Events commemorate Klan-Nazi shootings

News & Record, North Carolina/November 3, 2009

Greensboro - Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Klan-Nazi shootings that killed five and injured 10 in 1979.

Local students, clergy and community leaders are commemorating the tragedy with a "Truth, Justice and Healing Conference" from Wednesday through Saturday.

James Joseph, former U.S. ambassador to South Africa under President Bill Clinton, will be the keynote speaker.

The shootings happened Nov. 3, 1979, before a "Death to the Klan" march through the Morningside Homes public housing complex.

A group of Ku Klux Klan members and members of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Party of America arrived in a caravan of cars to confront marchers from the Communist

Workers Party, then known as the Workers Viewpoint Organization. Marchers beat on the cars as they passed and both sides fired shots in the ensuing gunbattle.

Five anti-Klan demonstrators were killed:

  • Cesar Vicente Cauce, 25, a Cuban immigrant and magna cum laude graduate of Duke University.

  • Dr. Michael Ronald Nathan, 32, chief of pediatrics at Durham's Lincoln Community Health Center.

  • William Evan Sampson, 31, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School.

  • Sandra Neely Smith, 28, a nurse and civil rights activist.

  • Dr. James Michael Waller, 36, who had given up his medical practice to organize workers and become president of a local textile workers' union.

The violence was captured by TV cameras and became national news, the subject of books and pop songs.

Klan and neo-Nazi group members were twice acquitted of all criminal charges by all-white juries, creating a racial controversy that affects politics and race relations in the city to the present day.

A civil trial later found members of the Greensboro Police Department and Klan and neo-Nazi group members jointly liable for the wrongful death of one of those killed.

Lingering questions and resentments about the shootings led to the creation of the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2005.

The commission, patterned on similar groups in post-apartheid South Africa, took public testimony and investigated the facts of the confrontation and its aftermath. A report prepared by the group has been controversial, with people disagreeing about its conclusions.

Though the Greensboro City Council initially opposed the efforts of the commission, the council issued a statement in June regretting the confrontation.

On Wednesday, students, activists and community leaders will gather at the A&T Four sit-in statue on the Dudley Street side of N.C. A&T's campus. The group will walk downtown to the Greensboro Historical Museum for a viewing of "Greensboro: Getting Closer to the Truth," a film about the truth and reconciliation process by New York filmmaker Adam Zucker.

Other events will continue throughout the week, culminating with former Ambassador Joseph's keynote address at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in Pfeiffer Chapel at Bennett College.

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