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Virgil Griffin, 64, Klan leader

Associated Press / February 14, 2009
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MOUNT HOLLY, N.C. - The man who led a Ku Klux Klan chapter in North Carolina that was involved in a deadly 1979 clash with members of the Communist Workers Party has died.

Virgil Griffin died Wednesday at Gaston Memorial Hospital, his son James said. He was 64.

Mr. Griffin, a member of the Klan for 40 years, became known nationally after five communist marchers were killed in a clash with members of the Klan in Greensboro. He was imperial wizard of the Cleveland Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

Mr. Griffin was tried on and cleared of state murder charges and federal civil rights conspiracy charges. Several other Klan members were also acquitted of murder charges in state court.

In a civil trial, the Klan, the American Nazi Party, and the Greensboro Police Department were found jointly liable for the wrongful deaths of the five people killed. The city paid $350,000.

Five people were killed, and 10 were injured during the "Death to the Klan" rally on Nov. 3, 1979.

Mr. Griffin maintained that the shootings were not planned.

He testified in 2005 at the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission that his Klansmen came to the demonstration area to hold a counterprotest.

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