JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ More than 1,000 whites staged an unprecedented march in a black neighborhood today and joined an estimated 50,000 township residents in calling for an end to apartheid.

The ''March of Hope'' began this morning outside a hospital in the southern coastal city of Port Elizabeth, and traveled three miles to the New Brighton township, growing in numbers along the way.

When the whites, including children and senior citizens, reached the township, they were greeted by tens of thousands of cheering black residents who filled the streets. Some youths climbed on rooftops to get a view of the visitors.

''The spontaneous welcome was amazing,'' said Flip Potgieter, a city councilor in Port Elizabeth. ''This was an amazing experience.''

New Brighton's assembly hall was packed, and thousands stood outside to hear whites express solidarity with blacks in seeking an end to apartheid, South Africa's system of legalized race segregation.

''This shows that good will exists in Port Elizabeth and that not all whites support apartheid,'' said Ronnie van Wyk, a lecturer at the University of Port Elizabeth.

''You must take this message to your homes and help forge this unity which will take us to a new, non-racial, democratic South Africa,'' said Michael Xhego, a black anti-apartheid leader. ''We hope the whole country will learn from this march and follow suit.''

Few South African whites visit the country's black residential areas, and today's demonstration marked the first organized march by white citizens into a township. Police kept a low profile, and no incidents were reported.

President F.W. de Klerk said in September that the government would no longer break up lawful demonstrations, and since then there have been dozens of peaceful anti-government marches throughout the country.

The decision to allow protests is part of De Klerk's larger effort to reduce racial conflict in South Africa. In his latest move, he announced Friday that four neighborhoods around the country would be open to all races, easing a 39-year-old policy of strict residential segregation.

Activists said the announcement was largely symbolic, and called on the government to abolish segregated neighborhoods nationwide.

The far-right Conservative Party said the move was a blow to whites who seek a ''separate community life.''

Earlier this month, de Klerk declared all beaches open to all races and called for the repeal of the Separate Amenities Act, which allows for the segregation of many public facilities.

He says he seeks an end to all discriminatory laws but also promises to maintain segregated schools and neighborhoods for whites who want them.

De Klerk says he wants to bring the 28 million blacks into the national government, but he has made clear his opposition to a one-man, one-vote system and black majority rule.