Introduction to the Five

Who were the CWP Five, the five assassinated, martyred, in the Greensboro Massacre of November 3, 1979?

They were the flowers of their generation.

An annual gravesite commemoration in early years after the massacre.

They were our rainbow race. Black, white, Latino, Christian, Jewish, Male, Female—they were all, in their souls, in their characters, all we who knew them aspire to be.

Serious, dedicated, smart, loving, funny, humble, joyous, intent on being of service to their fellow humans—no matter what the cost.

Lovers of justice and haters of injustice. Willing to do more than just posture, feel, think, talk, dream and imagine. Yes, willing to act. Acting. Just do it!

Be there when you say you will be there. Live a life of meaning. A life of caring and compassionate doing. Take the high road, never the easy road. Your word is your bond and your bond is one of love and your love is full of courage.

Our rainbow race.

César Vincente Cauce March 5, 1954 – November 3, 1979
Michael Ronald Nathan, M.D. July 13, 1947 – November 5, 1979
William Evan Sampson January 23, 1948 – November 3, 1979
Sandra Neely Smith December 25, 1950 – November 3, 1979
James Michael Waller, M.D. November 5, 1942 – November 3, 1979

Cesar and Floris on their wedding day in 1979.

César Vincente Cauce (March 5, 1954 – November 3, 1979) was a Cuban immigrant whose family came to the United States during the turmoil of the rise of Castro in Cuba. His parents and younger sister settled in Miami where he grew up and attended Catholic Schools and then Miami Dade Community College. Cesar’s father was an educator was a learned man who believed in education and help to create schools in Cuba. He later rose to become the Minister of Education for Batista. The fact that his father worked for this government became a later source of conflict between them, but the family love always remained strong. Cesar transferred to Duke University, where he graduated magna cum laude with a degree History and Political Science. His time in Durham, North Carolina eventually brought him into contact the still ongoing Civil Rights movement.

Cesar Cauce, late 1970s

All around him there working families were being confronted by barriers to progress and income equality and security. The workers at Duke Hospital were dynamically trying to unionize, the education system was imposing a mandatory testing that would disadvantage lower income black and white students from attaining high school diplomas, and poultry workers were being subjected to unsafe working conditions with no effective vehicles to have their concerns heard and addressed. Cesar’s response to these many different but related issues lead him to cancel his plans for Graduate school and to stay in North Carolina as a community organizer to help workers and the community demand and successfully win gains in all these areas. It quickly became clear to him and to others that the existence of the KKK was an impediment to the ability of black and white workers with common interests to build coalitions and demand and win better working conditions and better education.

Cesar was intellectually talented, yet able to connect with the workers at Duke and the poultry plantswhere he was able to successfully represent them in numerous grievance hearings. He became well known as one of the go-to people at Duke Hospital when help was needed.

On November 3, 1979, Cesar was on the front lines when the Klan-Nazi caravan drove into Morningside homes. Armed only with sticks he gave his life attempting to defend the marchers.

Dr. Mike Nathan with daughter Leah, 1979

Michael Ronald Nathan, M.D. (July 13, 1947 – November 5, 1979) was the son of two Eastern European Jewish immigrants, his father a printer and his mother a housewife. Both adored their only son. Mike was raised in Washington DC and then suburban Maryland where his mother was forced to work in a department store after his father died when Mike was 14. He was popular and was elected homecoming king at his high school, but rejected the honor because it didn’t reflect his values that increasingly focused on social justice and peace.

Dr. Mike Nathan (standing) sends medical supplies to Zimbabwe liberation fighters

Mike received scholarships first to Duke University then to Duke Medical School. He became an anti-war and civil rights student activist and community organizer while at Duke. He was beaten by Ku Klux Klan thugs while working on behalf of Durham’s Community Action Agency serving the city’s poor. He was one of the leaders of the student take-over of the President’s office, an action demanding recognition of the African American union representing housekeepers and maintenance workers.

At Duke Medical School he worked with best friend Paul Bernmanzohn to create a Medical Committee for Human Rights chapter that succeeded in preventing access by Big Pharma salesmen to medical students learning their science.

Dr. Mike Nathan and Marty, wedding day, 1978

He did a residency in Pediatrics at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, then came back to Durham as Chief Resident in Pediatrics. There he met Marty Arthur, a medical student. They fell in love and married on October 1, 1978, even as they worked together to send aid to liberation fighters in then-apartheid Zimbabwe. He threw himself into work as chief pediatrician at Lincoln Community Health Center in Durham, NC, a facility providing high quality care to the Black community on the city’s south side. He risked his job by publicly protested maltreatment and exposure to tuberculosis of Durham County General Hospital laundry workers.

His beloved mother suffered a stroke in 1978 and came to live with him and Marty. Six months before he died Mike Nathan, lover of children, became the enormously proud father of Leah. On November 3, 1979, he was murdered at the corner of Carver and Everett Streets in Greensboro while protesting the KKK.

Bill Sampson and Dale Deering get married in 1977.

William Evan Sampson (January 23, 1948 – November 3, 1979) William Sampson was descended from Swedish Lutherans who immigrated to the United States and farmed the Illinois prairie. His parents had worked on the Manhattan Project developing the atom bomb for the U.S. government; later, his father was hired by the Dupont Company. Bill grew up in the South. As a child, he witnessed a cross being burned near his home. The experience of seeing a religious symbol of love used to express hatred and bigotry unsettled him profoundly and was with him for the rest of his life as he committed himself to anti-racist action.  

At Augustana College, Bill was awarded a scholarship to spend his junior year in Paris. Upon his return, he served as student body president and graduated summa cum laude. In his diary, he recorded his thoughts about a future vocation, in turn considering becoming a minister, an ethics philosopher, a writer, a psychologist, a lawyer, a politician and even the president of the United States. He might have become any of these: the world was his. Handsome and brilliant, he was capable of excelling in many fields.

Bill Sampson (front left) on picket line with Traders Chevrolet workers on strike in Greensboro in 1978.

Bill set out to earn a master’s degree at Harvard Divinity School and did so. But his year abroad, 1968-1969, had coincided with the student uprising in Paris and with a period of social upheaval in much of the West, including movement struggles here for racial equality, civil rights and an end to the Vietnam War, and Bill had become a student of the political scene and a political activist. He attended demonstrations against the Vietnam War. At one such protest, he was severely beaten by a policeman and lost his hearing in one ear.

Although on track to become a Christian minister, Bill was disheartened that many religious leaders failed to take a stand against the Vietnam War and he decided to become a medical doctor instead. He was within a year of obtaining a medical degree from the University of Virginia when he decided to devote himself fully to working for revolutionary socialism. He moved to Greensboro, joined the Workers Viewpoint Organization and, in 1977, he married Dale Deering, a social worker he had met while studying in Charlottesville. So promising was the organized resistance of African Americans in the civil rights and black liberation movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s in Greensboro that by the early to mid-1970s a number of white political activists and revolutionaries, like Bill and Dale, were drawn to the city as a place where racial and social progress could and would happen.   

In Greensboro, Bill got a job at Cone Mills White Oak textile mill, Cone’s largest mill and said to be the world’s leading producer of denim. A union shop steward, Bill led struggles to expand and strengthen the union local. He was known and loved for insisting on democratic procedures that respected the voices of all workers. Uniting black and white workers to fight grievances together against the company, Bill became a thorn in the side of Cone Mills. The workers supported his candidacy to become president of the union local. Without question, Bill would have won the election, but the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union decreed a receivership and called off the election.  Then, on November 3, 1979, Bill became a casualty of the Greensboro Massacre.

Bill Sampson was one of the organizers of the November 3, 1979 rally and a central figure in the labor forum that was scheduled to follow the march through town. When the Klan started shooting, Bill stood his ground and tried to defend the other demonstrators. Shot through the heart, Bill passed his handgun to a friend and fellow textile worker before he collapsed and died.

Sandi Smith (holding megaphone), at African Liberation Day in Washington, DC in 1979.

Sandra Lee Neely Smith (December 25, 1950 – November 3, 1979), born in Piedmont, SC to a textile mill worker and a school teacher, was president of the student body and a founding member of the Student Organization for Black Unity (SOBU) at Greensboro’s Bennett College. She was a community organizer for the Greensboro Association of Poor People (GAPP) and became a worker at the textile mill where she and others formed the Revolution Organizing Committee (ROC) to unionize the plant. Sandi was a leader of a march of over 3,000 people in Raleigh to free the Wilmington 10, ten young activists jailed on false charges to stop them from organizing.

Sandi Smith addresses rally of Cone Mills workers at Revolution Plant in Greensboro.

In her work at Cone Mills Revolution Plant, she battled sexual harassment, low wages, and unhealthy working conditions. At the time of her death, Sandi was working at Cannon Mills in Kannapolis, NC.  Prior to that she worked at Cone Mills Revolution Plant.

Sandi Smith

In addition to the items listed above, Sandi was an organizer for the African Liberation Support Committee (ALSC), the Trade Union Education League, and the statewide coalition to “Stop the Test,” a precursor to the attack against quality public education.  She was a member of the African World Newspaper (formerly SOBU Newsletter) production staff. A revolutionary cultural worker as well, Sandi was part of the Workers Viewpoint Organization’s (later CWP) May Day Singers, along with Paul Chandler, Mary Trevor, Bev Grant, Joyce Johnson, and others.

She was married to Mark D. Smith, also a member of SOBU, and currently a physician, residing in California.

Sandi Smith holding Leah Nathan (Mike & Marty Nathan’s newborn baby) in 1979

Before becoming a full-time revolutionary her aspiration was to become a nurse, always wired to help her people and her community. Sandi was an extremely well-liked woman, full of life and love for children and the elderly.  She was compassionate, committed, spirited, and outspoken. Sandi was always impeccably dressed, whether donning perfectly pressed blue jeans with a t-shirt stamped with a strong political slogan, or an intricately twisted head wrap, or perfectly braided corn rows, or a symmetrically shaped afro.

Sandi truly reflected the slogan of her times: “Women Hold up Half the Sky!”

Jim Waller in Washington DC at African Liberation Day in 1979.

James Michael Waller, M.D. (November 5, 1942 – November 3, 1979) Dr. James Waller came from a middle class Jewish family in Chicago. He was the grandson, on his mother’s side, of a physician who broke through the anti-Semitism that kept Jews out medicine in the 1920s. A polio survivor, Jim was an excellent student. He often won prizes for his science projects in high school, but modestly made no mention of it, even to his parents.

Jim received a medical degree from the University of Chicago in 1970. While a medical student, he treated protesters beaten in the street at the 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention. In 1973, he went to Wounded Knee where he set up a medical clinic and gave treatment and moral support to Native Americans under siege by the FBI. Interning in the South Bronx in New York, Jim was part of the Lincoln Hospital Collective, a group of medical workers and professionals who fought for decent health care for poor blacks, Hispanics and others in need. He accepted a post-doctorate fellowship at Duke University in pediatric infectious diseases in 1975. There, he soon joined Paul Bermanzohn and others in screening textile workers for brown lung as part of the North Carolina Brown Lung Association.  

Jim & Signe, Chicago by lake, 1977

Deciding that it was not enough to put a band aid on society’s ills and that revolutionary changes were needed in a society that daily generated more poverty and bad health, Jim set aside the formal practice of medicine to work in a textile mill and organize workers. (On occasion, he provided free medical treatment to workers and their families as the Waller kitchen temporarily became a clinic.) At Cone Mills Granite Finishing Plant, in Haw River, Jim produced corduroy. In time he became a respected union leader, advancing from shop steward to vice-president to president of the local–the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, local 1113-T. At first, Jim would not have won a Southern popularity contest. He was a Yankee; with his bushy, black beard he looked like a rabbi; and his lunch box contained smelly ethnic treats such as pickled herring. But as he fought for and with the workers, they got to know him and like him.

Brown Lung Association, l. to r. three textile workers (unidentified), Paul Bermanzohn, Dr. Jim Waller

At the beginning of 1978, Jim Waller married Signe Goldstein, a philosophy teacher and activist, and was a stepfather to her two children, Antonia and Alex. In the summer of that year, he led a strike at the Granite Finishing Plant. During the strike, union membership increased from a couple of dozen to 200. Jim was fired shortly after the strike ended. However, he continued to meet with the workers and to train them to run their own union local.

Waller family summer of 1979, l. to r. Antonia Goldstein, Dr. Jim Waller, Alex Goldstein, Signe Waller

North Carolina workers were in the mood to strike in 1978 and 1979. In a number of factories and workplaces, workers were looking for a better way to live, for life-sustaining wages and safer working conditions. It was, perhaps, a teachable moment and new possibilities were on the horizon. During this period, along with other Workers Viewpoint Organization members, Jim helped found and lead the Trade Union Education League, an organization dedicated to building strong rank and file-led unions and uniting workers in the South across racial lines.

What is most important to appreciate about Dr. Jim Waller’s character, commitment, and achievement is that under his leadership and tutelage, black and white textile workers made substantial progress in building racial unity. They grew in understanding and matured in spirit.  Many workers were learning the lesson that mutual respect and trust benefited everyone and that standing together they would prevail over their capitalist bosses. And it was precisely this process of forging racial unity, fraternity and solidarity, so necessary for building strong, democratic trade union locals, not to mention a truly democratic society in general, that was interrupted and set back by the guns of November Third in 1979.