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U.S.A - Greensboro, NC

Activists and leaders in a divided community in North Carolina worked to implement justice mechanisms on a local level. ICTJ shared lessons from other experiences to assist the community’s efforts to achieve truth and justice.

A silent march of 1979 massacre survivors and friends through downtown Greensboro, July 2005. (Ethan Vesely-Flad, on Flickr)

Background: Race, Class and Politics Behind Deadly Violence

On November 3, 1979 in the Morningside neighborhood of Greensboro, North Carolina, members of the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi Party opened fire on a racially mixed gathering of political activists and labor organizers. They killed five and wounded ten among the mostly unarmed demonstrators, as news cameras rolled.

After several failed prosecutions, an entrenched city mythology about the events seemed irreversible. But from 2004, the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission (GTRC) began to reveal a different, more inclusive story.

The commission interviewed survivors, contemporaries and witnesses, police, judges and lawyers, former Klansmen and Nazis, and held public hearings. In May 2006, the Commission presented its final report on the events of 1979, and their causes and consequences. The Commission found that the decision of the police to stay away was a critical factor in the violent outcome, that juries unrepresentative of the community contributed to impunity for the killings, and that the police department and key city managers “deliberately misled” the public about what had happened, in order to shift responsibility away from the police.

The Commission’s report is still contested terrain, but the report and the history of November 3 is being taught in local universities after a long silence. It offers a community divided by suspicion and denial a chance to begin addressing the difficult issues of race, class and politics indelibly illustrated in this groundbreaking report.

ICTJ's Role:

ICTJ advised the GTRC’s initiating project as they developed the idea of a local, non-governmental truth process, crafted the mandate of the TRC and designed a process for selecting an independent and credible commission.

Throughout its operation, we provided the Commissioners and their staff with technical advice, relevant comparative information, and contacts with experts and practitioners involved in similar work around the world.