Data

General Issues
Human Rights & Civil Rights
Law Enforcement, Criminal Justice & Corrections
Social Welfare
Specific Topics
Ethnic/Racial Equality & Equity
Ethnic/Racial Relations
Criminal Law
Collections
The Global Truth and Reconciliation Commission Collection
Location
Greensboro
North Carolina
United States
Scope of Influence
City/Town
Links
Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission Organization Website
Ongoing
No
Time Limited or Repeated?
A single, defined period of time
Purpose/Goal
Research
Make, influence, or challenge decisions of government and public bodies
Approach
Citizenship building
Social mobilization
Consultation
Spectrum of Public Participation
Not applicable or not relevant

CASE

The Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission

March 14, 2022 Sarah Slasor
March 7, 2022 Sarah Slasor
March 7, 2022 Jesi Carson, Participedia Team
March 6, 2022 Sarah Slasor
March 5, 2022 Sarah Slasor
General Issues
Human Rights & Civil Rights
Law Enforcement, Criminal Justice & Corrections
Social Welfare
Specific Topics
Ethnic/Racial Equality & Equity
Ethnic/Racial Relations
Criminal Law
Collections
The Global Truth and Reconciliation Commission Collection
Location
Greensboro
North Carolina
United States
Scope of Influence
City/Town
Links
Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission Organization Website
Ongoing
No
Time Limited or Repeated?
A single, defined period of time
Purpose/Goal
Research
Make, influence, or challenge decisions of government and public bodies
Approach
Citizenship building
Social mobilization
Consultation
Spectrum of Public Participation
Not applicable or not relevant

In November 1979, a group of white supremacists confronted anti-KKK demonstrators in Greensboro, North Carolina. Five demonstrators were killed, at least ten others were wounded, and numerous residents and witnesses were left traumatized. In 2002, the GTRC was established.

Problems and Purpose

Despite the perpetrators being filmed by news cameras as they shot into the crowd, they legally claimed self-defense and were acquitted of all criminal charges twice by all-white juries. By 1999, two criminal trials and a civil trial that found members of the Greensboro Police Department liable with Klan and Nazi members for the wrongful death of one victim, the Greensboro community did not feel that justice had been restored [1]. Former members of the Communist Workers Party (CWP) joined with community members and supporters to initiate a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to restore justice to the Greensboro community, which would nominate and select seven commissioners on June 12, 2004.

Background History and Context

On the morning of November 3, 1979, thirty-seven Klan and Nazi members began a nine-vehicle convoy in Greensboro with the intent to confront an anti-KKK demonstration. According to the TRC summary, at minimum, they intended to “disrupt” the parade and assault the demonstrators by throwing eggs [2]. The summary asserts that there is sufficient evidence to conclude that their confrontation had violent intent, and more importantly, “Klan and Nazi members have admitted since the event that they intentionally came prepared to use deadly force in order to be victorious in any violence that occurred” [3].

The summary names Roland Wood, Coleman Pridmore, Jack Fowler, David Matthews, and Jerry Paul Smith as the primary perpetrators, as they returned to their cars to retrieve weapons after they had already disrupted the demonstration [4]. They fired at demonstrators, fatally wounding a number of unarmed victims. According to the summary, some responsibility, though not nearly as much, falls on the demonstrators who beat on the caravan cars as they passed the demonstration. Some CWP members brought firearms to the rally and shot at Nazi-Klan members approximately eighteen times, according to the FBI [5].

The majority of commissioners found the absence of police to be the most important contributor to the violent outcome of the confrontation [6]. Previous altercations between the CWP and white supremacist groups were indicators of possible political violence; the groups have even met previously in July 1979 and exchanged verbal insults [7]. The absence of violence in July, however, is attributed to a police presence, which was not the case in November. The police were entirely aware of “the long history of the Klan as a terrorist organization that stirs fear and passion in communities targeted by this violence” and intense opposition between white supremacist groups and the CWP [8]. However, the police failed to inform the demonstration organizers about the Klan and Nazi plans to confront the demonstration, stayed at least five blocks from the demonstration and deterred other law enforcement officers from the parade, did not monitor the situation using hand radios, did not stop the caravan, and did not intervene once shots had been fired [9]. In addition, the Greensboro police department’s paid informant, Eddie Dawson, was a Klansman who was privy to details of the parade [10]. The three trials addressing the confrontation carried out problematic jury selection processes. As the juries were all-white, and each trial was acquitted by the jury, the Commission believes that “the unrepresentative juries undoubtedly contributed significantly to the verdicts” [11].

The Commission recognized that there was no way to undo the harm caused to victims and communities on November 3, 1979. As a result, they sought to take steps toward reconciliation, justice, and reparations by way of a TRC and a number of recommendations to Greensboro’s residents, the government, and local institutions [12].

Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities

The GTRC was mainly funded by local and private donations. A number of foundations and grassroots organizations donated financial support to the GTRC. In addition, a number of in-kind donors, advisors and report consultants, and volunteers donated time and effort to the cause.

In addition to the GTRC Commissioners, a number of representatives, a Local Task Force, and a National Advisory Committee helped organize the Greensboro Truth and Community Reconciliation Project (GTCRP) in 2002.

Participant Recruitment and Selection

The TRC’s commissioners were democratically elected from a pool of sixty-seven nominees in June 2004 based on their connection to Greensboro and their commitment to truth and justice. Once elected by the selection committee, seven commissioners assessed the evidence gathered from the three trials, records from the police department and federal law enforcement, primary material from newspapers and magazines, and a number of interviews and personal statements.

Methods and Tools Used

The GTRC sought to aid in the delivery of restorative justice to Greensboro and its victims. It intended to provide healing and reconciliation to the community through uncovering the truth of what happened. As such, the GTRC also sought to clarify any confusion resulting from the events and their aftermath.

The GTRC also aimed to recognize victims’ feelings, and specifically, feelings of loss, guilt, shame, anger, and fear [13]. In so doing, the GTRC sought to help facilitate changes in social consciousness by learning how actors became involved in the events and what steps should be taken toward healing.

In conducting the GTRC, the Commission acknowledged possible barriers to its research process. Victims’ reluctance to offer statements, the control of information, and the imperfections of memory were taken into account during the GTRC process [14].

The GTRC utilized data such as interviews, police department records, news and police photos, trial testimony and interviews, and medical examiner reports [15].

What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation

The GTRC officially sought to examine the context, causes, and consequences of the events of November 3, 1979. In so doing, the Commission consisted of seven Commissioners, who reviewed documents, welcomed survivor testimony, and consulted with experts [16]. The GTRC committed to issuing a final report to the residents of Greensboro, the City, and to other public bodies.

The city’s official response to the Commission was as follows:

  • City Council voted 6-3, with the three Black members dissenting, to oppose the truth and reconciliation process
  • Council members promoted rumors about the GTRC intimidating opponents
  • Information known only to the GTRC, police, and city officials was leaked to the media, jeopardizing GTRC public hearing testimony
  • Prospective statement givers and community dialogue participants indicated being discouraged by people outside the GTRC from participating

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

Both negative and positive consequences of the GTRC emerged. Some negative consequences, excluding deaths and injuries, include:

  • Individual psychological trauma, depression, anger and fear;
  • Strained relationships, broken marriages and estranged children;
  • Economic retaliation and social isolation against CWP members and their associates, including loss of jobs and economic hardship, surveillance and a feeling of being under siege;
  • General distrust of police, the justice system, elected officials and the media;
  • Exacerbated race and class tensions;
  • An upsurge in racist violence and hate group activity

Positive consequences that emerged included:

  • A city ordinance that forbids anyone from carrying a firearm within 500 feet of a public demonstration;
  • A strengthened resolve for political activism for some;
  • A clearer view for many privileged residents of concerns about the justice system held by many poor and minority residents

The GTRC’s recommendations begin with acknowledgement, in which the city, the perpetrators, and the Greensboro Police Department should issue public apologies and recognize the events. In addition, the Commission recommended that a public monument be built on the site of the shootings. The Commission also recommended institutional reform. This included that city and county employees should be paid a living wage as well as engage in anti-racism training [17]. The city should issue annual reports on race relations and racial disparities, and the county government should increase social services. Lastly, reforms to the justice system, media outlets, and other institutions such as the Chamber of Commerce were necessary.

Recommendations for criminal justice and civil remedies include citizen surveillance and civil action to heal the damaged credibility of the police department.

Lastly, citizen transformation and engagement assert that community members commit to understanding issues of capital, labor, race, poverty, oppression, privilege and justice [18]. 

Analysis and Lessons Learned

The Commission suggests that the GTRC cannot be fully complete as new facts continue to come to light [19]. However, for the time being, it is important that community organizations and the GTRC Project continue to work with one another, and the city and county government.

The Commission believes that the TRC process in Greensboro has increased discourse surrounding the events of November 3, 1979, in a positive way [20]. While it is unclear what the future effects of the GTRC will be, the Commission hopes that “this process also serves as a learning tool for others” in the United States who are also “burdened by a legacy of hurt and inspired by the possibility of honestly coming to terms with their own history” [21].

References

[1] Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 2006. Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report: Executive Summary. Greensboro: Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 3.

[2] Ibid, 6.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid, 7.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid, 8.

[10] Ibid, 7; 9.

[11] Ibid, 15.

[12] Ibid, 28.

[13] Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 2006. Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report. Greensboro: Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 16.

[14] Ibid, 28.

[15] Ibid, 29.

[16] Ibid, 17.

[17] Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report: Executive Summary, 31.

[18] Ibid, 37.

[19] Ibid, 3.

[20] Ibid, 38.

[21] Ibid.

Notes

Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 2006. Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report. Greensboro: Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 2006. Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report: Executive Summary. Greensboro: Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission.


The first version of this case entry was written by Sarah Slasor, McMaster University.