Citizens afraid of being labeled as racists, Gatten says
Greensboro City Council member Florence Gatten dropped a bombshell April 19 when, in a statement rejecting the truth process, she stated that some constituents have complained that they ‘“have been rudely treated or ignored when it was determined that they wished to offer opposing points of view.’” She also said some citizens have felt threatened and intimidated.
In a sweeping indictment of survivors of the 1979 Morningside Massacre, supporters of the truth process and independent truth commissioners, she stated: ‘“Using the shopworn rhetoric and tactics of the 1960s and 1970s ‘— those of marches, petitions by non-stakeholders, and the promulgation of a one-dimensional version of events ‘— citizens have felt not only uninvited to the table but threatened and intimidated.’”
Following the April 19 City Council meeting, Gatten elaborated on what she meant by ‘“threatened and intimidated’” to YES! Weekly.
‘“Citizens have called me in great anguish,’” she said. ‘“They spoke and people were dismissive of them, or they were frightened that they couldn’t speak without repercussions.’”
She said the constituents who felt threatened spoke to her in confidence, so she could not disclose their names. She also did not know if they had talked to members of the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Greensboro Truth and Community Reconciliation Project, or a student group affiliated with the Project.
As for what she meant by ‘repercussions,’ she said she did not mean to imply that anyone was worried about facing personal violence or vandalism in retaliation for expressing unpopular opinions.
‘“There was never any intimidation of that sort,’” she said. ‘“This is a community that values civility. It’s hard to make a challenging statement in that atmosphere. The reality, I’m afraid to say, is that many people are afraid to oppose this because of fear of being called a racist. You almost have to be more welcoming to overcome that.’”
Gatten added that she was disappointed that none of the supporters of the truth process who attended the City Council meeting rose to reassure her that all citizens should feel invited to share their truth about the 1979 massacre regardless of their position. She said she was trying to call attention to a problem that she hopes will be corrected.
‘“People do want to tell their stories,’” she said. ‘“People who are old enough want to say: ‘This is where I was.’ It’s like the day Kennedy was shot. Or, more recently, 9-11.’”
Joya Wesley, spokeswoman for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said that far from wanting to shut out people with differing viewpoints the Commission strongly desires their input. In the third week of April, she said, the Commission was placing an emphasis on reaching out to people who rode in the Klan-Nazi caravan that confronted left-wing demonstrators in Morningside Homes on Nov. 3, 1979.
‘“We’re not making any judgments about any of the statements we receive and will receive,’” she said. ‘“We welcome all statement-givers with gratitude and respect. Our work relies on a wide range of statements from a wide range of perspectives. I’m certainly sorry if anyone got that impression from anyone with the Project or other supporters of this work. They certainly didn’t get it from us and will not.’”
Anyone interested in giving a statement to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission may do so by visiting the Commission’s offices at 122 N. Elm St., Suite 505, or calling 336.275.6462.