The marchers came from all over North America in a shared experience; strangers hugged and held hands as if they were old friends
By Andy Hall
In 1995, The Nation Of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan had called for a march on Washington similar to the one 32 years before organised by Martin Luther King and the NAACP. But this time it was African American men from all over the U.S.A. who converged on the National Mall in Washington DC for a day of black solidarity and brotherhood, to be known as the Million Man March. As a photojournalist, I wanted to be there and document it.
This unique way of highlighting racial inequality in America was also a clever way of grabbing the media’s attention. The march highlighted the economic and social plight of the African American community, but this time with the emphasis on self-help; Black men taking responsibility for themselves and their communities and fighting negative stereo-typing.
In the run-up to 16th October, the day of the march, there was a nervousness in the media at the thought of a million angry black men marching on Washington. I remember the talk on news channels of the potential for riots and security issues, and the need to protect the Capitol buildings.
The fears were pretty ironic, when you think that 25 years later, in January 2021, it was white supremacists laying siege to the seat of U.S. Government and democracy; not the descendents of people still feeling the effects of centuries of slavery and state oppression.
The event was huge and peaceful. I remember it as an emotional gathering. 870,000 black men were together, and all was upbeat and heartfelt. The marchers came from all over North America, in a shared experience; strangers hugged and held hands with each other as if they were old friends.
I arrived in Washington at dawn. It was a hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck moment as I witnessed thousands upon thousands of people silently, slowly walking into the vast arena of the National Mall, while a powerful sound system played Marvin Gaye’s seminal song What’s Going On. The music drifted, echoing all over America’s capital city as the sun rose.
Even though the Million Man March was the creation of Louis Farrakhan, the vast majority of people who came had nothing to do with the Nation Of Islam. For the rest of the day, I walked around capturing scenes of lighthearted togetherness and solemn contemplation; big groups of college students laughing and joking around together. Men silently bowing their heads in prayer.
Statues of important figures from American history (Were all of them white?) dotted the enormous area around the government buildings. Now, they were covered with people listening to the speeches. And the whole time, everywhere, in a call for solidarity and unity, men thrust the black power salute into the air.
Barack Obama recalls being there as a young man and listening to speeches from Farrakhan (for two hours, behind bulletproof glass) as well as Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks and Cornell West.
The event did have some critics like the civil rights hero and feminist Angela Davis, who complained that the Million Man March was not inclusive enough. The Million Man March was widely regarded as a big success and it also galvanised a national voter registration campaign. resulting in 1.7 million more Black American men registered to vote.
Andy Hall is based in London and has been a freelance photographer since 1989. His work has taken him on a wide range of commissioned news for numerous publications around the world. Andy is contracted to the Observer and the Guardian, but he has also published numerous times in newspapers and magazines like The Times magazine, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, The Independent, the Independent on Sunday and the New York Times Magazine. He has also been commissioned by Red Bulletin Magazine, Newsweek, GQ Magazine and Der Speigel Magazine. He publishes photo-essays with Ars Notoria.
Andy has collaborated in book projects ranging from Montreal – Eye on the Metropolis (2000), to the British press photography anthology – Eyewitness; five thousand days (2004), Muhammad Ali – the glory years (2002), as well as the book project UK at home (2008). His commissioned work on the ongoing hunger crisis in sub-saharan Africa was screened at Visa pour L’image, Perpignan in 2012.
Andy is also an established street photographer, having had his work published in specialist magazines such as PDN (Photo District News) and Eyeshot magazine. He is also one of the winners of the PDN sponsored Best of Street Photography 2016, and has given talks on his work in the Street London Festival in 2017 and on Radio London in 2018. He runs street photography workshops and judges street photography competitions on the Photocrowd photography website. Andy was recently awarded series finalist in the Brussels Street Photography Festival 2019. Andy was also a series finalist in the Lensculture Street Photography Awards 2021.
Andy Hall can be contacted via his website at: