WASHINGTON — “Justice or else” was the theme of a rally organized by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan on Saturday marking the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March.
The first march on October 16, 1995, drew attendees from all over the country — most of them black men — for more to than 12 hours of speeches calling on black men to take responsibility for improving themselves, their families and communities. In a fiery speech lasting more than two hours, Farrakhan expounded on the role of white supremacy in the country’s suffering while calling on black men to clean up their lives and become better fathers, husbands and neighbors.
Many of those themes were echoed on Saturday in speeches from leaders of the black community, including Farrakhan, calling for unity and reform in social justice issues affecting the black community. This time, however, the message seemed to be directed at the black community at large, not just men.
Civil rights leader Benjamin Chavis, who attended the first march, noted that in the crowd 20 years ago was an Illinois state senator who went on to become president, “so we’ve made some progress,” he told the crowd.
“But you and I know we’ve got a lot more progress to make,” he said. “There’s too much injustice, too much inequality, too much mass incarceration… too [many] situations in our community that need addressing, and that’s why we’re here today.”
U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis, D-Illinois, who also was present in 1995, said the rally was a testament to struggles and progress, past and present.
“We will march on so over-aggressive law enforcement procedures will not be the order of the day. We will march on until every child has access to high quality education. We will march so that every citizen will know that they can get health care,” Davis said.
“Today’s gathering is a reaffirmation of the faith that the dark past has taught us and of the hope the present has brought us.”
Farrakhan, now 82, reflected on the importance of passing the torch to the next generation.
“We who are getting older… what good are we if we don’t prepare young people to carry that torch of liberation to the next step? What good are we if we think we can last forever and not prepare others to walk in our footsteps?” he said.
“To the young that are here, we honor you, we know who you are. And we will not forsake our duty to you.”
He specifically mentioned Black Lives Matter, the group that arose in response to police-related deaths of black men, as the “future leadership.”
“We are honored that you have come to represent our struggle and our demand.”