CUMMING, GA., JAN. 16 -- Guarded by 400 federal, state and county law officers, the Rev. Hosea Williams took 161 civil rights marchers back to Forsyth County today to complete the "brotherhood march" that ended in rock- and bottle-throwing violence one year ago. This time not a rock was thrown, not a catcall marred the stillness of the bright, sunny day.
"This was a real nice day," said Robert Thompson, a 62-year-old veteran of last year's march and 21 others. "Last year they was throwing rocks before we even got off the bus. First they broke the windows; then they broke our heads. This was much better, the most peaceful march I have ever been on."
Waving white banners emblazoned with pink dogwood blossoms and the slogans "We Come in Peace" and "Redeeming the Soul of Forsyth County," the marchers were led by Williams, a black member of the Atlanta City Council, and Chuck Blackburn, a white martial arts instructor who moved from rural Forsyth County last year after calling for the "brotherhood walk" through the county to show that blacks were once again welcome.
Blacks were driven out in 1912 after two black men were convicted of raping and murdering a white teen-age girl. Since then, virtually no blacks have lived in the county of 38,000 about 40 miles north of Atlanta.
Blackburn, who moved his school to Orlando, Fla., last February after all of his students withdrew following the march, said that while there has been "no obvious outward change" in Forsyth racial attitudes, "there has been a change in some of the individual attitudes. The common people, the good people feel more encouraged to stand up and speak out when they hear racist remarks, to say, 'That offends me.' "
On her front porch with Eloise Pruitt, 76, were four generations of the Pruitt family, Forsyth County dwellers for a half-century. "It'll go away, if you stay quiet," said her son, George Pruitt, 47, watching the marchers gathered across the road at the end of their trek.
"I think they handled it just right; they didn't have all those hagglers and hecklers. Now they'll get back on the bus and leave. They're just like white people," Pruitt added. "There's some good 'uns and some sorry ones. They got rights, too."
Despite the efforts of a 12-member biracial committee appointed by Georgia Gov. Joe Frank Harris (D) and a coalition of civil rights groups to work out a solution to racial issues, no progress has been made. At the end of the year, after meeting twice a month for 12 months, the committee declared itself hopelessly deadlocked. Two reports, one from the blacks, one from the whites, were sent to the governor, and the meetings were discontinued.
"We were unable to get them to agree that we even have a problem," said Elizabeth Omilami, 35, one of the committee members and Williams' daughter. Omilami said she will ask the governor next week to reconvene the committee or form a new one.