A Good Way to Remember MLK and Rev. Hosea Williams

Forsyth County News January, 1987
Forsyth County News January, 1987

In memory of MLK and Rev. Hosea Williams

The Recording


The Text -

I remember the first Brotherhood March through Forsyth County. It was January 1987. About fifty folks, black and white, Christians and Jews, all came up on a bus, headed by the ebullient civil rights leader Hosea Williams.
I was a reporter then, with the Forsyth County News. Our editor had left town that weekend under pressure. He’d written a column supporting the idea of an integrated march to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He said it would show how the all white county of Forsyth had moved past its bad racist reputation.

Judging from the threatening phone calls we got in our office for days after his column ran, the county still had some moving left to do. Then a few ads got canceled, and our editor got out of town the weekend of the march and left the reporting to the lower ranks.
That Saturday morning, I was shocked when I got to the country crossroads where the march was supposed to start. A half-hour before the bus from Atlanta came up, it looked like every rebel flag-waving redneck in the South had converged there. They were carrying signs that read, “Forsyth Stays White,” and “Crusade Against Corruption,” and shouting slurs as they stood behind a barbed wire fence on a hill, looking down at the small contingent of officers who would try to protect the marchers when the bus finally came.
Suddenly, the crowd behind the cattle fence went wild, yelling to someone coming down the road. I turned to see a small, old man, walking with a limp. He was obviously some kind of folk hero to them. I didn’t know who he was, but it was my job to find out. I approached him, introduced myself as a local reporter, and asked his name. He held out his pudgy small hand to shake. “I’m J.B. Stoner,” he said. “Thank God for AIDS.”
I was sick. I knew that name. The man convicted of bombing a black church in Alabama and more. Here he was, out of jail, free to come back and stir up this crowd of imbeciles on the hill, who were also waving signs praising AIDS as God’s special way of killing off the blacks and the gays, so the world would be left to good white Christian folks like themselves.

The first Brotherhood March didn’t last long. The group from Atlanta had taken a pledge of nonviolence and when they got off the bus, they didn’t return the rocks and bottles thrown at them by the herd on the hill. But then the “Keep Forsyth White” crowd jumped the fence and pummeled down to attack. Policemen rushed the relatively few marchers back on the bus, saying, “Hurry! We can’t protect you.” And they meant it.
The day got worse. So much worse. A racist mob had taken over the town square. They'd been allowed to set up a PA system on the courthouse steps. It was the closest thing I’d ever seen to a Klan rally, but huge, with people in ordinary clothes, mixed in with the white robes and hoods, waving their hate signs and holding up nooses like trophies. It was like a nightmare where what’s familiar becomes deformed. I saw so many faces in the crowd I recognized from earlier stories. Waitresses. High school kids. Secretaries. Store clerks. Construction workers. Farmers and church goers.

What had happened to this town, where I thought I knew people, and had some idea of their values? How had they all gotten swept up in this weird sickness? They were cheering with hatred. Hatred for blacks. Hatred for Jews. Hatred for gays. They ruled Forsyth County that day. And I felt fear like I’ve never felt it before - not because I was afraid I’d be hurt personally, but because I saw how quickly – how recklessly we can lose the laws and rules that keep us civil, right there, in our courthouse square.
We went back to our office, just a block from the crowd, to try and develop our film and write our stories for the next day’s paper. Our editor called from Florida. “You OK?” he asked. He’d seen the coverage on CNN.

We were shaken, but OK. He told us to take anything of value that we could carry out of the office, and go file our stories in Gwinnett.
I think of Forsyth County and the scenes from that day come into my mind when I start to think about things today that are going wrong. So many people, losing a sense of civility and humanity. Crazy rabid talk show hosts screaming rhetoric that's just hateful and stupid. I start feeling panicked.

And then I remember. Something fantastic happened after the first horrific “Brotherhood March” in Forsyth County.
It snowed.
And the following week, local folks felt shamed and foolish for getting caught up in the hysteria of that day. Outrage around the world was so strong it rolled like a wave of awareness over that small rural county that had become host to the ugliest show of bigots the South had seen in years. Reactions were simmering and unpredictable. Then a few inches of light snow fell, and chilled and quieted and stilled everything for a few days.

It gave everyone time to think, and maybe even pray... and make their travel plans from around the world, because the weekend that followed was cold but beautiful, with more than 20,000 brothers and sisters, coming from Europe, South Africa, California and just about every other state in the union, joining in the second, redemptive Brotherhood March through Forsyth County.
All day long, the buses kept coming, with people who came to say they did not agree with racism, or violence, or the way a peaceful demonstration had been shut down two weeks earlier. The marchers were flanked on either side of the street by a force of 1,000 National Guard troops, all along the route, witnessing, protecting, and preserving the right to assemble.
Our editor was back on the job, coordinating our coverage. Celebrities, pastors, politicians, and – people from around the country and the world were there, carrying signs for freedom and peace, cheering and singing, “We shall overcome.”
That’s what I remember, when I start to freak about things now. I remember the second verse of that song. “We are not afraid ... some day.”
In most ways, Forsyth County did overcome that horrid episode in history.
As for what we’re facing right now, with war and hypocrisy and new kinds of prejudice... All I know to do is say a prayer ... and keep singing ... We shall overcome ... and get ready for the day.

All photos and text copyrighted by Molly Read Woo, with all rights reserved - The Center for Digital Storytelling is welcome to share and broadcast all of this material.

     In honor of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rev. Hosea Williams, this year - I'm getting together with friends to share some thoughts on love and justice and make a donation to the Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless Foundation. If you'd like to know more about the HFTH Foundation - which is feeding thousands of people in Atlanta a much appreciated dinner today, and helps thousands more neighbors in need throughout the year, check out their website at http://4hosea.org/

Wishing you Justice, Peace, and Love on this MLK Day


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Sallie Forrester January 21, 2014 at 09:57 AM
I was there at the second march. Coretta Scott King, Andrew Young and many others were there to speak. There were many southerners therel- black and white.


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