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Remembering the Greensboro Massacre

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Greensboro Massacre survivor Signe Waller recounted the facts, emotions and events of Nov. 9, 1979, when she and other members of the Communist Workers Party were gunned down by the Ku Klux Klan during an anti-Klan march.

Her March 11 presentation at the Elsewhere Museum, “We Weren’t Radical Enough,” shared video footage, eye-witness testimonies and deep discussion of activism today.

The presentation began with Waller remembering the activists who were murdered: Sandra Smith, Dr. Michael Nathan, William Evan Sampson, Dr. Jim Waller and Cesar Cauce. She talked about their lives as well as their deaths.

“On Nov. the 3rd she (Sandra Smith) was there looking after the children,” said Signe. “When shots were fired, she ran forward to help the children and someone slammed her on the head with a stick. Her comrades dragged her away to safety behind a building. She poked her head out to make sure the children had gotten to safety and when she did she was shot right between the eyes.”

Jim Waller, Signe’s husband, was elected as president of a local textile workers union and was shot in the back during the massacre.
What all the victims had in common was being organizers and leaders.

“That is why they were singled out to be killed,” said Signe. “Not because they were Marxist. If you’re a theoretical Marxist, you can spout philosophy everywhere and it doesn’t matter. It’s not the label; it’s what you’re doing.

“You’re a threat if you’re uniting workers, black and white. It’s wasn’t good for the mills when we created a sense of comradeship and solidarity among the working class. That is the rational for why this happened.”

On the day of the massacre, the communist workers party had their anti-Klan demonstration with signs that read, “Death to the Klan.” A caravan of nine cars loaded with armed KKK members pulled through the rally. After some protestors hit the cars with sticks, Klan members came out with loaded guns and started shooting.

The Greensboro Police Department did not intervene when the massacre occurred. However evidence has proven that the police were aware of both the protest and that it was going to clash with the KKK.

“I can’t say it enough,” said Signe. “The most important thing about Nov. 3rd, 1979 was the absence of police. Later there was an independent commission looking at this and their findings. They said the single most important condition for the loss of life on Nov. 3rd was the absence of police.”

According to The Prism, the GPD gave Edward Dawson, a Klansman-turned police informant, the details of the march’s route. For Signe and other survivors of the massacre, the lack of police was too suspicious when their department was well-informed that two groups that hated each other were going to collide.

“How do you explain that?” asked Signe. “Police were aware that the Klan and Nazi’s were angry and seeking revenge for a militant demonstration against the Klan. Despite what they knew, by the morning of Nov. 3rd they were sent to an early lunch and the only reason that there were some Klansmen and Nazi’s arrested that day was that there were some Klan and Nazi stragglers that didn’t get out in time.

By that time there were a couple police officers on the scene, but the police did not follow the fleeing cars.”

Signe and her fellow survivors such as Joyce Johnson and Reverend Nelson Johnson believe that another central piece of the Greensboro Massacre was fear.

“I want to reflect about fear,” said Joyce Johnson. “There is much fear being bred right now. You can feel it inside of yourself…. It is based on fear and a sense of protecting oneself. It’s that dynamic that’s been taken to great heights in our country that in my opinion is the basis for something like this happening.”

For Joyce, the solution to this condition is to love others. She said that those who passed away in the Greensboro Massacre were people who were equipped with a love and concern for others.

“All five of them were dear friends,” she said. “Sandy Smith was my best friend. I was the matron of honor at her wedding. One of the most difficult things I ever had to do was to call her mom and say ‘Sandy’s dead.’ Jim had love and concern about others. That’s what led him to medicine. As he realized that medicine was necessary but not sufficient, he then did other things.”

Joyce left a message for others in the room.

“See what you can do in this period. You have a chance because people are seeing more now than they have seen but don’t quite know what to do. You have a decision to make. I can promise you if you take that step, it’ll make a difference for you, your mothers and fathers and certainly a difference for your children and grandchildren. Fear is there, but the opposite of fear is love. Not just a love of yourself, but it’s really in loving others that you love yourself. It’ll equip you to do things that you never thought you could do.”
To learn more about the Greensboro Massacre and its aftermath, visit www.greensborotrc.org.

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