There is little marking the violence that broke out in Greensboro, N.C., that fall day in 1979, just a simple highway marker sitting at an intersection: “Ku Klux Klan members and American Nazis, on Nov. 3, 1979, shot and killed five Communist Workers Party members one-tenth mile north.”
More than 40 years after the killing, known as the “Greensboro massacre,” city officials in the N.C. town will vote on whether to issue an apology for the role police played in the deadly clash between pro-union protesters, neo-Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan, reports the Greensboro News & Record.
Five protesters, including 28-year-old Sandi Smith, a young Black activist attending Bennett College, were killed by white supremacists, and 10 more were injured. The “Death to the Klan” protest organized by the CWP was aimed at pushing back at the KKK and neo-Nazis, who were hampering their efforts of unionizing racially diverse workforces in the state.
But before the rally even began, vehicles packed with Klansmen arrived early to the march, set to begin in Morningside, a low-income, majority Black neighborhood. With cameras from local news outlets rolling, the white supremacists fired upon the CWP members, killing five of them.
Police were nowhere to be found.
Years later, two all-white juries would acquit the KKK members and the Nazis at two different trials.
The effort to acknowledge what happened in Morningside has been years in the making, gaining new momentum last year when local clergy renewed their demands for an apology in anticipation of the 40th anniversary of the massacre, reported CBS affiliate WFMY News.
The council issued an informal apology in 2017, according to the Greensboro News & Record, but councilwoman Sharon Hightower said the latest resolution takes that apology “a step further.”
“It really is intentional and focused on the areas of hurt that really will speak to the concerns that the participants had from 1979,” she told the paper. “It will be good for the city.”
According to a press release from Reverends W. Steven Allen and Nelson Johnson, the resolution would point out the complicity of the Greensboro police department at the time, admitting that the force failed to act on the knowledge it had about the violence white supremacists were planning in the neighborhood. Johnson was among those injured during the shootout.
The resolution, released last Thursday ahead of a special meeting scheduled for Tuesday night, includes an apology from the city to the victims and families of the massacre, as well as to the Morningside Homes community. The city would acknowledge “the failure of any government action to effectively overcome the hate that precipitated the violence, to embrace the sorrow that resulted from the violence and to reconcile all the vestiges of those heinous events in the years subsequent to 1979.”
On top of the apology, the resolution also calls for five annual “Morningside Homes Memorial Scholarships” named for the five victims of the massacre and awarded to five graduates from Dudley High School.
Scholarship recipients would each receive $1,979 and be recognized at Greensboro’s annual Human Rights Celebration.
A 2006 report from the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an in-depth report on the massacre and its circumstances, concluded that “the single most important element that contributed to the violent outcome of the confrontation was the absence of police.”
Although there was evidence to suggest police knew about the Klansmen and Nazi’s plan to provoke violence, the department did not attempt to intervene or give demonstrators or residents warnings.
“After more than two decades, the two criminal trials, and a civil trial that found members of the Greensboro Police Department jointly liable with Klan and Nazi members for the wrongful death of one victim, many in the Greensboro community still did not feel that justice had been served,” the report said, according to the Charlotte Observer.
The commission called for a number of steps aimed at reconciliation, including a formal acknowledgment of the massacre from city officials and an apology from the Greensboro police department. It also called for a monument to be constructed at the site of the shootings.
Councilwoman Hightower told the News & Record that the long-delayed formal apology was coming at the right time, particularly with so many American cities re-examining the role policing has played in racial violence.
“If not now,” she asked, “when?”