Leader of North Carolina Ku Klux Klan Chapter Dies

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, 64, died Wednesday at Gaston Memorial Hospital, his son James said.

Griffin, a member of the Klan for 40 years, became known nationally when 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 KKK.

Griffin was tried and cleared of state murder charges and federal civil rights conspiracy charges. Several Klan members also were 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 Communist-sponsored "Death to the Klan" rally on Nov. 3, 1979.

Griffin maintained that the shootings weren't planned.

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

When shooting broke out, Griffin testified, Communist Workers Party members were killed and not Klansmen because "my people hunt for food. Maybe God guided the bullets, I don't know."

After the commission meeting, Griffin told reporters the hearings were "a total waste of time. It would have been forgotten 20 years ago if you didn't keep it in the news."

Klansmen said the fight broke out between the groups because Communists tried to pull a 79-year-old Klansman out of his car.

An employee at Woodlawn Funeral Home in Mount Holly said visitation was scheduled Friday night and Griffin's funeral would be held Saturday afternoon.