LAGRANGE, Ga. -- The Ku Klux Klan carried out its march and rally without disruption, but five people -- including three blacks - were arrested on charges of carrying weapons.
More than 80 Klansmen marched along a mile-long parade route downtown under a scorching sun Saturday afternoon. The Klansmen, who won approval for the march in federal court after the city rejected their request for a permit, were outnumbered by city and county police, Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents and riot-equipped statepatrolmen.
Klan leaders said the ruling showed 'the Klan has clout' in Georgia.
More than 1,000 white residents lined the streets, many of them cheering the Klan as Imperial Wizard Bill Wilkinson of Denham Springs, La., denounced busing, affirmative action and immigration policies.
A few blacks watched impassively, but most of the city's 40 percent black population heeded the urgings of city officials and civil rights leaders to boycott the demonstration.
Five people were arrested for carrying weapons, including three blacks, police said.
In the evening, Klan members and about 100 spectators gathered in a clearing six miles south of the small textile community to hear Wilkinson and Georgia Grand Dragon Cramer Rogers. At the end of the rally, a 50-foot cross was ignited by a circle of torch-bearing Klansmen.
'We have shown that the Klan has clout in the state of Georgia,' Wilkinson shouted from behind a plywood rostrum next to a makeshift concession stand, where Klan women sold T-shirts, belt buckles and embroidered patches bearing the Klan emblem.
Wilkinson predicted that 'we're going to speak in Atlanta before the year is out,' and told followers that 'you're going to hear the voice of the Klan on every corner of the state.'
LaGrange officials had initially denied the Klan permission to march through downtown during the Chattahoochee Valley Arts Association's annual 'Affair on the Square,' an exhibit that drew several thousand residents.
The march was routed about two blocks away from the town square after U.S. District Judge G. Ernest Tidwell in Atlanta granted the Klan a temporary restraining order against city interference with its march.
The American Civil Liberties Union represented the Klan in court, claiming the case raised free-speech and assembly issues.
Wilkinson briefly thanked Tidwell, but not the ACLU, in his remarks at the rally.
'We know that race is the biggest issue and the biggest problem in the United States today,' he said. 'We are the only organization that has the courage to stand up and say race is the issue.'
The Rev. Mac Jones, pastor of the predominantly black First Baptist Church, and state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, a veteran Southern Christian Leadership Conference activist, had urged blacks not to heckle or confront the Klan. They held a prayer vigil at the church prior to the march, singing 'We Shall Overcome' and distributing literature from the National Anti-Klan Network.