Hands Across America

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Hands Across America
Hands Across America - Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin Parkway/Philadelphia Art Museum - May 25, 1986
DatesMay 25, 1986
Location(s)across the United States
Years active1986
Founded byKen Kragen
WebsiteHands Across America

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.[1]


Cities along the route included the following:

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 in spite of the fact New England was the most densely populated part of 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 popular culture[edit]

  • 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 the 1986 episode of Cheers, Thanksgiving Orphans, Cliff Clavin said he participated in Hands Across America, and therefore did not need help his mother at the rescue mission during Thanksgiving.
  • In a 1986 episode of 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."[3]
  • In "Angst for the Memories", an episode of the American sitcom Murphy Brown, Corky Sherwood (Faith Ford) remembers having participated in this campaign.[4]
  • In American History X, the 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 the 1998 episode of Seinfeld, "The Cartoon", Kathy Griffin's character Sally Weaver performs a one-woman act, "Jerry Seinfeld, the Devil" to get under Jerry's skin. Jerry confronts Sally asking her to stop. Sally later describes the meeting in her act saying that Jerry groped her "getting all Hands Across America."
  • In "Hiatus", an episode of American sitcom 30 Rock, Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) remembers having participated in this campaign.[5] 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."[6]
  • 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".
  • In 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."
  • In Major Dad episode "Just Polly & Me, and the Kids Make Five" original air date September 18, 1989, Polly Cooper creates a peaceful situation after Major McRae's proposal and hart daughters' negative reactions by grabbing their hand saying: "Hands across the kitchen".
  • The title is referenced for the title of the Ed, Edd n Eddy episode "Hands Across Ed".


  1. ^ Adeel Hassan (May 25, 2016). "Your Wednesday Briefing". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-05-25.
  2. ^ http://www.papadoo.com
  3. ^ G. B. Trudeau. "Doonesbury Comic Strip, May 11, 1986 on GoComics.com". GoComics.com. Retrieved 3 February 2012.
  4. ^ Episode reference from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0653725/?ref_=ttep_ep2
  5. ^ Episode transcript from tgswithtracyjordan.com
  6. ^ [1]

Further reading[edit]