Hands Across America was a benefit event and publicity campaign staged on Sunday, May 25, 1986 in which approximately 6.5 million people held hands in a human chain for fifteen minutes along a path across the contiguous United States. Many participants donated ten dollars to reserve their place in line; the proceeds were donated to local charities to fight hunger and homelessness and help those in poverty.
In order to allow the maximum number of people to participate, the path linked major cities and meandered back and forth within the cities. Just as there were sections where the "line" was six to ten people deep, there were also undoubtedly many breaks in the chain. However, enough people participated that if an average of all the participants had been taken and spread evenly along the route standing four feet (1.2 m) apart, an unbroken chain across the 48 contiguous states would have been able to be formed.
Hands Across America raised $34 million. According to the New York Times, only about $15 million was distributed after deducting operating costs.
Cities along the route included the following:New York City, New York with Brooke Shields as well as Liza Minnelli, John Cardinal O'Connor, Susan Anton, Gregory Hines, and Edward James Olmos, Yoko Ono, and Harry Belafonte anchoring the George Washington Bridge.
Trenton, New Jersey (with Dionne Warwick and Tony Danza)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (with Jerry Lewis and Scott Baio)
Baltimore, Maryland (with R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and Emmanuel Lewis.) The first break in the chain west of New York was reported to be in Maryland.
Washington, D.C. (with President Ronald Reagan at the White House and Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill at the United States Capitol)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (with the Pittsburgh Pirates Parrot)
Youngstown, Ohio (with Michael Jackson)
Cleveland, Ohio (with David Copperfield)
Toledo, Ohio (with Jamie Farr)
Columbus, Ohio (with Michael J. Fox)
Cincinnati, Ohio (with Chewbacca the Wookiee)
Indianapolis, Indiana (occurred in the rain, scheduled side-by-side with the Indy 500, which was rained-out that day)
Champaign, Illinois (with Walter Payton . . .the longest unbroken section of the chain was allegedly in Illinois)
Chebanse, Illinois: A cornfield in central Illinois served as center-point of the nation with 16,000 people in attendance along with the Silver Nickel Band and DJ Gerald Welch.
Springfield, Illinois (with 50 Abraham Lincoln impersonators)
St. Louis, Missouri (with Kathleen Turner under the St. Louis Arch)
Memphis, Tennessee (with 54 Elvis Presley impersonators)
Little Rock, Arkansas (with Governor Bill Clinton)
Amarillo, Texas (with Kenny Rogers, Renegade, Lee Greenwood and Tony Dorsett at the TX-NM border)
Albuquerque, New Mexico (with Don Johnson)
Phoenix, Arizona (with Ed Begley, Jr., however desert areas were mostly empty, dotted with one-mile (1.6 km)-long chains of people. Truck drivers sounded their horns during the appointed time.)
San Bernardino, California (with Bob Seger and Charlene Tilton)
Santa Monica, California (with George Burns, Jack Youngblood, Dudley Moore, Richard Dreyfuss, and Donna Mills)
Long Beach, California (with Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Reverend Robert Schuller, Kenny Loggins, Joan Van Ark , John Stamos, Robin Williams, and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) backed by Papa Doo Run Run.)
The event was conceived and organized by Ken Kragen. Event implementation was through USA for Africa under the direction of Marty Rogol, the founding Executive Director. A theme song, titled "Hands Across America," was played simultaneously on hundreds of radio stations at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time (noon Pacific time). The song was written by Marc Blatte, John Carney, and Larry Gottlieb (the Spanish version was written by the composer Marcia Bell), and featured lead vocals by session singers Joe Cerisano and Sandy Farina, and the band Toto. The song peaked at #65 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1986.
Hands Across America was a project of USA for Africa. USA for Africa produced "We Are The World" and the combined revenues raised by both events raised almost $100 million to fight famine in Africa and hunger and homelessness in the United States.
The date and time chosen for the event inadvertently conflicted with another charity fundraiser, Sport Aid, which was organized by USA for Africa on the same day. Since Hands Across America was much better publicized in the United States, only 4000 runners participated in New York City for Sport Aid.
Sen. Edward Kennedy and Rep. Edward Markey led an official protest over every New England state being excluded from Hands Across America. Political leaders in the South additionally weighed in against the route that was chosen to span the contiguous United States. Various protests broke out in the Upper Midwest, notably Minneapolis and Milwaukee, as well as northwestern cities such as Portland and Seattle. In Hawaii actor Tom Selleck and Sen. Daniel Inouye led a counter Hands Across Hawaii program that was held to remind mainlanders that "Hawaiians are Americans, Too!"In the 2006 episode "Dad's Car" of American sitcom My Name Is Earl, Earl gives his mother a Mother's Day coupon to participate in Hands Across America, when the event had been over for nearly 15 years.
In a 1986 episode of the The Golden Girls, Rose Nylund stated that she volunteered to hold hands with Bert Parks at Hands Across America.
In the 1989 film Troop Beverly Hills, Phyllis Nefler (Shelley Long) referred to Hands Across America as being "more important" as her reasoning for quitting the PTA during a heated argument with her husband Freddy (Craig T. Nelson), from whom she had just separated.
In The Simpsons episode "Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?" Marge, Lisa, Bart, the Flanders family, and other characters are holding hands through the Simpsons' living room, while Homer schlumpily sits on the couch watching the event on TV. An unknown television announcer is heard reporting that "except for huge gaps in the Western states, Hands Across America was a complete success!"
A Sunday strip of the newspaper comic "Doonesbury" had some of its characters in a chain. Said characters are singing the song of the same name, with the exception of Zonker Harris who sings "I'm Just a Gigolo."
In "Angst for the Memories", an episode of American sitcom Murphy Brown, Corky Sherwood (Faith Ford) remembers having participated in this campaign.
In American History X, the racist character of Derek Vinyard, played by Edward Norton, in the midst of a heated debate with his mother and her boyfriend about the recent Rodney King riots, argues that after King's initial arrest, public attitudes amounted to "hands across America" for King, a reference to what he perceives as undeserved public sympathy for his plight.
A 1992 episode of America's Funniest People had a parody called "Bananas Across America", in which a banana was handed from individual to individual in a chain showing various American landmarks, looking as if a banana had traveled in a chain from California to Washington D.C.
In "Hiatus", an episode of American sitcom 30 Rock, Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) remembers having participated in this campaign. In "It's Never Too Late for Now", another episode of 30 Rock, Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) answers a request for ID in order to verify her age with the response, "How about this for ID: I participated in Hands Across America."
The July 21, 2004 episode of the Late Show with David Letterman, rapper P. Diddy presented a Top Ten list titled "Top Ten Ways I, P. Diddy, Am Getting People to Vote." The number three entry mocked the event, stating, "Remember 'Hands Across America'? Yeah, well we ain't doin' that."
The music video for "Something to Believe In" by The Ramones features a parody event entitled "Hands Across Your Face."
The film Beerfest makes numerous references to Hands Across America
The film North references the event when the governor of Hawaii complains about waiting for people to show up.
The show The Goldbergs includes Hands Across America as a major plot point in the season 3 episode "Baio and Switch"
The Show "Modern Family" Jay and DeeDee argue about what year Hands Across America took place.
In the "American Dad!" episode "Max Jets", 'My Love Is Pure' is sung by a gold-digging waitress named Gina. The song ends with her saying, "Hands Across America, b***hes."