On Nov. 3, 1979, five members of the Communist Worker’s Party (CWP) were shot dead and seven were wounded in Greensboro, N.C., by members of the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis.
It was not until 2004 that the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created to compile an accurate public record of what happened on that November day.
About 12 faculty members and students attended a lecture on the commission by Lisa Magarrell, senior associate for the International Center for Transitional Justice, last Wednesday in the Business Building. The speech was followed by a discussion panel on reparations and restorative justice.
The killings in 1979 took place during a protest of the Klan, in which members of the CWP were shouting “death to the Klan.”
“Why were there no police when there was a demonstration?” Magarrell asked, bringing up one of the pressing points of the issue, which still remains unresolved: Were the police involved in a conspiracy theory to stay away from the scene?
Several video clips were shown to further explore this idea and the impact of the day on those involved. In addition to actual footage from the massacre, testimonies from three of the commission’s public hearings were shown. The hearings were one of the ways the public came to better understand the events.
“News media was quite hostile originally,” Magarrell said.
Though the massacre took place nearly 27 years ago, the mandate for the commission was not written until May 2003, and the commission was sworn in June 2004.
“History is distorted to serve different ends,” Magarrell said. One of the commission’s goals is to “tell a version of history that includes the victims’ stories” and to “help understand a dimension of what happened.”
Magarrell graduated from the University of Iowa and the University of El Salvador with law degrees, and she has a master’s of law from Columbia University. She has worked with human rights for the past 25 years and currently advises the commission.
The lecture was one of several events sponsored by the Center for the Study of Social Justice for the College’s Social Justice Week.
The panel was led by Kenneth and Keith Lucas, junior philosophy majors who have been researching the historical background of reparation, especially that of African-Americans and slavery.
“You have to think about what was lost during slavery. You have to start there,” Keith Lucas said.
Through piecing together the events that occurred since then, they hope to gain a better understanding of how related social injustice developed and what can be done about it now.
The discussion brought to light the reparation work that still needs to be done. “The government hasn’t even apologized for slavery,” Keith Lucas said.
“It’s shocking that they government hasn’t apologized formally,” Jessica Noll, sophomore philosophy major, said. “It’s the least they could do.”
“We have to figure out who’s responsible,” Kenneth Lucas said. Above all, he said, it is vital that people learn about this truth.
“What I’ve been surprised about is the lack of interest,” Magarrell said. “We’ll see where it goes.”