Farrakhan Calls Men Shunning March ‘Fools’
As hundreds of thousands of black men began their journey here for the “Million Man March,” organizer and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan on Saturday attacked as “self-righteous fools” professional black men who are refusing to join the rally.
Appearing in Chicago, Farrakhan said some black men are staying away from Monday’s event because they feel they have nothing to atone for and they want to protect their white-collar jobs.
“Some of our brothers in corporate America say: ‘I’m a good father. I don’t abuse my wife. I pay my bills. I’m a decent man. I don’t have to go to Washington,’ ” Farrakhan said at a weekly forum held by Operation PUSH, the civil rights organization founded by the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
But Farrakhan added: “That’s your problem. You are self-righteous fools.”
During his speech, Farrakhan also said he would ask black men attending the march to return home and join a black organization that will continue the work started at the rally.
“We will send them back to join a black organization that is working for the uplift and liberation of our people,” he said. “We’re going to give them their marching orders so that it doesn’t become just one day, but that one day is a new beginning for us.”
As Farrakhan spoke, he continued to draw criticism from some Jewish leaders for remarks he gave in a television interview released Friday. Singling out Jews, Arabs, Koreans and Vietnamese, Farrakhan said that those who earn money from the black community and give nothing back are “bloodsuckers.”
Jewish leaders called on Jackson and other black leaders to back away from the march because of Farrakhan’s comments. “The march, instead of being a moral, momentous event, will be a hollow, empty, bigoted gesture,” Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in an interview with Reuters.
Foxman said his group is concerned because there has been “a deafening silence from the good people who supported the march [concerning] issues of bigotry and anti-Semitism.”
Farrakhan told reporters Saturday that the media had distorted his remarks in the television interview. “It is unfortunate that there are those who wish to inject themselves into this march by using words that I spoke out of context to try to create division and make themselves prominent in our march,” he said.
While the stated aim of the march is “a day of atonement,” many middle-class and professional black men have objected to the implication that all black men must atone for the shortcomings of a segment of the black male population.
For example, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a Los Angeles-based publisher and author, said he objects to the idea of “atonement” as the theme of the march. “The concept of the march is a good one,” he said. “But I have a problem with that slogan: a day of atonement. I have nothing to atone for.”
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who spoke at the 1963 civil rights march on Washington, said he could not support Monday’s event because of his objections to the leadership of Farrakhan and co-organizer Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., who was ousted as executive director of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People last year.
“I cannot overlook past statements by Louis Farrakhan--and others associated with the Nation of Islam--which are divisive and bigoted,” Lewis said in an essay in this week’s Newsweek magazine. “Although its general goal of encouraging African American men to be responsible is sound, the march is fatally undermined by its chief sponsor.”
But other black leaders continued to express support for the march’s overall purpose, while distancing themselves from Farrakhan’s comments.
Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke said he was still planning to join in the march but did not agree with Farrakhan’s rhetoric.
“I don’t accept hate-filled, anti-white, anti-Semitic language coming from anybody,” Schmoke said. He said he is coming to Washington for the march “because I think it is an important event and I do think it will probably be seen as significant in the history of African Americans.”
As debate over the march continued Saturday, workers here were preparing for the event. Construction of a staging area on the west steps of the Capitol went forward under gray skies and sporadic rains. March organizers were expected to release a list of speakers and the times for their appearances, but repeated calls to march headquarters failed to yield any such program.
March organizers continue to predict at least 1 million men will arrive for the daylong gathering, which is expected to include speeches, songs and prayers. Law enforcement officials say they have no estimate of how many people will actually participate.
“As of last Friday [organizers] continue to say 11,000 buses or 1 million or more men will be here,” said Sgt. Joseph Cox, special events coordinator for the U.S. Park Police. “We have not been able to find any evidence supporting 11,000 buses coming to this event.”
* MEN ON A MISSION: Young African Americans see march as place in history. B1
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
The Plight of Black Men in America
Some statistics reflecting the status of black men in the United States:
Young adults in prison or Homicide jail, or on victims per Average annual probation or parole* 100,000 unemployment Black men 30% 72% 12% Black women 5% 14% 11% White men 7% 9% 5% White women 1% 3% 5%
% living below poverty line** Black men 20% Black women 32% White men 7% White women 10%
* ages 20-29
** ages 18-64
Sources: U.S. Department of Education, The Sentencing Project, U.S. Census Bureau