Local truth commission puts testimony on the internet
Volunteers for the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission have been transcribing audiotapes of testimony from the commission’s first set of hearings on July 15 and 16. With a frequency of about two a week the commission has been posting the statements on its website for public viewing.
As of Aug. 11, the commission had posted transcripts of testimony by Virgil Griffin, the imperial wizard of the Cleveland Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, who led Klansmen and Nazis to Greensboro on Nov. 3, 1979 to confront communist labor activists holding a ‘“Death to the Klan’” rally; Elizabeth Wheaton, who spent almost half a decade researching the killings for a 1981 report published by the Institute for Southern Studies and the 1986 book Codename: Greenkil; Paul Bermanzohn, a survivor of the shootings who helped organize the rally, and Jeffrey Woods, an assistant professor of history at Arkansas State University, who has researched segregation and anticommunism in the South during the Cold War era.
Woods, who was nine years old and living in Fayetteville, Ark. at the time of the killings, is the author of Black Struggle, Red Scare: Segregation and Anticommunism in the South, 1948-1968.
He made the case in his testimony that the climate of anticommunism and racial unease in the South set the stage for the deadly 1979 confrontation. Because of shared cultural attitudes, Woods said, Southern law enforcement agents were more likely to see communists as a threat to the status quo than the Klan. He noted that by the mid 1970s, both the Klan and the black power movement had receded in influence, but when Klan groups and radical leftist groups reactivated, the charge was set for a tragic confrontation.
The following are two excerpts from the Woods’ testimony, the full version of which can be viewed at gtrc.blogspot.com:
‘“The South experienced its own unique red scare in the 1950s and 1960s, ignited not just by Cold War anxiety but by conflict resulting from the black civil rights struggle. The Southern red scare’s main feature was the effort of the region’s political and legal authorities to expose communist elements in the civil rights movement, undermining the movement’s legitimacy before an overwhelmingly anti-communist audience’…
‘“Both the Klan and the ‘Death to the Klan’ rallyers were on independent historical trajectories to vigorously, even violently pursue their goals in Greensboro. Local law enforcement and the city’s authorities had a set of assumptions in place that in large part determined their reaction to the clash. Though they were concerned about the Klan, they shared its basic ‘southern nationalist’ ideology and its concern for outside communist threats and black revolution. They were institutionally and culturally much more prepared to assume a greater threat from the black and red rallyers than they were from the Klan. The result was a return of something very [much] like the Southern red scare of the 1960s. I’m not sure it’s a direct part of it but it’s something very much like that, a reincarnation.’”
The next set of truth and reconciliation hearings is scheduled for Aug. 26 and 27.
To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at firstname.lastname@example.org