On Tuesday night, the Greensboro City Council voted to apologize for the “Greensboro Massacre” – the Nov. 3, 1979 tragedy in which Ku Klux Klansmen and American Nazi Party members shot and killed five activists from the Communist Workers Party.
The council has struggled with the city government and police department’s responsibility in the shootings for decades. Two years ago the council voted to support a historical marker describing it as “The Greensboro Massacre” – the controversial phrase by which it is most widely known. But the council stopped short of formally apologizing then – something for which community activists in the state’s third largest city have long fought.
In the wake of the tragedy in Charlottesville last weekend, that changed on Tuesday.
As the News & Record, Greensboro’s daily newspaper, reported:
The vote came unexpectedly, after several speakers urged the council to take the step in light of Saturday’s killing of an anti-Klan and anti-Nazi protester in Charlottesville, Va. Councilwoman Sharon Hightower made the motion, which was seconded by Councilwoman Yvonne Johnson.
The Klan-Nazi shootings happened the morning of Nov. 3, 1979, just as the march was forming in the Morningside Homes community. A heavily armed caravan of Klansmen and Nazis drove into a “Death to the Klan” rally and confronted anti-Klan marchers, many of whom were members of what became the Communist Workers Party. During the ensuing gunfire, five anti-Klan marchers were killed and 10 others wounded. All criminal defendants later were acquitted in state and federal criminal trials. A civil jury found the city and some Klansmen liable for one of the deaths. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission spent two years researching the shooting and the events surrounding it, and released its findings in 2006. Besides blaming the Klansmen and Nazi shooters, as well as the local police, it found that the march’s organizers, members of the CWP, share some responsibility, “albeit lesser.”
As recently as 2009, the City Council voted to issue a statement of regret for the events of that day, but stopped short of apologizing.
“This type of tragedy is nothing new,” said Tessa Kirkpatrick, a member of Anti-Racist White Folks Serving Black Lives Matter, on the incident in Charlottesville. “White supremacy has shaped both cities.”
“Let’s turn the tragedy of 1979 into a triumph for the city of Greensboro,” said Joyce Johnson, who was a participant in the “Death to the Klan” rally and the wife of one of the organizers, the Rev. Nelson Johnson.
Council members say they plan to review the commission’s report, with an eye toward issuing a more formal apology in the future. April Parker, a member of Black Lives Matter, then took to the podium and demanded an apology from the Greensboro Police Department and read the rest of the commission’s findings. She shouted: “The apologies have just begun!”
The council also voted to reinstate the city’s Police Community Review Board, which has been a point of controversy as the city continues to struggle with tensions between the community and its police department.