JASPER, Texas, June 13 -- Mourners gathered under a sweltering sun to hear two of the nation's top black leaders call for healing and racial harmony at the funeral of a black man allegedly killed by three whites with suspected ties to white supremacist groups. James Byrd Jr. died early last Sunday when the suspects beat him, tied him by the ankles to the rear of a pickup truck and dragged his body at least two miles until his head and torso came off. The Black Panthers were also among the overflowing crowd today, which numbered up to 1,000 at the Greater New Bethel Baptist Church, located on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, in Jasper, Texas, but there were no disturbances. Also present were as many as 75 law enforcement officers from federal, state, county and local agencies. The Rev. Jesse Jackson presided over the services, which were paid for by Dallas native and Chicago Bulls basketball star Dennis Rodman. Jackson said God had chosen Byrd's family to represent the nation, adding, 'Nothing has captured the nation's attention like this tragedy. ' He said that in Jasper there should be a tomb where blacks and whites can come together that says, 'Go forward by hope and healing, not backward by hurt and hate.' NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said: 'God is good all the time, even in times like this. What you are going through now, no one should go through. It could just as easily have been any of us.'
First lady Hillary Clinton sent a letter that said the president and she were 'deeply saddened to hear of your son's death. You are in our thoughts and prayers. Violence and hatred in our society hurts us all.' About 10 percent of the crowd were whites, the rest black in a town where, according to Mayor R.C. Horn, 46 percent of the population of 8, 000 are black. Many whites reportedly stayed away out of fear, and one sporting goods worker at the Wal-Mart in Jasper said the store has sold more ammunition this week than at any time in the past. Three men face charges in Byrd's death. Jasper residents Shawn Allen Berry and John William King, both 23, and 31-year-old Lawrence Russell Brewer, of Sulphur Springs, are being held in separate cells under tight security. ---
Copyright 1998 by United Press International. All rights reserved. ---