Professor of Afro-American Studies Cornel R. West '74 discussed the objectives of the Million Man March with an audience of about 115 students and area residents at the Divinity School last night.
Along with local pastor and black activist Rev. Eugene Rivers, West talked about the roles that he and Nation of Islam Leader Louis Farrakhan played in the march, which attracted more than 400,000 people to Washington to hear prominent members of the black community speak on issues facing black men.
West said he cooperated with Farrakhan in planning the gathering, while Rivers criticized Farrakhan and his "opportunistic" domination of the event.
But both men endorsed the unification of black leaders and importance of the march in bringing black issues and suffering to the forefront of national debate.
In his address, West detailed how he and Farrakhan conceived the idea for the march during a discussion two years ago at the Black Leadership Committee. West said he acted as a leveler to the more extreme Farrakhan.
"I tried to push him in a more humanitarian and universal direction," West said.
Rivers stressed that the march was bigger than Farrakhan and labeled him as an entrepreneur taking advantage of the vacuum of black leadership.
"Some of us hard-liners think he is a gangster living in a palace," said Rivers. "If Lou starts messing up, we'll mix it up."
The question and answer period generated intense debate, much of it centered around the absence of women in the march.
"How do you get a Million Man March out of universal black suffering?" asked one black woman in the audience.
West answered by citing the specificity of suffering, pointing out that 90 percent of blacks in jail are men.
West also said that much of what Farrakhan said was distorted by media coverage of the march.
He said that the media plays to white anxiety by de-emphasizing Farrakhan's criticism of black supremacy while stressing his arguments for black separatism and militancy.
Although some audience members showed continued disgust with the speakers' defense of an all-male march and rushed to argue with West after the formal discussion had ended, most audience members applauded the speakers' statements.
Ashbury P. Jones, Jr., a second-year student at the Divinity School, said he approved of West's clarification of Farrakhan's intent.
"Given the limited time of the discussion, I thought they dealt with a wide range of issues well," he said.
Elliot L. Ratzman, an organizer of the speech, said he thought that it "allowed for effective dialogue."
The discussion was sponsored by the HARAMBEE--the black caucus at the Divinity School, the Democratic Socialists of America and the Center for Values in Public Life.