Local Vocal: Truth commission under-represented the residents of Morningside Homes

by John Young

I appreciate your article about the T&R discussion [“Present bumps up against past in truth discussion”; June 13, 2007; by Jordan Green]. Your reporting about the NC A&T University student was very valuable. The commission in their very few interviews with former residents of Morningside Homes heard her sentiment repeated several times.

However, this just remains buried in the gut of the report and is never discussed. At the community dialogue at Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Nov. 5, 2005 one former resident of Morningside Homes came. He had read about the event in the Greensboro News & Record. At the time he entered, we were in small group discussions. He joined the discussion group that included Nelson Johnson and he said to Nelson: ”You and your group were wrong to bring that horrible violence of your march into our community. Some of us could have been killed. You should have staged your violent event far away from us innocent Morningside residents.”

I spoke at length to this aged, wonderful, wise old man. His name was John Harris and he was a roofer working just about two blocks away from the corner of Everitt and Carver on Nov. 3, 1979. When he heard some rumors about the planned march that morning he instantly felt unsafe and sent one of his workers to get a gun. He said he knew what was going to unfold if the communists and the Klan got at each other.

This occurred during a time when I still thought the process was somewhat fair and balanced and I told Emily that Mr. Harris had a very valuable story to tell the commission. My understanding is that Angela [Lawrence] and Cynthia [Brown] spoke to Mr. Harris but his words never made it into the somewhat detailed commission notes about the community dialogue discussion nor did any of his words make it into the report (page 360: ”Similarly, many residents of Morningside Homes felt ‘used’ after the shootings and joined willingly in efforts to concentrate blame on the CWP members in general, and Nelson Johnson in particular.” Also on page 34: ”In spite of extensive efforts, the conversation with Morningside Homes residents drew a fairly small group – eight former residents – who were collectively unwilling to have the meeting recorded and did not want the conversation to be ‘on the record.’ This decision was in line with the fear that existed in the Morningside Homes community….”)   

The impression is that the fear was from the police or city power structure but if you speak to some of the former residents you will find that they did not trust this T&R process and its attempt to place blame primarily of the police and lessen the responsibility of the CWP who organized the violent march in their community. Rev. Howard Chubbs is perhaps the most knowledgeable pastor in Greensboro who understands the story of Nov. 3. He was camped out for a week at city hall after the violence and was one of many who helped to keep more violence at bay. But Rev. Chubbs did not speak with the commission because he did not trust their survivor initiated process. Rev. Chubbs said that he understood how the CWP “used” the poor black community long before 1979. He said he understood who they were in 1977.

Perhaps the most important community voices in this process should be the voices of the former residents of Morningside Homes. The commission failed to properly represent those voices because in general their anger and deep pain about Nov. 3 does not follow the basic script found in the report’s findings and conclusions. The older A&T student on Sunday does represent many voices that were downplayed in the T&R process. Again thanks for allowing her voice to be heard.  

The writer lives in Greensboro.