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Democracy, Dialogue, and Community Action

Truth and Reconciliation in Greensboro

Spoma Jovanovic

Publication Year: 2012

On November 3, 1979, five protest marchers in Greensboro, North Carolina, were shot and killed by the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party. There were no police present, but television crews captured the shootings on video. Despite two criminal trials, none of the killers ever served time for their crimes, exposing what many believed to be the inadequacy of judicial, political, and economic systems in the United States. Twenty-five years later, in 2004, Greensboro residents, inspired by post-apartheid South Africa, initiated a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to take public testimony and examine the causes, sequence of events, and consequences of the massacre. The TRC was to be a process and a tool by which citizens could feel confident about the truth of the city’s history in order to reconcile divergent understandings of past and current city values, and it became the foundation for the first Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the United States. Spoma Jovanovic, who worked alongside other community members to document the grassroots effort to convene the first TRC in the United States, provides a resource and case study of how citizens in one community used their TRC as a way to understand the past and conceive the future. This book preserves the historical significance of a people’s effort to seek truth and work for reconciliation, shows a variety of discourse models for other communities to use in seeking to redress past harms, and demonstrates the power of community action to promote participatory democracy.

Published by: University of Arkansas Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This book was written to document poignant, sometimes painful, and unquestionably significant community conversations. Those chances for meaningful dialogue begin with an open heart as well as the invitation to others to speak. Longtime activists I met over the course of researching and writing this book who enacted those practices of speaking and listening with courage...

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pp. ix-19

IN 2004, THE first Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the United States was installed in Greensboro, North Carolina, to examine the impact of a tragedy twenty-five years earlier, one that sparked a worldwide cry for justice. Five people were murdered on November 3, 1979, when the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party fired into a crowd of protestors one Saturday morning...

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1. The Greensboro Massacre, November 3, 1979

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pp. 3-16

NOVEMBER 3, 1979. Radicals with the Communist Workers Party (CWP),1 were taking their positions at their long planned and wellpublicized anti-Klan rally. The event was designed to recruit new textile mill union members residing in Greensboro, North Carolina’s low-income neighborhood of Morningside Homes who lived with low wages and poor working conditions at the...

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2. Grave Consequences

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pp. 17-28

WHEN THE EIGHTY-EIGHT seconds of shooting were over on November 3, the consequences were fatal. Taking into account the lack of police intervention, unreported actions of provocateurs, lingering inequality among classes and races, and heightened agitation between activist and white supremacist groups, the fatalities lost significance in the sea of accusations. The bullets shattered...

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3. An Unfolding History of Social Unrest

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pp. 29-46

IN 1979, GREENSBORO, North Carolina, was in crisis amid deep social class and race divisions. Vestiges of paternalism and the subordination of blacks led to a civil yet stifling culture where white elites “helped” those blacks willing to abide by the “pervasive discrimination” in the social structure (Chafe, 1980, 16). The tenuous...

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4. Truth and Reconciliation Commissions Seek Healing, Not Vengeance

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pp. 47-64

TO BETTER UNDERSTAND why Greensboro initiated its truth and reconciliation process, this chapter discusses when, how, and where around the world these nonjudicial bodies for truth seeking have operated. The goal is to provide the contextual frame for the work of restorative justice that is the foundation of truth commission activity. Restorative justice, unlike retributive...

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5. Greensboro’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Principles and Processes

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pp. 65-90

WHAT FOLLOWS IS an overview of how an alliance of blacks and whites mobilized to form the Greensboro Truth and Community Reconciliation Project, a grassroots organization that would eventually lay the foundation for the United States’ first Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Without government support...

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6. The Commission’s Final Report: Recovering the Truth

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pp. 91-114

THE GREENSBORO TRUTH and Reconciliation Commission’s 529- page Final Report is well-researched and warrants a complete reading for a full account of Greensboro’s TRC process, the history of southern race and labor relations, and the internal workings of law enforcement agencies as well as grassroots, community...

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7. The Public’s Response

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pp. 115-140

THOUGH NO ONE expected Greensboro to be suddenly “reconciled” when the Final Report was released, the report was viewed as an essential stepping-stone toward community-wide awareness, understanding, and critical discernment of the past and the present. In this way, the Final Report was never intended to be a static document. Rather...

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8. The Politics of an Apology

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pp. 141-150

EVEN THOUGH 79 per cent of the Greensboro citizens surveyed early in the process expressed support for a TRC to examine the events and consequences of November 3, most of the city’s elected leaders held firmly to the belief that little good could come from a reexamination and discussion of that tragic event.1...

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9. Measures of Success

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pp. 151-164

THE TENETS OF participatory democracy were evident throughout the TRC process, but not without challenges. With the benefit of time to reflect back, this chapter answers the question so many ask, namely, did the TRC in Greensboro work? Unlike its better-known counterpart in South Africa, Greensboro’s TRC was not formed as a response to a history of human rights abuses. It instead examined how one event reflected the history of blacks in America, the labor movement in this country...

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10. Greensboro’s Legacy Is Hidden No More

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pp. 165-180

THIS FINAL CHAPTER considers the lessons learned from Greensboro’s TRC to understand how a specific community comes to know, appreciate, and talk across differences to reach for truth and initiate reconciliation. The lessons are gleaned from the activities of commissioners and citizens who honored the community’s history, present condition, and future possibilities rooted...


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pp. 181-202


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pp. 203-208


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pp. 209-218


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pp. 219-226

E-ISBN-13: 9781610755092
E-ISBN-10: 161075509X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557289919
Print-ISBN-10: 1557289913

Page Count: 285
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 828869010
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Democracy, Dialogue, and Community Action

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Subject Headings

  • Greensboro (N.C.) -- Race relations.
  • Truth commissions -- North Carolina -- Greensboro.
  • Reconciliation -- Social aspects -- North Carolina -- Greensboro.
  • African Americans -- North Carolina -- Greensboro.
  • Massacres -- North Carolina -- Greensboro -- History -- 20th century.
  • Ku Klux Klan (1915- ) -- North Carolina -- Greensboro -- History -- 20th century.
  • Nazis -- North Carolina -- Greensboro -- History -- 20th century.
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