The Million Man March, twenty years later.
October 16 marks the twentieth anniversary of the Million Man March. The photographer Roderick Terry, then age thirty, was there as more than a million black men crowded Washington, D.C.’s National Mall, “transforming it,” he writes, “into a sea of blackness.” “The March still ranks as one of the greatest moments of my life,” Terry says. “It was a spiritual awakening of the highest order … Amid the crowd was an air of total calm and peacefulness unlike anything I’ve ever felt.”
Terry’s photographs of the March will be on view at the Sol Studio, in Harlem, from October 21 through November 15.
On the day of the March, Terry, having awoken at five thirty in the morning, walked to the National Mall to find thousands of men already there. He’d bought a new camera and ten rolls of black-and-white film with the intention of documenting the March closely and intimately; his colleagues at the district attorney’s office had spoken of the event with a dismissive skepticism, certain that it would devolve into mass arrests. Instead, Terry met men from all walks of life. He saw
an old man from Philadelphia who was a veteran of World War II and the Korean War; a father from Savannah who wanted to teach his son the values of fairness and equal justice; a Wall Street trader from New York City who had grown weary of the fast lane and was searching for a more meaningful life’s purpose; and a group of Morehouse College students who came to stand in solidarity with their brothers. In one fell swoop we shattered the public perception that one million black men could come together in a peaceful demonstration of love, atonement, and brotherhood.
His photos were later collected in a book, One Million Strong, and they’re a part of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture’s permanent collection. He hopes that presenting them for the March’s twentieth anniversary will help draw attention to contemporary parallels. “The outcry for atonement, equal justice, and fair play at the Million Man March parallels the Black Lives Matter Movement of today,” he says. “The approach may have changed from obedient resistance to agitation and confrontation, but the same issues continue to resonate.”
Dan Piepenbring is the web editor of The Paris Review.