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The KKK: From Greensboro to NYC


Manning Marable

Twenty

years ago, on November 3, 1979, five principled and dedicated activists for

social justice-Cesar Cauce, Dr. Mike Nathan, Bill Sampson, Sandi Smith, and Dr.

Jim Waller-were brutally murdered in Greensboro, North Carolina by the Ku Klux

Klan. History has recorded this tragedy as the "Greensboro Massacre."

These

five anti-racist organizers and ten other activists who were seriously wounded

had been participating in an anti-Klan public march and demonstration, held in a

largely African-American community. In broad daylight, a car caravan containing

about seventy-five Klansmen and Nazis descended on the public rally. For about

ninety seconds, they opened fire on the unarmed demonstrators, and then drove

from the scene of the crime. Local police had been given ample warning about the

threat of Klan violence, but had chosen to do nothing to protect the

demonstrators. There was also direct evidence indicating that law enforcement

officials gave the Klan the exact location and route of the march, several days

prior to their attack.

The

Greensboro Justice Fund, a nonprofit organization, was established in 1980 to

finance a civil rights suit against the killers, and to educate the general

public about the outrageous violation of human rights. Television videotaped

recordings of the massacre indicated that the killings had occurred coldly and

methodically, with the Klansmen and Nazis actually looking for and identifying

individuals to murder. Six murderers were eventually tried, and an all-white

jury acquitted the racists.

After

years of legal struggles, a successful civil suit was won by the victims and

survivors of the massacre. Today, the Greensboro Justice Fund provides tens of

thousands of dollars in financial support to dozens of social justice

organizations throughout the United States. In 1998 alone, the Fund contributed

to twenty-four groups, such as the Citizens for Police Review in Knoxville,

Tennessee, for their work against police brutality in that city; to the Black

Workers for Justice in North Carolina; to anti-Klan organizers in Gainesville,

Georgia; and to a Youth Task Force in Atlanta, for general support of

anti-racist education among students and young adults.

For

those who still think of the Ku Klux Klan as a marginal fringe group, consider

what happened last month in New York City. Leaders of the Church of the American

Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, estimated to be the fastest-growing Klan faction in

the country, sought to stage a rally in New York City. The Klansmen announced

plans to wear their traditional white hoods and robes, masking their identities.

Despite

an 1845 New York State law prohibiting demonstrators from wearing masks, two

Federal District Court Judges ordered city officials to allow the Klan to march

through the city streets, wearing their hoods to protect their anonymity. The

Klan’s legal battle was led by the New York Civil Liberties Union, which argued

that despite the racial hatred and long history of violence by this

organization, that it nevertheless had a Constitutional right to freedom of

assembly and expression. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for

the Second Circuit unanimously disagreed, overruling the lower court. A last

minute appeal on the Klan’s behalf to the Supreme Court was denied by Associate

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Progressives

in New York were divided over the issue of whether the Klan, as a white

supremacist and terrorist organization, should be granted the right to publicly

demonstrate. Al Sharpton and the National Action Network, as well as Conrad

Muhammad, former head of the Nation of Islam’s Temple No. Seven in Harlem,

supported the right for the Klan to demonstrate. Despite these differences over

the issue of civil liberties, all progressives agreed that the Klan should be

confronted and denounced by united action.

On

the day of the demonstration, only 18 Klan members showed up in lower

Manhattan-and they were challenged by thousands of anti-racist demonstrators.

New York police estimated the anti-Klan protesters at 6,000, although most

observers placed the crowd at over ten thousand. The anti-Klan demonstrators

were black, Latino, Asian and white; there were trade unionists, clergy and

students, all brought together by a tremendous spirit of solidarity against the

ugly face of unambiguous racism.

History

never repeats itself the same way twice. Yet there were some parallels between

Greensboro in 1979 and New York City in 1999. While the NYPD protected the

Klansmen, fourteen anti-Klan demonstrators were arrested by police. Many

observed that it was more than curious that over three thousand police officers

had been ordered into Harlem to intimidate and disrupt the 1998 Million Youth

March, but only 200 cops were detailed to the Klan demonstration, primarily to

insure the safety and welfare of the Klansmen. Instead of Klan executions, we

have witnessed the assault and murder of unarmed black people by the New York

Police Street Crimes Unit. There is a clear connection between what happened in

Greensboro with the murder of Amadou Diallo. It is not surprising that a number

of counter-demonstrators in New York shouted, "Cops and Klan go hand in

hand!"

Yet

the destruction of white supremacy will require more than simply pushing back

the Klan off our streets today. The fight against racism also requires us to

learn the lessons and to honor the sacrifices of those who died in Greensboro

two decades ago. It means taking the initiative to stop racial profiling and

harassment by the police. It also means that we must rededicate ourselves to the

struggle to remove from public life those politicians and government officials

like New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who may wear business suits, but who

pursue Klan-like objectives through their public policies.

Dr.

Manning Marable is Professor of History and Political Science, and the Director

of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies, Columbia University.

"Along the Color Line" is distributed free of charge to over 325

publications throughout the U.S. and internationally.

 

 

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