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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Greensboro’s Best-Kept Secrets: Truth & Reconciliation Commission a proud chapter in city’s history

Twenty years after the Greensboro Massacre, in which five community and labor organizers were killed in broad daylight in front of news cameras on Nov. 3, 1979 by neo-Nazis and Klansmen, it seemed as though nobody wanted to talk about it. The wound was too fresh, the massacre too close to home, and the details too hidden. But not for everyone.In 2004, a small group of community members led by survivors of the Massacre embarked on a groundbreaking effort to bring the truth to light and facilitate reconciliation and healing. Having lasted two years, the Greensboro Truth & Reconciliation Commission is one of the most impressive and inspiring human accomplishments of the last decade, and it happened right here.

With the help of the International Center for Transitional Justice, funding from sources like the Andrews Family Fund, and leaders like Desmond Tutu, local residents established the first truth and reconciliation process in the United States.

Based on the post-apartheid South African model implemented under Nelson Mandela to help the divided nation move forward, the commission contested the idea that the massacre was no longer an issue by reexamining this painful chapter of the city’s history and offering an opportunity to move forward.

“With a lot of the issues that we study, students feel like, ‘how could we ever change anything?'” said Associate Professor of Justice and Policy Studies Sherry Giles. “The truth and reconciliation process is an example of how a local group came together in the face of a terrible injustice and violence and death and were able to work to devise a process that was inclusive.”

The Truth & Reconciliation Commission consisted of seven members who were nominated by people throughout the city and then selected from a pool of roughly 70 possible commissioners. One of the commissioners was Muktha Jost, mother of Early College students Diya ’08 and Alec ’10 and associate professor at A&T State University. Their family had recently moved to Greensboro from Iowa when Jost was nominated.

“I was really curious and intrigued in the cultural change between here and Iowa,” she said. “There were more conversations about race and class (in Greensboro) than we were ever used to.”

As part of their two years of work, the commission held three public hearings where people came and testified about their involvement in the Greensboro Massacre. Former Klan members, police officers, survivors, and neighborhood residents all came and shared their perspectives. Jost said this was the most exciting aspect of the process, in part because it engaged the broader community with the project and created a space for more of the truth to come out.

The Commission issued their final report in 2006. The document, which is over 500 pages long, not only examines the role that different institutions played in contributing to the massacre but also the history of social, economic, and racial factors that preceded the massacre.

Though the Greensboro City Council voted last summer to continue to ignore and reject the findings of the Commission, the final report has still had a profound impact on the city as a whole without official recognition.

“It was very disappointing what the City Council decided to do with it – or not do with it,” Jost said. “The impact that I have seen has mostly been . with faculty in higher (education) incorporating it into the curriculum.”

Professors at area colleges, including classes taught by Giles at Guilford, incorporate the Greensboro Massacre and the Commission’s final report into the course material.

“It’s exciting, gratifying, and powerful for me as an educator to offer students the possibility to talk with people first hand who were involved in that tragedy,” Giles said. At least two survivors of the massacre have spoken to her classes recently.

As part of the final report, the Commission listed a number of recommendations for local government, the police, the media, and citizens to implement in order to ensure nothing similar ever happens again. To many people, these unfulfilled recommendations remain the basis for social justice work moving forward in the city.

The Beloved Community Center (BCC), one of the initial catalysts for the process, and others continue to push forward on many of the recommendations made by the commission, particularly the creation of a Civilian Review Board to oversee the police and the need for greater media accountability.

“The work of the Commission was a gift to a city that is hurting in many ways,” said Joseph Frierson, a member of the BCC hired to assist in the process. “If you crack open 1979, you can see so many different levels and ideas that show how sick we are (as a city). The commission did extensive work to share their work with the community and offered recommendations to us that can improve our quality of life.

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