Klan-Nazi shooting 1980

Joe Long of Colfax, home on leave from the U.S. Navy, has a one man demonstration against the Communist Workers Party on Aug. 4, 1980.

GREENSBORO — The Beloved Community Center is pushing to keep the word “massacre” in the language on a proposed historical marker commemorating the Klan-Nazi shootings of Nov. 3 1979.

The City Council will consider the marker, proposed by the N.C. Highway Historical Marker Advisory Committee, at its Tuesday meeting. Though controversial, it appeared last week that the council might have reached a compromise by agreeing to change the title from “Greensboro Massacre” to “Greensboro Shootings” or “Greensboro Shootout.”

The marker advisory committee signaled it was open to input from the council and would consider the change.

But on Thursday, Patricia Priest, the chairwoman of the Beloved Community Center’s board of directors, sent a letter to Mayor Nancy Vaughan asking that the language originally proposed stand.

“We strongly support the initial wording on the proposed marker put forth by the North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Advisory Committee,” Priest wrote. “We do not believe that local politics should override the considered work of qualified historians. We ask you as our elected leaders not to bow to the pressures of the moment.”

The letter outlined the failure of the Greensboro Police Department to prevent the attack, although police and federal informants were among the Klan and neo-Nazi groups. It also made the point that police insisted that the Communist Workers Party demonstrators not be armed at the rally. Though some did bring handguns and at least one shotgun, they were badly outmatched by the heavily armed Klan-Nazi contingent.

The center’s director, Nelson Johnson, was an organizer of the “Death to the Klan” rally at which Klansmen and neo-Nazis opened fire, killing five members of the Communist Workers Party and wounding 10 others.

The initial application for a historical marker came from a member of the community center’s board, Lewis Brandon.

Vaughan, to whom the center’s letter is addressed, has publicly said she will support the marker whether or not it includes the word “massacre.”

Councilwoman Sharon Hightower, who with Councilwoman Yvonne Johnson wrote letters of support to the state committee for a historical marker, said she would prefer to see the word “massacre” preserved.

“A committee of historians unanimously voted on that language,” Hightower said. “So I support it as it is, the way they have it.”

She said she may be open to a compromise on the phrase, if something can be found that accurately describes the events.

“I don’t like ‘shootout’ because I don’t think it really describes what happened,” Hightower said. “Both sides did shoot, but it wasn’t like they were equally armed, like that’s what was planned.”

She said she thinks “shooting” or “killings” would be appropriate.

The Beloved Community Center is organizing a public informational meeting about the proposed marker at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Bethel AME Church, 200 Regan St. in Greensboro.

A rally for retaining the word “massacre” is also planned before Tuesday’s 5 p.m. City Council meeting at the Melvin Municipal Office Building, 300 W. Washington St.

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Contact Joe Killian at (336) 373-7023, and follow @JoeKillianNR on Twitter.

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