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

January 25, 1987|DAVID TREADWELL and BARRY BEARAK | Times Staff Writers

CUMMING, Ga. — 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!"

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