WASHINGTON -- Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan revealed plans yesterday for a rally commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March, calling it the start of a broad social movement he says will jump-start the civil rights movement and help the poor and disenfranchised, regardless of color.
Unlike 1995, Farrakhan said the anniversary rally on The Mall in Washington on Oct. 15 will involve women and is open to whites, Native Americans, and Latinos. It will also mark the start of the Millions More Movement, what Farrakhan described as a ''worldwide" effort to unify the poor and call attention to social issues, including wage and health care inequalities and slave reparations.
The conservative movement in power has done little to address civil rights and the needs of the poor and threatens to roll back gains African-Americans have made since the 1960s, including allowing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to expire, Farrakhan said. That threat is a wake-up call to black leaders, he said.
''We can never repeat the Million Man March. That was; it is now done," he said. ''The past is dead. [But] those who are guided by the past make a good present and are ready to prepare for the future."
The conference at the National Press Club in Washington, featured 10 civil rights leaders and activists, including Mayor Anthony Williams, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton, Washington economist Julianne Malveaux and Dorothy Height, who fought for federal laws against lynching.
On Oct. 15, 1995, at least 500,000 black men heeded Farrakhan's call to gather in Washington for a ''Day of Atonement." Led by Farrakhan and several speakers, including Jackson, the men pledged to be responsible for themselves, their families, and their communities. The turnout made worldwide headlines and spurred similar rallies, including the Million Moms March.
But critics say Farrakhan and other leaders failed to capitalize on the initial burst of unity and activism among African-Americans immediately after the rally, and the national effort to reclaim black neighborhoods fizzled. A promised broad-based political force failed to emerge.
Shortly after the Washington rally, Farrakhan took a controversial tour and met with leaders in Africa and the Middle East -- including Moammar Khadafy of Libya and Iraq's Saddam Hussein, both from US State Department lists of states that sponsor terrorists. On those tours, Farrakhan said, people lined the streets and applauded as his motorcade came.
''They were angry with me when I left the country. They said I had squandered a wonderful opportunity," Farrakhan told the crowd yesterday. But the people in Africa and the Middle East, he said, ''saw in us hope. If we are unified, we could affect [US] foreign policy that is killing them."
In contrast to his fiery image and controversial, anti-Semitic remarks, Farrakhan seemed relatively subdued, and the tone of his rhetoric was nearly conciliatory at times. Flanked by two bodyguards and leaning on a cane, Farrakhan -- who survived prostate cancer and said he's dealing with a painful back problem -- seemed to sense his own mortality.
The leaders ''are dying," he said. ''Every day, every minute, every second is moving us closer to the grave. We have to be concerned what kind of nation we are leaving behind for our children and our grandchildren."