20,000 March Against Klan Attack in Georgia : 60 Arrested but No Major Violence or Injuries Reported in Biggest Rights Protest in Decades

Times Staff Writers

With 1,700 Georgia National Guard troops in riot gear forming a “living wall” to protect them, a throng of more than 20,000 civil rights demonstrators from across the nation staged a protest march Saturday in all-white Forsyth County, the largest such demonstration since the tumultuous civil rights decades of the ‘50s and ‘60s.

The “March for Brotherhood” was organized to protest a Ku Klux Klan attack on a much smaller march in the same county the week before in which eight people were injured. Marchers this week again met counterdemonstrators, who massed along parts of the 1-mile parade route, holding aloft Confederate flags, brandishing anti-black signs and chanting “Nigger, go home!”

At least 60 people were arrested before and during the march, several on weapons charges, according to authorities in Forsyth County. Four of the 14 people arrested before the march began were identified as klan members.

Few Incidents Reported

Some minor incidents were reported: a white man in the crowd hurled a bottle at the marchers; another person threw a stick; a white marcher was hit in the mouth when several rocks sailed into the line of demonstrators.

But, to the relief of federal, state and local officials--who had ordered elaborate security measures for the event--the march was not marred by major clashes or injuries.


“This is the greatest show of force on the part of the state of Georgia in history,” said Barbara Morgan, spokeswoman for Gov. Joe Frank Harris, referring to the phalanxes of National Guard soldiers, state troopers and Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents at the march.

Civil rights veterans, delighted by a huge turnout of demonstrators that was far beyond their expectations, said they looked on the march as the resurrection of the civil rights movement, which increasingly has slid into disarray and disrepute since its heyday in the 1960s.

“The civil rights family has not been together like this since we buried Martin Luther King,” said Atlanta City Councilman Hosea Williams, a former aide to King and one of the march’s chief planners. Ozell Sutton, regional director of the U.S. Justice Department’s office of community relations in Atlanta, added: “This outpouring of black and white and all racial groups is an indication of a deep and abiding concern” for civil rights.

The march, which went from a shopping center on the outskirts of Cumming, the county seat, to the downtown county courthouse, drew more than four times the number that organizers had anticipated. About one-third of the marchers were white, more than half appeared to be under 30 years old, and organizers said that 4,000 would-be marchers had been left behind in Atlanta because there were not enough buses to transport them.

Groups of supporters came from as far away as New York and California and several marchers were from foreign nations, including a delegation of four white-robed Nigerians.

“This march had to take place,” said Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, a former aide to slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “for we once again had to say: ‘We ain’t gonna let nobody turn us round.’ ”

Because of the huge turnout, the 11 a.m. starting time was delayed for more than three hours. Caravans of buses, augmented by fleets of taxis and private vehicles, ferried many of the demonstrators from various pickup points in Atlanta, about 45 miles south of Cumming.

8 to 12 Abreast

Many buses were still unloading when the marchers at the head of the procession were streaming into the courthouse square. The procession, eight to 12 abreast in most places, took more than two hours to pass.

Snow had blanketed the area earlier last week, but the roads were cleared and the march took place under sunny skies and in 50-degree temperatures.

The march was headed by many aging veterans of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, including Coretta Scott King, King’s widow; the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that King founded; comedian and rights activist Dick Gregory, and Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.

Also prominent in the forefront was former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, a prospective 1988 Democratic presidential candidate. William Bradford Reynolds, the head of the civil rights division of the Justice Department, marched with federal law enforcement officials to help ensure that “what started last week will be repeated without violence.”

Shouted Insults

The demonstration was punctuated by an almost continuous back-and-forth shouting between the marchers and the counterdemonstrators. When one group of whites standing on a hill near a taco drive-in and waving Confederate banners began chanting: “We hate you, we hate you!” the marchers began chanting, “We love you, we love you!”

At another point along the march route, counterdemonstrators were yelling: “Do you know who your daddy is? Go home!”

“We are home,” the marchers retorted. “This is America.”

A young white Episcopalian priest from Clemson, S.C., who was among the marchers, gazed intently at the crowds of whites lining the sides of the march route and said: “I am convinced that I am looking at absolute evil.”

Among the marchers, however, were several Forsyth County residents.

“We’re not all idiots up here,” said Sammy Wallace, 34, an electronics worker. “If this is what it takes to make America free, then that’s what it’s going to be. This racist stuff has gone on long enough.”

Some Are ‘Cool’

“Welcome to Forsyth, y’all,” Kevin Donofrio, 24, a sporting goods store employee, greeted marchers as they assembled at the Lanier Village shopping center. “Hey, some of us are cool!”

David Duke, president of the National Assn. for the Advancement of White People and a former klansman, was among several prominent white supremacists in the crowd of onlookers.

“If blacks moved into Forsyth County, it would mean the death of whites,” said Duke, 36, of Metarie, La., who was sporting a big “Keep Forsyth White” badge. “They would become the victims of murders, assaults, robberies and drug pushers. That’s the reality of integration.”

Duke was later arrested along with one of his lieutenants and a third man on charges of reckless conduct and blocking a highway. Duke had planned to hold a “White People’s Rally” at the courthouse immediately after the brotherhood march.

Martin Luther King III, eldest son of the late civil rights leader who is a county commissioner in Atlanta, blamed much of the anti-black feeling among Forsyth County whites on what he described as the diminishing job opportunities in this rural area of Georgia and fears among whites that blacks will move in and take over available jobs.

Taught Since Children

“We’re 13 years away from the year 2000, and certainly people should be more advanced in their thinking than that,” he said. “But these people have been taught ever since they were children that blacks are their biggest problem.”

King also said that if his father were alive he would say of the march: “This is a great demonstration of brotherhood and love.”

Virtually no blacks have lived in Forsyth County in the 75 years since 1912, when hundreds of them were driven out by klan marauders after the brutal rape and murder of a young white girl that was attributed to three black youths.

One of the black youths was shot to death in jail, and his mutilated body was strung from a telephone pole. The other two were hanged before a crowd of 10,000 spectators after they were convicted of rape and murder at a swift trial. About 40,000 people live in the county today.

Black Fireman Shot

As recently as six years ago, a black Atlanta fireman was shot in the neck while attending a picnic at nearby Lake Lanier.

Saturday’s march was prompted by a klan-led attack a week before on about 75 marchers, mostly blacks from Atlanta, as they attempted to stage a brotherhood march in honor of King’s birthday. About 400 klan members and their sympathizers pelted the marchers with rocks, cans, bottles and mudballs.

“It’s time to start marching again because I’m not going back to the back of the bus,” said Todd Randolph, 45, part of a six-busload contingent from Columbus, Ohio. “This isn’t 1945 again--nobody is going to tell my kid what pool he can or can’t swim in.”