Greensboro Deaths Were Foretold

By Peter B. Young

Vol. 2, No. 5, 1980, pp. 12

In 1968-1969, as a consultant to the President's Commission on Violence I reported (as if from another planet) the existence of a large underclass of deeply troubled Whites in North Carolina and elsewhere. I described this phenomenon as a "White ghetto," with social pathology remarkably similar to that which is so well known in the Black ghetto: ignorance, unemployment, poor health, a drenching saturation of racism and random Saturday night violence.

I further pointed out to the commission that routine police measures of surveillence and harassment were (and are) not only useless but also counterproductive. And I explicitly suggested the probability of a violent confrontation worse than any we had known in the 1960s.

A week ago, in the New York Times, it was painful (but not surprising) for me to read that the radical victims at Greensboro were college graduates, while their killers held "marginal jobs".

Permit me to say something to these two groups, described in the media as "extremist fringe groups".

To the radicals: The historic crisis of American radicalism has been its perennial failure to "break through " to ordinary working people. The difference of class and culture have been virtually unbridgeable.

I respect your courage in going into the mills and becoming active in the labor movement. But I suspect your approach was "elitist"; you didn't really listen to those folks. If you had listened, really listened, you would not have staged a rally around the slogan, "Death to the Klan". An abstraction called "the Klan" is really all that exists in the White ghetto. These folks were born into "the Klan", and it is all they have. (Ironically, it seems likely that the Greensboro assailants may not have been officially members of any Klan organization, yet they are so obviously born into "the Klan" as to pose a profound dilemma for the official Klan officers of the state.

To the Greensboro 14: I know who you are, and I know why you did it. One of you was quoted in the Times as saying, "God save America and this honorable court." That is a way of saying you knew going in what the price would be and you were (and are) willing to pay that price. You were unable to follow the techniques of the late Dr. Martin Luther King; you could not commit a nonviolent act of civil disobedience so you committed a violent one. An atrociously violent act, I hasten to add. The deadly aim of your fire shows that marksmanship standards in the White ghetto remain at their usual high level. Now brothers (and wives and children), do some hard and long praying on what you have done.

The road to a decent American future continues to be difficult. Whoever thought it would be easy? We should pause now to mourn the dead, the wounded and, yes, those shattered "Klan" families in the Piedmont.

The writer, a public relations counselor in Massachusetts, covered state politics and civil rights, including the Ku Klux Klan for WRAL-TV in Raleigh in the mid-1960s. He was a consultant on White extremist groups to a study commission headed by Dr. Milton Eisenhower appointed by President Lyndon Johnson after the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy.

(Reprinted from the Charlotte Observer.)