March of the Brotherhood – Encyclopedia of New Georgia
On January 24, 1987, more than 15,000 civil rights activists participated in the March of Brotherhood, which brought national attention to Forsyth County’s reputation for racial intolerance and violence. A week before that march, on January 17, white supremacists violently obstructed another civil rights demonstration.
As a recent transplant to the area, Charles Blackburn may not have fully understood the depth of local racial animosity when he announced plans for a ‘brotherhood walk’ to demonstrate early racial progress. of 1987. Forsyth had been an all-white county since 1912, when local whites forcibly evicted over a thousand black residents following the rape and murder of a young white woman. The county remained dangerous even for black travelers in the decades that followed, and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) maintained an active presence in local affairs. It was therefore not surprising that Blackburn abandoned his plans due to threats and intimidation.
In place of Blackburn, two new leaders have come forward to organize the march: Dean Carter, a white resident of nearby Gainesville, and Hosea Williams, a veteran civil rights activist and Atlanta city councilman. Williams and Carter confirmed that the march would take place as planned on January 17, the Saturday before Martin Luther King Jr.’s vacation. In response, local white supremacists announced the formation of the Forsyth County Defense League and appeals to JB Stoner, a convicted church suicide bomber, to address a “white power rally” scheduled for the same afternoon.
When a charter bus carrying some seventy-five walkers arrived at the designated starting point at the corner of State Highway 9 and Bethelview Road, hundreds of white supremacists were waiting. Less than a mile into the march, the white crowd broke through understaffed police lines and surrounded the interracial activists, creating a life-threatening situation. At the request of Forsyth County Sheriff Wesley Walraven Jr., organizers called off the remainder of the march amid a hail of rocks, bottles and bricks.
The march received extensive media coverage, featuring prominently in the pages of national daily newspapers. The Los Angeles Times announced: “Klan Group Stones Marchers in All-White County of Georgia.” A photo on the front page of the boston globe depicted outnumbered by riot police pulling a white supremacist from the road. Determined to march again the following Saturday, Williams quickly mobilized a network of civil rights activists from his previous post at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
On the morning of January 24, thousands of marchers waited to join the protest, forcing Williams and other organizers to locate additional buses. Although many were left behind due to lack of transportation, around 15,000 to 20,000 protesters took the same route as the march the previous weekend.
After reaching the courthouse, leaders called for an end to racial exclusion in Forsyth County. Speakers included Hosea Williams, Coretta Scott King, Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and comedian Dick Gregory. Other notable walkers included US Congressman John Lewis; Senators Sam Nunn and Wyche Fowler; Reverends Jesse Jackson and Ralph David Abernathy; and NAACP Executive Director Benjamin Hooks.
Chastised by the violence of the previous week, Gov. Joe Frank Harris activated nearly 2,500 law enforcement officers and members of the Georgia National Guard. Notorious white supremacists such as David Duke and JB Stoner tried unsuccessfully to disrupt the march, and Duke was arrested for trying to block a road.
The march resulted in litigation that precipitated the KKK’s financial ruin in Georgia. In McKinney vs. Southern White Knights (1988), the January 17 Walkers won a verdict of $1,000,000. The court forced the Invisible Empire, a Klan-affiliated group, to relinquish its assets and disband; their office equipment was then distributed to NAACP community offices.
International media spotlight, including a special edition of the all-new Oprah Winfrey Show, led the Mead Corporation to cancel plans to open a factory in the county and spurred the creation of a committee to foster integration into Forsyth County. Although little change came from the committee’s recommendations, Forsyth County diversified in the years to come, becoming one of the wealthiest and fastest growing suburbs in the country.