PHILADELPHIA — Along the East Coast, from the South and the Midwest, women drove or boarded buses, planes or trains Friday bound for the Million Woman March.
Philadelphia hotels and homes filled up with people for today's march and rally, designed to strengthen bonds in the black community and lift women's spirits.
"I've been hearing about it all the time. It's been real exciting just to be a part of history," said Jackie Wright, 53, who arrived early from Okemos, Mich., near Lansing, with her grown daughter and son.
"Sisters that I have never met before are networking. I just feel great," said Wright, who was staying at a hotel in Mount Laurel, N.J., a suburb of Philadelphia.
The grass-roots march, organized by housing activists and small-businesswomen Phile Chionesu and Asia Coney, is modeled after the Million Man March in Washington in 1995.
"Something had to happen for black women," said Chionesu, a Philadelphian.
"Black women have taken care of everyone else since the time we've been in this country. We've taken care of white women, white men, white children . . . our own men, our own children. And now it's time that we take care of ourselves."
The women said they expect at least 1 million people; the city said it is preparing for 500,000 to 600,000. Organizers say 125,000 women are due to arrive from Chicago and New York City alone.
Rallies are scheduled to take place at the Liberty Bell and at Penn's Landing. But the main venue is Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a mile-long boulevard lined with trees, flags and fountains between Philadelphia's huge Greek-style art museum and City Hall.
The goal of the march is a call for improved education and health care in black communities, economic and political solidarity among black women and an easier transition to mainstream life for black female inmates.
The top platform issue has been support for an effort by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, to start an investigation into alleged CIA involvement with drug traffickers who brought large quantities of crack cocaine into black communities. Waters is scheduled to speak.
Another scheduled speaker, Winnie Mandela, former wife of South African President Nelson Mandela, is also surrounded by controversy. Winnie Mandela is the subject of a government inquiry into the disappearance of black youths in Soweto during the late 1980s. She has charged that the allegations are aimed at undermining her political clout.
White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said President Clinton "applauds people who, in that spirit, gather together to celebrate both their faith and their commitment. But, at the same time, that doesn't mean that he necessarily subscribes to everything that every march or every event lists as part of its agenda, or everything that is said at such events."