The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Million Man March’s legacy, as told by people who were there 20 years ago

Omari Khalfani of Michigan, Ben White of Connecticut and Shahking Fields of New York, from left, take part in the 1995 march. (Carol Guzy/The Washington Post)

Two decades ago, the Million Man March brought people from across the nation to Washington in a historic gathering to address American race relations.

With hundreds of thousands in attendance, it was the largest civil rights demonstration in history and “created the sheltering atmosphere of a family reunion,” The Washington Post reported in 1995.

To mark the 20th anniversary of the march, The Post wants to hear from people who gathered on the National Mall on Oct. 16, 1995. With the benefit and hindsight of two decades of reflection, what is the march’s legacy? Why did you march then?

Scroll down past the responses to submit your story to the form. Here are some of the responses we’ve received so far:

“Unity of All Men standing together making the promise to do right by our Families, our Children and ourselves. To see the Love that was shown that Special Day which I will never forget. At the steps at 4 a.m. on that cold day and seeing THE LOVE EVERYONE DISPLAYED.” – Robert Godwin

“I was one of a small number of women that attended the March. I attended as part of an effort lead by The National Coalition for Black Civic Participation, along with several other civil rights groups, to distribute voter registration literature and to register new voters. That day was powerful and the energy in the crowd was amazing. I enthusiastically spent most of the day talking with black men – young and old about the need to get involved in the electoral process to hold elected officials accountable and the need for all of us to work to improve our community. A major theme of the march was atonement. My hope was that the march would galvanize the black community to focus on doing better. When I hear reports of black on black violence on the rise in Chicago and my home town of Baltimore, I am reminded that there is still much work to be done.” – Aquila Powell, Washington, D.C.

“I was in the Los Angeles Times newsroom and it was on TV. Back then, the LAT had maybe four or five black men on the news staff (four or five more than they have now), and they had taken vacation time to go to the march. So the newsroom was devoid of black men that day. As it played on TV, the editors around the desk were smirking and making smart-mouthed, dismissive comments throughout. When the reporters who attended the march came back to work, they told me how meaningful it was for them, personally, to be there. I didn’t tell them the men who edited their copy daily could never understand how they felt, and weren’t really interested in even trying.” – Peter Hong, Los Angeles

“I am a white woman in my 50s now and on this day 20 years ago a dozen of us were planting a tree in memory of a friend who had recently died. We were in the path of many who were on the way to the Capitol. All of them took note of what we were doing and removed their caps (and those of their sons) as they passed. We were touched then and again now with the memory.” – J DePalma, Woodbridge, Va.

“I have participated in a number of protest marches over the years, particularly during the 1960s and 1970s. There were college marches, anti-war marches, and marches related specifically to the Black struggle for freedom and equal rights. Without fail, these marches were soldiered and supported more by Black women participants than Black men. In fact, it is no secret that the Civil Rights Movement was essentially carried out by Black women. Although Black men were in many of the so-called leadership positions, Black women provided the foundation on which the movement was built. Most of my friends were women because they were my comrades in the struggle.

The Million Man March was very different. Thousands and thousands of Black men gathered in one place, from all parts of the country, some from other countries. My blood brothers were there, the first time that we had shared marching together for anything. I am sure that was the case for many of the Black men who assembled October 16, 2005.

The Million Man March has been one of the signature events of my life. For one day, confounding the naysayers, using all modes of transportation, representing all walks of life, Black men, approaching a million if not more, came together in our nation’s capital. They stood tall, majestic and united. I was proud to be among them.” – Wade Hudson, East Orange, New Jersey

“I was there — as a reporter for the Washington Post. In fact, it was my story that ran on the front page of the Post the next day. I recall the complex emotions I felt trying to negotiate my role as an objective observer with my role as a human and a black man, who was so proud of that glorious moment of brotherhood and revelry. I can’t believe it’s been 20 years. It feels like yesterday. Here’s my story from that day.” – Terry Neal, Reston, Va.

“I did indeed march in the Million man march and took my youngest two sons who were 14 and 8 at the time. I remember the passion and pride I felt from being in a crowd of positive black men from all over America. My sons stood and sat with me all day and never complained. The key point for me was the warmth I felt from all these normal men like me coming together for a common cause with peaceful results. Keep pumping my brothers.” – Henry Johnson, Alexandria, Va.

“The thought of being absent from a gathering of a million positive men, was unacceptable to me. The March reinforced my belief in humanity. It was a place to respectfully express my views & hear the views of my peers. It was a time to claim & reinforce our leadership positions to our families, and in society. The sight of the biggest,baddest, roughest, toughest men, openly weeping and embracing changed my life forever. Still have poster as keepsake.” – Derrick Williams, Miami, Fla.

“Black women across the country played supportive roles, including raising money for the buses, but they were discouraged from getting on the bus. I was one of roughly 3,000 women who attended the Million Man March in 1995. At the time, I lived in Columbia Heights and there was no way this lifelong activist was going to stay away.

I remember how still the streets were. DC was like a ghost town. The heavy police presence stood in stark contrast to the security measures in place for the Promise Keepers’ rally that had taken place 10 days earlier. Promise Keepers is an organization of conservative Christian men.

The District of Columbia government could have saved money on police overtime. There were no incidents at the largest gathering of African American men in the nation’s history. An estimated 1.2 million black men answered Minister Louis Farrakhan’s call to gather on the National Mall for a day of personal atonement. At times, the silence was deafening.

So what was the legacy of the Million Man March? Studies show black male turnout was higher in 1996 and 1998. Beyond higher voter turnout in two elections, it’s hard to measure the impact of the gathering. Fact is, measurable racial justice is a process, not an event. As the legendary Ossie Davis famously said, “It’s not the man, it’s the plan.” Sadly, there was no plan to keep alive the spirit of the Million Man March.” – Faye Anderson, Philadelphia

“I was living in Boston MA at the time 29 years old.I flew down to my hometown of Wilmington, Del. And my brother and cousin drove down to DC the morning of the event. It was like Mecca to see so many different color Black Men.

We are the Black Men that get pull over for driving while Black, We are the Black Men who go to work to find a noose in our lockers, We are the Black Men who got drafted and went to Vietnam.

But we the Black Men in America have to do more for ourselves. We have to stress to our children that eduction is the key. And even though our hurdles may be high only in America can Million Man March happen.”- Martin Willis, New Castle, Del.

“I was living on the bad side of Capitol Hill at the time… (of course now, there is no bad side). I was tired of cleaning up the sidewalks after the winos and addicts had there fill for the night and I hated that I was raising my daughters in perdition. Again, this was DC 20 years ago.

My interest was piqued because it was Louis Farrakhan calling us to the Capitol. He is the only brother who could have done it… and Marion Barry is the only brother who would be receptive to such an idea. The Nation Of Islam commanded much respect in the inner city. My mind to go was made up when the newspapers warned people not to come to work on the day of the Million Man March. The subways were empty except for the marchers and a few brave souls. One elderly white lady said that she had never met so many polite young men in her life.

I walked to the march around 5 a.m. and was mad because no one was there… I turned around and saw busloads of brothers coming towards me… I wish I had taken pictures.

The moment that will stay with me forever is when Mayor Kurt Schmoke starting speaking and broke down crying… he was so moved by the event he told us to “Hug the brother next to us.” Right at this moment some young brothers smoking weed and oblivious to the gathering but was curious, sauntered over… We immediately started to hug the young brothers… they were taken aback in surprise for a minute… but started to smile and hugged us back.

That was what the March was about… brothers smiling and hugging and basically loving one another.” – Peter Modlin, Washington, D.C.

“I didn’t march (I had to work) but had a very memorable moment – I was working for CNBC doing teleprompter for Jack Germond, Chris Matthews and folks like that. The day of the march (or maybe the day before) our two guests were Rep. John Lewis and Isaac Hayes. In the Green Room I approached Rep. Lewis and told him I admired him and that I’d grown up in Atlanta and we started chatting. A few minutes later Hayes walks in, recognizes Lewis (and assumes I’m somebody) and joins our conversation. So for about ten minutes it was just me, John and Isaac shooting the breeze.” – Neal Becton, Washington, D.C.

“I was 14 years old and a freshman in high school. Didn’t really know the significance, our male mentor of the church took all the young men as a group. The importance of that day didn’t hit me until we reached the Mall and all the love that was just in the air. Black men welcoming and fellowshipping with one another non violently as far as the eye could see. Beautiful moment that I’m glad I was apart of. My son and I will be at this years anniversary.” – Roger Newkirk, Washington, D.C.

“I felt it was a unique opportunity for African-American men from around the country to come together and say to humanity, that in spite of the many obstacles that we have had to overcome and the challenges yet to be faced, we are more determined than ever to say out loud to the world, “Our humanity is woven into the fabric of mankind and if you fail to see the humanity in African-American men, then you have by default forfeited your own humanity.

The Million Man march was an opportunity for African-American men to stand together in peaceful unity and say out loud “what I do and who I am does matter”, and it was an opportunity to stand in honor and remembrance of all those brave souls that have bared the brunt of the physical and psychological effects of racial denigration in this country.

Renewing our vow to journey on carrying the torch for freedom and equality with a sense of optimism and determination while preparing that torch for passing to generations unborn of African-American willing to stand up and say out loud, ‘Yes we are men! Yes we are part of the fabric of humanity! and more importantly we are not going anywhere because America is our legitimate birthright as well.'” – Kevin Prince, Upper Marlboro, Md.

“I marched to promote positive images of black men. I attended the march with one of the oldest living Buffalo Soldiers at that time.
As we got on the metro together black men begin to stand and salute. It was a beautiful sight to behold when we got closer to the National Mall and the black men stood on both sides of him allowing him to get closer. This 90 year old gentleman back strengthen up and marched like he was 20 again. The pride all the black men felt that day still gives me hope and inspiration.” – Reuben Eckels, Wichita, Kan.

“I was a medical student in Los Angeles (Charles R. Drew/UCLA). Myself another AA medical student, a Vietnemase medical student, and filmmaker/photographer that I went to school with at Howard attended. We spent the days before driving around the city documenting and talking to Jews, Muslims, Christians, and folks on the street. During the event, and post event we interviewed over one hundred people. Undoubtedly, this was one of the single most transformative moments in my life. Understanding that we were not asking permission or acceptance, we were self determining how are past, present, and future would be told. I thank God for each and every person that made this march a reality. History has not realized it yet, but this will become one of the most significant events in American history!” – David Jones, Oviedo, Fla.

“I was at work in a federal agency right off the mall. All my fellow white folks in the office were going on and on about how they were nervous about going home. The fear was that angry marchers would take it out on random white office workers etc.

It really angered me so I said I didn’t feel well and left work. Since I worked near the Lincoln Memorial, I entered the mall there and walked all the way to the Capitol, where the speeches were (I think). It took forever. I kept having to say “excuse me, excuse me” as I went all theway to the front, near the Capitol.

I don’t remember the speeches except, I think, Marion Barry’s welcome. But I do remember this. It was a happy, proud and totally friendly crowd. I didn’t see many other white faces but, no matter, my white face seemed pretty much unnoticed. I was there. I was supportive. And I was welcome.

That is, in fact, what I expected.

I hope and expect this year’s march to be the same.

I have nothing but good memories of last time, standing in solidarity with those whose message was, then as now, that black lives do matter.” – MJ Rosenberg, Chevy Chase, Md.

You can fill out the form below (all fields are required except for photo submissions), and we’ll be publishing the responses (and photos). The same movement will marched again Saturday under the rallying cry “Justice or Else!