Report illuminates history, helps healing

Imagine a shooting within walking distance of Elon University’s campus.

It was an experience all too real for Cynthia Brown, who was a student at Bennett College in Greensboro Nov. 3, 1979, when five were killed and more injured during a civil rights demonstration.

Brown was one of six panelists who spoke Nov. 3 about the efforts of the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, convened in 2003 in an attempt to better understand an event said to be plagued with cover-ups and corruption. After two years of work, the commission produced an extensive report founded in first-hand accounts and police records that attempts to shed light on what actually happened that day. 

The seven members of the commission, which was modeled after a committee established to deal with the aftermath of apartheid, believe they have successfully created a report that accurately describes the tragedy.

“The research and development of the report was by far the most important thing,” said Spoma Jovanovic, professor at University of North Carolina Greensboro. “I think it’s a testimony to the value of conversation and extensive inquiry.”

The research conducted by the commission exposed the stories of the protestors who were killed, their friends and family who escaped and the law enforcement that failed to deliver justice. The extent of the cover-up, they said, even stretched into the media, which failed to adequately address the involvement of the police force in the shooting.

“That commission was the truest form of democracy I’ve ever seen,” said Willena Cannon, a demonstrator who was present at the massacre. “They pulled really what happened and put it in a report, and today that report stands, rather than that horrible report they put together.”

Panelists said they believe the process of examining the past to provide democracy for the present is a valuable form of justice. The panelists and victims of the massacre, were not seeking legal recourse for those who were found to be involved.

“The truth and reconciliation process can really bring up some issues for discussion in a world that is strewn with conflict,” Jovanovic said. “The more that we can think about ways to continue dealing with pain and finding ways to work together, the better.”

The commission said it holds Greensboro law enforcement responsible for the tragedy. According to the commission, police knew about the Klan’s plan to retaliate and the city still refuses to acknowledge involvement or truly apologize for it’s role in facilitating the slaughter.

“People in power concede nothing without demand,” Brown said. “Even when you win battles, you have to remember that the war wages on.”

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