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Obama at the Million Man March

A few right-wing bloggers have begun buzzing over a 1995 Chicago Reader profile of Barack Obama in which the then Illinois State Senate candidate discussed his participation in the controversial Million Man March, convened by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

The 1995 march drew hundreds of thousands of black men to the National Mall in Washington — and caused a degree of consternation in the Jewish community. The Anti-Defamation League, while expressing support for the march’s goals, took out newspaper ads in advance of the gathering, saying it would be “the largest event led by an anti-Semite in recent American history.” Nevertheless, many prominent black leaders participated in the march, and it was endorsed by the Congressional Black Caucus (although the NAACP withheld its endorsement).

The Chicago Reader profile of Obama, which is now linked to on the alternative weekly’s home page, notes that the then-aspiring politico “took time off from attending campaign coffees” to attend the 1995 march:

“What I saw was a powerful demonstration of an impulse and need for African-American men to come together to recognize each other and affirm our rightful place in the society,” [Obama] said. “There was a profound sense that African-American men were ready to make a commitment to bring about change in our communities and lives.

“But what was lacking among march organizers was a positive agenda, a coherent agenda for change. Without this agenda a lot of this energy is going to dissipate. Just as holding hands and singing ‘We shall overcome’ is not going to do it, exhorting youth to have pride in their race, give up drugs and crime, is not going to do it if we can’t find jobs and futures for the 50 percent of black youth who are unemployed, underemployed, and full of bitterness and rage.[“]

The (old) news about Obama’s participation in the march is resurfacing as the Illinois senator attempts to move beyond the controversy over the inflammatory rhetoric of his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright (an admirer of Farrakhan). Ironically, however, the Chicago Reader article actually provides some support for one of the claims that Obama has made while trying to address Jewish anxieties about his candidacy — namely, that he has a record of speaking out against antisemitism in the black community (a point he made in response to a recent televised debate question about Farrakhan).

Indeed, way back in 1995, the young Obama told the Chicago Reader:

”…Historically, African-Americans have turned inward and towards black nationalism whenever they have a sense, as we do now, that the mainstream has rebuffed us, and that white Americans couldn’t care less about the profound problems African-Americans are facing.”

“But cursing out white folks is not going to get the job done. Anti-Semitic and anti-Asian statements are not going to lift us up….”

Read the full Chicago Reader profile here.

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