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Million Woman March converges on Philly

By Scott Bekker Associated Press Published: October 26, 1997 12:00 AM

"Oh my gosh. So many. So many," JoAnne Royster of Arlington, Va., said in a hushed tone as she looked out at the crowd of black women.

By train, car, plane and hundreds of buses, black women answered the call of the grass-roots organizers, who estimated 2.1 million people filled a mile-long avenue in early afternoon. Estimates made by police officers ranged from 300,000 to 1 million.

"To the women of the United States, to African-American women, I say 'amandla,"' Winnie Madikizela-Mandela told the cheering crowd, using the "power" slogan from the fight for black rights in South Africa. "The power of your call invokes your Africanism and mine. ...

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"We have a shared destiny, a shared responsibility, to save the world from those who attempt to destroy it."

The speech by Madikizela-Mandela, former wife of South African President Nelson Mandela, came at a rally at the end of the seven-hour program.

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"After today, we will never be the same," said Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. "America, please be placed on notice: We know who we are. We know what kind of power we have. We will act on that power."

Khadijah Farrakhan, wife of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, noted the gathering was inspired by her husband's Million Man March in Washington, D.C., two years ago.

"A nation can rise no higher than its women. We focus on women but cannot lose sight that we must rise as a family. Men, women and children," she said.

The march provided a forum for issues that many blacks feel some women's groups do not focus on. Among them were human rights abuses against blacks, the start of independent black schools and a demand for an investigation into allegations of CIA involvement in the crack trade in black neighborhoods.

"I feel like I belong to a powerful bloc," said Roxanne Browne, 34, of Boston.

Tanya Heard, 26, of Chicago said, "I'm getting a warm feeling seeing all these sisters."

The National Organization of Women's president said last week there are similarities between the marchers' agenda and that of her group.

"We are all talking about women's health, education and violence in homes," Patricia Ireland said. "On our national agenda, the issue of women in prisons may not be as visible as the reproductive health issue, but it's not being ignored."

On Saturday, march founder Phile Chionesu stressed the ongoing community involvement and cooperation she wanted the march to initiate.

"This is a new day. Prepare yourselves. We are taking back our neighborhoods," said Ms. Chionesu, a community activist whose insistence on a grass-roots approach to organizing the march prompted controversy.

Organizers avoided usual channels for publicizing major events, such as courting the mainstream media and soliciting corporate donations. Instead, they relied upon word of mouth, the Internet and the black media.

For Margie Armstrong, a custodian at the University of Michigan, a feeling of solidarity developed even before she reached Philadelphia. Armstrong became mired in a traffic jam on the Pennsylvania Turnpike amid cars filled with black women.

"Everyone was saying, 'Hi, sister,"' said Armstrong, 53. "It was great."

The march started with a procession beginning at 7 a.m. near the Liberty Bell and traveling two miles to a stage at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. After light rainfall in the morning, clouds lingered all day.

Men from the Nation of Islam in bowler hats, bow ties and long black coats provided security around the stage area.

Signs proclaimed "I am one in a million" and "Black Women: No more AIDS, abuse, addiction." Women clamored to buy buttons, T-shirts, hats and flags emblazoned with march logos.

Fannie Mae Bacon, 55, of Wilmington, Del., helped with the shouting and cheering as marchers began arriving at the staging area.

"You're coming in! I love it!" she said. "You look good coming


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