GREENSBORO — North Carolina has close to 1,600 roadside historical markers.
But none, Michael Hill believes, has been the subject of as much contention as the one to be installed at the corner of McConnell and Willow roads in Greensboro.
Today, the Beloved Community Center will host the dedication for a marker commemorating the 1979 Klan-Nazi shootings.
The marker bears the title “Greensboro Massacre” and has text written by Hill, the administrator of the state’s historical marker program.
“Markers are not all about things we celebrate,” he said. “We’ve got a few markers about the darker chapters in our history, but the type of hearing for this was unprecedented.”
The marker’s language generated some debate earlier this year, with two City Council members objecting to the use of the word “massacre,” contending that “shooting” or “shootout” would have been more appropriate.
“The marker can’t tell the whole story, but the word ‘massacre’ gives you the wrong idea about what actually happened that day,” Councilman Zack Matheny said during a meeting in January.
The City Council ultimately voted 7-2 in favor of using “massacre.”
On Nov. 3, 1979, the Communist Workers Party staged a “Death to the Klan” march in the area of what once was the Morningside Homes housing project. Klan and neo-Nazi members showed up.
The details remain unclear, but a gunfight erupted and five marchers were killed.
Fourteen Klan and Neo-Nazi members were tried and acquitted in Guilford County Superior Court in 1980.
Four years later, nine people were acquitted in federal court.
Following a civil lawsuit, the city of Greensboro agreed in 1985 to pay $350,000 to the estate of one of the victims.
The marker will be located about a tenth of a mile from where the shootings occurred. It features this text: “Ku Klux Klan & American Nazi Party members, on Nov. 3, 1979, shot & killed five Communist Workers Party members.”
Lewis Brandon, who originally proposed the marker, said a number of survivors are expected for the ceremony Sunday.
Brandon, who works as a history coordinator for the Beloved Community Center, said he didn’t want to focus on the controversy over the language.
“We just want to bring about some healing,” he said.
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Greensboro police officer Mike Toons, center, takes handcuffs from an officer with a gun on Nov. 3, 1979.
National newspaper headlines on the day of Nov. 4, 1979.
KKK members take weapons from the back of a car prior to the shooting between them and members of the Workers Viewpoint Organization/Communist Workers Party on Nov. 3, 1979.
A member of the Workers Viewpoint Organization, which became the Community Workers Party, kneels beside dead friend in aftermath of shooting on Nov. 3, 1979.
A victim of a shootout between the Workers Viewpoint Organization (which became the Community Workers Party) and the KKK lies on the ground in Greensboro, N.C., Nov. 3, 1979.
Workers Viewpoint Organization member Nelson Johnson kneels by a victim in the aftermath of the shooting on Nov. 3, 1979.
Ambulance and police work on a dead Workers Viewpoint Organization member on Nov. 3, 1979. The Workers Viewpoint Organization changed its name to the Communist Workers Party.
Conrad Powell comforts his wife Frankie Powell after the Klan-Nazi shootings on Nov. 3, 1979.
A body lies on the ground at the former Morningside Homes in Greensboro, N.C., after the Klan-Nazi shootings on Nov. 3, 1979.
A police officer guards a Klansman in custody on Nov. 4, 1979.
Suspects at Guilford County Jail (left to right) Michael Eugene Clinton, Rayford Milano Caudle, Lee Joseph McClain, David Wayne Matthews and Roland Wayne Wood on Nov. 3, 1979.
Joyce Johnson, Sally Bermanzohn and Nelson Johnson at a press conference on Nov. 4, 1979.
Greensboro Police Chief William E. Swing addresses participants during a news conference on Nov. 4, 1979.
Greensboro Police Chief William E. Swing speaks at a news conference regarding the Klan-Nazi shootings on Nov. 10, 1979.
Suspects Johnny Pridmore and Jerry Smith are led to a courtroom in the Guilford County Courthouse on Nov. 6, 1979.
People display a cloth sign during a funeral march to Maplewood Cemetery in Greensboro, N.C., on Nov. 11, 1979.
Communists Workers Party member Signe Waller (in flop hat) stands between national guardsmen and her husband's casket on East Market Street during a march to Maplewood Cemetery in Greensboro, N.C. on Nov. 11, 1979.
A sign posted in a parking lot on East Market Street in Greensboro, N.C. during a funeral march on Nov. 11, 1979.
Signe Waller leads a funeral march to Maplewood Cemetery in Greensboro, N.C. on Nov. 11, 1979.
Photo taken during a march to Maplewood Cemetery in Greensboro, N.C., on Nov. 11, 1979.
People participate in a funeral march to Maplewood Cemetery on Nov. 11, 1979 in Greensboro, N.C.
Greensboro Police Officer C.F. Brande keeps an eye on weapons confiscated from the Nazi-Klan shootout, on Nov. 14, 1979.
Dean Masson of Guilford College stands in front of the old federal building during demonstrations after the KKK trial verdict was announced, Nov. 18, 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.
Photo taken Oct. 22, 1981 at Maplewood Cemetery in Greensboro, N.C.
Hal Sieber addresses crowd at showing of PBS program on the Klan-Nazi shooting, on Jan. 25, 1983.
People march in Greensboro, N.C. to protest the April 15 verdict in the federal Klan-Nazi trial on May 4, 1984.
People march in downtown Greensboro to protest the April 15 verdict in the federal Klan-Nazi trial on May 4, 1984.
Debate on historical marker makes some relive a tragic day they tried to forget.
The marker, which likely will go up in April, commemorates the Nov. 3, 1979, Klan-Nazi shootings at the former Morningside Homes.
Contact Robert C. Lopez at (336) 691-5091, and follow @rclopezNR on Twitter.