WASHINGTON, Oct. 13--Five years after hundreds of thousands of black men heeded the call of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and filled this city's National Mall for the Million Man March, a more inclusive Farrakhan is urging American families of all races and creeds to mark the day by gathering to "rise above their symbols."
The mood is different in advance of Monday's Million Family March, with less wariness about Farrakhan and his intentions.
"The change is in the broadness of my view," Farrakhan said. "This means people may say this is a different Farrakhan and maybe this is a Farrakhan we have admired before but maybe this is a Farrakhan we can embrace minus the fear and minus the trepidation."
Bob Law, a New York organizer for both marches, sees another difference.
"It's not the same kind of buzz on the street," said Law. "There's not the same kind of controversy. The energy, it isn't the same."
"The word on the street is not as strong as it was the first time because it's not new anymore," said the Rev. T.L. Barrett of the Life Center Church of God in Christ in Chicago, who brought busloads of men from that city in 1995.
In the years since the Million Man March, there have been a Million Woman March in Philadelphia, a Million Youth March in Harlem, and a Million Mom March in Washington.
"There's been a lot of events modeled on the Million Man March, and each event tries to improve on its predecessors," said Benjamin Muhammad, former national director of the Million Man March and director of the Million Family March.
But no march since had people talking like that first one, an outgrowth of previous men-only meetings.
Farrakhan and Muhammad--then known as Ben Chavis--called black men to Washington to focus on putting responsibility "for our condition and our families on our shoulders."
That idea caused controversy.
"It was attacked by everybody," said Law. "Politicians, black and white, were telling people not to go. Women were telling men not to go. A call to black men seemed to scare everybody, even some black people."
Farrakhan's leadership also caused an uproar. The Nation of Islam leader has drawn repeated criticism for inflammatory statements against whites and Jews.
Since then, however, he has sought to soften his stance. He has invited people of all races and faiths to the Million Family March. Leaders of the Million Family March said they are uncertain how many people to expect for the gathering in the nation's capital, only that they believe the crowd will represent a range of racial and ethnic backgrounds.
"The success of the Million Man March five years ago, opened the hearts and minds of people," said Muhammad, a former director of the NAACP. "This is a plan for a million families."
The Washington Post reported Friday that police are planning for a gathering that "could rival" the crowd of 400,000 to 800,000 people that were estimated to have attended the NOI's Million Man March.
The NOI claims that crowd, which was overwhelmingly made up of African-American men, was nearer 2 million.
At a news conference here Thursday, Muhammad said he began planning the event with Louis Farrakhan within days of the Oct. 16, 1995, Million Man March.
The family march will start at 6 a.m. Monday and is scheduled to conclude at 4:15 p.m. following a speech by Farrakhan from a stage constructed at the base of the Capitol building.
Farrakhan met with people of various races, religions, and ethnic backgrounds seeking support for the effort, Muhammad said. Stevie Wonder, Toni Braxton, East Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar, Bangladeshi lutist Ali Akbar Khan, performers from China, and Shinto drummers from Japan are among the musicians committed to participating.
"We've got to meet as brethren," said Rabbi David Z. Ben-Ami, founder of the American Forum for Jewish-Christian Cooperation based in Harrisburg, Pa.
Most Jewish leaders will have nothing to do with Farrakhan, who they generally consider to anti-Semitic. He insists he is not.
The assembled religious leaders at the news conference downplayed the dominant roles of specific religious groups.
"We're here to strengthen and rebuild families," said Rev. Michael Jenkins, president of the Family Federation for World Peace, an arm of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. Farrakhan and Moon have grown increasingly close in recent years, and their organizations are cooperating closely on this event.
March supporters said they hoped to mobilize backing for what organizers described as a family-oriented public policy agenda submitted to national political leaders.
The 156-page "National Agenda" addresses a raft of issues, including welfare and Social Security reform, substance abuse prevention, education, and reform of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
While audited expenses for the Million Man March totaled just over $2 million in 1995, officials said increased costs for equipment and services are likely to push expenses for the family march beyond that amount.