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Responding to Atlanta

Pray for Atlanta. That is what leaders of America's major black organizations are asking us all to do. Whose heart is so clenched as not to respond? Twenty black children have been murdered in the past 20 months. Two more have disappeared. The Black Leadership Forum, which met in Atlanta this week, did its part to keep violence from breeding violence by speaking to the better instincts of citizens and officials. The memory of those children and the future protection of persons in every walk of life call for an outpouring of prayerful support.

Yesterday three Georgia state legislators carried forward the nonviolent theme at a City Hall press conference. They denounced vigilante groups, decried exploitation of the tragedies, and warned against attributing the murder to racist conspiracy as inviting unrest in the city's black communities.

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It was a timely warning, coming just as a new poll on race relations found mixed impressions on the subject. Fifty-seven percent of the black Americans polled thought the recent episodes of violence against blacks around the country resulted from group conspiracy; 29 percent considered them the work of isolated criminals. Among whites the percentages were almost exactly reversed. Conspiracy theories may be fed by the revived visibility of Ku Klux Klan members , even to the point of broadcasting antiblack political messages. But it is important that fear of conspiracy not be promoted where none exists.

Thus the Black Leadership Forum performed a service by adopting a statement finding no "racist plot" in the Atlanta murders. It went on in words that will strike an answering chord in many places: "We are nevertheless increasingly concerned about the escalation of violence and insensitivity to poor and black people in this nation." The forum properly called for strong governmental measures against violence and poverty.

But the uncertain effects of official programs -- like the difficulties of solving the Atlanta murders even with every usual and unusual police technique -- bring the focus back to the plea for prayer. This is the universal and exhaustless resource, the guarantee for every righteous enterprise, as fully available on behalf of today's Atlantans as for the young men unscathed b y the fiery furnace of biblical times.

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