Their eyes filled with visible hate or hidden behind reflective sunglasses, 158 robed Ku Klux Klansmen marched through this Alabama town today to pray and issue a ringing call for white power.
Soon afterward, an estimated 1,500 civil rights marchers, almost all of them black, walked the same route and called for caled for blacks and whites to join together against poverty, unemployment and injustice.
Some Klansmen and women brazenly displayed firearms, ax handles and baseball bats, but virtually no trouble occurred as about 500 law enforcement personnel, heavily armed with shotguns, semiautomatic weapons and sniper rifles, watched.
Only a scattering of spectators turned out to see either group march. Two weeks ago, some Klansmen tired to block a smaller march by blacks, and four persons were injured in an exchange of gunfire in front of the Valley Feed Store.
But despite the emotionalism of the day, as blacks called for more gains and whites said enough was enough, the closest thing to an incident was the firing off of a cherry bomb. There were no arrests.
The robed Klansmen, accompanied by perhaps 150 supporters, many of whom wore Klan T-shirts or sported other Klan regalia, marched first. About 200 of those marchers stayed to "monitor" the march sponsored by the Southern Christain Leadership Conference.
The only tension came as the black mrchers paraded in front of the Klansmen, who minutes earlier had been listening to antiblack songs and "humor" recordings broadcast from a van. But about 50 state and city plice officers effectively separated the two groups, as did numerous news representatives, who probably outnumbered the robed Klansmen.
"We're fired up, we're gonna smash the Klan," chanted the blacks carrying the red, black and green Afro flag.
"White power," the Klansment shouted as they waved little Stars and Bars.
Clearly, even if by numbers alone, the day belonged to the blacks, who were here basically to demonstrate that they would not be deterred by the violence that marred their May 25 march. Their underlying cause was the case of 27-year-old Tommy Lee Hines, a retarded black man who is in state prison after his conviction on rape charges stemming from an assault on three women here.
"We're all fired up, we're gonna free Tommy Lee," shouted many of the protesters as they walked down Lee Street in front of Klansmen who had stayed to observe the SCLC march. People had come from miles away to both marches to support one cause or the other. So as has happened before, an Alabama city once again became a racial focal point.
"It was vintage '63," said Walter E. Fauntroy, the District of Columbia's nonvoting delegate to Congress, who had not marched in Alabama since 1965. He said today's march represented "mutual respect of blacks and whites."
But he acknowledged, "We're a little rusty," as if the civil rights march had been pulled out of the attic.
Indeed, as if to remind everyone of the past, some marchers carried blue southern church fans, cardboard on wood sticks, bearing pictures of three friends of the civil rights movement - the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., President Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy.
For the Klansmen there were ax handles bearing stickers reading, "The more we feed, the more they bred." Jack Mize, the Klan's titan for central Alabama, suited up with a pistol in a shoulder holster under his left armpit. He wore it both for the Klan march and as he stood along Lee Street watching the SCLC march.
Mayor Bill Dukes emphasized to reporters that his city was an innocent stage on which two groups, the Klan and the SCLC, were butting philosophies. He had urged citizens to stay away to show their "contempt and disgust."
For whatever reason, few people in this industrial city of 42,000, 13 percent of whom are black, turned out.
But there was no doubt that Joseph Lowrey, head of the SCLC, saw Decatur as far from innocent. "Let me tell you how innocent Decatur is," he told the throng of blacks and a handful of white supporters gathered under a hot sun on the lawn in front of city hall.
They took a little black man with the mind of a child," he said, and convicted him of rape and sent him to state prison.
Said Lowrey: "To hell with you, Decatur."
Whatever the mayor's reading of his constitutency, there were Klue Klux Klan members from Decatur in attendance as well as those who had come from elsewhere in the state, and Louisiana and Florida.
Both the Klan and the SCLC conducted their marches virtually surrounded with the weaponry of law enforcement, and both groups vowed their permanence on the American scene.
"We are here to stay," said imperial wizard Bill Wilkinson to the cheers of 300 or so followers.
"We cannot, we must not, we shall not permit the clock to be turned back," said Lowrey. "No Klan and no man can deny God's plan to make this the land of the free as well as the home of the brave."
But the Klan also claimed to represent God's plan, giving thanks in a prayer" for the opportunity to assemble here today and to love each other as white men and white women.
"Give us victory over the race-mixers and the communists and the liberals."
Klan members repeatedly denounced affirmative action programs and what they saw as spineless politicians selling out to the "nigger vote."
On both sides there were frequency references to the past: the Klansmen talked of Reconstruction, when the "carpetbaggers, scalawags and niggers" ran the South, and blacks referred to Martin Luther King Jr. and the record of black protest in Alabama.
In the new South there were fragments of the old South. Whatever gains blacks have made, blatant racial animosity remains. It was expressed here today on ax handles, in the rifles stashed in Klan trunks and in the thirst among some Klansmen for "nigger blood."
But there has been change. Years ago the police were used in many places to intimidate and to harass blacks. Today they were here to protect them, as well as those who might harass them.
Blacks say there must be more change, and they point to Tommy Lee Hines and to Klansmen across the street as evidence.
To the Klansmen, there has been too much change, and they gathered to undo what has been done.
It was all done in the state of Alabama, in the city of Decatur where the mayor had said both groups had a right under the U.S. Constitution to gather and express their views. And they did.
Andrew Carouthers by Deputy Sheriff Hansel Rogers.
"We are here for justice," said Alfred Robinson, head of the United League. "No longer will we stand by and let them shoot us."
Chickasaw County Sheriff Carl (Toby) Craig said Rogers shot Carouthers after the trusty attacked Rogers and a black city policeman with a knife. But Robinson and other black leaders called Rogers "a disgrace to law enforcement," saying they had often complained about his treatment of blacks.
The deputy was suspended pending investigations of the shooting. CAPTION: Picture, An armed Alabama state trooper watches as Klansmen march in Decatur, where racial violence erupted recently. UPI