Greensboro takes step toward learning truth

Group will examine 1979 anti-Klan rally

Winston-Salem Journal/May 28, 2004
By Sonya Sutton

Greensboro -- Nearly 25 years ago, five people were killed and 10 were injured at an anti-Ku Klux Klan march in the Morningside Homes neighborhood.

Yesterday, seven people were named to a commission that will spend the next 16 months examining the still-painful events of so long ago, trying to determine what happened and why.

An independent-selection panel announced the membership of the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was established to examine the events of Nov. 3, 1979.

Members of the Worker's Viewpoint Organization (later known as the Communist Worker's Party) had organized the 1979 protest and sent an open letter to Klan leaders challenging them to appear at the rally. Klan members arrived in nine cars and drove into the crowd.

According to witnesses, the protesters and Klan members exchanged threats. Two minutes later, television cameras taped several men pulling guns out of their cars and shooting into the crowd. The police were not near the scene when the shootings occurred.

Fourteen members of the Ku Klux Klan, including three from Winston-Salem, were charged in the deaths. The defendants said they shot into the crowd in self-defense, and all but one were acquitted.

The central questions for many in Greensboro is why the police were not at the scene and how the KKK members were acquitted.

Similar commissions have been established in other nations, such as South Africa, to examine the effects of apartheid. The Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission is the first of its kind in the United States.

Lawrence McSwain, a District Court judge, served as the chairman of the selection panel.

McSwain said that the panel wanted to select people from diverse backgrounds.

He said that the panel made a special effort to consider race only after selecting their top choices based on qualifications.

"What we felt was really most important would be finding people who are honest and forthright,"McSwain said.

Mayor Keith Holliday has criticized the establishment of the commission in the past, saying that it would reopen old wounds. Holliday did not attend yesterday's news conference but said in a telephone interview that he knows two nominees, Mark Sills and Barbara Walker.

"Certainly Barbara and Mark, I would say, are two individuals that, because of their high level of integrity, I would very much trust their opinions,"he said.

The selection panel was required to pick at least two commissioners from outside the Greensboro area. McSwain said that although Sills lives in Randleman, he is considered to be an integral part of the Greensboro community.

The members of the commission will be:

"Cynthia Brown of Durham, who works for Southerners for Economic Justice and was described as a "grass-roots leader"by her nominator. She has directed two shelters for battered women.

"Patricia Clark of Nyack, N.Y., the executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith and international advocacy group.

"Muktha Jost of Greensboro, an assistant professor of curriculum and instruction at North Carolina A&T State University.

"Angela Lawrence of Greensboro, a city native who was active in the school redistricting process.

"Robert Peters of Greensboro, a retired lawyer whose nominator described him as an "open-minded and critical thinker."

"Mark Sills of Randleman, a former executive director of the Greensboro Urban Ministry and president of the Human Service Institute.

"Barbara Walker of Greensboro, who has been president of YWCA Greensboro and a member of the Commission on the Status of Women.

The appointees will be sworn in during a public ceremony at 10:30 a.m. June 12 at The Depot, 236 E. Washington St.

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