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Greensboro Massacre Survivors Moving Forward After Apology

Forty-one years ago next month, a group of Ku Klux Klansmen and members of the American Nazi Party shot and killed five people at an anti-Klan march in Greensboro.

Since that day — Nov. 3, 1979 — community members, survivors and family members of the victims have called for an official apology from the city.

They finally received it earlier this week, and now they say they want to focus on how to move forward to continue the fight against injustice.

"This wound can begin to heal, but we have to remove the infected parts," said Casey Merie Thomas, a member of the Greensboro Justice Coalition. "The healing can begin and we can judge the sincerity of the apology by how they handle the Marcus Smith case going forward."

Marcus Smith died of cardiopulmonary arrest while Greensboro Police officers held him in "prone restraint" in 2018. 

Activists drew a straight line between what happened to Smtih and the shooting in the Morningside Neighborhood in 1979.

Reverend Nelson Johnson was one of the men injured during the Greensboro Massacre. He says the police knew the shooting was going to happen.

"The plan of the police was to figure out what kind of justification you could put in place in order to explain what was unexplainable," he said Wednesday. "If you saw them putting guns in the car, if you took pictures of them putting guns in the cars five miles from the site and you did nothing, you called nobody, you didn't arrest anybody."

Not everyone agrees with Johnson's retelling of the events.

Councilwomen Marikay Abuzuaiter and Nancy Hoffman, the only two dissenting votes against the resolution, say the language in the apology incorrectly suggests that the police colluded in the shootings.

The men charged with the shootings were twice acquitted by all-white juries.

Johnson says he's always spoken the truth about what happened that day. He says racism has always been part of his reality, and he drew a direct line from that day in 1979 to today.

"The whole nation now seems eerily similar to the atmosphere right after the killings in 1979," Johnson said. "We're inundated with falsehoods. We have a bully in charge of the country. We have threats growing from paramilitary groups all over the country.

"I deeply appreciate what the city council did."

Naomi P. Brown joined WUNC in January 2017.
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