On this day in 1995: Michiganders attend the Million Man March

    Michigan residents attended the Million Man March on Oct. 16, 1995. | Roosevelt Lawrence photo

    On Oct. 16, 1995, Black boys and men from throughout the country, including Michigan, participated in the Million Man March in Washington, D.C.

    Bernard Parker, a then-Wayne County commissioner, led a caravan of automobiles from Detroit to the nation’s capital. The attendees ranged from children to seniors. 

    “Lots of fathers and sons,” he recalled on Tuesday during an interview with the Advance. 

    The effort a quarter-century ago was led by Nation of Islam head Louis Farrakhan, a respected leader in the Black community but a controversial figure. He once called Nazi Führer Adolf Hitler “great man” and has made many anti-Semitic comments.

    More of a rally than a march, the goal was designed to encourage Black men to rededicate themselves to family and the greater community, as well as to become politically active. Michigan residents departed from church parking lots, residences and public spaces like the Michigan State Fairgrounds and Northwest Activities Center in Detroit. Dozens of speakers addressed the crowd during the day-long effort held on the National Mall, including then-Detroit Mayor Dennis W. Archer. 

    “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,” Archer told the Associated Press several days before the effort.  

    John Arnold was a radio talk show host on Detroit’s WCHB-AM at the time. The station aired the march program live. Arnold was “amazed” by the number of people who attended. 

    “It was full at 6 o’clock in the morning!” Arnold recalled about the setting.

    Attendance estimates varied. The U.S. Park Service estimated 400,000 people attended. Researchers at Boston University estimated the crowd size to be about 837,000. 

    Detroit-area residents prepare to board a bus and attend the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 16, 1995. | Roosevelt Lawrence photo

    Parker cried during the effort.  

    “I just couldn’t contain it,” he told the Michigan Chronicle later that week. “When I looked out on that sea of Black faces, seeing the look of togetherness on those brothers’ faces, well, it was just a moving sight.” 

    Lawrence Kenyatta of Detroit remembers the event as a transformative one. The bus that was rented for him and a group of mentees didn’t show up. So they drove to Washington, D.C. 

    “It’s one of those moments in my life that I will never forget,” Kenyatta said.  

    State Rep. Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit) also attended the march.

    “Black men from all around the country came together, trying to make a positive change,” Carter recalled about his thoughts at the time. “If we work together, we can make things so much better for our families, our neighborhoods and our race as a whole.”  

    Carter added that he believes recognizing the 25th anniversary of the Million Man March could motive Black men to vote in the Nov. 3 general election. 

    Two events designed to recognize and reflect on the 1995 effort will be held in Detroit on Friday. The first will take place at noon at Fellowship Chapel, 7707 West Outer Dr. on the city’s northwest side.The second will take place at 6 p.m. at the Alkebu-lan Center, 7701 Harper Ave. in Detroit.

    Ken Coleman
    Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.