Thursday, November 18, 2004
The Greensboro Massacre
By Press Action
On her Democracy Now! Program this morning, Amy Goodman remembered the Greensboro massacre, 25 years later. As an addendum to the Democracy Now! program, below is a reprint of an article I wrote for a 1991 issue of my newsletter, Big Forehead Express.
On Nov. 3, 1979, Klansmen and Nazis pulled rifles and pistols from the trunks of their cars and opened fire on a group of anti-Ku Klux Klan marchers in the Morningside Homes neighborhood of Greensboro, N.C. Five of the demonstrators were killed by the bullets and several others were injured. The victims had close ties with the local Communist Worker’s Party.
Of the 40 Klansmen and Nazis involved in the shootings, only 16 were arrested and only six were brought to trial. The ensuing 22-week criminal trial was the longest in North Carolina history. In November 1980, an all-white jury acquitted each defendant of all charges.
Frazier Glenn Miller, a North Carolina Klan leader and U.S. Army veteran, remarked soon after the incident: “I was more proud to have been in Greensboro for eighty-eight seconds in 1979 than 20 years in the U.S. Army. It was the only armed victory over communism in this country.”
In planning the rally and march, members of the Communist Worker’s Party posted flyers around Greensboro and sent an open letter to the leaders of the White Knights of Liberty and the Federated Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. The letter stated that the Ku Klux Klan’s cowardice would be exposed by their unwillingness to show up at the “Death to the Klan” rally scheduled for Nov. 3, 1979. In October, Communist Worker’s Party members had disrupted a Klan showing of “The Birth of a Nation” and had burned a Confederate flag at a Klan meeting in nearby China Grove.
What the Communist Worker’s Party members didn’t know was that the Greensboro police and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms had paid informants inside local Klan and neo-Nazi groups. In the early 1970s, the Greensboro police began paying Edward Dawson, a Klan member since 1964, to gather intelligence on local Klan activities. Police gave Dawson a map of the “Death to the Klan” march route. The police also told Dawson that the anti-Klan demonstrators had agreed to march unarmed. With this information, Dawson began making arrangements to entice Klan members to the area. On Oct. 31, Dawson told the police that the Klan would be coming to Greensboro heavily armed.
In nearby Winston-Salem, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms paid Bernard Butkovich to infiltrate a group of neo-Nazis. Butkovich allegedly urged the Nazis to stockpile as many fully automatic weapons as possible. Once he received word of the anti-Klan march, Butkovich attended planning sessions and argued for the Nazis and Klan to attack the “Communists.”
On the day of the march, the Greensboro police stood on the sidelines as the bullets began to fly. The chaos erupted when a caravan of cars carrying Klansmen and Nazis, led by police informer Edward Dawson, arrived at the Morningside Homes housing project, where about 50 demonstrators had gathered to march. The anti-Klan demonstrators recognized who was in the cars and began pounding on the cars with their fists and wooden sticks. The Klansmen and Nazis got out and walked to the trunks of their cars. Rifles and handguns were distributed. After the first shot was fired, the demonstrators frantically ran for cover. According to a local Greensboro television reporter, the incident was “a complete massacre. It was a military execution.”
Other witnesses said the Klansmen walked around with cigarettes in their mouths, carefully selecting their victims. One Klansman methodically pumped several bullets into the body of a demonstrator. After their work was done, the Klansmen and Nazis simply drove off. The Greensboro police refused to follow the caravan of cars leaving the scene of the massacre.
According to one of the Nazis, photographs of the intended victims had circulated among the Klansmen and Nazis several weeks before the demonstration. Each of the five victims—James Waller, Bill Sampson, Cesar Cauce, Michael Nathan and Sandi Smith—was a Communist Worker’s Party member and each was active with local unions and anti-poverty programs (see below).
Most of the local and national mainstream press portrayed the murders as a shootout between armed extremist groups. The facts, however, reveal the police knew beforehand that the demonstrators would be unarmed and that, according to informant Edward Dawson, the Klansmen would be carrying weapons.
Virgil Griffin, a North Carolina Ku Klux Klan leader who organized two successive Klan marches on Washington in 1990, also brought several Klansmen and Nazis to the “Death to the Klan” demonstration in Greensboro in 1979. He stated soon after the murders: “I don’t see any difference between killing Communists in Vietnam and killing them over here.” The general public’s indifferent reaction to the murders revealed they didn’t see any difference either.
The five victims of the Greensboro massacre were all members of the Communist Worker’s Party. Formerly known as the Workers Viewpoint Organization, the CWP became more active in the local community as members recognized the depths of racism in the region and discovered the extent to which local textile plant workers were exploited.
One of the victims was Sandi Smith, a civil rights activist who had a degree in nursing from Bennett College. She had worked hard to get Cone Mills and J.P. Stevens, two textile mills in the Greensboro area, to stop using dangerous chemicals in their plants and to upgrade decrepit machinery.
Dr. James Waller, who gave up his medical practice to serve as president of a local textile workers union, also was killed. Soon after starting work at Cone Mills, Waller was fired after management learned of his medical background, which he had not listed on his job application.
Also killed were Bill Sampson, a Harvard University graduate in the school of divinity, and Cesar Cauce, an immigrant from Cuba who graduated magna cum laude from Duke University. Both were local union organizers who had been fingered by management of the textile mills as troublemakers.
The fifth victim was Dr. Michael Nathan, chief of pediatrics at Lincoln Community Health Center in Durham. Most of Nathan’s patients were black and many were children from low-income families.
Mark Hand is editor of Press Action.Share