History in the Making: Million Man March 20th Anniversary

African Americans from around the nation gathered Saturday for the event at the National Mall.

Family members of Jerame Reid of Bridgeton, N.J., who was killed by police in 2014
Family members of Jerame Reid of Bridgeton, N.J., who was killed by police in 2014 Todd S.Burroughs for The Root

Updated Saturday, Oct. 10, 6 p.m. EDT: Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan’s call for an economic boycott of Christmas was the “or else” in the “Justice or Else” theme of the 20th-anniversary Million Man March on Saturday.

He said that the mass action could serve as a wake-up call for whites, who he said benefit from a system of institutional racism in America.

Farrakhan called on black parents to explain to their children why the holiday would be different this year. He said the mass action would result in new economic opportunities for blacks and create alternatives to white capitalism.

Farrakhan’s call, a variation on the black-nationalist-oriented idea of creating “Black Christmas,” is not original. Since the 1960s, black leaders have called for black people to conduct national boycotts and/or for blacks to buy only at black-owned businesses. As far back as the late 19th century, Ida B. Wells called for black people to boycott Memphis, Tenn., and leave the city after the lynching of three black businessmen.


Hundreds of thousands of African Americans gathered Saturday at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March amid calls for reforms to the criminal-justice system and changes within the black community itself to help stem the tide of violence.

Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan, 82, who launched the first march, is slated to lead the anniversary event, called “Justice or Else.”

In many ways, the event was a continuation of the National Black Family Reunion started by Dorothy Height of the National Council of Negro Women.