would have held her purse tight during the whole rally.
Then, there were major Black Leaders who opposed the March at its inception: Namely, the Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson, Reverend Al Sharpton, Bishop Lyons of the National Baptist Convention and others. However, as the March gained support from the masses most leaders changed their position and supported it. They echoed the statement of President Bill Clinton that they support the message of Atonement, Reconciliation, and Responsibility - but not the Messenger (Farrakhan).
In spite of all this, the Minister stayed focused on his goal to have a Million Black Men gather in Washington, DC. With the help of National co-convener (the former head of the N.A.A.C.P.) Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis and a whole host of Local Organizing Committees across the country - the March was picking up speed. As fate would have it, while the Minister was promoting the March, the world was viewing the O.J. Simpson trial. When the trial was over it manifested two very distinct attitudes in the two races of people (Black and White). One race celebrated his victory (Black) and the other race cried "he got away with murder!!" (white). This national sense of unity among Black people along with the prevalent conditions that plagued the Black community in the mid-90's contributed to the largest gathering in the history of this country.
October 16th 1995-Washington, DC
The sun had not yet risen when buses from all over the country began to park on the outskirts of the mall releasing its passengers. By the time of day-break, a sea of Black Men began to fill the one mile stretch from the Capitol Building to the pointed obelisk at the other end. At 10am it was announced by the Reverend Benjamin Chavis that One Million Black Men were counted on the Mall!! As the day went on, the scattered crowd became dense. It was so tight that brothers had to lift each other up to pass them along anytime someone needed to use the restroom.
There were 4 story jumbo tron screens dotted across the Mall so that people could view the activities on stage from blocks away. I couldn't help but think of that day 10 years ago when the crowd was so thick at Madison Square Garden that I couldn't get close to the main stage. So, I had to watch the activities with 5,000 others on large screens from a remote location. Now, here it was 10 years later I stood less than 15 feet in front of the main stage on this most momentous occasion!! Words cannot express how blessed I felt and still feel to have been in that number of a few hundred who was admitted into the innermost part of the central area of an event viewed by tens of Millions across the world!! I have attended several large marches after this one but never even had the desire to reach the front of any of them. After being so close to the rostrum at the Million Man March that I could have tossed Minister Farrakhan my keys - how does one get any higher than that?!!
Elijah S. Muhammad Bah