Unity, pride, purpose pour forth


WASHINGTON -- Ernest Blake of Baltimore sat on a curb with his 10-year-old son, Eddie, watching in silence yesterday as throngs of black men poured out of the train station here and onto the Capitol grounds.

"My heart is throbbing," said Mr. Blake, who had attended the 1963 March on Washington when he was about Eddie's age. "I'm going to sit here some more just to look. I never thought I'd see this in my lifetime."

What he saw on the clear, sunny day -- and what he wanted his son to see -- was unity and pride, the kind of racial pride that many at yesterday's Million Man March, including Mr. Blake, said they had never before felt so intensely.

Men shook hands and hugged and greeted strangers from Chicago and Kansas City and Houston as if they were family. "How you doing, brother?" "All right, black man."

They signed each other's "1 in a Million" T-shirts, walked hand-in-hand with sons, fathers and brothers. They took photographs and tape-recorded the proceedings as if trying to bottle up the good feelings to take home to their grandchildren.

"Makes me feel happy to be a black man," said Gregory Wainwright of Philadelphia.

Participants rejoiced in the notion that they were shattering another of the negative images of black America that they see as impeding their progress and prosperity.

Many of the hundreds of thousands seemed to take pleasure more in their sheer volume -- and in the fact that the crowd was peaceful and orderly -- than in the words booming from the podium from Louis Farrakhan and others.

"I just wanted this young man to see a huge crowd of positive black men, not just the images he sees on TV," said Richard Hicks of Takoma Park, who was buying a black liberation flag for his 13-year-old grandson, Rick Harper.

Indeed, it was a day for image building, with the crowd almost surprising itself with its civility -- the beverage of choice seemed to be bottled water, people waited patiently in lines for phones and apologized for bumping into each other -- and intent on underscoring that message, for itself and for white America.

Leon Phillips, who owns a janitorial service in Houston, said he hoped the march would help repair the image of blacks for the rest of the world.

"It's bad when I get on an elevator with other people, and I feel tense because I know they're tense," said Mr. Phillips, a father of three. "If people of other persuasions see this in the right perspective, they'll get another view of what black people are all about. We're not all about crime and violence, although we're always portrayed as something bad. Something really, really bad."

When one young man began yelling at a white person in the crowd to go home, several men rebuked him. "That's not the image or the message we want to get across," Keith Holley of Orange, N.J., told the angry young man.

There was some of the "atonement" and the rededication to responsibility around which march organizers had built the event . Seventy recovering drug addicts had walked from their recovery center in Philadelphia to Washington in the name of "standing up on our feet."

James Hall of Baltimore, who was among the walkers, said this march wasn't about civil rights as was the 1963 march. "Rights we have," he said. "Men have lost their manhood along the way."

But just below the surface of much of the talk of responsibility and unity was the sense of frustration that blacks are still being treated unfairly.

New Yorker James Davis walked through the crowd holding a well-worn Bible -- -- he had read on the bus that brought him to town -- hopeful that the spectacle before him would send a message: "Do you think Newt Gingrich or whatever his name is, or Senator Dole knows anything about oppression?" asked Mr. Davis, who said he was angry at the Republicans' proposed budget cuts. "They won't even come to the neighborhoods where we live. We want the politicians to know that this march is a cry. It's one cry -- 'help.' "

"This is a wake-up call for Washington," said Gregory Ali of Milwaukee. "We will no longer tolerate their insensitivity and exclusion."

Not surprisingly, many said yesterday's assembly stirred memories of the March on Washington and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic "I Have a Dream" speech. But many also drew distinctions between that event's theme of integration and inclusion and yesterday's call for black empowerment and independence.

"Dr. King was a great man, and we still honor him, but that was history," says Jack Lowe Jr. of Gadsden, Ala., who attended yesterday's march with his 80-year-old father. "We need a new direction and new leadership."

And though many said the march was about much more than Mr. Farrakhan, they also said the Nation of Islam leader deserved much credit for sending out the call for yesterday's gathering. "He's basically the loudest black voice in America today," said Jan Maurice Kirkland of Camden, N.J., who brought his 6-year-old son.

Even those like Mr. Phillips of Houston, who said he was "certainly not a Farrakhan follower," added: "I know the truth when I hear it. He's the only one saying the truth."

On the march

To hear highlights of speeches from the Million Man March in Washington, D.C., call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the 4-digit code 6232. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.

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