Two activists widowed in the 1979 Greensboro Massacre died last week after a lifetime of social justice work.
Signe Waller Foxworth and Dr. Marty Nathan both lost their husbands in the 1979 confrontation between Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis and members of the Communist Workers Party. In their separate ways, both women continued to fight for their beliefs for the rest of their lives.
Waller died Friday at 84. Nathan, 70, was working as a doctor in Northampton, Massachussetts when she died November 30.
Their husbands — Dr. Jim Waller and Dr. Michael Nathan — were killed by white supremacists. The historical marker at the corner of Willow and McConnell Roads sums up the terrible day that shook both women in just 25 words.
“Greensboro Massacre — Ku Klux Klansmen and American Nazi Party members, on Nov. 3, 1979, shot and killed five Communist Workers Party members one-tenth mile north.”
Even that brief acknowledgement of the tragedy and how it would be characterized — remained a hotly-debated political controversy when the marker was finally approved in 2015.
In 2017 the Greensboro City Council voted to issue an apology for the massacre. That apology was actually issued last year, more than 40 years after the tragedy.
The News & Record’s Nancy McLaughlin wrote about Nathan’s work after her husband’s killing.
From that story:
Widowed at age 28 with an infant daughter, she used the money from the lawsuit against the Ku Klux Klan, Nazis and the Greensboro police for the wrongful death of Dr. Michael Nathan to start the Greensboro Justice Fund, which over the next 20 years gave away $500,000 as grants to small groups fighting for civil rights and social justice in the South.
In an interview before the 40th anniversary of what is now called the Greensboro Massacre, she said the travesty of that day lingers on. Five people died and 10 were injured during the shootings and no one was ever convicted of the deaths. She said the confrontation would fuel the white supremacist movement, notably Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally that took place in 2017.“I wish that they had been put in prison because of all the young men that they have inspired over the years,” Nathan told the News & Record in 2019, “and I would include in that the Charlottesville Klan and other white supremacists.”
The paper’s Jennifer Fernandez spoke with community members, including Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen, about Waller and Nathan after Waller’s death on Friday.
“They did the work. Every. Single. Day,” Thigpen said.
He described Waller Foxworth as “always community-minded,” and someone who “sought to stand for meaningful things and on behalf of those who had little power.”
Her work on social justice and equity for all inspired others, said Joyce Johnson, who is co-executive director of the Beloved Community Center with her husband, the Rev. Nelson Johnson.They had long been friends with Waller Foxworth.
“She was a person of great purpose and commitment,” Joyce Johnson said
But she was more than just the persona portrayed in the media, the Johnsons said. Waller Foxworth was a loving wife and mother, a gracious host, an excellent teacher and an intellectual who loved to read and talk about books. She loved to cook and had a flair for the arts.
She also wrote a book, ”Love and Revolution,” about Nov. 3, 1979, and its aftermath.
She was a fighter up until the end, according to the Johnsons. Although she had been ill, Waller Foxworth stood through the annual memorial service on Nov. 3 instead of sitting. And she chose to have surgery, believing there was still work for her to do.“She was tenacious in her commitment and beliefs of justice for all people,” Nelson Johnson said.