Preparations Under way for ‘Million Man March’ in Washington
NEW YORK (AP) _ Train service is being increased. A school district is closing because so many workers are taking the day off. And at one church, those who can’t attend are buying bus tickets for people who couldn’t afford to go.
All over the country, people, businesses and churches are preparing for Monday’s march on Washington, D.C., organized by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
The event _ drawing praise and criticism _ is being promoted as a day of atonement, prayer and inspiration for black men. Women were told to stay away and all blacks were asked to mark the occasion with a ``day of absence,″ refraining from shopping or going to work or school.
``Part of the reason I’m going is to encourage African-American males to get away from crime, get a good education and be responsible for the children they bring into this world,″ Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer said Thursday.
Just how many will attend the event at the National Mall is anybody’s guess, but Washington is preparing for traffic-jamming crowds for what the organizers are calling a ``Million Man March.″
Lionel Graham, handling march logistics in New York, said 250,000 men would come from his area alone.
The biggest turnout for a Washington demonstration was 600,000 people for a 1969 Vietnam War protest, according to Park Service estimates.
Critics of the march are condemning Farrakhan’s involvement and his decision to ask women to stay away. Farrakhan has said without elaboration that he did not want women at the event ``because of the potential danger of the situation.″
Even some who plan to attend don’t support Farrakhan, who has called Judaism ``a gutter religion″ and made remarks considered offensive by some whites, gays and other groups.
Eddie Staton plans to travel to Washington from his hometown in Omaha, Neb., because he believes in the goal, not the organizer.
``I’m going a Christian, I’m going to come back a Christian,″ Staton said.
Farrakhan said the antipathy from some people ``clouds the beauty of the message,″ but that it had been that way through history. ``Moses, Jesus, Mohammed ... the message wasn’t liked,″ he told CNN.
While the Rev. Jesse Jackson has endorsed the march, other ministers have appeared on radio talk shows to distance themselves.
``This attempt to separate the message from the messenger is not going to work,″ said march co-organizer Benjamin Chavis, former executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Rep. Gary Franks of Connecticut, one of two black Republicans in Congress, said he would not march, accusing the Nation of Islam and Farrakhan of being racists.
``To give minister Farrakhan and his organization more prominence would be one of the worst things to happen to race relations,″ Franks told reporters.
On plans to accommodate extra travelers Monday morning, Amtrak spokesman Rick Remington said two additional New York-to-Washington trains have been added.
Eighteen buses will be leaving from in front of St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Brooklyn, with half the riders from the church and half from the community.
In some cases, people who would like to go, but aren’t able to, have bought tickets for others. ``Several senior citizens are putting up the money for younger people to go in their place,″ said Leroy Howard, the church’s fiscal manager.
The school board in Camden, N.J., canceled classes because of the number of employees who have asked for the day off. In suburban Arlington, Va., the school board is suspending bus service because nearly half its drivers plan to attend the event.
Despite being asked to stay away, some women are doing whatever they can to support the march.
Barbara Smith-Boyd, proprietor of the Family Store, an Afrocentric boutique in Brooklyn, will be closing Monday in response to Farrakhan’s request for a ``day of absence.″
Smith-Boyd has organized events for women, including meditation sessions and an evening prayer vigil to await the returning men.
``As women, whatever our men are doing, we want to support that,″ she said.
Her boutique is also supplying T-shirts for some of the marchers. They read: ``Women are beautiful. Stop the abuse.″