How Do You Reclaim a Massacre?

November 5, 2019

On November 3, 1979, I learned of a group called the Ku Klux Klan. I was a five-year-old black child in kindergarten. I kept my days busy by making mud pies, cutting alphabet letters from construction paper, and practicing my writing with thick, footlong starter pencils. I remember surveying the room I shared with my middle sister in our brick ranch-style home in Greensboro, North Carolina, feeling pleased about its new pink shag carpet. That day, I learned the Klan was made up of men who sometimes wore white robes, and other times wore denim pantsuits made in Greensboro’s textile mills. I learned they would happily and hatefully kill.

Around 11 in the morning, a caravan of dozens of Klan members and members of the American Nazi Party drove to Morningside Homes, the second-largest public housing complex in the city, to disrupt a “Death to the Klan” rally organized by the Workers Viewpoint Organization, a multiracial group of social and labor activists. (The group planned to rename themselves the Communist Workers Party, or CWP, later that day, and is known by this name.) Law enforcement was conspicuously missing in action. A former Klan member and police informant, Eddie Dawson, told the police that a Klan contingent was planning to attend the event — a tip that earned him $50. A federal agent had also infiltrated the Klan’s ranks, and a police cruiser spotted and trailed the caravan to Morningside Homes. But at the rally itself, there was no police presence.

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