Officials Say Fire, Klan Demonstration Unrelated
LUDOWICI, Ga. (AP) _ The Southern Christian Leadership Conference says it will ask Gov. Joe Frank Harris and the U.S. Justice Department to investigate a fire that gutted a civil rights leader’s home, several hours after the Ku Klux Klan held a cross-burning ceremony outside town.
Long County Sheriff Cecil Nobles said the fire at Kenneth Mallard’s house early Sunday morning appeared accidental. A state fire marshal could not detect arson after studying samples taken from the burned house, Nobles said.
Mallard, 23, is coordinator for the Coalition of Concerned Citizens, a 2- year-old alliance of Ludowici civil rights groups. Mallard, who said he believed the fire and the Klan rallly were connected, said he would accept the outcome of the investigation.
″With the situation going on in Ludowici the way it is - the cross- burning, the racial tension - you can’t help that the thought would enter your mind that it was set.″
The Klan demonstrated in Ludowici on Sunday, several blocks away from a rally sponsored by the SCLC and attended by about 150 blacks.The two groups never crossed paths. Fifty state troopers on hand in case of trouble.
After the demonstration, about 250 people attended a Klan cross-burning at a ranch two miles east of town. The fire at Mallard’s house broke out 41/2 hours later.
The demonstrations were brought on by a brawl at Ludowici High School on March 8 in which 19 students, 11 of them black, were suspended. Five of those suspended, all black, remain barred from school.
SCLC President Joseph E. Lowery said Sunday, ″We will be calling on the governor and the Justice Department to further investigate the fire, and determine why there wasn’t some special patrolling or other measures taken to protect Mr. Mallard.″