GREENSBORO, N.C. — Brandishing signs that said "Ban the Klan" and singing "We Shall Overcome," about 600 counterdemonstrators turned out for a march Saturday through downtown Greensboro to protest a Ku Klux Klan march planned for today.
The klan march, which is expected to draw about 200 people, would be the first public appearance of the KKK here since a bloody clash in 1979 left five anti-klan activists dead.
Saturday's "March for Unity, Justice and Understanding" followed the same 10-block route that will be used by the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan today for a "Freedom March and Recruitment Drive." The anti-klan march included a rally at the downtown Governmental Plaza.
'We Got Off Our Apathy'
"I'm glad the klan came to town," said the Rev. Maurice Wilson of Greensboro's Pulpit Forum. "When they came to town, we got off our apathy. When the klan came to town, the differences between us became less important than our similarities."
The Greensboro Coalition for Unity and Justice, an umbrella group of klan protesters, distributed flyers saying "This Is Not Klan Country" and promoted an alternative "Peace Festival and Love Rally for Racial Unity" to take place while the klan is rallying today.
Saturday's anti-klan marchers, who were flanked by Greensboro city police, paused for five minutes at the downtown Woolworth store where, in 1960, the South's first sit-in for civil rights took place at what was then a white-only lunch counter.
Widows of Slain Men
Among the crowd were Signe Waller and Dale Sampson, widows of two of the five Communist Workers Party members slain in the bloody battle on Nov. 3, 1979, when the Communist Workers Party tried to hold an anti-klan rally here. The klansmen involved argued that the shooting was in self-defense and were acquitted of murder.
"The klan doesn't have the answer for whites who feel powerless," Waller said. "Instead it plays to the same forces creating economic problems for everyone. Whites who feel cut out of the deal will be empowered themselves infinitely more by working in unity with black people."
The rally lasted more than an hour and featured about 15 speakers, among them Greensboro City Manager William Carstarphen and William Rogers, president of Guilford College. The rally crowd, however, dwindled to about half of its original size under the hot midafternoon sun.