On May 25, 1986, Hands Across America was held when an estimated 5.5 million people held hands to form a chain across sixteen states and the
District of Columbia (and another million Americans participated in auxiliary events in states that were not part of the official chain).
The landmark effort to raise awareness and funding to fight homelessness and hunger in America was conceived and organized by music promoter Ken Kragen and The USA for Africa Foundation.
The route was circuitous in order to link all the major cities. Some heavily populated sections were 6–10 people deep while in sparsely populated areas, like deserts, yellow ribbons, hand-made paper dolls, and balloons were used to keep the chain from breaking.
Participants remained holding hands in the chain for 15 minutes, all the while singing, “We Are the World,” “America the Beautiful,” and the “Hands Across America” theme song.
Even for those who didn’t stand in the human chain, it was nearly impossible to ignore the widely publicized event. The event was supported by numerous politicians, notables, and celebrities, including spokespersons Bill Cosby, Kenny Rogers, Lily Tomlin, and Pete Rose. The media widely covered the lead-up and the actual event, a commercial ran during Super Bowl XX, and announcements were printed on millions of McDonald’s placemats.
Above: President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan, joined by daughter Maureen and children of White House staff, clasp hands and sing during the Hands Across America line in front of the White House in Washington, DC.