Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Amilcar Cabral/Paul Robeson Collective
Greensboro Collective

The Greensboro Massacre: Critical Lessons for the 1980’s

Part I: The Massacre and Aftermath

November 3, 1979, was an unusually warm, late autumn Saturday in Greensboro, N.C.

The Workers Viewpoint Organization (which had just changed its name to Communist Workers Party) picked this day to stage a “Death to the Klan” march and an Anti-Klan Conference. The marchers were to assemble in a Greensboro Black community at 11:00 AM. The actual march was to begin at 12 noon. The march route, which was three to four mile long, was to weave through several Greensboro Black neighborhoods ending at a Pentacostal Holiness Church on the edge of the Black community where the Conference was to begin at 2:00 PM.

Around 11 AM, this November 3rd, WVO members and supporters gather at two locations in the Black neighborhood. Some are gathering at the publicly announced assembly point, a Community Center that faces a well-traveled, four-lane highway. A larger crowd is gathering at the actual starting point for the march, Morningside Homes, a housing project surrounded by narrow, two-lane streets rarely travelled by whites other than the police.

Morningside Homes is in the center of an area known as “The Grove” which has a reputation as the roughest Black neighborhood in town. This assembly point obviously offered the potential for better security than the Community Center. WVO in publicizing one assembly point while actually using another apparently hoped to confuse potential attackers as well as perhaps other left political groups whose participation they did not want.

At the Community Center several WVO members greet people who arrive, give short raps over a bullhorn and quietly direct people to the actual assembly point several blocks away. They direct both their supporters and members of the press to the Morningside Homes but are careful to request that people not tell the police.

By 11:15 enough people have assembled at Morningside Homes to start the rally. There are thirty or more participants including several children of WVO members as well as a number of onlookers, children and adults from the community. Two or more TV camera crews in addition to other press people are also present. WVO members start harangues and lead chants against the Klan and the Police. They lead the children in burning an effigy of a Klansman and generally do all they can to build up what they feel to be the proper spirit in the crowd. Then about 11:20 some real excitement arrives–a caravan of about seven cars and at least one van and one pickup truck drives up the street and parks more or less in front of the assembly point. Some of the Klansmen shout obscenities at the demonstrators and the demonstrators, recognizing who the caravan members are, begin chanting “Death to the Klan,” as they charge toward the Klan cars. For a moment the demonstrators surround several of the cars and beat on them with sticks. Then suddenly the demonstrators break and run from the cars. Probably they see the Klansmen inside pointing guns at them. Some demonstrators run for cover while others mill around in the yards of the housing project. Meanwhile the Klansmen and Nazis pile out of their cars; some of them wave handguns in the air and then begin shooting into the milling crowd of demonstrators. Other Klansmen get rifles and shotguns from the van and the trunk of a car and begin firing into the crowd. A few WVO members have small handguns. While the onlookers, press and some WVO members have taken cover by this time, a number of WVO members make no attempt to take cover even though they are heavily outgunned. The Klan is able to fire repeatedly into this group of WVO members with high powered rifles and shotguns at distances of several yards or less. Whatever shots the WVO members manage to get off, if any, are obviously ineffective. While some Klansmen fire from behind a car, steadying their guns on the top and trunk, others are so unconcerned that they calmly fire standing out in the open with no cover at all. One Klansman charged to within three or four feet of the WVO members firing a handgun. As he runs he ducks and looks over his shoulder. He is obvious concerned with being hit by his friend firing from behind him. After firing for nearly two minutes the Klan and Nazis pile into their cars with their guns, some stopping to return guns to the trunks of the cars, and begin to drive off.

Four WVO members are dead, one dies several days later, several others are wounded, one critically. Up to this point the police are almost totally absent. In fact, two police intelligence officers are parked a block down the street. They have followed the Klan caravan from the outskirts of town. Once the shooting starts, they call reinforcements but make no effort themselves to stop the shooting or arrest the attackers. Other police who are assigned to protect the march are at various staging areas, the closest 10 or 12 blocks away. Some are in a restaurant halfway across town eating lunch.

As the Klan and Nazis drive out of the neighborhood, a few police arrive, stop some of the cars and arrest some of the attackers. As WVO members lie wounded and dying in the grass the police arrest two other WVO members for inciting to riot and interfering with the police.

Like everything else the Massacre of November 3rd had a history of development. In order to understand how and why the Massacre happened, we have to examine that history. November 3rd was not the first confrontation between the WVO and the Klan. The Klan had been making a modest resurgence in North Carolina for the past year. As part of the resurgence one faction had been holding showings of the racist movie “Birth of a Nation.” One showing took place on July 8th in China Grove, a small town in south central North Carolina.

A Black community meeting was being held that day to protest the Klan film showing. WVO members seized control of the meeting and demanded that people smash the Klan function. They had imported a fairly large contingent of their members and supporters from Greensboro and Durham to converge on the small town Klan activity. This group led a few local people in marching on the community center where the film showing was in progress. Caught by surprise, the Klan retreated into the center, barricading the door. WVO seized and burned a Confederate flag that had been on display outside. They then returned to their cars, got guns, and marched up and down the streets of the small town.

WVO claimed this as a great victory. They summed up that the tactics used at China Grove were effective both in winning the masses and defeating the enemy. In conversation with some of us, they said the main obstacle to fighting the Klan was fear, but they had studied Chairman Mao’s military line and the “party’s” (WVO’s) line and were prepared to enter the struggle free from fear. The China Grove incident was important in WVO’s view because they had demonstrated to the masses that the Klan was a “slimy pack of cowards.” Thus, the masses had won a “psychological victory.” The Klan may also have felt that WVO had defeated them and resolved not to let it happen again.

China Grove had been preceded by another Anti-Klan action by a rival “Communist” group, the “Revolutionary Communist Party” at Winston-Salem, North Carolina in early spring. At this action a few RCP members had disrupted and forced the closing down of a Klan exhibit in the local library.[1] The RCP leadership decided not to try to mobilize the masses for fear it might tip off the cops. They decided it was more important to smash the exhibit and get publicity than build support for it. They sent four members into a small room in the basement with only one stairway leading out. A room crowded with 50 or more no doubt armed Klansmen (including some who were arrested for murder on November 3rd), and only the intervention of the police and the refusal of the four to actually physically smash anything prevented a much more serious confrontation from occurring that day. For those of us who participated, this action and the much publicized Anti-Teng Hsiao Peng attack on the White House in late January, were the last straw. To us, they demonstrated the utter degeneration of the RCP into a band of ultra-left idiots. (Very soon after the Winston-Salem action, we left the RCP having decided that the struggle we had been waging to correct its line from the inside for almost a year was hopeless.)

The Winston-Salem action, however, received quite a lot of media attention and WVO probably felt their position as the leading left organization in the state to be under challenge. For the record, they criticized the RCP action in Winston-Salem as adventurist but their subsequent actions show what they actually thought.

Having taken up the banner of chief “Anti-Klan Fighters” in China Grove, WVO proceeded to develop a plan for exploiting the issue for all it was worth. They decided to move the struggle to Greensboro, where they had more contacts from their previous work, more history of involvement, and which being a larger city would afford better media coverage. Once they announced plans for their “Death to the Klan” march and conference, they engaged in repeated attempts to provoke violent verbal exchanges between themselves and the Klan, the Nazis, police or anybody else, so that by selling “wolf tickets” in public they could impress the Black masses with their “freedom from fear.”

The first WVO leaflet announcing their March and Conference reads:

We are against Non-Violence and Racism and for Armed Self-Defense. We should beat the hell out of the Klan wherever we find them! These Dogs have no right to exist! The Klan has no support among the people, only hatred and disgust. In China Grove, the People, helped by the Workers Viewpoint Organization, drove the scum Klansmen into a building and burned their Confederate Flag before their eyes.

...We took the Klan on at China Grove. We’ll take them on again. We invite these two-bit punks to come out on Nov. 3rd and face the wrath of the people.

About the same time the WVO held a press conference in Kannapolis, a textile manufacturing town near China Grove in order to impress Black textile workers in an area of the state where they had recently begun work. Associated Press reports on this press conference quote Paul Bermazohn, a WVO leader later to be wounded and left partially paralyzed at the November 3rd attack. In Kannapolis, Bermazohn stated “We invite these cowards to come out from under their rocks on November 3rd.” The press then interviewed some Klan leaders who expressed no intention of accepting the challenge. They stated that while they don’t attend Communist rallies anybody including Communists are free to attend theirs if they want to. The Klan may have intended to lull the enemy to sleep by this statement; at any rate, it apparently had that effect.

At this point the WVO probably thought that things were going pretty well. The only problem was that they hadn’t been able to provoke the kind of verbal response from the Klan that they would have liked. Had they been dealing with another ultra-leftist group, they would have by now generated a whole back and forth of violent threats in order to graphically demonstrate their courage. It’s not so impressive, however, to beat on someone who won’t hit back. Perhaps WVO thought what was needed was to call them out by name.

On October 22nd they began mass distribution of an open letter to Joe Grady and Gorrell Pierce, two leaders of rival Klan factions in the state. In this letter they practically beg for a violent showdown.

We are having a march and conference on November 3, 1979, to further expose your cowardness, why the Klan is so consciously being promoted and to organize to physically smash the racist KKK whenever it rears its ugly head. Yes, we challenged you to attend...We publicly re-new the challenge. You were quoted in the AP press release as saying that ’If the communists think are going to get me to attack them they are crazy as hell.’ No, Grady and Pierce, we are hot crazy. We are very clear on what You are doing and that you and the KKK are a bunch of two bit cowards. You ’invited’ us to show up at Klan rallies. Grady and Pierce we accept: Where in the hell are you holding your scum rallies? [WVO emphasis] You cowards manage to keep the location of your rallies a secret. We challenge you to say in public where and when you are holding your scum rallies so that the people can organize to chase you off the face of the earth. On October 22nd they began mass distribution of an open letter to Joe Grady and Gorrell Pierce, two leaders of rival Klan factions in the state. In this letter they practically beg for a violent showdown.On October 22nd they began mass distribution of an open letter to Joe Grady and Gorrell Pierce, two leaders of rival Klan factions in the state. In this letter they practically beg for a violent showdown.

With the exception of Gary Gilmore rarely have people made such a determined effort to get in front of hostile guns. Having put in their request, WVO then set about creating the conditions that allowed their murders to take place.

They publicly announced that since they did not expect the police to protect them they would be armed at the march. This plus their other violent rhetoric provoked the police to add to the usual conditions of the parade permit a specific ban on carrying weapons–something they had not done for other recent demonstrations. It is, however, generally legal to carry guns in North Carolina as long as they are not concealed.

On Thursday, November 1st, Nelson Johnson and other members of WVO held a press conference on the steps of the Greensboro Police Station. Johnson had just come from a meeting with police officials where they had given him the approved parade permit containing the restrictions against weapons including guns, knives and sticks thicker than “2 x 2”. The police claim that Johnson had discussed and agreed to these restrictions.

At the press conference Johnson said that WVO was prepared to defend themselves because they knew the police wouldn’t protect them and would “continue with their slimy tallies, send provocateurs into our ranks and disrupt, but we want to say clearly to the police department and to (Major) Jim Melvin, stay out of our way. The march will go on.”

At the press conference they continued, as they had been doing in their leaflets, the cute trick of publicly announcing Windsor Community Center as their assembly point while actually planning to assemble at Morningside Homes several blocks away. However, when they applied for their parade permit, they listed the true assembly point. Despite their stated understanding that “The police protect the Klan, many are Klan members,” in their leaflet announcing the march, they did not realize that if they told the police the truth the Klan might hear about it. This is exactly what happened.

At the press conference on the police station steps, there was one man quietly taking notes who was not a member of the press. His name was Dawson and he was a member of the Klan. After the press conference he walked up the steps into the police station and requested a copy of the parade permit. Even though they knew he was a Klansman, the police gave him a copy. The police did not, however, see any need to either inform WVO or reinforce their security preparations.

On November 3rd just before the Massacre the police were running around Windsor Community Center acting like they thought the march was to begin there. At the same time there were no police at the real assembly site. The city was later to use the ploy of the false assembly point as an excuse for the lack of police protection, claiming WVO’s leaflets had confused them.

The Klan and Nazis, however, were not in the least confused. Once they reached Greensboro they proceeded to Morningside Homes by the most direct route and approached the area where the Massacre took place from the direction that would afford them the most direct getaway.

After the Massacre the WVO claimed that what had really taken place was an FBI directed assassination. They stated several things that in their view support this conclusion. They claim that the Klan and Nazis have neither the skill nor the guts to pull this off by themselves.

As for the Klan’s skill, Klansmen are typically people from rural areas or small towns who, like most people from that background, are more or less trained in the use of guns from childhood. Rabbit, possum, and deer hunting are popular pastimes where they come from. A man who can shoot a deer running away from them in the brush can obviously shoot a person milling around or running towards them in the open. It is not even necessary to consider the organized paramilitary training that goes on in groups like the Klan and particularly the Nazis to establish that the attackers had the necessary skill with guns. Almost any “good ole boy” in rural North Carolina could do the same with one eye closed.

WVO also pointed to the fact that only their members, including leading members, were killed as evidence that trained assassins shot them from cover while the Klan provided a diversion. The much more likely reason for this result is that their members or rather some of their members stood there and allowed themselves to be shot. In their own newspaper WVO has claimed that their people charged into a hail of bullets, while firing pistols. They describe how one comrade fell, another grabbed his pistol and charged on screaming and firing until he was shot. Obviously, these tactics will get you killed. What the newsfilm shows is a small group of frantic people milling and running around while they are being shot down.

The masses, however, followed the leadership of their common sense instead of “their party” and took cover. Let’s look at the experience of Nelson Johnson. He is the most prominent member of WVO in North Carolina, much more prominent and much more likely to be known on sight by any assassin than any of those killed. He is also Black; and we would assume that other things being equal the average Klansmen would rather shoot a “nigger.” However, despite his general adherence to WVO’s infantile left line when the crunch came, he followed his common sense and took cover.

In charging that the Klan did not the guts to carry off this attack WVO displays contempt not only for the “punks and cowards” of the Klan, but for the masses of Black people also. For 100 years Klansmen have been killing Blacks in the south. Many, perhaps most of those people, fought back. The Klan always prepared to come with superior numbers and firepower as they did on November 3rd. When Black resistance is organized and widespread, they generally back down. However, if the Klan were cowards in the sense that they would not drive into a Black community to kill someone who might shoot back, they could never have murdered the thousands of Blacks they have over the years. WVO does not realize this. With supreme petty bourgeois arrogance and contempt for the masses, they think that Blacks simply, passively allowed themselves to be killed until WVO came along to show us how to be “free from fear.” The fact is that the Black masses always knew to shoot back and long ago learned more about how and when to shoot back than WVO will ever grasp.

I don’t want to be known as an Anti-Klan fighter. I want to be known as someone who fights for our people’s needs. When we fight for the people’s needs and the Klan messes with us, then we deal with them. If you want to bring death to the Klan don’t talk about it. If you want to bring death to the Klan then organize and bring death to the Klan. – Alfred “Skip” Robinson

November 3rd and the sequence of events leading up to it was an exercise in “left” adventurist suicide. Entranced by their fantasies of themselves as revolutionary heroes, the WVO engaged in a wild escapade that was just as successful in achieving their own murders as if they had set out with that purpose in mind. In fact, many people in the Black community as well as the press have raised the possibility that the WVO leadership did have in mind achieving the murder of some of their members either in order to gain publicity or because some of the leaders were police agents.

Anything is possible and the activity of police agents inside of left organizations is certainly a fact of life. However, even if these motives did exist on the part of the WVO leadership, or some part of it, it would have been impossible for them to get their rank and file to go along with such idiocy unless that rank and file’s common sense, its sense of reality, had already been twisted and distorted in a very serious way.

The masses, many of whom cannot comprehend how somebody can be so crazy, fortunately have not had the intimate practice that we, the authors have had with the revisionist, objectively anti-communist line that is dominant in the so-called “communist” movement in this country. Those of us who not only have had practice with these people but have ourselves been followers of various forms of this line are in a unique position to contribute to an understanding of both the nature and source of this line as well as the character of the danger it represents to the masses.

The WVO like most of the so-called “communists” in this country are extreme idealists. Their whole method of thought flows from the premise that ideas are the basic motive force of history (a view that they consistently apply although they would never admit it). They also believe, naturally, that intellectuals like themselves, as the carriers of the most developed ideas, are the principal actors on the historical stage. And they are supreme intellectuals in the worst sense of the word no matter how many factory jobs they might take when they think it expedient.

The fact is that the masses are the makers of history. In the course of making history they come up with their own correct ideas and are a principal source of any correct ideas that leaders might come up with. Good leaders only synthesize the correct ideas of the masses and develop them into programs of action to move the struggle forward. All genuine communists firmly adhere to this principle and all serious revolutionaries have, at least, some sense of it. Recognizing this, genuine revolutionaries have a deep respect for the masses and a basic humility in relation to them. The idealists, on the other hand, are arrogant because they genuinely believe that they are the source of all wisdom. They feel that the main, in fact, the only, task is to get the masses to recognize this and follow them, then revolution can occur tomorrow. When they are under pressure, these tendencies often take extreme forms.

By 1979, the WVO was well as ultra-left “communists” generally in this country, were under pressure. Having grown out of the upsurge in the anti-war and Black Liberation struggles of the late 60’s and early 70’s, these people have been out here as communists for almost 10 years now and have built no significant base among any sector of the masses. It was getting increasingly difficult for the leaders to hold their organizations together and particularly to get their members to continue to do distasteful (for them) things like working in factories when so little results could be seen. After all, patience is not one of the petty bourgeoisie’s main virtues. In a more and more frantic search for a gimmick many of them decided that the problem was that they had not been forcefully enough telling the masses how great the “communists” were and how they were born to lead them. So they began all sorts of prancing and posturing. They also began to desperately search for some daring acts to demonstrate to the masses their “heroism” and other “leadership qualities.” Basically, it’s a question of putting on a show in order to impress the “feeble-minded masses.” This was the reason for both the RCP and WVO’s anti-Klan activities. Not that they thought that the Klan was a real danger to the masses but because the situation offered such wonderful opportunities for street theater. The RCP’s leadership ordered several of its members to smash the Klan exhibit in Winston-Salem. Just afterwards they told us that in their view the Klan was not a real danger in the south. “Then why did you send us in there to risk our lives?” “Because it was a good opportunity to get out our line.”

Just before China Grove WVO told some of us that they saw Populism and not the Right, as the main danger in the country. Then why did they begin to put their main energies into smashing the Klan? The same reason.

The WVO’s violent rhetoric leading up to November 3rd wasn’t directed tat the Klan, it was directed at the Black masses. Revolutionaries have a responsibility to lead in tactics and strategy to help to direct the masses ongoing fight more sharply at their real enemy. What the WVO was doing was tailing what they assume to be the spontaneous militant sentiments of Black people. Since the Klan was getting some serious publicity, they assumed Black people must see the Klan as an immediate danger, even if they didn’t. So WVO raised “Death to the Klan” to gain points with the masses.

To them, “Death” was just a word. They came from almost exclusively academic backgrounds where they were taught to talk, theorize, polemicize, etc. but not to grasp the concrete connection between words and deeds, the actual effect of rhetoric on material reality. Thus they misjudged the effect of their rhetoric on both the masses and the Klan.

Black people generally see the Klan not in terms of how much publicity they get but what measure of actual threat they pose to the Black community and more importantly to the ongoing struggle of Black people. Therefore, while being somewhat concerned by the increase in Klan activity, few Black saw the need to make fighting the Klan a major activity as long as they confined themselves to holding exhibits or showing movies. Moreover most Black people saw fighting the Klan in the context of building the Black Liberation Movement generally or for some, simply defending the Black community. “What we need to do is get our people organized.” Therefore, Black people generally found the anti-Klan activities lightly amusing and entertaining. As the violence of the rhetoric intensified, people began to see it as needlessly provocative even before November 3rd. By the time VWO’s open letter came out, you began to hear a lot of “these people are crazy.”

WVO thought the Klan were idealist like themselves. They expected to engage in a little harmless rhetorical exchange as is customary between leftist groups. Maybe a little symbolic pushing and shoving and ineffective stick swinging to add just a hint of realism. They did not realize that Klansmen, bullets, shotguns and death are real material forces.

The Klan, like most people from their background (workers, farmers, small businessmen) proved to be much more practical. Perhaps they grasped the extent of WVO’s isolation from the masses. Almost certainly they grasped WVO’s utter lack of preparedness to back up their words with deeds. By launching the attack they did on November 3rd, they were able to deal a real blow not only to their immediate targets but to the Black masses and their struggle. By invading the Black community and openly killing people the Klan raised the threat of open terror against the Black struggle in a sharper way than had been done in years. At the same time by launching the attack against an isolated band of predominantly white leftists, they created conditions that would make it particularly difficult to build the kind of militant mass response that would give the Black community confidence that the terrorist threat could be effectively countered. They also greatly inspired their basic racist constituency; and by combining racism with anti-communism, they created conditions for building the broadest possible base of support among white people for their action. These conditions would make it quite likely that they would eventually get away “scott free” which would inspire similar attacks, attacks both here and around the country. And it is clear that the increased attacks would be mainly directed, as they always have been, at the struggle of the Black masses.

Thus the situation facing the Black community of the afternoon of November 3rd was a particularly complicated and difficult one. Black people were threatened by this murderous attack carried out in the heart of our community. As opposed to most such attacks in recent times, this one did not come as a response to an upsurge of mass struggle. Rather this attack came at a point when Black struggle and organization was at a particular low ebb. Therefore, the task was to build an adequate response, in a sense almost from scratch; to build the necessary sentiment and organization in the teeth of the crisis. This task was made immensely more complicated by the fact that the immediate target of the attack was an isolated group of predominantly white ultra-leftists. Thus, there was some basis for the view, which the local white power structure would try to promote, that these murders no concern to the Black community or that the community had been equally violated by both extremist groups and ought to let the police and courts handle it.

Despite the complexities of the situation, some political response began to develop almost as soon as the guns stopped firing. Those of us who lived in Greensboro and had some history of political activity in the area began to get phone calls almost immediately from past and present political associates and mass contacts, all wanting to urgently discuss what should be done.

After discussion among ourselves and contacts and discussion with a number of other people, we called a meeting of contacts for the Sunday afternoon of November 4th. We had a clear view that what was needed was a broad mass united front response principally coming from the Black community with whatever white support that would be forthcoming. We called together the initial meeting of our contacts to form a core to help organize this response.

The group that initially met that Sunday was a very diverse association both Black and white from several different backgrounds. There were also some Black students from A&T State University and some Black Revolutionary Nationalist political activists who had been active to varying degrees in the community since the days of Malcolm X Liberation University and the Youth Organization for Black Unity (YOBU). There were also several Black workers whom we had contact with from our several years’ involvement in workers struggles, particularly among textile workers. Also included were several whites of varying degrees of political radicalism that some of us knew primarily from our days in the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) and the Revolutionary Worker’s League (RWL). Finally, just before our meeting the local RCP leadership got wind of it and called to ask to be included. We had initially not invited them because of our intimate knowledge of their ultra-left line and reputation in the community. Our feeling was that what was least needed at this time was more “left” errors. However, once they contacted us we reconsidered. The struggles that had led to some of us splitting from their organization had begun with us fighting for the need to do broad united front work. We were sensitive to the danger of our making the same error. Also there were a few whites we felt to be honest and wanted to include who we felt would not understand our excluding the RCP. For these reasons and without much discussion, they were included at the last minute.

At this initial meeting, despite the diverse character of the group, there was or appeared to be a good deal of unity. People agreed that what was needed was a broad united front response centered in the Black community. There was discussion about how to develop this type of front, and assignments were accepted to contact various Black leaders and various sectors of the masses to begin to push for and organize this response. Our feeling at the time, based on no great experience, with this type of work, was that the community could be mobilized for this type of action. (We envisioned a large march and rally demanding that the criminals be brought to justice and attack the lack of police protection of both the demonstrators and the community) even though we realized that developing such a mobilization would not be easy.

There was a good deal of discussion on whether or not the WVO should be included and how they should be dealt with. Everybody generally agreed that they should be included in the front because this was consistent with the need to unite everybody who could be united and to clearly focus on the Klan and the police who were the main enemies. Also some of us thought that the respect that Nelson Johnson personally (as opposed to WVO) still had among some sectors of the Black community would mean that he could be somewhat effective in helping to build such a response. In order to achieve the unity necessary to build a broad front, we thought it best to not criticize WVO publicly. However, after people had agreed to this, there was still some extensive discussion of the fact that WVO had made serious errors and what those errors were. There seemed to be a feeling in the room that in order to work together effectively we have to be clear among ourselves to what these people did wrong if for no other reason than to be confident that none of us would make the same mistakes. In deciding not to publicly criticize them we did not recognize that the masses would have the same feeling. In the next few days the group that had met on Sunday began trying to develop an organized response to the murders and in the course of that work began to get some sense of the spontaneous views developing among the masses.

The initial reaction of the Black masses closest to the attack was intense anger at the Klan and the police. The scene of the murders is less than a block from the Paradise Drive Inn a place where large numbers of Black workers, unemployed people and some criminal elements gather to ”hang out” drinking beer and wine. There is also a pool hall and several small shops in the immediate vicinity. Some of us walked through this area two or three hours after the attack and again that night talking to people. As well as intense anger and outrage, there was a feeling that if this attack was not responded to, it would mean a severe setback for Black people. ”If we don’t do something, the Klan will think they can kill us anytime they want to.” There was some significant sentiment for an immediate violent response. However, there was not quite enough such sentiment for it to be actually organized and carried out. Even this early, there were a lot of questions people had about how why this had happened. Had it been provoked? If so how? These murders, unlike most such incidents, had not grown out of the natural development of Black repression, mass resistance and the Klan response to that. At least, not in any immediate sense. It was more like a shot out of the blue. This not only meant that the masses had not expected it, but that people had trouble fitting it into their understanding of the political situation. Obviously, this is one of the results of the provocative nature of ultra-“left” politics. It brings down attacks on the masses that they are not politically or organizationally prepared to deal with. Tactically, there was confusion on who should be attacked and where they could be found. Almost all of the Klansmen and Nazis had come from out of town and no one was sure if there was even an active Klan organization in Greensboro.

At A&T State University, a Black State School of about 5,000 students, there was a similar initial response of intense anger and outrage, but also some confusion.

Among the masses, initially there was a basic sense that it was important for Black people and the Black struggle against national oppression that this attack be combated. However, the confusion that existed left room for the enemies of Black people to cloud this understanding and block the building of an effective counter attack by the Black masses. This is what our enemies–the white power structure, their agents in the Black community, the white press and the WVO proceeded to do.

The Mayor, Jim Melvin initially responded with a series of public statements strongly denouncing the violent attacks as the most dastardly murders in the history of North Carolina. He promised that all the Klansmen and Nazis would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Initially he made almost no criticism of WVO but rather talked about the need to protect everyone’s right to demonstrate. He did, however, begin to push the line that this was a confrontation between two outside groups who had randomly chosen Greensboro as the site for their feud. Because of this, he said, the murders in no way reflected the nature of race relations in the city. In responding to the obvious questions around the absence of police protection, the Mayor and Police Chief promised a full investigation. Meanwhile, they pushed a Black police Lieutenant out front, claiming he had been in charge that day and could answer questions. It later came to light that while this Black officer was the overall duty officer that day, other white officers were actually in charge of planning and supervising police activity relative to the march and conference. It was further revealed that some of the information about the imminent arrival of Klansmen at the demonstration site was not relayed to the Black officer. He had, in fact, previously been scheduled to be attending an unrelated community meeting at the time the march was going on; and he was to be consulted only if an emergency developed. By pushing the Black cop out front, the power structure obviously hoped to frustrate the developing protest by saying “If you want someone to attack, you have to attack this Black cop first.”

The initial response by the Mayor was dictated by the fact that he found himself in a particularly vulnerable situation. Not only was he concerned about massive perhaps violent protest in the Black community, but he was also up for re-election the following Tuesday. He was vulnerable in the Black community because the local NAACP had already endorsed his more liberal opponent. He thought he still had a chance among Blacks because several local Black ministers had endorsed him, but if he was to preserve the chance he had, he had to be very careful how he handled the present volatile situation. Taking an initial hard line against the Klan worked pretty well. He carried every Black precinct in the city, and the day after the election his line began to change.

The local power structure also began to mobilize the Blacks most closely tied to it to help them in this difficult situation. The one Black city Councilman issued a statement defending the police, and one of the ministers who was endorsing the Mayor preached a sermon the day following the Massacre defending the police and attacking communists. His sermon was carried on the local television evening news.

Meanwhile, federal government agents, in particular an all Black team from the Community Relations Service of the Justice Department descended on the city and particularly A&T State University. They came claiming that they were going to investigate the situation, but their real role was to confuse and frustrate attempts to organize a response from the Black community. Their line to the students who wanted to get involved with the community and do something was you shouldn’t get involved because you don’t know all the facts. These agents told the students that they wanted to help them understand the full situation before they got caught up in a power struggle between these various white forces.

They took student leaders downtown for meetings with Black city officials and police officers where they treated the students with supposedly confidential information about the histories of the victims as communists and their provocative acts leading up to the Massacre. In fact, this information was not very different from what was being pushed very hard at the same time in the white press.

These tactics had some initial success in blocking a mass response on the part of the students, but the success was only temporary. During the first few days the A&T students formed a Facts Committee to receive and analyze the “facts” the Justice Department promised them. By the end of the week, this committee was a center for students demanding a militant response from the Black community.

The local press from the beginning gave extensive coverage to the Massacre, and from the beginning they adopted a line that this was a battle between two violence-prone extremist groups who had chosen to inflict this atrocity on the good people of Greensboro for reasons best known to the extremists themselves. The press gave some coverage to the Klan and Nazis: their various factions and leaders, the occupation and backgrounds of those arrested, etc. However, by far, the most extensive coverage went to exposing WVO. Not only detailing the histories, backgrounds, and current activities of those killed but of many other WVO members too.

There was also extensive coverage of the statements and actions of WVO leaders and members during the week after the Massacre. WVO often held press conferences several times a day and all of them would be covered by at least two of the three local television stations and the newspaper. This extensive coverage was seriously damaging to the attempts to build unity in the Black community around a strong political response to the Massacre. This was so because of the picture that was beginning to emerge of WVO–in part, relative to their history as it was unfolded, but even more so, relative to their posture and actions after the murders.

Their personal histories revealed that they were a group made up mainly of people from privileged, intellectual backgrounds. Two of the people killed were medical doctors by training. Others in WVO held advanced degrees, had taught in college, or had other professional backgrounds. This information by itself did not necessarily produce a negative reaction among the masses. In fact, some people would remark that these folks must have been dedicated to give up such good positions in life to go work in a factory.

However, the more their political history as a group began to emerge, this picture of them got worse. It was shown that this group had in the last few years taken up any number of political issues, worked on them for awhile, failed to build them into any sustained mass movement and then dropped them for something else. In the course of this, they had formed quite a few so called “mass organizations” that were basically fronts composed of WVO and perhaps a few close contacts. It was basically the same little band of people under this name today and another name tomorrow.

Textile company executives and union officials who were interviewed talked about how these people had been a problem for awhile, but they had been generally driven out of the mills. More and more you began to get a view that these were frustrated and desperate people–people so desperate that they would, perhaps, have risked provoking their own murders in order to gain publicity and a following.

All this would not have had near as damaging an effect if it had not been for the line WVO took in the week after the Massacre. Boldly proclaiming themselves the “Communist Workers Party” (CWP), they declared not only that there was a war between two extremist groups, but also that they as the “Party of the Proletariat” and the “leaders of the broad masses” had been set upon and assassinated by all sorts of dark forces standing behind the Klan and Nazis. They had trouble initially deciding who had assassinated them. First, it was the local police, then the “textile barons”; finally they settled on the FBI. The CWP took up and promoted in the most extreme form the line that the mayor and the press were pushing. This was a line that to the extent it was accepted in the Black community would insure that no effective response could be built. Not only was CWP working to convince the masses that the fight was between CWP and the Klan or FBI or somebody, which meant that it bore no organic relationship to the conditions of the masses of Black people, but they were also working overtime to convince everybody that the CWP was a group of arrogant young fools who had no concern for the masses, no ability to criticize their own mistakes and almost no grasp of reality whatsoever.

All of this had an effect which could be easily seen by anyone who was out among Black people in Greensboro during that period. On the Wednesday after the Massacre, some of us again walked through the Black community where the murders took place talking to people as we had on November 3rd. The change was striking. The same people who had been earlier advocating a violent response were now saying “to hell with those five white people.” (In their anger, people would forget that one of the victims was Black). “Why did they bring that crap into our neighborhood anyway?” “Why didn’t they take it into the rich white neighborhoods where they come from?”

If at the beginning of the week CWP had done even a minimum of self-criticism, tried to link the Massacre to the conditions of Black people and their struggle, and called for a Black united front response, if at that time they had possessed the strength of character as well as political sense to do what most reasonable people could see needed to be done, then they could have still played a positive role in uniting our people. By the middle of the week this was no longer possible, by then a situation had been created where anybody trying to build a strong united response had to view the CWP as an obstacle and an enemy (although not the main one) and treat them as such.

We were taught this lesson by the masses. As the group that had met Sunday went out into the factories, communities and onto the campuses to try to win people to militant action we repeatedly ran into the same situation. People wanted to be clear on the CWP or at least listening to and agreeing with some of their criticisms. We also found out that once this was done, once we had gotten clear with folks that the CWP was a bunch of dangerous fools, then it was possible to win people to see that the Klan was the main danger, that they were a danger to Black people, to the gains we had won in the sixties and to our struggle to defend those gains and to make others. It was possible also to win people to the need to militantly and absolutely oppose the way the police allowed the incompetence and lack of concern for the lives of Black people if not their active complicity in the Massacre.

Black workers and students, in particular, would take up this line readily, once it was put out in a clear way, in fact many of them already had aspects of this view. The Black petty bourgeoisie or large sectors of it were much more demoralized by the developing situation. They tended to take an attitude of wishing it would all go away, trying to find excuses for why the problem did not have to be dealt with, or trying to find neutral responses. The local NAACP Chapter, under pressure from some petty bourgeois businessmen and also some of its working class members developed a plan for a community forum where various prominent figures could speak out on the Massacre, the Klan and the police role. It was envisioned that Nelson Johnson would be one of the participants as would the Mayor, the Police Chief, or some such city official. This plan had virtue in the eyes of its developers of doing something in a situation where something obviously needed to be done and therefore protecting their position as community leaders while at the same time not requiring the NAACP itself to take a firm and clear position.

As it developed even this effort was too much for the more conservative forces higher up in the NAACP. The state and national offices of the NAACP got wind of this plan before it was publicly announced and ordered it scrapped.

The group that had been formed on Sunday night to begin to pull together a united front Black community action met again twice during the week. At these meetings the group (which at its second meeting adopted the name Concerned Citizens Against the Klan) summed up the developing situation including the developing attitudes that we were running into in our work among the masses. The communists (that is genuine communists) led in pointing out that the antagonistic attitudes people were more and more expressing against the CWP were justified, were more or less correct reflections of objective reality as the CWP had and was continuing to function as an enemy of Black people and their struggle. We pointed out that this objective reality had to be recognized in the line we put out to the masses while struggling with people to see the Klan and the police as the main danger. We pointed out that the most important thing was to see the danger of the Klan and the Massacre as principally a danger to the Black community, to the gains we had made, and to our ongoing struggle.

All this had to be fought for inside Concerned Citizens. The whites from petty bourgeois radical backgrounds had difficulty grasping these points. In particular they had difficulty grasping the need to see the Klan principally in the context of Black national oppression. They tended to see the Klan as equally a danger to all progressive people. The independent radical whites in Concerned Citizens at this point put forward their views on these questions in an honest way and were open to serious and frank discussion of them. The RCP was much less honest. They sat through at least one meeting where these issues were being discussed and raised no objection at all as the group as a whole reached general agreement with the views put forward by the Black communists. The very next day RCP began issuing a series of leaflets taking a directly opposing view. They portrayed the issue as a battle between the communist movement and the Klan, called on people to support CWP, made no serious mention of any issue related to Black national oppression and no criticism at all of the CWP’s action relative to the Black community. Their basic approach was to uphold CWP and at the same time beg CWP for a piece of the action. “We must all realize that the target was not just the CWP but communists and progressives of all types.”

There was one white woman textile worker active in Concerned Citizens at this time. She was not a communist and did not have a long history of radical activism. In contrast to the honest disagreements of some petty bourgeois white radicals and the dishonest maneuvers of the phoney “communist” RCP, this working class woman took a firm, correct position on both the Klan relative to Black national oppression and the danger posed by the CWP. She actively worked inside the mill to win other workers to these views. We think this worker is important because she is an example of a very small, but yet significant minority among white workers in this area. The largest group of white workers seemed to wish the problem would go away. A somewhat smaller, but still sizable group more or less firmly supports the Klan, and is generally happy to see them reemerging to “look out for white folks’ rights and put Black folks back in their place.” There is, however, a minority of white workers; usually they have had some experience fighting alongside Blacks around union organizing, or for better working conditions, etc., who are anti-Klan and supported Black folks’ efforts to mobilize to fight the Klan after November 3rd. Usually these people would see the rise of the Klan as examples of increasing “discrimination” or “prejudice” and therefore, a threat to the working class unity they wanted to see develop around the struggles they were concerned with. This differed from the attitude of most petty bourgeois whites. These people, to the extent they saw the need to combat the Klan did so more because they saw it as a direct threat (given their liberal or left activities) to “all progressive people.”

Discussion and struggle in Concerned Citizens during the week after the Massacre produced a decision to change the policy of no public criticism of CWP. It was based mainly on our summation of the developing attitudes toward them among the masses and our view that these attitudes were basically correct. Our decision was based mainly on this. It was also based on the fact that the CWP was firmly refusing to unite. We had in the days since the Massacre, made attempts to contact the CWP to talk to them about the need to build a united front response to the Massacre. We had begun calling and visited Nelson Johnson’s house the day of the shootings and continued calling every CWP phone and visiting the home of every CWP member we knew. We were not able to even discuss the issue until Tuesday night. Up until then people would just take messages and promise to get back but never did. At first we felt this was just natural confusion and disorganization following the shock of the murders. After awhile it became clear it was more than this. On Tuesday night, Johnson told one of us on the phone that anybody who wanted to work with them on building a response should just join the Committee to Avenge the CWP 5 that they were in the process of organizing and building for their funeral march the following Saturday. The following night, Wednesday, both Concerned Citizens and the Committee to Avenge the CWP 5 were holding meetings. Johnson promised after repeated requests that he would see if he could get a CWP member to come to our meeting to discuss working together. We stated that if no one could attend our meeting then we would send someone out of ours to raise and discuss in their meeting the question of building unity. When they didn’t show up at our meeting we did send two people over to the founding meeting of the Committee to Avenge the CWP 5. CWP started out by kicking out RCP. Even though the RCP was there saying that they agreed with the CWP line on this question and wanted to join in on the CWP’s terms, the CWP began by calling the RCP “police agents” and telling them that if they didn’t get out immediately, they would be thrown out. As the RCP members left the meeting, the CWP forces cheered and shouted insults.

Then it was our turn. When we raised from the floor the need for a broad united front, the CWP leadership launched a vicious attack in spite of the fact that a few honest people there from the community united with what we said. They said that to even raise what we were raising showed that we were opportunists trying to suck off their dead. Any honest person, they said, would realize that the only correct way to build the fight against the Klan was to join the Committee to Avenge the CWP 5. The CWP was the party of the proletariat, which was proven by their assassinations and they had taken up the task of providing leadership that only their party could provide by organizing the funeral march. After discussion, that is discussion on our part and shouts and harangues on their part, we left. CWP continued on their merry way “leading the proletariat” toward the funeral march. By the middle of the week CWP was already involved in a public fight with the police and the Mayor around the CWP’s insistence that they were going to bring hundreds of armed people from around the country into Greensboro to march on Sunday the 11th. The Mayor took the position that he would not permit any armed demonstrators on the streets of the city. The city government declared a state of emergency so that they would have the legal power to ban guns on the streets and also so they could spread terror among the population, both Black and white, and pose as the defenders of the masses against the CWP menace. The Governor joined in with the promise of massive numbers of national guard and state highway patrol. By Friday the CWP and the bourgeois politicians had convinced the whole city that there might very well be an open gun battle in the streets on Sunday. The main focus of attention had shifted from the Klan Massacre to the impending CWP war. The Saturday before the big event some people were afraid to come into the section of the Black community where the funeral march was to take place.

After the CWP and the local and state officials had played macho confrontation politics all week, Jimmy Carter’s boys, the Justice Department Community Relations agents got into the act. The CRS agents proposed to CWP that they settle for carrying a few unloaded rifles in front of each coffin as a “symbolic honor guard.” After loudly stating all week that they would never march unarmed nor trust the police again, the CWP quietly agreed to this deal. The funeral march went ahead with three hundred and fifty (350) CWPers and supporters, 90 percent from out of town, walking slowly down the main street of the Black community, pushing their coffins on wheels in a cold rain. In front of each coffin were one or two CWP members carrying unloaded rifles and wearing floppy brimmed hats. The whole effect was like a grade B Hollywood caricature of revolutionaries. For each CWPer with an unloaded rifle (the police knew they were unloaded because they had checked each one out in the street before the march began), there were fifty policemen marching with fully loaded shotguns in a solid line along the full length of both sides of the march. Behind the police were two hundred (200) or more highway patrol standing on the curb. Behind them the side streets were filled with the national guard.

After the march of the empty rifles, the CWP left center stage for awhile. Concerned Citizens and others had all the while been attempting to find a way to mobilize the masses to face the threat the Klan-Nazi murders represented. Now, in the worst possible atmosphere, we began to announce some worked out plans in public.

Concerned Citizens issued a leaflet at the end of the first week. The leaflet summed up the line that had been worked out in the meeting during the week. We are reprinting that leaflet here because we think, as we thought then, that it puts forward a correct view in a basically clear and sharp way:

Saturday, Nov.3, a brutal massacre of anti-Klan demonstrators took place here in Greensboro. This was the most serious incident of Ku Klux Klan terror in recent years. This attack must be taken up and opposed by the Black community.
This vicious murder represents a resurgence of the use of open terror by the Klan as a means to intimidate Black people and those who support our struggle. This incident, if it goes unopposed, will serve as an encouragement to the Klan, Nazis, and others like them. It will say to them that they can once again shoot Black people and their supporters down in the streets to keep them from exercizing their rights. This is why it is so unfortunate that up to now there has been no significant response from the Black community here in Greensboro.
Much of the blame for this lack of response must be placed on the demonstrators themselves, whose statements and actions have spread tremendous confusion. It was utterly stupid and irresponsible for the Workers Viewpoint Organization to challenge the Klan and to invite them into the Black community in the way that they did. It was totally irresponsible for them, having dared the Klan to come, to take no effective measures to protect and defend not only themselves, but the community where their demonstration took place. These adventuristic and irresponsible actions not only allowed the murders of their own people to take place but endangered innocent people, including children and old people. Their statements and actions since are almost insane. They seem only interested in avenging the murders of their own people and portraying what happened as a fight between them and the Klan. They have refused to work with anyone to build a broad response by the entire Black community, which is what is urgently needed.
We must recognize, however, that this is not just, or even mainly, a fight between the Klan and the “Communists” (which is how the news media and government, as well as WVO, is saying). The Ku Klux Klan’s main purpose is to keep Black people terrorized in order to keep them oppressed.
This is what they were formed to do right after the Civil War – to drive us back into slavery. It has never been necessary to call them out to get them to murder our people and the people who support us. The Black Sunday school children in Birmingham who were murdered by Klan bombs didn’t call them out. Neither did the three civil rights workers, Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman, who were killed in Mississippi, do anything to provoke the Klan – anything, but fight for Black people’s rights. Our demanding equality and freedom has always been more than enough provocation for the Klan to kill us wherever they thought they could get away with it.
Today the Klan continues to have the same purpose and program. They say “White people. Wake up” and that Blacks have too much. They want to undo the gains of the Civil Rights Movement and put us back in slavery – what they call ’our place.’ We must let them know we will never stand for it. We will never go back to the way it used to be.
We must also let the city and the police know that we will not stand for they way they allowed the murders to happen, making no serious attempt to protect either the demonstrators or the community. Nor will we stand for the way the police are now attempting to cover up what they did. Let’s not be fooled by the city and Justice department officials who are running around saying we need to get the facts before we respond. The police admit that they knew the Klan was coming before they got there, and we all saw, either in person or on T.V. , the Klan get out of their cars, shoot the people, pack up their guns, get back in their cars and drive off, all while there was not one cop in sight. However, if we let them, the cops will try to make us believe that what we saw with our own eyes did not really happen.
What we should do is to unite all the people who can be united to take up the struggle against the KKK and their accomplices in the city government and higher up. All Black people, whatever class they are in have a stake in this fight. Because in times of economic crisis, such as the present, Black and white workers need to be united more than ever, the KKK’s poisonous racist propaganda and program are also harmful to white workers. We should build the broadest possible unity between all the Black churches, political and community groups to build for a massive march and rally to put forward the demands from the community. Such a march should be peaceful, but of course we should take necessary precautions to insure peoples safety. The coalition we are trying to build should decide on demands, but we would suggest demanding that the murderers be given maximum penalties, that the police chief be suspended pending a People’s investigation, and that the families of those who were killed as well as the surviving victims be compensated by the city and that the charges against the demonstrators be dropped. We should also develop a petition campaign to take this question into churches, schools, work places, and communities.
Concerned citizens in the Black community and those who support our struggle should join with us to share their ideas and take up this fight. We can’t let the KKK get away with murder. We will never go back to the way it used to be.
Concerned Citizens against the Klan

In trying to build for the necessary mass response we had some help. Two south-wide civil or human rights organizations had sent people into the city on the day after the Massacre. They were the Southern Equal Rights Congress (ERC) which had sent an organizer named Jerome Scott and the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF) which had sent Lynn Wells and Jehu Eaves. Both these organizations, while small, seem to have some genuine mass character in terms of their membership. They are both, however, firmly under the leadership of two different “communist” organizations that mainly grew out of the anti-war movement of the sixties. The ERC was formed by and is led by the “Communist” Labor Party (CLP). SCEF has a much longer history dating from the thirties but has for the last six years or more been under the control of the “Communist Party Marxist Leninist (CPML)”, formerly the October League.

Both Wells and Scott are high level though not public leaders of their respective “communist” organizations.

The “communist” organizations Wells and Scott represent are not nearly as ultra-left in their tactics as the CWP; however, their general view particularly of Black people and our struggle is basically the same. This essential unity of views was graphically demonstrated as events in Greensboro further developed.

Since arriving in Greensboro on the 8th Wells, Scott and Eaves had been meeting with several Black ministers trying to convince ministers to sponsor some mass protest. These meetings had continued in private all week. Three of the more progressive ministers wanted to see a mass demonstration or some such political response, however, they would not move without the active support of the other Black ministers in Greensboro who are their fellow members in the local Black Ministerial Association. The leading elements in the larger group were not sure they wanted any response at all but would perhaps go along with something that had a neutral character and, therefore, did not require them to take any firm political stand.

After intricate negotiations (Concerned Citizens finally discovered this process and joined it on Friday the 9th), a deal was finally struck. Two events would be held on Sunday the 18th. The Black Ministerial Association would sponsor a religious service which would have a basically neutral character condemning all violence. This would be held in a church in the Black community. Immediately after this, there would be a march originating a block away from the church). The march would proceed downtown where there would be a protest rally demanding that the murders be brought to justice and that the police responsible for the lack of protection be punished.

These plans were announced on Saturday the 10th. During the first part of the week support for these actions in the Greensboro Black community began to build even given the terrible atmosphere created by the funeral march of CWP. By Tuesday the three ministers we were working with most closely were as happy as kids with a new toy. They were receiving a barrage of calls from the members, other active church people, and just regular folks. Everybody was telling them that something had to be done, how both the religious service and the march and rally were great ideas, and how they were courageous to step out and give some leadership. The Black masses were beginning to demonstrate that they were ready to stand and fight against oppression even in a complicated and difficult situation if only some leaders in which they had even a little trust would provide a minimum of leadership.

Then the enemy counterattacked. On Wednesday the Mayor and the city government human relation director held a series of meetings with almost every Black minister in Greensboro. The Mayor told the ministers they didn’t realize who they were working with but that the city wanted to tell them that most of these people were communists and other dangerous radicals. They produced justice department files on Scott, Wells and Eaves and at least one of the leaders of Concerned Citizens. They pointed out that obviously these type of people were prone to violence (this found ready ears given CWP activities) and that the ministers and the Black community of Greensboro should not allow its reputation to be spoiled by the type of protest these people might organize. The Mayor implied that if the ministers persisted in their plans, he, the Mayor, would have to warn the Black community directly.

The ministers beat a hasty retreat. They announced the cancellation of their religious service and their lack of support for the march and rally in time for the Wednesday night news. The Mayor also issued a letter to “the citizens of Greensboro” apologizing for the fact that because of constitutional guarantees he was required to issue a parade permit allowing these outside radicals to inflict yet another march on the city. However, he stated that he and the Governor were prepared at great cost in taxpayers’ money, to again flood the city with police and troops to prevent any violence. He urged all citizens to go to church Sunday morning to pray for peace and then stay home the rest of the day to avoid any violence that might occur.

All this created a situation where the scheduled march on the 18th could not go on. At least it could not go on with significant support from the Black community in Greensboro. Concerned Citizens and the other organizers continued for another day trying to rebuild mass support. However, by Friday we realized this was not possible and the march and rally was officially “postponed.”

We feel there are many lessons that can be drawn from the attempt to launch the events scheduled for the 18th. Their initial success and their ultimate though partial, defeat.

Most striking perhaps is the damage ultra-leftism does to the mass movement. The actions of the CWP after November 3rd were nearly as effective in preventing the masses from taking militant action as the CWP’s actions before November 3rd had been in achieving their murders. They were amazingly able to achieve a situation by the middle of the week after the Massacre, where they were seen by the masses as almost as big a danger, if not bigger, than the Klan. They were able to create a situation where the heat was temporarily taken off the Mayor and the police for their lack of protection of the Black community on November 3rd. Instead these officials were, totally and unnecessarily, handed a golden opportunity to parade as the determined defenders of the people in the face of the violent communist menace. The CWP was also able to achieve a great deal in helping the press convince Black folks that this was just a fight between two extremist groups and that the whole thing bore no relationship to the condition of the Black masses other than that the idiots had chosen to shoot it out in the Black community.

Fortunately, the good sense of the Black masses, their understanding of the nature of their oppression and the identity of their enemies, both the Klan and others, was such that the CWP was not able to achieve as much in terms of liquidating the Black Liberation struggle as it would have liked. Finally, the CWP was able to take real giant steps in convincing the Black masses that communists are arrogant, adventurous fools, thus placing further obstacles in the way of the masses accepting the leadership of genuine communists, the force most capable of leading the Black Liberation struggle forward to victory.

Another important lesson is that the Black masses do want to fight against national oppression and will come forward and wage that struggle even in the face of serious obstacles. Many so called communists and other leftists, not recognizing that every mass movement has its ebbs and flows, seem to have forgotten, if they ever understood, the fighting spirit, and yes, revolutionary potential, that grows out of the national oppression and national consciousness of the Black masses. The Black people of Wrightsville, Georgia and Miami, Florida to name two current examples, have recently demonstrated that this fighting spirit can still be seen even when so-called leftists, do all they can to smother it.

We can see also that like any stable community of people, Black people have established institutions and leaders in whom they have at least some degree of respect. Given the present situation where communists and other revolutionaries have not, in large part, due to their own errors, gained the respect of a significant sector of the masses, it is essential to work in a united front way with at least some of these institutions and leaders if we want to bring the broad masses forward in militant struggle. The situation in Greensboro where the masses wanted to fight but there was a great deal of confusion and fear, points out particularly the importance of this point. When a few ministers took a few tentative steps forward it had the effect of somewhat unleashing the masses. This was so not because folk necessarily follow these ministers or any traditional leaders so closely in all situations. However, given the complexity of the situation and given there had not been a mass Black demonstration in Greensboro in several years, people needed some reassurance from some figure they were familiar with and at least knew not to be crazy.

The situation in Greensboro also demonstrated the effect of the lack of political organization in the Black community. On November 3rd, 1979, there was not a single serious militant Black organization in the city. There was also no organization among Greensboro’s significant population of Black students with any history of political struggle. This had not always been the case. The Black sit-in movement was launched nationally by four N.C.A.&T. students on February 1, 1960. During the early 60’s there were massive protest marches of students and the larger Black community. In 1968 and 1969 there were violent rebellions with pitched gun battles between Black high school and college students and the police. In the early 70’s the Student Organization for Black Unity (SOBU), later Youth Organization for Black Unity (YOBU) had been headquartered in Greensboro and had a base among Black students across the state. In 1972, YOBU had organized a “Save Black School” campaign that had mobilized nearly five thousand Black students at a demonstration at the State Capital in Raleigh. Nelson Johnson who was chairman of YOBU along with other YOBU activists had played a key role in organizing Black community organizations that led rent strikes, Black worker struggles, and other protest well into the 1970’s. Then, the revolutionaries who had played a major role in developing all this walked away from it.[2]

We are not trying to blame these Black revolutionaries for the ebb in the movement during the seventies, but one of the principle tasks during this difficult period should have been to preserve the militant and revolutionary organizations and traditions of our people even if with greatly reduced numbers. The fact that these organizations were not preserved meant for instance that the process for building militant Black mass action after November 3rd was at the mercy of the ministers who did have an organized base in their churches and to some extent other traditional leaders who could lend such efforts of legitimacy. The sentiment to do something was there among Black workers and students in particular. Had there existed say a Black worker’s formation or a Black community organization that had a presence and history well known to the masses, then these groups could have called for the November 18th march–independent of the ministers. In the presence of such groups, and to some extent under their pressure, the ministers would have been less likely to retreat. Even if they had retreated then, a basically successful though somewhat smaller mobilization of the Black community could still have taken place.

As it was when the Mayor attacked with his Justice Department files, the only mass force to stand firm was the students at A&T. The day after the ministers pulled out, and the Mayor issued his letter, the Student Government publicly endorsed the march and rally and pledged their full support in helping to mobilize for the events. At the same time they boldly challenged the traditional Black leadership by publicly raising the question, “Where are our Leaders?” The students took these steps even though they realized that the events were under attack as being the work of outside communists and they realized every other recognized force in the Black community was backing away. They hoped that their endorsement and challenge to the Black leadership would help rally other local support.

We, along with the student leaders at A&T realized, however, that if we could not rally any further Black leadership from the area, we would be faced with a march composed of perhaps as many as several thousand mainly white liberals and radicals from outside the city and relatively small local Black participation. The local participation would have been relatively small in part because few A&T students would have wanted to participate in what would have been mainly a white radical march. What we wanted was an action that would inspire, energise and to some extent unify the Greensboro Black community. In order for a march to have this effect it would first of all, have to be predominately Black and second it should be firmly rooted in the local Black community. This local Black character was much more important than numbers. We would rather had a march of a few hundred Black Greensboro residents than a march of several thousand white and other leftists from around the country.

The question of “outsiders,” while an issue was not in and of itself crucial. If the “outsiders” had been militants from the Black Liberation movement, like United League members from Mississippi or people from the New York Black United Front or from the Black Human Rights Coalition, it would have been fine. A march of such people would have said to the local Black community that they had Brothers and Sisters from around the country who were rallying to support their struggle. Whether or not local Black leadership had supported it, this would have had a positive effect. But we were not prepared, particularly after the “funeral-march-of-the-empty-rifles,” to introduce into Greensboro’s Black community another action by people who were outsiders not only to the local community but also outsiders to the struggles of our people. Contacts were made with every recognized Black leadership figure in the city. With the exception of one man (a Black newspaper publisher and A&T Drama professor–a man who has a strong history of having the courage to take unpopular stands) the entire Black leadership in Greensboro refused to support the proposed march and rally. At this point we, the Concerned Citizens Against the Klan and the A&T Student Government, announced we were postponing the march and rally.

The role of the people from the Southern Equal Rights Congress (ERC) and SCEF in the development of the events planned for November 18th need some further analysis. Both Jerome Scott from the ERC and Lynn Wells and Jehu Eaves from SCEF played a positive role in convincing the ministers initially to come forward and do something. Given the overall situation, it is possible that the motion towards the 18th event would not have gotten started without their work. But as the motion developed, these people made serious errors that ended up helping the Mayor and his friends in forcing a retreat.

During the first week both ERC and SCEF forces confined themselves to building mass support among ministers and made no serious attempt to build other support in the Black community. Scott particularly persisted in this approach. (The CLP has built the ERC across the south as a coalition of activist churches, tenant councils and other fairly moderate groups in the Black community along with N.O.W. chapters and other liberal forces in the white community. Perhaps, because of the composition of their base, they seemed particularly tied to the idea of a religious response.)

After the march and rally were announced, Wells, who is in CPML and SCEF and who is white, was insistent and aggressive in playing a visible leadership role. She simply had to do most of the talking at every news conference and was forever giving individual interviews to the press. Her associate, Jehu Eaves, who is Black, played a clearly subordinate role. The public image that was projected was that Lynn Wells and SCEF were leading the march and rally.

This no doubt helped SCEF promote itself nationally, but at the same time it created the worst possible situation to combat the line of the Mayor and this was another attempt by outside white radicals to impose themselves on the Greensboro Black community.

Both the ERC and the SCEF forces made a very serious error in not sharing their histories or their current “communist” politics. In a situation, like Greensboro was at that time, teeming with agents from various levels of the Federal, state and local government, it should have been clear to them that their histories could not be hidden and that the government would certainly use this information with the masses to discredit them. By not themselves being more upfront about it, they were calling on the masses to follow them into a situation where they would be fairly easily ambushed and the masses would not be prepared for it. Lynn Wells did claim to have told one minister something vague about previous anti-war activity, but this was not enough to prepare anyone for the file the Justice Department would produce.

Once the Mayor attacked, the reaction of both groups of so called communists revealed that they were involved basically for their own self-interest. The ERC immediately abandoned ship. Once the Greensboro ministers backed out, the ERC realized it wasn’t going to be able to mobilize the church contacts. At that point Scott lost interest. During the crucial day and a half after the ministers withdrew, when everyone was trying to see how we could keep going, Scott, though in town, could not be reached. Meanwhile, a reporter for the local daily newspaper called the South-wide ERC office in Mobile, Alabama to ask for a statement. One of the leaders of the ERC who is almost certainly a member of the “Communist” Labor Party stated that the ERC naturally did not want to participate in any march and rally with a bunch of communists. Since they had found out that this was what it was, he said, they were cancelling their busses and pulling out.

The SCEF/CPML forces had a different position based on a different self interest. Their base is more the radical left who are not generally concerned about revelations of communist involvement so they were for going on at all costs. As long as there was someone –almost anyone in Greensboro calling for a march so that the national mobilization could go on, then that was fine. The fact that almost the entire Black community in Greensboro was backing off was almost no concern. What they wanted was a national “left” mobilization that SCEF could take credit for leading. This was their most important immediate concern but their actions also flowed from how they view the whole question of the Klan.

The SCEF forces felt that the main significance of the resurgence of the Klan was its danger to the left and that the main way to fight this was to mobilize the left. This is in opposition to a position that sees the main thing as the threat the Klan poses to the Black Liberation movement and the gains Blacks have made and therefore sees the main way of fighting the Klan as mobilizing the Black masses to combat them in the course of rebuilding the BLM. This view on the part of SCEF/CPML is connected to a general view on their part that the principle problem with the Black struggle is that it is not closely enough integrated with the motion of white leftists and “progressives.” They seemed to actually believe that a predominately white left mobilization in Greensboro on November 18th would inspire the Black masses. As a result of these general views SCEF/CPML tends to favor those forces in the Black community who take an integrationist approach over those who tend toward Revolutionary Nationalism.

An example of this came up early in the planning for the rally that was to be held on the 18th. There was discussion on who should be the main speakers and Joe Lowery of SCLC and Skip Robinson of the United League of Northern Mississippi were agreed on. Lowery was seen as being prominent, capable of drawing a crowd and reassuring to the local ministers. Robinson was important, on the other hand, because the march organizers thought (or at least said they thought) he more represented the view that needed to be promoted in the Black movement.

Lynn Wells then raised that since SCLC and the United League didn’t get along too well, Lowery might not agree to speak on the same platform with Robinson. It was agreed that we would try to get both to speak and choose between them only if Lowery raised this objection. Lynn Wells, however, proceeded to call Lowery’s house and without Lowery or anybody else raising any question about Robinson, she told Lowery’s wife that if Doctor Lowery had any problem speaking on the same platform with Robinson we would be glad to drop Robinson (who had, incidentally, already agreed to speak). Wells seemed almost disappointed when Mrs. Lowery said she didn’t think Robinson’s speaking on the same platform would be any problem.


[1] Some of the authors of this pamphlet were at that time members of the RCP and had participated in this action.

[2] See Part II for more on this.