Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke plans to participate in a march of African-American men on Washington next month that is being promoted as a show of unity and moral commitment.
Mr. Schmoke has come out squarely in support of the Million Man March, which has gained momentum with endorsements from prominent black leaders but continues to be controversial because it was conceived by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and it excludes women.
All of the city's 26,136 employees will be free to use personal or vacation time to take part in the Oct. 16 demonstration on the National Mall. But Mr. Schmoke made clear that the city government will operate as usual.
"I think it's going to be a very positive event," Mr. Schmoke said. "It's simply a statement of African-American men that we want a more positive image portrayed about us and our accomplishments. It's also a symbolic statement that we intend to work on a number of problems that have plagued our community and not just wait for others to do so."
Organizers see the march as an opportunity for black men to gather in solidarity, demonstrating their political power and rededicating themselves to spiritual and family values. Mr. Farrakhan also is calling for all black men to leave work to show the impact of their economic contributions.
Some black leaders have been reluctant to support the march because it is being organized by Mr. Farrakhan, who frequently has been criticized for anti-Semitic statements, and the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., the former head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. But a number of major African-American organizations have endorsed the event in recent weeks, as have some black women's groups.
Other mayors who have endorsed the march include Edward G. Rendell of Philadelphia, who was criticized by some Jewish leaders, and Marion S. Barry of Washington. New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani has opposed the march and said he hopes "no one listens" to Mr. Farrakhan.
Asked about Mr. Farrakhan's role, Mr. Schmoke said, "It is an event that's larger than any one individual." He also emphasized that a number of African-American women are involved in local organizing for the Oct. 16 march. The call for women to stay home during the march and teach their children has prompted a heated debate among students at Morgan State University, said Kathie Golden, chairwoman of the political science department.