When Kamille Washington recalls growing up in Memphis, she remembers her father’s den — specifically, the framed poster of the Million Man March.
The Oct. 16, 1995, gathering of black men in Washington brought more than 400,000 marchers to the Mall to unite the black community and “show a vastly different picture of the black man in America” according to the march organizers.
Kamille, now 26 and an international affairs program manager at Harvard, was just in kindergarten when her dad, B.T. Washington, attended the march. For her, life happened beneath that photo of the Million Man March. Her family sat in the den to watch Dominique Dawes win Olympic gold on the U.S. women’s gymnastics team in 1996 and to cheer on “those feisty tennis players from Compton” as the Williams sisters entered the tennis world. Kamille remembers reading “Roots” in that same den, tangled in blankets on the floor near her father’s feet.
“I think it’s just part of who my dad is somehow,” Kamille remembers. “You know, when I came home from school my dad was always sitting in that den and that photo was always, always there.”
B.T. decided to fly to Washington with his brother Charles for the experience, but also because he was experiencing a bit of a turning point in his life. He’d just graduated from 30 years in the Air Force and was struggling with what to do next in his career. He wanted some sense of direction. At the Million Man March, he found a sense of unity and purpose that would shape his life going forward.
Even on the Metro ride to the Mall, B.T. noticed something different: a “spirit of jubilation.” As he explained it to Kamille, “I mean, everybody was just happy, you know, everybody was speaking with each other, talking to each other, you know, about where they were from and, again, there were a lot of folks there and it was really a very diverse population on that subway.”
He had “never seen so many black men that weren’t fighting or arguing or anything,” he says. “Everybody making eye contact, you know … it was really something.”
B.T. brought back two mementos from that day. The first was a copy of the pledge organizer Louis Farrakhan gave to attendees, which B.T. kept at his desk in his new career. In 2009, he retired after working for the Internal Revenue Service for 14 years helping investigate employee discrimination.
The image showing the thousands of men crowding the lawn around the Washington Monument was the second. He hung it in his den back in Memphis where it became an indelible fixture in Kamille’s childhood.
You can hear host Keegan-Michael Key share more tales about B.T. Washington’s trip to the Million Man March on the podcast Historically Black, a podcast co-production between APM Reports and The Washington Post that tells the stories of people’s lived experiences of black history through the objects that evoke those connections.
See more objects that have been submitted to the project, and share your own at historicallyblack.tumblr.com.
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