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RACIAL TENSION FLARES AS FIRE DESTROYS SCHOOL

SHARE RACIAL TENSION FLARES AS FIRE DESTROYS SCHOOL

An apparent arson fire left a school in smoldering ruins Saturday and stoked tensions in a dispute over the principal who opposed interracial dates at a prom.

The fire gutted all of the Randolph County High School classrooms only hours before marchers planned protests targeting Principal Hulond Humphries.Blacks seeking to oust Humphries, who is white, canceled a protest march as tensions mounted and Ku Klux Klan members arrived in the Alabama town.

"The danger is too great," said a protest leader, the Rev. Emmett Johnson of Wedowee.

But tempers had already flared.

Humphries shoved a black TV cameraman at the fire scene. "Why don't you get out of here?" he told Bill Gill, with WVTM of Birmingham.

The camera captured the moment and recorded the approach of other men with Humphries, one of whom placed his hand on the lens and shoved.

Investigators were "99 percent" certain the early-morning blaze was arson, said Sheriff Larry Colley.

Later, it was Colley who grew angry with media attention to about 30 would-be marchers as they held hands, prayed and sang "We Shall Overcome."

"Where were you people this morning when Hulond Humphries was out there fighting that fire with his bare hands?" Colley said.

But protesters were angry, too.

Sherry Knight, who graduated from the high school in 1986, said of Humphries: "He was a racist pig then and he hasn't changed now."

A new march was set for Aug. 20, said Rev. Henry Sterling of the Leadership Conference.

A new march was set for Aug. 20, said Rev. Henry Sterling of the Leadership Conference.

"We've never failed to march because of what the Klan might do," he said. He added, however, that "Wedowee needed a cooling-off period."