Several hundred communists chanted revolutionary slogans and marched through Greensboro to bury their five slain comrades today amid heavy security provided by the government they seek to overthrow.
The communists were joined by other anti-Ku Klux Klan demonstrators who swelled a rain-drenched, chill funeral procession to perhaps 425 -- about half the size of the well-armed security forces that guarded their route.
It was eight days ago that the five were fatally shot during their "Death to the Klan" rally that was broken up by carloads of Klansmen and Nazis. Members of the Communist Workers Party, they had come to North Carolina several years ago to organize textile mill workers, who are among the least unionized and lowest paid in the country.
Today's march was more of a well-publicized political and media event than an expression of sorrow.
"Dare to struggle/dare to win/James Waller/live like him," chanted one of the widows, Signe Waller, as she led the procession with an unloaded rifle cradled in her arms and her husband's red-draped casekt behind her.
The funeral procession covered about two miles on the east side of Greensboro, beginning in a modest shopping center and ending at the city-owned Maplewood Cemetery, where the five caskets were placed side by side, four of them to be buried there. The fifth, that of Sandra Smith, 28, was to be buried elsewhere Monday.
The procession was held after extensi e negotiations with city officials, who established the conditions and route of the march. A state of emergency had been declared, restricting the sale and carrying of weapons, to prevent a rcurrence of the gun battle that erupted on Nov. 3.
Many of those entering the cordoned-off parade area today, including reporters, were searched for weapons, and 35 arrests were reported along the parade route, all of them for firearms violations. Twenty-eight weapons were confiscated, police said.
The police, augmented by National Guardsmen and state troopers, feared violence both from the marchers and any right-wing groups. The Greensboro Daily News today reported that police now believe that the first shots of the shootout were fired by the communist protesters.
City officials had urged residents, as right-wing groups had urged their members, to stay away from today's funeral procession, and for whatever reasons -- perhaps just the weather -- few people did show up to join in the procession. But one pickup truck along the route bore the sign "Greensboro People Don't Want You Communists in Our Town."
Communist leaders had predicted that 5,000 people would turn out for today's procession, and police had estimated 2,000. Those who did show were whites, blacks and orientals, but blacks predominated. Of the five communists shot fatally, four were white and one was black, in what was basically a confrontation of political ideology as opposed to racial enmity.
The funeral procession began at 3 p.m. -- two hours late.Although city officials permitted the procession despite a ban on political parades, the character of the march was indeed policitical.
Almost uneventfully, the gathering walked through black neighborhoods to the cemetery. There, after a final round of revolutionary rhetoric, the four red-draped caskets were buried.