Background

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Greensboro Massacre.  On Nov. 3, 1979 in Greensboro, North Carolina, a nine-car caravan of the Ku Klux Klan and American Nazi Party members drove into Morningside Homes, a public housing project in the Black community, and opened fire onto demonstrators preparing for an anti-Klan rally organized by the Communist Workers Party (CWP) and local community activists. The march was to have been followed by an educational conference later that day addressing the recent upsurge in white supremacist activity in the South and explore how racism has historically been used to divide workers.

The Greensboro Police, FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had information that this attack was planned, yet no law enforcement officers were on the scene. The shots fired that day took the lives of Sandy Smith, Jim Waller, Bill Sampson, Cesar Cauce, and Michael Nathan, labor and community organizers, members of the CWP, and wounded 10 others.

These murders, filmed and documented by numerous television news cameras on the scene, have largely gone unpunished.  The Klan and Nazis were acquitted of all charges in two criminal trials by all-white juries. Later in a wrongful death civil suit, members of the Klan and Nazis, and the Greensboro Police were found jointly liable for the death of one of the five victims. Only the city of Greensboro paid the fine. The Klan and Nazis paid nothing. The Klan and Nazis got away with murder!  

The true story of the Greensboro Massacre has mostly not been told, omitted from the nation’s history books and not passed down as part of the history of the social justice movement.  Or the story has also been misrepresented by a false narrative that suggests that what happened on that Saturday in November was “just a feud between two extremist groups “or a “shoot out.”

The country suffers from both scenarios. For the nation, history that is not known and understood is destined to repeat itself and for social justice movements and activists there is no opportunity to learn and benefit from the its lessons.

We want to tell this story.

Three significant things have already occurred that support the truth about what happened on November 3rd 1979.  First was the victory in the civil rights trial in 1985; followed by the 2006 report of the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation  Commission that correctly placed the November 3rd murders at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, American Nazi Party and the Greensboro Police; and finally in 2015 the state of North Carolina placed a historical marker in Greensboro at the place of the murders declaring that occurrence on November 3rd 1979 was a massacre planned and carried out by the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party. This is a beginning but there is so much more to be told.   

Through Greensboro Massacre: Lessons for Today, we will commemorate the Massacre; honor those who were killed; examine and consider why the Massacre occurred; and share lessons learned.  2019 is the year to tell the true story of the Greensboro Massacre. We will tell the story in Greensboro and across the nation – on campuses, in community centers, at conferences, in union halls, in homes, and in places of worship. We will tell the story in forums, in the media and at cultural events.   

In this year of the 40th Anniversary of the Greensboro Massacre, the survivors, comrades, Greensboro residents, people of conscience, and families and friends of those who were murdered want to:  

  • honor and commemorate the lives of Bill, Cesar, Michael, Jim, and Sandy, who made the ultimate sacrifice in the fight for freedom and justice.
  • remember and share the lessons of the Greensboro Massacre in order to advance today’s movement for a fundamental transformation of society to achieve racial, social, economic and environmental justice for every individual and community. We strive to heal from the violence, hatred, prejudices and injuries of the past and create greater unity toward a vision of equity, justice and peace.
  • leave a legacy that is material, moral, and spiritual that the next generation, and succeeding ones, may assimilate for their own beneficent goals.

The story and lessons of the 1979 Greensboro Massacre must not be removed from the history books nor from the history of social justice movements in this country.   The 40th anniversary seeks to raise mass consciousness by building upon a currently resurgent people’s movement with an ever-deepening understanding of the need for fundamental systemic change.

For more information, visit these other background links.