Remembering the Greensboro Massacre of 1979, When KKK & Nazis Killed 5 People in Broad Daylight

StoryNovember 04, 2019
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Hundreds gathered this weekend to mark the 40th anniversary of the Greensboro massacre, when 40 Ku Klux Klansmen and American Nazis opened fire on an anti-Klan demonstration in Greensboro, North Carolina, killing five anti-racist activists in a span of 88 seconds. Those killed were members of the Communist Workers’ Party. Ten other activists were injured. No one was convicted in the massacre, but a jury did find the Greensboro police liable for cooperating with the Ku Klux Klan in a wrongful death. Local pastors in Greensboro are now calling on the City Council to issue an apology for the events that led to the 1979 killing. We speak with Dr. Marty Nathan, the widow of Dr. Mike Nathan, who was killed in the 1979 Greensboro Massacre.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. Hundreds gathered this weekend to mark the 40th anniversary of the Greensboro massacre, when 40 Ku Klux Klansmen and American Nazis opened fire on an anti-Klan demonstration in Greensboro, North Carolina. Over the span of 88 seconds, the Klan and Nazis shot dead Five anti-racist activists who were members of the Communist Workers’ Party. Ten other activists were injured. No one was convicted in the massacre, but a jury did find the Greensboro police liable for cooperating with the KKK in a wrongful death. This is a clip from the documentary The Guns of November 3rd by Jim Waters, a news cameraperson who was on the scene and filmed that day. A warning to our television viewers: Some of this is graphic.

KLANSMAN: We can take our country back from the Communist Party. We can take it back from the niggers. It’s time for us to band together. If we have to get in the streets and fight in blood up to our knees, by God, it’s time to get ready to fight! Give them what they want! Fight for this country!

PROTESTERS: Death to the Klan! Death to the Klan! Death to the Klan! Death to the Klan!

UNIDENTIFIED: Move! OK, move out! Move out!

PROTESTER 1: They had a plan.

PROTESTER 2: Somebody, call an ambulance!

PROTESTER 3: Please, help us! Help us!

PROTESTER 2: Come here! Help us!

PROTESTER 4: Please, can we get an ambulance? Get him right here.

PROTESTER 1: Plan, and the state got together and planned this. That’s why they were not — don’t come here. Do you hear me? The state protect the Klan. And this makes it clear. They came through, and they opened fire. They opened fire on us. And we fired back to protect ourselves.

WITNESS: Now, the Klan, or whoever it was, jumped out and just started shooting in the direction of the thickest concentration of people. They seemed to be aiming at particular people. There were several police in the area who did nothing, until after these murderers left. Police came in, immediately started arresting people who were trying to help those who had fallen. Nelson Johnson, you know, was taken into custody, kicked in the head by the police. He was bleeding from the arm as he was trying to help people. And the police did this, directly or indirectly. They set it up.

AMY GOODMAN: Images and sounds of the 1979 Greensboro massacre, from the Jim Waters documentary The Guns of November 3rd. Local pastors in Greensboro are now calling on the City Council to issue an apology for the events that led to the 1979 murders.

Well, for more, we’re joined by Dr. Marty Nathan, widow of Dr. Mike Nathan. He was one of the five people killed in that 1979 massacre. She and other survivors successfully sued Klansmen, Nazis and the Greensboro police.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Dr. Marty Nathan, joining us from Baltimore. You were there this weekend. Can you describe what happened 40 years ago? Lay out the scene for us, the horror.

DR. MARTY NATHAN: I first want to thank you so much, Amy, for having me on Democracy Now! and focusing on this really important historical incident.

What happened 40 years ago was that my friends, a very diverse group of people who were planning an anti-Klan conference in Greensboro and preceding it by a march that was to have started in the black community and then gone across town, they were preparing for that march. They were singing, they were chanting. And into the middle of it drove nine carloads of Ku Klux Klansmen and American Nazis who yelled out racial slurs. People chanted, “Death to the Klan,” and a shot was fired from the front of the caravan. People began to run towards the back of the caravan in fear of the shots. And some of the Klansmen poured out of those cars and started beating people, slashing people with knives. And then, from the end of the caravan, which was where people were running towards, the men with the long guns, the high-powered rifles, the shotguns, took their guns out and very deliberately, without any seeming fear or worry about being caught for murder, began shooting people down. Five people were murdered, including my husband Mike, and 10 people were injured.

The police were nowhere to be found, even though actually the tenth car in that caravan of Klansmen and Nazis was an unmarked police car which contained the controller of the leader of the Klan and Nazis who himself was an informant for the Greensboro police and had been an informant and was communicating with the FBI. That policeman in the last car did nothing, except his partner took pictures. And the murders were accomplished. And some people who were working on Central America at the time and then a little bit later in the 1980s would see the similarities between this action and the North American death squad.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened? Who was put on trial? What were the results of the trials?

DR. MARTY NATHAN: Six Klansmen and Nazis, the actual shooters — oh, I wanted to say that, as you saw in that videotape, in fact, all of this, this was not a mystery. It was all caught by four TV cameras on videotape. And so, the six known shooters were put on trial for murder. And an all-white jury acquitted them in a trial where the prosecution, who was supposed to be, as we all know, representing the victims — us — was very openly anti-communist and anti-union. These people were all union organizers and leaders, both at Duke University Hospital and also at the Cone Mills textiles. The prosecution said terrible things about us, and that was reflected in the media itself. And then an all-white racist jury was chosen.

The prosecution never ran, even alluded to, the fact that the Greensboro police informant had organized and led this caravan of Klansmen and Nazis who murdered people; never alluded to the fact that that man, Ed Dawson, had received the parade permit from the police and was being paid by the police; and never alluded to the fact that pretty much everybody in the police department, all the way up to the chief of police and to the mayor, knew that some violence was going to happen to these people who were gathering in an anti-Klan march.

AMY GOODMAN: Marty, we only have 30 seconds.

DR. MARTY NATHAN: They pressed — so sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: So, there were two trials. In both cases, all-white juries?

DR. MARTY NATHAN: There were two trials, all-white juries.

AMY GOODMAN: And the perpetrators were acquitted?

DR. MARTY NATHAN: They were. And afterwards, we did the Greensboro civil rights suit, in which we proved all the things that I just said, plus the fact that an Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent was in the Nazis, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, the —

DR. MARTY NATHAN: This was a North American death squad.

AMY GOODMAN: Faith leaders now calling for the city to issue a full apology for what took place 40 years ago?

DR. MARTY NATHAN: As are we, the victims of the massacre. They have issued a very hollow apology: “Sorry for your loss.” We need, and I would ask people across the country to write to the city of Greensboro to demand, a full in-depth apology for criminal action on their part.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Marty Nathan, widow of Dr. Mike Nathan, she a survivor, he died 40 years ago. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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