Greensboro seeks renewed racial progress in wake of Klan murder trial

Obscured by the drama of the murder trial here in which six Ku Klux Klan members were acquitted Nov. 17 of murdering five anti-Klan demonstrators are efforts to improve race relations and the lot of blacks in this textile-mill city.

The killings occurred Nov. 3, 1979, when a group of professed Communist staged a "death to the Klan" march for which the leaders of the march apparently were members, had involved itself in labor organizing in the area.

Even as controversy continues over the verdict, which left some in the local black community incredulous, most of greensboro's white and black leaders are trying to focus attention on an unfinished agenda for relieving local blacks of some of their problems -- particularly housing.

"The verdict may have focused our attention on some things we hadn't been paying attention to," says James Clotfelter, political science professor at the University of North Carolina campus here.

Both Greensboro Mayor E. S. Melvin and Human Relations Commmission executive director James Wright II said in Monitor interviews that they see an unusual opportunity to move ahead with biracial support on needed improvements in the black community.

Blacks, who make up about one-third of the city's population, are substantially underrepresented in high-evel private and city jobs and have incomes much below those of whites, according to a study last May by the Nort Carolina advisory committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights.

The committee accused Greensboro of "glossing over" serious problems facing local blacks.

Local leaders stress the need for more low-income housing and a stronger Human Relations Commission to monitor compliance with fair housing and hiring laws.

Now, in the wake of the Klan trial verdict, "the atmosphere is one of 'let's get on with it, let's be expeditios,'" said Mayor Melvin, relaxing for a moment at his bank office here.

Recently the Greensboro City Council, against considerable objections from some whites, approved rezoning to make it possible to build low-income housing in predominantly white neighborhoods. And the city is spending more on parks and recreation in the major black neighborhood than elsewhere.

But a biracial citizens committee formed after the shootings criticizes city leaders for failure to push harder on minority hiring, in both the public and private sectors, and several other issues regarding blacks.

Greensboro's selection as the site of the disastrous anti- Klan rally on Nov. 3, 1979, stemmed from several causes, the least of which seems to have been the city's own problems. Several of the leaders of the Communist group had attended area colleges or worked in the vicinity. The local demonstration was the outgrowth of an earlier incident in which a group of the Communists burst into a KKK rally in China Grove, N. C. (70 miles from Greensboro), tore-down a Confederate flag, and burned it.

Whether continued defensiveness about the damage to the city's image by outsiders becomes the hallmark of Greensboro's response to the unfortunate sequence of events, or whether progress can be made on the basis of a new cansensus of both races remains to be seen, says Professor Clotfelter.

This period is the "acid test," of the city's commitment to help its black residents, says Mr. Wright of the human Relations commission.

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