Race relations at risk


If a small majority of the Greensboro City Council has its way, the legacy of the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be a forgotten footnote instead of an entrée into meaningful discussion of race relations in the city.

In some ways the commission and its report, issued May 25, 2006, is old news. Its findings were something like the Agatha Christie tale Murder on the Orient Express: everybody, it seems, shares some blame in the violence that day – Klansmen, Nazis, communists and police.

Though the report received international attention, it gained very little traction over at the Melvin Municipal Building.

And while NC Democrats made an apology for the race riot down in Wilmington in 1898, it seems the Greensboro City Council looks to stifle this dialogue, as they say, on the QT.

Last week, Greensboro News & Record reporter Margaret Moffett Banks broke the story about an internecine argument sparked during a city council retreat when Mayor Keith Holliday revealed that he had spoken privately with four council members – Tom Phillips, Sandy Carmany, Florence Gatten and Mike Barber, all of whom wished to let the T&R issue die on the vine – and concluded that the report, its findings and recommendations would not be addressed by the council but would instead fall solely under the purview of the Human Relations Commission.

This was news to council members Goldie Wells and Yvonne Johnson, both of whom stood behind the commission, and also to anybody who remembered the council’s informal agreement this summer to discuss the matter further.

It’s no secret that many in Greensboro – citizens, media and politicians alike – have been reluctant to revisit the events of Nov. 3, 1979 and that our council did not directly address it until doing so seemed an act of negligence. But in lieu of wagging our finger and clucking our tongue, we will offer to the Greensboro City Council a piece of advice: In this age of transparency, the rug under which things have been traditionally swept is shrinking rapidly. Moreover, the head-in-the-sand approach becomes more undesirable with each passing day by voters who want more than lip service from their elected officials.

As the custodian of the municipality, the Greensboro City Council has the obligation to demonstrate visionary leadership in the arena of race relations, an underlying issue throughout our city’s history. By neglecting its role, the city council becomes a force for disharmony instead of a voice for unity.

If the council does not openly discuss the commission’s recommendations at its next meeting Feb. 6, we will know which path they have chosen.