The first Million Man March was held on October 16, 1995 in Washington, D.C., bringing together a large gathering of Black men on the grounds of the National Mall. While official numbers have been debated over time, there is no doubt that close to a million men were in attendance, if not more.

The Million Man March was the brainchild of the Hon. Min. Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, who saw the purpose of the march as a way to address the ills faced by Black communities nationwide and abroad. Those who couldn’t physically attend the “Day of Atonement” event were urged to stay home from work or school in support of the marchers.

At the march, speakers such as Benjamin Chavis, Rosa Parks, Jesse Jackson, Dick Gregory and others addressed the crowd. Maya Angelou offered a poem, and Stevie Wonder also performed. Gatherers also entered into a pledge to help their communities by refraining from drugs and alcohol, stop using the “B word” when addressing women, and throwing their economic support behind Black businesses, among other charges.

One powerful moment at the March was when Farrakhan called out to the crowd and asked everyone to greet each other as brothers. He then encouraged attendees to donate money beginning at $1 for a a fund that would create programs to support the march’s pledges and promises.

The significance and legacy of the march, despite media criticism due to Farrakhan’s controversial comments about the Jewish community, is not easily defined. At the time, the combination of a completely peaceful gathering of hundreds of thousands of Black men and the march’s call for Black unity and its lofty goals felt attainable,  if only because of the example set by the bevy of notable speakers and inspirational figures.

A 20th anniversary march was held in 2015 with Min. Farrakhan once again delivering the keynote speech at the event. Other spinoff marches, including the 1997 Million Woman’s March in Philadelphia, took place, but none with the numbers that matched the initial march.

PHOTO: Library of Congress, Public Domain

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