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From the Archives: Hands Across America

From the Archives: Hands Across America
May 25, 1986: Hands Across America participants stand together in Manhattan Beach. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

On May 25, 1986, over 5 million Americans joined hands for the 15-minute event Hands Across America. Organizers hoped to raise millions of dollars to fight hunger, homelessness and poverty.

Staff writer Peter King reported in the May 26, 1986, Los Angeles Times:

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Millions of Americans — celebrities and suburbanites, politicians and passers-by — joined hands and sang songs for 15 minutes Sunday in a largely symbolic celebration of their concern for the nation’s impoverished.

Organizers of Hands Across America failed to realize their vision of an unbroken chain of humanity stretching from New York City to Long Beach, as there were reports of gaps throughout the 4,125-mile route — not only, as predicted, in the blazing hot desert of the Southwest, but also in cities.

Similarly, original goals of $100 million in donations had been scaled back by half even before the demonstration began at noon (PDT). Organizers refused to estimate how many people participated and how much money was raised. Five and a half million people were needed to create a perfect transcontinental chain, and the large, unfilled stretches indicated far fewer took part — despite the waiving last week of an obligatory donation of $10 or more.

The promoters nonetheless declared themselves satisfied, saying that Hands Across America — the latest in a series of gala philanthropic events promoted around celebrities, sponsored by corporations and designed for widespread participation by common folk — succeeded because of the attention it focused on America’s homeless and hungry.

Over $30 million was raised, but expenses reduced the final distribution to about $15 million.

Peter King’s full story is online: Millions Join Hands in Concern for Poor.

May 25, 1986: Cynthia Gomez, 8 months, holds hands with her family in East Los Angeles during Hands Across America.
May 25, 1986: Cynthia Gomez, 8 months, holds hands with her family in East Los Angeles during Hands Across America. (Rick Corrales / Los Angeles Times)
May 25, 1986: President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan join in Hands Across America.
May 25, 1986: President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan join in Hands Across America. (Al Stephenson / Los Angeles Times)
May 25, 1986: Actor Sidney Poitier participates in a Hands Across America event on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.
May 25, 1986: Actor Sidney Poitier participates in a Hands Across America event on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. (Marsha Traeger / Los Angeles Times)
May 25, 1986: Actor Gregory Peck joins a Hands Across America line on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.
May 25, 1986: Actor Gregory Peck joins a Hands Across America line on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. (Marsha Traeger / Los Angeles Times)
May 25, 1986: Daniel Rias, a homeless man, holds hands with singer Maria Williams during a Hands Across America event.
May 25, 1986: Daniel Rias, a homeless man, holds hands with singer Maria Williams during a Hands Across America event. (Rosemary Kaul / Los Angeles Times)
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