CUMMING, Ga. -- Civil rights activist Hosea Williams said more protest marches may be held in predominantly white Forsyth County unless white officials adopt programs that encourage blacks to live and work there.
Williams and 180 of his followers paraded peacefully through the county 15 miles northeast of Atlanta on Saturday. There were no incidents and no arrests. About 100 counter demonstrators, kept behind barricades by 425 law enforcement officers, stared silently at the marchers.
'Forsyth officials must be willing to work with us to achieve low-income housing so poor whites and blacks can live together here,' Williams said after the march ended. 'It's a matter of economics.
'Some of the fastest growing counties in America are right here north of Atlanta and when they're filled up, businesses and industries will look to Forsyth and Dawson (County) to expand.'
Williams said Atlanta already has the world's busiest airport and will need a second one in the next decade. It is likely to be built north of the city, he said. 'We have to live here so we can share in that coming prosperity.'
Not all black leaders participated in the Williams-organized march. Absent were such prominent blacks as Coretta Scott King, Joseph Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young. Young noted that whites from Forsyth come to Atlanta and work peacefully alongside blacks and said 'I don't see what the fuss is about.'
The march came one year after a similar march was halted by rock and bottle-throwing white supremacists and coincided with the week-long observance of the 59th birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. The civil rights leader was assassinated 20 years ago by James Earl Ray, who is serving a life sentence in the Tennessee State Penitentiary at Nashville.
Many marchers said their peaceful demonstration vindicated last year's interupted march but they vowed to return 'again and again' to Forsyth until blacks can live and work in the county without fear.
Williams offered to cancel Saturday's march if Forsyth officials would fill county government job vacancies with qualified blacks until 10 percent of the employees were black, guarantee that 10 percent of the county's spending would be with black vendors, and supply low and moderate income housing to a group of blacks willing to live in the county. But county officials were not willing to meet those demands.
Elizabeth Omilani, a black member of a biracial commission appointed last February to examine racial tensions in Forsyth County, urged Gov. Joe Frank Harris to reappoint the committee.
The committee recently issued its report with black and white members split on several key issues, including compensation for land blacks lost when they were driven from the county in 1912 following the rape and murder of a whitegirl by black youths.
'This march today proved there is hope for Forsyth County,' Omilani said. 'We need to let the world know that Forsyth County can be a part of America and not a duplicate of Johannesburg.'
Since the initial marches in Forsyth a year ago, black employment has increased to 52 from a single job. 'A few blacks have gotten jobs and white people speak out against the Ku Klux Klan,' Williams said. But he said 'the progress we've made is like putting a Band-Aid on cancer.'