Fourteen years after Alabama troopers clubbed a civil rights march to a halt and put Selma into the history books, the Ku Klux Klan is attempting to recreate that trek. This time state and local officials are hoping to cut off the march legally.
Before some 50 robed Klansmen stepped off here this morning on their way to burn a cross at the state capitaol in Montgomery they were warned that Montgomery police would not allow them inside the city limits because they do not have a parade permit.
"If they violate our rules, I'm gonna put 'em in jail," Montgomery Mayor Emory Folmar said.
The Klan marchers appeared headed for a showdown this weekend when they get to the capital 50 miles east of here. "We're going to go on through no matter what they say," said Bill Wilkinson, who was heading the march. Wilkinson, from Denham Springs, La., bears the Klan title of imperial wizard of the invisible empire.
Alabama Gov. Fob James put a further crimp in the Klan's plans last week by banning firearms within 1,000 feet of any demonstration. In May, blacks and Klansmen marching separately in Decatur traded gunfire, wounding four persons. Jon Ham, the governor's spokesman, noted today that the firearms order was directed at the latest Klan march.
Klan leaders predicted the marchers would be "armed to the teeth," but no firearms were visible when the march began, and a Klansman with a bullhorn warned the marchers to leave any firearms behind.
State police said a man identified as Jerry Edward Banks, 32, of Selma was arrested for carrying a pistol in violation of the firearms order. Klan leaders said he was a Klan members who had been driving a vehicle in the march.
The march will proceed along U.S. 80, a four-lane highway between Selma and Montgomery. In March 1965, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led 4,000 marchers along the same route to protest congressional inaction on voting rights for blacks. Police armed with clubs and dogs broke up that march as it crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge here in a confrontation that spurred international protest. After federal intervention, King's march was completed.
The Klan march across the bridge today was directed by John Cunningham, a black Selma police sergeant.
Perspiring in the near-100-degree heat, the Klansmen marched in groups of twos and threes and were followed by three buses filled with camping supplies and fresh robes.
The marchers shouted "white power" as they crossed the bridge and tied up traffic for about a half mile. Small groups of blacks, most of them youths, heckled the marchers while they crossed the bridge, but there was no violence.
Mayor Folmar said Montgomery police will be stationed on U.S. 80 with orders to disband the march at the city limits.
Wilkinson said his group was seeking an injunction to march into Montgomery, but city officials said they doubted the effort would be successful.
Wilkinson leads the most militant of several Klan groups operating actively in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. After the shootout last May in Decatur, about 200 members of his group showed up at another march with semiautomatic weapons and sawed-off shotguns, defying a hastily passed local ordinance similar to the one signed last week by James.
Wilkinson predicted that "several thousand" Klan members would be on hand by Saturday, a figure state officials called "vastly inflated."
However, Alabama officials have been concerned recently about the apparent growth in Klan activity this year. Several KKK rallies have been held this year throughout northern and central Alabama.
State officials are paying close attention to the latest march.
U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, one of King's top lieutenants in the 1965 march, and Coretta Scott King, widow of the assassinated civil rights leader, have been invited to Selma Saturday for the dedication of a statue of King.
The marching Klansmen are expected to pass several busloads of people on their way to the Selma dedication. CAPTION: Picture, Klansmen, marching through streets of Selma on way to Montgomery, draw response from black observers. AP