The event was controversial from the planning stages, largely because one of its organizers, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, was known to have made anti-Semitic statements. The national NAACP withheld its endorsement of the march, but hundreds of local NAACP chapters helped to organize it.
The actual day was more joyous than angry. Although Farrakhan spoke for more than two hours about White supremacy in the United States, the emphasis of the day was about Black men taking responsibility for themselves and their communities. The vast majority of attendees had nothing to with the Nation of Islam.
As The Washington Post’s David Maraniss put it, “it takes a million men to make a million man march and … a million men are different in a million ordinary ways.”
And although some had criticized the exclusion of Black women, there ended up being a few: Rosa Parks and Maya Angelou spoke that day.
Though it’s impossible to quantify, many Black men to this day credit the Million Man March with making them better spouses, fathers, voters and community leaders.
Colin Powell, who was a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and thought by some people to be a potential first Black president, didn’t attend, saying it was “tricky.” But a young lawyer named Barack Obama did; he told the Chicago Reader afterward: “What I saw was a powerful demonstration of an impulse and need for African American men to come together to recognize each other and affirm our rightful place in the society.”
One legacy of the Million Man March: the end of crowd-counting by the National Park Service. Officials then estimated the crowd to be 400,000 — much more than, say, the 1963 March on Washington, but significantly less than the advertised 1 million. Farrakhan and other organizers cried foul, and researchers at Boston University later estimated there were 870,000.
Since then, NPS has not published crowd size estimates.
But the other legacy of that day may be coming to fruition now, as the children who attended with their fathers and grandfathers seek justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many other Black people killed at the hands of police.
Some of the seeds of the Black Lives Matter movement were planted 25 years ago at the Million Man March.
Read more Retropolis: