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Up To 25,000 March For Racial Tolerance In Forsyth County

January 25, 1987 GMT

CUMMING, Ga. (AP) _ Nearly 25,000 demonstrators, led by veterans of 1960s-era protests and protected by at least 2,300 National Guardsmen and police, marched peacefully Saturday in an all-white county to protest racial intolerance.

The civil rights activists - black and white, and many with children - were met by more than 1,000 counterdemonstrators, some waving Confederate and U.S. flags and shouting ″Nigger go home.″ Authorities reported 60 arrests but could not specify how many were part of either group of demonstrators.

The march was a response to a similar march last weekend by 75 blacks and whites that was disrupted by about 400 Ku Klux Klan members and supporters who pelted the marchers with rocks, bottles and mud.

Among the counterdemonstrators was former Gov. Lester Maddox, a one-time segregationist. The group, which planned a rally after the march, dispersed when confronted by state police.

The marchers, carrying signs such as, ″Do right Forsyth County,″ flashed peace signs at the hecklers. The 1 1/4 -mile march was one of the largest civil rights demonstrations in the United States since the 1960s.

″We are here to tell our brothers and sisters of Forsyth County that we have learned to love our neighbors as ourselves,″ Bernice King, youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., shouted above the noise of circling helicopters from the Georgia State Patrol and several television stations.

″We are ready to carry the torch forward,″ she said.

Sheriff Wesley Walraven said he had heard of no injuries, although there were a few reports of bottles and rocks thrown at marchers.

″This is a resurrection of the civil rights movement,″ said Ozell Sutton, regional director of the U.S. Justice Department’s office of community relations in Atlanta. ″This outpouring of black and white and all racial groups is an indication of a deep and abiding concern.″

Robbie Hamrick, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, estimated the number of marchers at 20,000 to 25,000.

Among those marching with the group were King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart, Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, comedian Dick Gregory and Benjamin Hooks, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

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The march was delayed for more than three hours by the huge turnout, which created a traffic jam on the state road linking Cumming with Atlanta, 40 miles miles south.

The first activists reached the Forsyth County Courthouse behind a phalanx of police cars about 2:40 p.m., where they sang and listened to speeches from a temporary stage in front of the courthouse.

It wasn’t until 4:15 p.m. that the last marchers reached the courthouse square. Then they began returning to their buses and cars.

When they reached the courthouse, they were greeted with chants of ″Niggers go home.″ One white man in the crowd was seen tossing a bottle at the marchers; another person threw a stick.

At least 14 people, four of them Klan members with weapons, were arrested before the march began, authorities said. Once the march began, the number of arrests jumped to 60, said Col. Harry Heath, spokesman for the National Guard.

Charges included public drunkenness, concealed weapons, battery of an officer, inciting riot and disorderly conduct. Those arrested were kept in a wire enclosure behind the county jail pending processing.

By nightall, none had posted bond, said Walraven. The sheriff said he expected almost all charges to be misdemeanors, but would have no breakdown of who was arrested from each side until Sunday.

He said the number of arrests was not unusual, ″you would have had that many arrests anyway″ in any crowd of that size.

Among those arrested was white separatist David Duke, who called conditions in the wire pen ″unbelieveable. They had us up to our ankles in cold water.″

Activity in the town halted for the demonstration. Most businesses were closed; police cars blocked roads to the courthouse square.

Three thousand demonstrators who arrived early by car sang ″America the Beautiful″ and chatted in the 50-degree, sunny weather while they waited for the rest of the demonstrators. Thousands of other activists boarded at least 160 buses in downtown Atlanta for the 40-mile trip.

The Rev. Hosea Williams, a march organizer and Atlanta city councilman, said his group spent $100,000 to hire hundreds of buses to carry marchers from Atlanta to Cumming. He said at least 4,000 people were left behind without transportation.

Duke, who heads the National Association for the Advancement of White People, told a crowd of several hundred counterdemonstrators that the march was the ″beginning of the white civil rights movement.″

He urged his followers to set an example and obey the law. About an hour later, Duke, one of his lieutenants and a third man were arrested for reckless conduct and blocking a highway. Later, a fourth man who protested the arrests was arrested himself.

Gov. Joe Frank Harris and local law enforcement officials were determined to avoid a replay of last weekend’s confrontation. ″This is the greatest show of force on the part of the state of Georgia in history,″ said Barbara Morgan, spokeswoman for Harris.

The governor sent 1,700 National Guardsmen in camouflage uniforms to surround the marchers. The Guardsmen wore helmets with visors and carried 3- foot riot batons.

In addition, 148 state Highway Patrol cars circled the courthouse square while 350 troopers, almost half the state patrol, were stationed in downtown Cumming, a city of about 2,800 people. About 150 Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents also were on hand.

Virtually no blacks have lived in the county since 1912, when a black man was shot to death in jail and two others were convicted and hanged in the rape and murder of a 19-year-old white woman. Nearly 40,000 people live in the county today.

In Cumming, some Forsyth County residents tried to disassociate themselves from the violence that halted last weekend’s march. Above the starting point for the march they hung a yellow banner saying, ″Welcome to Forsyth County.″

And Cumming Mayor Ford Gravitt told the demonstrators, ″This generation can’t help what happened 75 years ago. Let’s start new and go forward.″