Hundreds of police and demonstrators clashed during a tense three hours Saturday as the Ku Klux Klan and a black civil rights group attempted to hold simultaneous rallies in a city park that has been the site of racial confrontations since the 1960s.
At least eight policemen were injured and 17 persons arrested in and around Marquette Park, the site of neo-Nazi demonstrations in the 1970s and not far from where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was hit by a brick during a 1966 civil rights march.
The tumultuous, hot and humid afternoon began with an incident in which baseball-bat-wielding anti-klan demonstrators ambushed klan supporters as they grouped for their rally. It ended as 500 police officers, many in riot gear, stood between more than 1,000 whites shouting "Nigger go home," and fewer than 40 black anti-apartheid demonstrators who were trying to march into the park.
'White Power' Rally
In between, in a third confrontation, police on foot and horseback kept hundreds of angry young whites from attacking about 20 young blacks who tried to march into the portion of the mile-square park reserved for the klan's "white power" rally.
At one point, Police Supt. Fred Rice pleaded with anti-apartheid organizers to turn back. "We could go right through that crowd," Rice said, "but a lot of people are going to get hurt. We don't want casualties."
The day's events were monitored by U.S. Justice Department observers who have been tracking a growing number of racial incidents in Chicago.
Police were caught off guard by the afternoon's first incident. The klan, and other white supremacist groups that joined it, met at a staging area about a mile from Marquette Park. Nearby a predominantly white group of young men and women were playing what appeared to be a routine Saturday afternoon softball game.
Suddenly the ballplayers rushed from the diamond and attacked the white-robed klan members and combat-clad paramilitary supporters, who identified themselves later as being from the America First Committee.
While a truck carrying the white supremacists sped away, police fought with the group from the ball diamond. First Deputy Supt. John J. Jemilo said that up to five policemen were injured in the clash and several persons were arrested.
Once in Marquette Park, the klan began a two-hour rally. It had run only 15 minutes when a small group of blacks marched into the park and toward the rally site. Several hundred young whites who had been cheering the speakers suddenly turned and became a jeering mob rushing toward the blacks.
Blacks in Retreat
Though outnumbered, police moved between the two groups as the blacks ran in retreat, dodging traffic for more than a mile, chased down the busy business strip by shouting, fist-waving, stone-throwing, bare-chested whites.
The incident ended only when blacks crossed Western Avenue, a major east-west thoroughfare that stands like an invisible wall between black neighborhoods to the east and the white Marquette Park neighborhoods to the west.
A mile away, on the north side of the park, another throng of screaming whites, estimated by Rice to number more than 1,000, blocked a major intersection as they tried to prevent the anti-apartheid marchers from getting into the area of the park that police had reserved for their rally. That group, led by two ministers, had predicted that they would have more than 500 supporters, but when they left their staging area early in the afternoon they had only six. They picked up a few dozen more as they moved through the streets east of Western Avenue.
Persuaded to Stop
Rice persuaded leaders of this march to stop three blocks short of their goal.
Singing "Ain't nobody going to turn us around," the black demonstrators marched to within 100 feet of the angry whites. The two groups were separated by mounted police and a human wall of riot-dressed policemen.
Law enforcement officials said they were concerned about mounting tensions between whites and blacks in several sections of the city, particularly in the Marquette Park area.
Saturday's klan rally was one of two scheduled for this weekend. Today the klan plans to confront marchers at the city's Gay Pride celebration, which in past years has attracted thousands of participants to Lincoln Park on the city's North Side.