Local Vocal: Undaunted by Reality
At the recent community hearings for the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an old Klansman remarked to the press about what a waste of time the evening was. He was wrong. It was perfect opportunity (among many others) to show what really happened on Nov. 3, 1979 ‘— the so-called ‘Greensboro massacre.’ Alas, the GTRC seems more interested in whitewashing history than in telling the truth about it.
The Greensboro Massacre is a misnomer. To call an event a massacre means that many people (possibly innocent and unarmed) were killed indiscriminately, the way the Hutus killed the Tutsis in Rwanda. What happened on the corner of Everitt and Carver was no mass murder of innocents. It was a showdown between ideologically opposed and violent gangs, the KKK/Nazis versus the Communist Workers Party.
The showdown occurred at a demonstration organized by the Communist Workers Party members, a Maoist organization that focused on textile towns of the South for its organizing activities. The CWP met solid resistance here in Greensboro, where the Ku Klux Klan made the most trouble for them. Many CWP members got jobs at the local mills in order to organize industrial workers. These were the workers who, along with CWP members, were present at the rally on Nov. 3, 1979.
About four months before, CWP members crashed a KKK rally in China Grove, NC. Armed with two by fours and canes, they burned a Confederate flag and taunted KKK members, then marched through the predominantly black part of town, brandishing firearms. Later, the Nov. 3 rally was well publicized with flyers advertising it as a ‘Death to the Klan’ rally. Paul Bermanzohn, one of the central members of the Greensboro CWP, in a stunning display of recklessness, publicly challenged the KKK to attend. The KKK showed up in strength, ready to rumble, and shot 15 people, 5 of whom died.
As usual, the grievances of the poor and disenfranchised were put aside, exploited this time around to serve the lofty ideals of the CWP ‘— class warfare and violent revolution. The ‘peasants’ in this revolution, the millworkers, mattered less than the ideology, and when the dust settled on Nov. 3, their struggle and sacrifice had been wasted to give the CWP an undeserved claim to victimhood and legitimacy. Talk about exploitation! Now the GTRC aims to pick up where the CWP left off. Political opportunism never sleeps.
There might be more of a focus on the communists’ culpability if the GTRC was not so intent on ignoring it. Indeed, GTRC literature emphasizes diversity among its membership. Yet, all major donors to the GTRC are leftist foundations, and while I don’t know for sure the political leanings of each of the commissioners, I can take an educated guess. A partisan board is incapable of looking objectively at the politically-charged Nov. 3 showdown. To call a panel diverse because it includes blacks, whites, men and women, assumes that judgment and justice ‘— the purported concerns the GTRC ‘— must differ according to race and gender. Meanwhile, the political uniformity of the board guarantees that there will be no credible discussion of the political forces behind the violence. Take away their political ideology, and what did the KKK and the Communists have to disagree about? Nothing, that’s what, and without an honest examination of the extreme left- and right-wing ideologies that clashed in Greensboro, nothing is what the GTRC contributes.
There must be a reason why there is so little political diversity in this process (I say ‘little’ because I can’t be sure that there is not an errant conservative slipping under the radar in GTRC). Most likely it is because from the moderate left to the far right, there is no squeamishness about calling murderers and despots what they really are ‘— even when they masquerade as heroes of the ‘people.’
If the GTRC was really serious about addressing ‘social justice’ issues from 20 years ago, it would look into how reckless provocateurs interested less in justice than in violent ideology, came to be seen as victims and not as manipulative aggressors.
The author is a Guilford College student working towards a degree in painting.
Local vocal is a guest column that runs periodically in YES! Weekly. The author’s opinions are their own and not necessarily those of YES! Weekly. To comment e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.