What better way to unite Americans for a good cause than to do it from sea to shining sea? Hands Across America was a huge national effort involving all citizens from every state to create the largest human chain in history.
Ken Kragen, a charity activist and music promoter, who had also been involved with USA for Africa’s 1985 single, “We Are The World,” helped created the project. With the motive of having all American citizens come together to participate in ending homelessness and hunger, by each one linking arms to build the longest human chain across the country. This isn’t your high school orientation team building activity; this was widely considered as “the largest participatory event in the history of the world.”
This massive charity was the first of its kind and therefore, plenty of huge corporations and public figures wanted to take part in it as well. Coca-cola pitched in 5 million dollars get the ball rolling, and then Citibank also contributed 3 million. Eventually, all corporations’ funds totaled to 30 million dollars for the charity event.
Celebrities that took part in the event included Oprah, Kenny Rogers, Bill Cosby, Whoopi Goldberg, Brooke Shields, and even President Ronald Reagan. As the pinnacle of the promotional campaign, Hands Across America was a featured as Superbowl commercial, establishing itself into America’s consciousness.
With all the star-studded endorsements and fanfare made, millions of people came gave a pledge to join in the gigantic human link. Of course, the whole purpose of the event was to raise money for hunger and homelessness, each person had to donate ten dollars to reserve a spot in the line.
On May 25th, 1986, over 5 million Americans gathered together to stretch from New York to Long Beach; 4,125 miles through 17 states. For areas in between where it was difficult for people to line up, such as deserts and river terrains, long ropes were used in place to fill in the gap.
The entire line of people stayed together for a duration of 15 minutes, where all the participates sung “We are the World” and “ America the Beautiful.”
Despite much noise and publicity that was made, the project didn’t raise enough money as they had anticipated. The event pulled in about 34 million dollars, but subtracting the 17 million that it took to create the event, only about 15 to 16 million was raised.
Regardless, hundreds of homeless families were still given many benefits from the event, and much more concern was given to the nation’s homelessness situation than ever before.