POWER: Minister Louis Farrakhan was the man who called the march
TWENTY YEARS ago this weekend, the greatest display of black power took place on the streets of the American capital to show the world that WE endureth forever.
Despite the beatings, the lynchings and brutalities and the concerted effort to destroy us WE are strong and forever will be.
The Million Man March promised so much, and yet 20 years on we need it more than we ever did.
It should have been called the two million man march, so strong was the support from not just black men but black women as well to show that we are indivisible.
But Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam had called on black MEN to show America and the universe that despite hundreds of years of emasculation, we still had the balls to stand up and be counted.
It was an incredible sight. There were black men and women from all over the world. In fact, the biggest contingent of black people from the UK who flew to Washington to attend that historic moment were black women.
Now, why doesn't that surprise me?
It was a momentous occasion, much more significant than the inauguration of a black president. Arguably, that million-plus march of black people would pave the way to the White House for a young community activist from Chicago to realise that all he had to do was mobilise the masses of black folk the way that Farrakhan had done and nothing, not even Sarah Palin, would stop him from getting the keys to the most illustrious job on the planet.
Yes, this was Farrakhan's moment. His finest hour. But Barack, Mr President, you need to give props where it is due.
There were those, including myself, who scoffed at the idea that you could get a million black men to give up work, telly and bedroom bullying to spend their hard earned money to travel to Washington from every corner of the United States. I thought the Minister would be lucky to get a couple thousand. At best he should have called it the Ten Thousand Man March, I suggested, but Farrakhan was not listening. Because he knew something we didn't know.
You see, Farrakhan has a scientific understanding of black people. He was very precise and clinical in his framing of the march. This was not about white people. This was about black people. It was not about what white people do to us daily, it was about what we do to ourselves. And it was a reminder, just when we had forgotten, about who we were and are and forever will be.
Unfortunately, we need to be reminded again. Perhaps every generation needs its Million Man March. Because there was an initial feeling of euphoria that this amazing event was even possible. We deserved to pat ourselves on the back for achieving it. It lifted us up high, even those of us here in Britain who watched it on the television (and, believe me, it was headline news all over the world, including on the BBC). We benefitted from the Million Man March ‘dividend' if you like.
It would be interesting to see the stats on the black community after the march. Anecdotally, there was a quite dramatic increase in the numbers of my friends who decided that they weren't simply going to co-habit with their number one baby mother, but were going to marry her and show the world that they would, despite the circumstances, become the best baby father the world had ever seen. And even until today, the black middle classes are benefitting from that uplift.
Also, the number of black men and black women who decided to become entrepreneurs and do for themselves shot up dramatically. We had, it seemed, all become Garveyites without even knowing it.
I cannot say for sure that this was directly because of the Million Man March, nobody can. But neither can I for certainty say that it wasn't because of the Million Man March. Certainly the march shone a light on who we are, what we are and who and what we should be. It was an embarrassment to talk of your ‘baby mother' or to talk proudly about being a ‘baby father'. I can attest to this because sales of the book Baby Mother, that I published through my company The X Press, decreased the week after the Million Man March. The narrative had changed and nobody wanted to be associated with those pre-Million Man March terms anymore. And so it should be.
But all that was 20 years ago. The euphoria lasted a year to 18 months. And then it died down. Today it is just a pipe dream for those of you under 35 who are reading this column.
One cannot blame Farrakhan for the dream having fizzled out. When the million-plus black men at the march took the solemn oath that they would go back to their families and communities and lift them up, or if you prefer a Marleyism ‘lively them up', they meant it. But there was no follow through. There was no quality control or annual health-check.
Like I say, that wasn't Farrakhan's job. He had done his bit, which was to use his charisma to attract people to Washington in the first place. And he was par excellence in doing that. But the Minister in all his wisdom would have known that when a patient is sick, you don't just give him the medicine and tell him to go home and take it with a spoonful of sugar. The patient has to return to the doctor for a check-up. At least on an annual basis, especially if the patient is over 40. The check-up for that age group is free on the NHS.
It is unfortunate, because the patient took the bitter pill, swallowed it and decided to stop taking it after a while. And the black community is now (largely) back to the situation where we need a million man march to remind us of who we are, what we are and who and what we need to be.