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Charlottesville, Durham and the Greensboro Massacre

In the wake of deadly violence at a white supremacist rally over the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, VA and the toppling of a Confederate monument in Durham last week, the political ground has shifted.

Duke University voluntarily removed the Robert E. Lee statue outside of Duke Chapel.

After decades of controversy, UNC is seriously discussing the removal of its ‘Silent Sam’ statue.

Perhaps most shocking to me:  the Greensboro City Council voted to apologize for the 1979 “Greensboro Massacre,” in which five members of the Communist Workers Party were killed by Klan/Neo-Nazi groups.

I spent a decade as a reporter at the News & Record, the daily newspaper in Greensboro. I city government. I wasn’t sure I’d ever see an actual apology.

For those unfamiliar with the 1979 tragedy, I would suggest this piece I wrote for the News & Record in 2015. The controversy then was a historical marker describing the tragedy which, after decades, many of the city cannot agree on.

From that piece:

“The fact that such a fiery argument still can rage at the highest levels of city government in 2015 is testament to the essential problem with all discussions of Nov. 3, 1979.

After more than 35 years, countless written accounts, three trials and a lengthy public Truth and Reconciliation process, the debate is still as heated as ever. No one version of events, how they happened and who was to blame has ever truly cooled and hardened into accepted, consensus history.

Debate over the killings still is framed in reductive racial and political terms.

Few are eager to wholeheartedly take the side of organized hate groups like the KKK and neo-Nazis.

But neither are many willing to mount a full-throated defense of Communist Workers Party members who urged “militant, direct action — a confrontation with the Klan” in the heart of Morningside Homes, the largely black neighborhood that was the first public housing project in North Carolina.

Morningside Homes is gone now — its cheap, 1950s-era houses and little dirt playground bulldozed.

But what happened there so long ago, its causes and its legacy, are still with us — those who were there that afternoon, those who watched footage of it on television in stunned silence, even those who were not yet born.”

The arguments over the events of Nov. 3, 1979 have special resonance this month. Arguments over political violence, property destruction and responsibility when political fights turn deadly – they are all features of the recent events that finally led to the Greensboro City Council’s apology.

What, if anything, we’ve learned since 1979 is an open question.

But it’s worth noting the Greensboro Massacre as one of a number of painful moments in the state’s history to which we should look as we decide where we go from here.

 

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