Ministers ask city council to acknowledge GPD role in Greensboro Massacre
*Pictured above is Pulpit Forum President Rev. Daran Mitchell
“It is my prayer that this community, the officials of the community, and the police department of Greensboro will respond to our request for an official apology to the families of the deceased victims of the Greensboro Massacre.”
So stated Reverend William F. Wright, pastor of New Zion Missionary Baptist Church, at an Oct. 22 press conference at Shiloh Baptist Church in Greensboro. The conference was attended by six former presidents of the Pulpit Forum, one of North Carolina’s oldest and most influential ministerial alliances, as well as by the Forum’s current president, Rev. Daran H. Mitchell, senior pastor of Trinity AME Zion Church.
The former Pulpit Forum presidents at the conference were Greensboro NAACP president Rev. Dr. Cardes Brown, Rev. Dr. Lisa Caldwell, Dr. Mazie Butler Ferguson, Rev. Dr. Gregory Headen and Rev. Nelson Johnson. Speakers from the podium included Rev. Steve Allen, Rev. Johnny Freeman, Rev. Sekinah Hamlin, Rev. Linda Harrington, Rev. Marilyn Lewis and Rev. Wesley Morris, as well as Brown, Caldwell, Headen and Johnson.
Nov. 3 will mark the 40th anniversary of the Greensboro Massacre.
While some local media outlets avoid applying the term “massacre” to that event, the City of Greensboro’s historical marker, as well as sources ranging from Wikipedia and the History Channel to the UNC system, CNN and the Washington Post, use that designation.
On that date in 1979, approximately 40 members of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party stormed a labor and civil rights march organized by the then-36-year-old Johnson and the Communist Workers Party (CWP). The marchers were seeking to unionize the area’s mostly-black textile mills. Some members of the CWP had previously issued leaflets calling the march the “Death to the Klan” rally.
The attackers fatally shot union organizer Cesar Cauce, Carolina Brown Lung Association co-founder Dr. James Waller, medical student William Evan Sampson and Bennett College student body President Sandra Neely Smith at the scene.
Cauce, Waller and Sampson were killed in the first volley of gunfire. Smith, the sole black victim, rushed a group of children to safety but was shot between the eyes as she peered out from shelter. A fifth victim, pediatrician Dr. Michael Nathan, died of his wounds two days later. Ten other marchers, including Johnson, were injured.
Six KKK and ANP members were prosecuted in a state criminal trial in 1980. All were acquitted by an all-white jury, which concluded that the KKK and Nazis had acted in self-defense.
In 2004, the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission began an investigation into the causes and consequences of the massacre. Then-mayor Keith Holliday and five other white members of the Greensboro City Council voted against endorsing the work of the group, while three African-American council members voted in favor of the measure.
In 2006, the Commission released a report stating that the GPD gave informant and KKK member Eddie Dawson a copy of the permit issued to Johnson, which described the route and time of the march. The report also stated that the GPD was aware KKK and ANP members were armed and intended to attack the CWP marchers in retaliation for an earlier confrontation in China Grove. The report stated that the GPD did not inform Johnson of the KKK and Nazi intentions, and purposely removed its officers from the scene.
On June 16, 2009, the Greensboro Human Relations Commission brought the subject of an apology for the massacre before the city council. The council did not issue an apology, but voted to “express regret.” They also voted to accept the Truth and Reconciliation Report.
On Aug. 15, 2017, soon after the violence in Charlottesville, the Greensboro City Council voted to 7-1 to apologize to the victims and survivors of the massacre. Councilwoman Sharon Hightower made the motion, which was seconded by Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson.
Discussion of the matter begins at 36:00 of the city’s online video, with District 1’s Sharon Hightower stating, “I make a motion that city council apologize for the incident that occurred in 1979.” Mayor Nancy Vaughan compared the Massacre to Charlottesville and said, “I don’t have a problem saying that we apologize.” Tony Wilkins, then serving as the District 5 representative, objects calling the motion a “surprise” and “political grandstanding.”
The motion passed 7-1, with Wilkins voting against it.
All of the speakers at last Tuesday’s press conference expressed dissatisfaction with the 2017 motion, saying it was a good first step but criticizing the council for not acknowledging the role of the Greensboro police in the massacre.
Rev. Steven Allen, the pastor of Shiloh Baptist, quoted the Final Report of the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which stated ‘the single most important element that contributed to the violent outcome of the confrontation was the absence of police.”
Speakers then read aloud the seven points they wished to see addressed by the Greensboro city council.
1) The failure of the police and other city officials to warn the marchers of the extensive foreknowledge they had of the racist, violent attack planned against the marchers by the Klan and Nazis with the assistance of a paid Greensboro police informant.
2) The failure of police and city officials to be present to protect the marchers, who had a legal parade permit, from the planned attack that the police were well aware of in advance.
3) The failure of Greensboro police to divert, stop or arrest the Klan and Nazi members, whom the police knew was carrying a cache of concealed weapons, as they approached Morningside Homes where the marchers were gathered. The Greensboro police actually photographed Klan and Nazi gunmen loading weaponry into their cars but merely followed them several miles to Morningside Homes where the attack occurred.
4) The attempts to cover up the wrongdoing of the Greensboro Police and city officials and the attempts to discredit the Survivors and those who sought justice following the 1979 Massacre.
5) The city’s participation in an atmosphere of blaming the victims of the Greensboro Massacre rather than encouraging an objective investigation into and comprehensive trial process. This created an environment that allowed the District Attorney to avoid calling Klan-informant Eddie Dawson and other witnesses who could have testified about the plans of the white supremacists to carry out the November 3rd, 1970 Massacre. As a result, Klan and Nazis were all acquitted at two criminal trials by all-white juries.
6) The City Council’s vote to oppose the Truth and Reconciliation Process, strictly along racial lines. Six white members of the City Council voted to oppose the process, while three African-American members voted to support the Truth and Reconciliation Process,
7) The City Council’s disregard for the 2017 letter sent to each City Council member by Survivors of the 1979 attack, requesting an apology of substance for the Greensboro Massacre. As of today, the City has ignored that letter and has failed to take any action.
WXII News 12 reporter Bill O’Neil asked the ministers what they meant by “a considered apology.”
“A considered apology would include clarity on what you are an apology for,” Johnson replied. “The city has said not one word about what we just outlined for you, which is that the police knew in advance, took pictures of guns, and they were not only not there, they didn’t show up until all of this was over.”
O’Neil asked Johnson if the ministers were asking the city council “to completely throw the police department under the bus.”
“We outlined seven points,” Johnson said. “Those are not hazy. Apologize for that. That’s clear, isn’t it? And I think this matter of confusing things, about ‘you want to throw somebody under the bus,’ shows why this is necessary. We want the truth. This city cannot be better based on falsehoods.”
Johnson talked about the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation committee.
“There were 29 recommendations in that document, one of which was to work out a way to put this incident within the curriculum of the schools. In 2006, the city voted against the whole truth process supported by Bishop Desmond Tutu, Vincent Harding, and representatives of the seven nations who came here to stand with us on that. Nobody in Greensboro really knows that, and the city has not worked with the truth process. We are going to call on the city too, even at this late hour, study the 500-hundred-page report that came out of that process, and to implement, or join with the community to implement, the recommendations made in the process.”