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.
The expansive crowd was filled with black families—parents with their children, and single men and women. Many came to honor those felled by violence. Among those paying tribute was a woman clad in a red shirt that read "Forever Tony" and was decorated with pictures of her loved one from childhood to adulthood.
Besides Farrakhan, the speakers included Tamika Mallory, a former youth leader for the Rev. Al Sharpton; Nuri Muhammad of the Nation of Islam (who talked about black people's war with police, whom he called the "Blu Klux Klan"); and the Rev. Jamal Bryant of Baltimore. Black Lives Matter also had its turn at the podium.
Farrakhan acknowledged the turning of the generational tide. He said he was happy that BLM was present because the movement represents future leadership.
"What good are we if we think we can last forever and not train the young to follow in our footsteps?" he said to the crowd.
Melina Abdullah, a BLM leader, said that blacks need to accept that they are at war for their lives and that they have to fight for their rights. "Pulling our pants up will not save us," she said. "Our college degrees cannot save us. Our middle-class status cannot save us."
Todd Steven Burroughs, an independent researcher and writer based in Newark, N.J., is the author of Son-Shine on Cracked Sidewalks, an audiobook on Amiri Baraka and Ras Baraka through the eyes of the 2014 Newark mayoral campaign. He is the co-editor, along with Jared Ball, of A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X and the co-author, with Herb Boyd, of Civil Rights: Yesterday & Today.