Pine Bluff native Roderick Terry took part in the Million Man March on Oct. 16, 1995, in Washington, D.C., and his photos of the event are going down in history.
He used his camera to document the social movement centered on the idea of black men taking personal responsibility as fathers, sons, brothers and citizens.
“The purpose of the march was atonement and reconciliation,” Terry said. “The march was not about casting blame or protesting.”
The Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture has acquired 55 of his photos from the march, which will become part of its permanent collection.
Organized by Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, the Million Man March generated controversy related to gender, race and crowd safety.
“I heard that the police would have to make mass arrests but those fears proved to be false,” Terry said. “No one broke any laws. It was quite peaceful.”
He heard of only one arrest and that was for a vendor who did not have permits to sell merchandise.
“The march was considered controversial by some people because it was African-American men,” Terry said. “Some women objected on gender grounds. Some people objected to it because of Louis Farrakhan.”
Nineteen years ago, he took photographs to document his own experience. Shortly thereafter, he received a call from Duncan & Duncan Publishers asking to use his photographs in a book. Duncan & Duncan published a book called “One Million Strong” in 1996.
Since that monumental day in 1995, Terry is happy that Americans are interested in his photos. Toward that end, he hopes that students will be able to learn about the movement.
“Personally, I think it was a very successful, life-altering experience,” said Terry, who graduated from Dollarway High School in 1983. “I did not ever expect my photographs to become part of the Smithsonian.
“I am honored to have the Smithsonian feature them,” he said.
“We are very pleased to receive these impressive photographs of the Million Man March,” said Jacqueline D. Serwer, chief curator at the museum, in a written statement. “The images, so evocative of this monumental event, are moving indeed.”
American society has changed in many ways in the 19 years since the Million Man March. The 2008 election of Barack Obama as the first American president with African-American heritage is a major accomplishment in a nation that had racially segregated schools through the 1950s.
“The election of Barack Obama is a very proud moment for African-Americans,” Terry said. “We knew the election of a black president would happen someday. This is an indication of the direction in which our country is heading.”
Terry is a graduate of Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C., and Hendrix College in Conway. He also attended Birbeck College at the University of London in London, England. In addition to being an photographer and attorney, Terry is the author of three books: “Hope Chest: A Treasure of Spiritual Keepsakes” (Enaas Publishing, 2008), “Brother’s Keeper: Words of Inspiration for African American Men” (Peter Pauper Press, 1996) and “One Million Strong” (Duncan & Duncan Publishers, Inc., 1996).