- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 9, 2005


Hurricane Katrina thrust racial disparities onto the nation’s political agenda, and top civil rights leaders, fueled by outrage over the disaster, are heading to Washington.

The occasion is the 10th anniversary of Louis Farrakhan’s Million Man March, a long-planned event that is shaping up as a stage for black America to respond to the devastation in New Orleans.

“Because Katrina put it out there, no one can play the pretend game anymore that there isn’t poverty and inequality in this country,” said Marc H. Morial, president of the National Urban League. “The Millions More Movement — Katrina gives it added significance.”

Though Mr. Farrakhan has long stirred controversy — and lately he has speculated that New Orleans’ levees were bombed to destroy black neighborhoods — his event will unite a wide array of prominent social justice advocates.

The guest list for the Saturday event includes congressional members, hip-hop artists, civil rights activists, media pundits, academicians and business leaders. Muslim and Christian religious figures also will participate.

“The need to save our people — it’s so much bigger than the personality or the baggage that has been heaped on Louis Farrakhan or others,” Mr. Farrakhan said. “Katrina has focused this agenda.”

The daylong gathering is scheduled to begin at dawn with a public memorial service for those who died in the hurricane, followed by music, prayer, dancing and dozens of speeches.

Event spokeswoman Linda Boyd said the goal is to build on the themes of 1995, which focused on urging black men to take responsibility for improving their families and communities, creating a movement that gets people to act for change locally and nationally.

Many who advocate for disadvantaged groups said the rally at the Mall comes at a pivotal time.

Images of chaos and death as Katrina’s floodwaters engulfed black neighborhoods shocked many Americans: poor New Orleans residents, many black, begging for rescue; corpses on the street; looting. Prominent opinion-makers from the president on down suddenly talked about poverty and racial inequality.

Dianne Pinderhughes, a political scientist who focuses on race issues at the University of Illinois, said that in recent years the nation’s generally conservative political climate has sidelined many of those discussions.

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