Reflecting on the Greensboro Massacre, 40 Years Later

Christopher Bouzane
Staff Writer

PC: Wikimedia Commons

On Nov. 3, 1979, the Communist Workers Party of Greensboro, North Carolina, held a “Death to the Klan” march which resulted in retaliation from members of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party. This retaliation resulted in the deaths of four Communist Workers Party members and other protestors. In total, five people were killed and twelve were injured. This would come to be known as the Greensboro Massacre. 

The initial event was hosted by the Communist Workers Party to support Workers’ Rights from nearby textile mills employing a mostly African American workforce. Preceding this, strong rhetoric from members of the Communist Workers Party and the Ku Klux Klan had been exchanged. 

In the time leading up to this event, the Greensboro Police Department had been informed of the Ku Klux Klan’s intent at armed violence. As these two groups came into contact, gunfire was exchanged from both sides. 

It is reported that members of the Communist Workers Party were armed primarily with handguns while members of the Ku Klux Klan had been seen retrieving rifles from their cars. 

In the aftermath of this event, two criminal trials were brought against members of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party. In the first trial, conducted by the state, five were charged with first-degree murder and a felony riot charge. They would go on to be acquitted by an all white jury, citing self-defense.

The second federal civil rights trial was conducted in 1984. During this, nine defendants were charged but, again, were acquitted by the jury. The jury had concluded the men were politically motivated rather than on the basis of race. 

Moving forward to 2009, after a civil suit in 1980 from surviving protestors and a 2004 private investigation of the incident, the Greensboro City Council passed a resolution acknowledging the deaths of the protestors. 

Six years later, on Aug. 15, 2015, the City of Greensboro unveiled a marker to memorialize the Greensboro Massacre and the five lives it took. In addition to this, the city formally apologized for the massacre.  

Nov. 3, 2019, marked the 40th anniversary of the Greensboro Massacre. To honor the victims, one of Greensboro’s oldest ministerial alliances, the Greensboro Pulpit Forum, called on city council members to provide an apology with “substance.”

During a commemoration event held for the 40 year anniversary, footage from the Massacre was shown at Pfeiffer Chapel at Bennett College. Many of the attendants had never seen the footage before. It depicted scenes of men and women running from gunfire in the streets and bodies lying on the pavement. 

Following the presentation at Pfeiffer Chapel, presenters and panelists provided context to the Massacre and information regarding the Communist Workers Party. Furthermore, the lives and legacies of the victims were showcased. 

“People need to understand what their city did, and what the police did and what they did not do.  Because without that, how can you correct it? How can you actually correct it? And that’s what we’ve been fighting for,” said Rev. Nelson Johnson, a survivor of the Greensboro Massacre and member of the Greensboro Pulpit Forum.

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