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Oprah Winfrey Brings Her Show To Forsyth County

February 10, 1987 GMT

CUMMING, Ga. (AP) _ Black talk show host Oprah Winfrey brought her program to Forsyth County on Monday to hear out its white residents, some of whom argued they should be able to keep blacks from moving into their communities.

Outside, civil rights activist Hosea Williams was among eight people arrested for picketing over the exclusion of blacks from the show. Miss Winfrey mentioned the arrests during her broadcast but said her purpose was to find out ″why this community has not allowed black people to live here since 1912.″

Asked later if she felt comfortable in Forsyth County, she said, ″Not very comfortable at all. I’m leaving.″

Dozens of people in the audience of 100 said they supported the rights of black people to live and work in the county, but some said they feared violence from white neighbors if they publicly welcomed blacks.

And one woman said, ″We have a right to have a white community.″

Another said she participated in last month’s civil rights demonstration that brought the spotlight to Forsyth County ″because I felt it was important for Forsyth Countians to be there and to make it clear that we welcome all law-abiding people in our community.″

Williams, an Atlanta City Councilman, had asked to appear on ″The Oprah Winfrey Show,″ but Miss Winfrey and her producers said they wanted only county residents.

Sheriff Wesley Walraven said Williams and the others were charged with unlawful assembly as they picketed outside the restaurant where the show was broadcast. Williams also was charged with blocking a state highway.

″Rev. Williams was screaming, ’Arrest me, arrest me,‴ Sheriff Wesley Walraven said. ″So we did.″

Williams vowed to fast in jail. He was offered a chance to leave jail but refused, as did three other pickets, including Williams’ daughter, Elizabeth Omilami.

″I have committed no crime, therefore I will pay no fine,″ Williams said in a statement from jail released by his office Monday night. ″I am willing to forgive our government for the illegal arrest made today in Forsyth County and walk out of this jail if all unlawful charges against those persons illegally arrested are dropped.″

He said his treatment by most of the arresting officers was ″some of the worst I have experienced in my civil rights career, especially in view of the fact we were arrested on public property while attempting to begin a totally peaceful, non-violent news conference.″

Coretta Scott King, widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., read a statement at a news conference in Atlanta Monday night.

″We, the members of the Coalition to End Fear and Intimidation in Forsyth County, have assembled to express our outrage at the unlawful arrest of our colleague,″ the statement said in part.

She said the coalition met Monday and is developing strategy to deal with the arrests, including meeting with the governor.

Miss Winfrey’s appearance coincided with the announcement by leaders of the county of 38,000 people of the appointment of a Biracial Community Relations Committee in response to civil rights leaders’ demands.

The demands followed a Jan. 24 demonstration through Cumming that attracted 25,000 people. That march was in response to one that was halted the week before when 75 marchers were confronted by 400 Ku Klux Klan members and supporters, some of whom hurled rocks and garbage.

After her show, Miss Winfrey said she was ″very, very sorry″ Williams was arrested. ″I have nothing but respect for Rev. Hosea Williams,″ she said.

She also said she saw ″fear on both sides″ among her audience.

″A lot of white people ... are afraid of other white people in this community,″ she said.

About 50 members of the audience also talked to reporters after the program. Many were angry at the media for what they saw as unfair portrayal of their county as a bastion for bigots.

Colleagues of Williams said outside jail that they planned to march the 40 miles from Atlanta to Cumming on Tuesday, but no other details were available.

Forsyth County’s 12-member Biracial Community Relations Committee will include six white county leaders and three black people selected by those six. Another black member will be added, and Williams and his colleagues are being asked to appoint two members. The first meeting is scheduled for Thursday.

Hundreds of blacks lived in the county until 1912, when they were forced out by white gangs following murder and rape accusations against three black men.

Winfrey’s weekday talk show on WLS-TV in Chicago is syndicated, and her visit to Cumming comes during one of four annual sweeps months during which viewer ratings are taken to determine advertising rates.