Nearly 7,000 anti-Ku Klux Klan demonstrators locked arms, sang freedom songs and chanted a variety of populist and socialist slogans today as they marched through downtown Greensboro, hoping to rekindle the fire of the civil rights movement of 20 years ago.
It was not simply a nostalgic gathering of leftovers from the 1960s. Rather, it was a one-day ideological kaleidoscope of Southern Baptist ministers and New York socialists, trade unionists and businessmen, white coal miners in hard hats and black nationalists carrying red, black and green banners.
Blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians and American Indians, they came from Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Ohio, from New York, New Jersey, Georgia and Washington, D.C.
It was a new left coalition for the 1980s denouncing the draft, some pleading for nonviolence to the boos of other in the column. And there was a group of homosexuals who marched beneath a sign identifying them as "Queers Against Racism."
They were a leaderless mass, brought together, one speaker said, by anger over a perceived indifference of those in power to a resurgence of Klan activity.
"We left it up to the politicians to dramatize [the resurgence]. [But] they were too worried about the votes, even Ku Klux Klan votes," said the Rev. C.T. Vivian of Atlanta, one of the organizers of today's events. "We left it to them in the 1970s, we're gonna take it over again in the 1980s."
City and state officials had feared violence from today's march and rally. A contingent of 150 state troopers and 300 North Carolina National Guard personnel was on duty, along with all 427 of this city's riot-equipped police. Greensboro Mayor E.S. (Jim) Melvin had declared a limited state of emergency, and traffic was sealed off along the route of the 3.8-mile march.
But there was no violence, even though dozens of members of the Communist Workers Party, officially banned from the march because of the group's refusal to pledge that its members would not carry firearms, took an active part in the march.
Police reported two arrests in connection with the march. A 15-year-old white male was taken into custody for possession of marijuana and a knife, police said, and a 26-year-old Indian was arrested for carrying a .22 cal. rifle and a bow and arrow. The police would not say if those arrested were affiliated with any organization.
The anti-Klan rally took place here because Greensboro was the site 20 years ago yesterday of the acknowledged beginning of the black student sit-in movement.
It was also here last Nov. 3 that five members of the CWP were allegedly killed by Klansman and Nazis during an anti-Klan rally at a public housing project in the poverty-ridden southeastern sector of the city.
Large pictures of the five were carried by marchers today, but the demonstration had a broader focus than either a revived Klan or the November deaths.
"What the Klan did in Greensboro tells us more about this nation than it does about the Ku Klux Klan," Vivian said. "We're not here to holler back here at the Klan. The Klan's not the real problem. We're here to holler back at the nation that controls the Klan."
The two-hour march ended with a rally of speeches, preaching, folk singing and chanting at the Greensboro Coliseum. It was organized by a national coalition headed by Vivian and the Rev. Lucius Walker, director of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization in New York.