Greensboro Slayings

By Janis Powell & Bob Powell

Vol. 2, No. 3, 1979, pp. 3

Five people were slain and nine wounded in Greensboro, North Carolina November 3 as they participated in an anti-Klan rally. Fourteen members of the United Racist Front, a coalition of Nazis and Klansmen, were arrested and charged with first degree murder or conspiracy to murder by local authorities in connection with the slayings.

The Communist Workers Party (CWP) had called the demonstration in Greensboro to protest the growing number of Klan attacks upon Black people and civil rights workers throughout the nation. One hour before the scheduled march and rally, the anti-Klan group of one hundred demonstrators changed the publicized meeting site from Windsor Center on Market Street to the Morningside Homes housing project. Both sites are in the Black community.

Shortly after the rally began, five car loads of White men drove into the project shouting racist jeers and heckling the demonstrators. The two groups first confronted each other with rocks, sticks, and insults. Gunfire broke out and of the five killed (four White men and one Black woman), all but one were considered CWP leaders.

The Greensboro police department claims that it had the Klan under surveillance outside of town and officers a block and a half away from the demonstrators. However, uniformed officers were not on the scene until three minutes after the shooting.

Transcripts of the police radio communications indicate one officer announced the Klan arrival into the area and apparently could not get assistance in time to stop the shooting.

Greensboro Police Sgt. A.W. Lewis said uniformed police had been at the rally site but withdrew shortly before the shooting took place. Police said the withdrawal was done at the request of the demonstrators and as an effort "to keep from inflaming the marchers."

Despite the anti-Klan nature of the rally, Police Chief Swing confidently assured reporters that the situation was not racial. He said, "We're not talking about the Woolworth sit-ins in 1960 or the student rioting at A&T State University in 1969, this is simply a case of White against White."

Residents of Greensboro have many unanswered questions, which are being posed as the community searches to understand - why?

—How did the Klan know exactly where to come to if the rally site had been changed? Earlier in the week the Klan had secured through the city attorney's office the original route of the demonstrators. Despite the change in the rally site, the Klan drove straight to the site.

—When did the police discover the rally site had been changed?

—Why were the Morningside residents not informed of the change? Some residents say they glanced outside to check on their children playing to find them in the middle of a "war zone."

—Why were there no Greensboro Klansmen involved in the shooting?

—Why do many blame thevictims for the tragedy? Equating possible CWP tactical blunders on the same level as Klan/Nazi terror tactics, some are calling both groups "crazy" and equally responsible.

—Has the Klan become willing to kill in front of TV cameras instead of on Southern back roads?

—Are local officials involved in the background of Klan activities?

—Will this tragedy reinstate various police surveillance of political activities?

—Will this incident be used as a basis for red-baiting? Shortly after the killing, a company in Collinsville, Virginia reportedly pressured its union to fine an avowed Marxist member for passing out pamphlets at work protesting the killings.

Because of these and other questions, civil rights groups and individuals around the country have called for local and national responses including: (1) vigorous prosecution of those responsible for the Greensboro murders; (2) an independent investigation of police and local officials complicity in the Nov. 3 attacks; (3) statewide legislative investigations into the activities of the Klan; and (4) open, public Congressional hearings about the activities of the Ku Klux Klan nationwide.