"We're closing down on that day," Farrakhan said at the Howard University "sacred ceremony of declaration."
"When [white Americans] look up and don't see us they'll know something's going on. We are absenting ourselves for one day from a racist system. . . . White folk will get a message, a message from God from the children of slaves."
The Final Call, the Nation of Islam's newspaper, has been touting the Million Man March for nearly a year. But it was not until the Rev. Benjamin Chavis--whose relationship with Farrakhan contributed to Chavis' recent ouster as executive director of the NAACP--joined the effort that support for the march began to spread beyond the relatively narrow confines of the Nation of Islam.
Chavis, a United Church of Christ minister, has traveled the nation to meet with black church leaders, political and cultural figures, gaining what he has characterized as wide support for the march.
That support does not translate, black leaders say, to unequivocal support for Farrakhan's agenda, but springs from their concern for the future of the black family in America.
Black America "is like a house on fire," said the Rev. Joseph Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and a United Methodist minister. "The crisis is that great. Here's someone I often disagree with, someone I may not even like. But if the guy says let's put water on the fire, I'm going to help. The message obscures the messenger."
Rick Nix, a black Roman Catholic diocesan official in Saginaw, Mich., who is helping to organize march participation among black Catholics, said: "It's time for African American men to come to the forefront to correct what is happening in our communities.
"We support the march's purpose wholeheartedly. It is bigger than any one person and absolutely vital to our people."
Others, however, say they cannot overlook the march's exclusion of women (although some are scheduled to be among the speakers Oct. 16); Farrakhan's racially centered brand of Islam, or the Nation of Islam's refusal to participate in 1960s civil rights marches.
Some also note Farrakhan's past dismissal of Christianity as a religion imposed on African American slaves by whites and his derision of black church officials as ineffective leaders.
"We have almost no common ground with the Nation of Islam," said Lyons of the National Baptist Convention. "The preaching of hate--we do not hold with that."
"To participate," said Progressive Baptist leader Smith, "would give an erroneous message to the world that Mr. Farrakhan is a bona fide leader of black people. I don't want to be part of that."
But even opponents of the march cautioned against interpreting any lack of support among blacks as a lack of concern for the plight of African Americans.
Said the Rev. John Chaplin, vice president of the National Baptist Convention: "No one should be narrow enough to see Oct. 16 as a testing ground for concern about black America."