A confrontation between two carloads of whites and a communist-affiliated group gathering for an anti-Ku Klux Klan march erupted today in a bloody clash with shotgun and automatic weapons that lead four dead and 10 injured.
The gunbattle erupted near the Morningside Homes Federal Housing Project in a predominantly black section of Greensboro, a tobacco and furniture manufacturing town of 150,000.
Authorities said about 50 people, blacks and whites, had assembled for a march by the Workers' Viewpoint Organization, which police said had communist ties, when the whites wheeled into the area.
Officials knew of the march plans and had planned to offer protection, but police did not arrive in time to head off the trouble.
Sgt. E.E. Williamson of the Greensboro Police Department said three of those killed where white men and one was a black woman.
Hawitt Lovelace, city public safety director, said 10 people who had been riding in the cars were arrested. Lovelace said police had recovered a "whole van full" of weapons.
Television newsfilm of the incident showed a group of cars loaded with white men moving into the housing project. A car and a van stopped and gun-toting whites piled out, some shooting as they strode toward the crowd.
Demonstrators, who moments before had been shouting "Death to the Klan" and beating on the vehicles of the interlopers, scattered with the first shots. However, at least one rally participant appeared to approach the gunmen.
The gunmen ran back to their vehicles as demonstrators yelled, "Help us. Help us. Somebody call an ambulance."
Greensboro Police Capt. james Hilliard said eight people were treated at local hospitals for gunshot wounds. One person suffered an injured hip and one suffered a cut on the arm, he said.
"The first thing that happened, I saw this Klansman waving his gun. The next thing we knew there was shooting all over the place," said a march participant, Claire Burton, who said a woman died in her arms. Burton's face was caked with blood.
There was no indication of whether the whites were Ku Klux Klan members.
Witnesses said they saw demonstrators pull out handguns, but it couldn't be confirmed tht any shots were fired by the demonstrators.
One resident of the housing project, who refused to give his name, said the whites came through the area making obsene gestures and shouting obscenities.
"I seen some crackers with shotguns," he said. "I ain't never seen crackers in the Grove [the nickname for the housing development] before and I was born and grew up here."
He said some of the marchers carrying anti-Klan signs began hitting cars.
Witness said the gunfire lasted about two minutes, and police, who were just arriving, closed in immediately and blocked off the area.
Several hours after the incident, 15 to 20 police officers wearing riot helmets stood guard at the scene, cordoned off with a white cord strung from telephone poles to trees.
Police said officers had been scheduled to escort the marchers but had not arrived when the shooting occurred. They said there was no forwarning of any trouble.
"We haven't had any trouble with any of them," said Sgt. Williamson. "We did not expect any trouble with any of them. To us, it was just a protest march."
In an interview before the rally, Workers Viewpoint spokesman Nelson Johnson told reporters he did not know if the Klan was active in the area "but the poison is being spread."
"The Klan is just a tiny bunch of cowards who can be smashed," Johnson said.
The gun battle in Greensboro coincided with a tense Klan march in Dallas, where hundreds of riot-equipped police protected about 50 Klan marchers. One of the officers said tensions were so high he was "amazed" a riot did not erupt.
Despite the heavy Dallas police guard, one black man broke through the police lines and punched on of the Klansmen. Another black managed to seize one of the Klansmen's signs, which he promptly ripped to pieces. CAPTION: Picture, Weapons are removed from car moments before fatal shootout in Greensboro; Copyright (c) 1979, The Greensboro Daily News