Institute Special Report: The Third of November
This article originally appeared in Southern Exposure Vol. 9 No. 3, "The Future is Now: Poisons, Spies, Terrorism in Our Back Yard." Find more from that issue here.
On November 3, 1979, television cameras from four stations recorded in awesome detail the killing of five communist demonstrators by members of the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi Party. Six men charged with first-degree murder were tried by an all-white jury. Their acquittal one year later did not erase the videotapes which show them calmly unloading their weapons from a car trunk, running after victims and firing, in some cases, at point-blank range. Some people choose to believe the jury learned things about that day which the rest of us don't know, some evidence that established the innocence of those charged. Others would like to forget the incident altogether.
By now we, too, might have forgotten — except for three things: (1) we spent hours interviewing a reporter who sat through the entire trial; (2) we watched the entire footage of all four cameras, everything that the jury saw; and (3) we spent four hours interviewing, as no other reporter has done, a police informant within the Klan who was intimately involved in the planning and execution of the confrontation on November 3, but who was never called as a witness.
Once we had done that much, we could no longer forget the Greensboro killings. Too many questions remained unanswered, and those that our research answered pointed us toward deeper research, particularly into the role of the police, the prosecuting attorney and city officials in managing and mismanaging the events surrounding the killing, subsequent publicity and the trial.
What follows is a synopsis of a much longer report resulting from our investigation. Our intent is not to prove any conspiracy but rather to provide a record of what happened in a way that illuminates a host of remaining questions which must be answered before anyone in good conscience can place Greensboro in its proper perspective. To date, the Greensboro Police Department has provided a record. So has the Communist Workers Party. Both reports are evasive and distorted, their primary purpose to absolve each organization of any responsibility for the confrontation. Our report aims to provide a third voice, an independent perspective on the events. It does not try to prove a single thesis or vindicate anyone of wrong-doing.
From what we know now, the actions of various parties can still be explained in more than one way, some more palatable than others. The mere possibility that certain police officers plotted with Klansmen to assassinate troublesome communists may be unthinkable to some. A reporter who read a draft of the entire report remarked, “I know this kind of thing happens in places like El Salvador, but it’s too frightening for me to think about the implications of it happening here. I can’t believe it.” But even if one gathers from our report only that the police knew a caravan of armed Klan and Nazis were headed toward the demonstrators, a reasonable reader still has to conclude that their failure to warn the demonstrators or bystanders, or to be on the scene to prevent violence, amounts to gross negligence and raises grave questions about their motives for such inaction.
Some of the questions the full report raises may never be answered. A massive civil suit initiated by the wounded demonstrators and relatives of those slain may unravel some mysteries as federal agents, police officers, Klan and Nazi leaders, city officials and others are forced under oath to explain their part in actions leading up to and following the event. But that suit is moving slowly. A well-financed investigative team of reporters would probably uncover other information, too. We only hope to encourage the probing effort and to share what we know so others can learn from what happened in and around Greensboro on November 3.
(For a copy of the full report, which includes a lengthy interview with KKK-FBI-police informant Ed Dawson, please send $3 to: Southern Exposure, “Greensboro Report,” P.O. Box 531, Durham, NC 27702.)
November 3, 1979, was not the first confrontation between Nazis, Klansmen and members of the Communist Workers Party (CWP). In the spring and early summer of 1979, the Federated Knights of the KKK began holding public meetings at which they showed the film “Birth of a Nation” and attempted to recruit new members. A few protesters — members of the Revolutionary Communist Party — came to one of the public meetings in Winston-Salem, but it wasn’t until the Klan took the film to a community center in China Grove that protesters arrived in force.
On Sunday, July 8, members and supporters of the CWP (which then called itself the Worker’s Viewpoint Organization, or WVO*) arrived at the community center about an hour before the film showing was scheduled to begin. The tiny China Grove police force was also early, stationing officers at the community center well ahead of starting time. The counterdemonstrators outnumbered and outflanked the Klansmen gathering outside the center; pressing forward while the police tried to keep the groups separate, they succeeded, as they later put it, in driving “these scum Klansmen off the lawn of the China Grove Community Center.”
Their symbolic victory consisted of capturing and burning two Confederate flags while “these ‘brave Klansmen’ defended them by peeping out of the windows as the flags went up in smoke.” The group inside the center included Roland Wayne Wood, head of the Forsyth County unit of the Nazi Party and one of the men later charged with the November 3 murders. Raeford Caudle and Jerry Paul Smith, two other participants in the November killings, were also inside, along with members of the moderate and militant factions of the North Carolina Klan. According to one Klan leader, both sides were armed and the only reason the men inside did not open fire on the communists was that “if shooting began, the three policemen trying to maintain order would be killed.”
After the China Grove confrontation the WVO got cocky. They had marched into the heart of Klan country and, they thought, publicly shamed the “cowards” into submission. “What made a difference in China Grove,” they boasted, “was the mighty force of militant, armed and organized fighters, fighting in the people’s interest. WE AFFIRM THE CORRECTNESS OF HOW TO FIGHT THE KLAN AS SHOWN BY CHINA GROVE!!!”
The WVO leaders were exceedingly naive, some would say stupid, to think that these men who embraced the violent, macho image of the Klan could continue to be baited yet never retaliate. Their desire to out-do the rival Revolutionary Communist Party, which also sought to build its reputation through militant rhetoric and direct action, may have further blinded the WVO. The rivalry between the two communist groups was bitter, but its subtleties and very existence escaped most outsiders. Significantly, even Nazi Party head Harold Covington, who lives in Raleigh, confused the two groups. On September 11, 1979, he sent a letter to RCP member Cindy Hopkins claiming the Nazis could get help to combat communists. He warned that most Nazis had killed communists in Vietnam, but “so far we’ve never had a chance to kill the homegrown product.” Covington continued, “We’ve put a few in the hospital and we nearly killed some of your people at China Grove — we had it all worked out with the cops, that if you were dumb enough to try to attack the community center, we’d waste a couple of you and none of them would see anything.” But, of course, it was the WVO, not the RCP, at China Grove.
As the communists fought each other, racist organizations in North Carolina sought to form an alliance. On September 22, Virgil Griffin, head of the Invisible Empire of the KKK, led a caravan of 20 Lincoln County Klansmen to a meeting with Nazis and other Klan units northeast of Raleigh.
With much publicity and in the presence of 100 onlookers, Griffin, Covington and Gorrell Pierce of the Federated Knights formed the United Racist Front. Although Griffin is reported to have told the group to “kill 100 niggers and leave them dead in the streets,” the primary purpose of the new alliance was to seek retribution for their embarrassing defeat at the hands of the “jew-communist scum” in China Grove. (According to Nazi theory, blacks are mere pawns in a Jewish-communist conspiracy to take over the world.)
If WVO leaders knew about the different Klan factions or that the state’s most militant leaders had formed a Klan/Nazi coalition, they failed to modify their strategy accordingly. Their perceived victory in China Grove was heady stuff, and, with a false sense of bravado, they decided to dare the Klan to confront them again. Events moved quickly:
October 4: WVO leaders publicly announced a “Death to the Klan” march and conference in Greensboro.
October 10: Several RCP members were arrested for trespassing when they disrupted classes at the University of North Carolina branch in Greensboro. They said they wanted “to further educate them [the students] by telling them what’s really going on in the outside world” and to recruit them for a rally featuring RCP presidential candidate Bob Avakian. As an indication of Greensboro officialdom’s growing disgust with agitation by the RCP and WVO, District Attorney Michael Schlosser (who later prosecuted the November killers) personally visited the Greensboro campus to solicit witnesses for his prosecution of the RCP disrupters.
October 10: On the same day as the RCP arrests, the Greensboro police discussed the proposed WVO march at a staff meeting. They noted that they couldn’t prevent the march “in view of First Amendment rights,” but that the parade permit they issued could make restrictions. According to the Police Department’s Administrative Report issued after the rally, “The restrictions which were discussed included prohibiting weapons, concealed or in view, and restricting sign posts to 2-inch X 2-inch thickness.”
Considering the escalating friction between communists and the Klan, it’s natural to assume other precautions were discussed by the police, although they are not specified in the report. “If you want the offensive potential of a demonstration controlled,” said a police officer in another city, “you don’t just bar weapons. You allow only cardboard tubes for signs or banners . . . you control the space where the demonstration occurs, you make your presence very visible with a show of force that is intimidating and pervasive. All that’s standard strategy from the ’60s.”
No one has yet explained why the Greensboro police did not employ any of these methods (many of which were used in the subsequent February 2 National Anti-Klan Network’s march in Greensboro. But the police did authorize one means of pre-demonstration planning during, or shortly after, the October 10 meeting. On or about that day, Ed Dawson, a long-time Klan member and informant for the FBI and the Greensboro police force, was contacted by the department and asked to “find out” what Virgil Griffin and the Klan intended to do about the WVO rally. Dawson soon made contact with Griffin; they discussed the march and agreed to get together at an upcoming Klan rally in Lincolnton to talk further.
Dawson’s official or unofficial instructions from the police, his relation to the FBI and his possible coordination with other agents or informants are not known. But by Dawson’s own admission, he quickly adopted a role more suited to a leader in the Klan action than to a simple conduit of information.
October 11: RCP members were arrested for “inciting a riot” at Hampton Homes, a predominantly black housing project, where they were recruiting residents for their rally.
October 16: Several CWP members passing out literature near Cone Mills’ White Oak plant entrance were attacked by RCP members with clubs. The police describe the fight in their administrative report, but do not identify the assailants as members of the RCP. Several pieces of evidence indicate law enforcement agencies at the time routinely assumed the WVO was an offshoot or affiliate of the RCP. The police confusion over, or refusal to distinguish between, the two groups is important because if they thought that the CWP was responsible for the incidents at the university, Hampton Homes and White Oak, that misinformation could have provided justification in the minds of certain officers to hold back and let the Klan/Nazis beat up the communists on November 3.
October 19: Nelson Johnson, a WVO leader, applied for a parade permit for the November 3 march. The Greensboro police advised him of the proposed restrictions against weapons and he agreed to them.
October 20: Virgil Griffin and his Invisible Empire held a march and rally at the Lincoln County Fairgrounds. After the rally, Griffin convened a meeting, with about 90 people attending, at which none other than informant Ed Dawson was the featured speaker. The purpose of the meeting was to recruit people to confront the “Death to the Klan” march. Dawson told us:
“And at the speech I explained everything that was going on in Greensboro. I didn’t add, I didn’t take anything away. That they were going through the schools and throwing red paint, that there were signs posted, and this, that and the other thing. I gave maybe a 20-minute speech on the goodies that was going on and I asked for a show of hands, how many people was coming. Eighty hands went up in the air!
“So then I gave the second part of my speech: what to expect if they came up here. I told them, ‘Now, if you come up here, I want you to know that we’re not fooling around. I don’t know if any of you know Marion Porter and the Labor Party, but these people here are different. You push them around, they’ll push back. They’re big enough, they won’t just stand there while you’re screaming at them.’
‘Number two,’ I said, ‘if you carry a gun, if you go out in the open there with a bulge in your pocket, that place is going to be infested with police and you will be arrested. If you carry a gun, you better have your damn bond money in your pocket, because you’re gonna be arrested if you try any garbage.’ And after that speech, I asked for a show of hands. Then only about 40 or 50 of them raised their hands, after the second part of it. Because I wanted them to know what to expect if they were gonna come up here and start screaming and carrying on.”
October 23: The FBI began an investigation of the CWP in Greensboro and Durham which was completed on November 2, according to newspaper reports. Andrew Pelczar, an FBI field agent in Greensboro, said the investigation was started because the organizations made frequent statements supporting “the use of violence to achieve its goals.” Pelczar later refused to elaborate on his statement, and his superiors in Raleigh and Washington denied that any FBI investigation had begun prior to November 3. No report on any FBI investigation made before or after the shooting has ever been made public.
Newspaper reports after November 3 also disclosed that an agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) of the U.S. Justice Department infiltrated the Nazi Party in North Carolina sometime in the summer of 1979 and sold a number of high-powered weapons to its members. BATF agent Bernard Butkovich attended at least one planning meeting for the caravan, but did not ride with it on November 3. He left the state soon after the shooting. His role in the event has never been revealed. Because of our limited resources and primary focus on actors in Greensboro, we could not pursue an investigation of Butkovich or other suspected federal agents active during the period.
October 28: Nazi and Klan members gathered in Winston-Salem (Forsyth County) to plan for the November 3 confrontation. Virgil Griffin called Ed Dawson to tell him that three Lincoln County Klansmen at the meeting would call him afterwards with a report. Dawson says he waited until 11 p.m. and then went out to paste Klan posters over the CWP’s “Death to the Klan” signs. His posters showed a figure hanging from a noose with the slogan, “It’s Time for Some Old-Fashioned Justice.” We do not know what, if any, plan was devised at the Winston-Salem meeting. We do know that all of the men in the last two cars of the caravan — the men who fired on the demonstrators — were Nazis and Klansmen from Forsyth and Lincoln Counties. Dawson later told us that although he “firmly believes” no gun attack was planned, he didn’t realize the Nazis were involved until the morning of November 3. “And if they had something separate planned for the communists,” he said, “they would have made sure they were at a good spot in the caravan. .. . That’s the way I would do it.”
October 31: CWP members met with the Board of Elders of All Nations Pentacostal Holiness Church, who had suddenly withdrawn permission for the communists to hold their November 3 conference (which was to follow the march) at the church. The CWP had held previous public meetings at the church, but this time they say they were told that a church member who worked as a secretary in the police department had been warned by the police that the church might be bombed if the meeting were held there. Reverend Curtis Johnson, minister of the church, refused to answer our questions regarding the decision. The CWP found an alternative site for their conference at a night club in the shopping center across the street from the church.
November 1: Nelson Johnson and Paul Bermanzohn held a CWP press conference to announce final plans for the march and to denounce the police and city officials. Their complaint was three-fold: the police had never mailed them their parade permit (a process which normally takes three days), had obstructed their use of the church and were harassing CWP people who put up posters advertising the march and conference. Following the CWP news conference, Ed Dawson, who had watched the whole thing, spoke briefly with Johnson and Bermanzohn. According to Bermanzohn, he portrayed himself as a “small-business owner.” Dawson then went inside the police department, asked for and received a copy of the parade permit, which detailed the route of the march, gave its correct starting time and place, and had written on its face the restriction against weapons.
November 2: At about 11 p.m. Virgil Griffin addressed a group of 14 Klanspeople and Nazis at the Buffalo Gas Station in Lincoln County. He reportedly stressed the importance of “making a show of force” in Greensboro the next day. Afterward Griffin drove to Greensboro with Coleman Pridmore, the Exalted Cyclops of Lincoln County, and Jerry Paul Smith, Chief of Security for the Invisible Empire. They were joined by Griffin’s girlfriend, Cindy, and arrived in Greensboro at three a.m. on November 3. Ed Dawson met the group at an all-night restaurant and then led them past the Florida Street shopping center, location of the night club where, Dawson told them, “the rally was supposed to end.”
Racists from across North Carolina began gathering at a small house on Randleman Road south of Greensboro at about four a.m. Dawson had persuaded his old friend Brent Fletcher to allow the use of his home as a rendezvous point for the caravan. It was marked with a Confederate flag. According to Dawson, the group sat around drinking and talking, “small talk, old-time talk, Klan stuff,” and “showing off guns” including a shotgun and a .357 Magnum. About 4:30 a.m., Dawson went home to get some sleep.
At about seven a.m., says Dawson, he got up and called Detective Jerry Cooper, his long-time police department contact. “I told him how many people were over at the house, and what was there — they had a couple of guns. ... I was just supposed to be their source on how many people and if they had guns. So I said, ‘I doubt if I’ll be able to contact you again or call you.’ So he [Cooper] gave me the number of his car, so if I could get away ... I could contact him in his car.”
Then Dawson returned to the house on Randleman Road. And, at about 8:30, he did manage to slip away again and telephone Cooper. The message: “There was 12 to 14 people at the house and they had guns, everybody had a gun.”
At 10 a.m., Detective Cooper briefed the police commanders and tactical units that an “undetermined number of Klan members” were assembling at the house on Randleman Road and that some of them had “handguns.” The officers were told that the Klan planned to heckle the marchers along the parade route and throw eggs at them and that, if a confrontation occurred, it would come at the end of the parade. After receiving their location assignments, the tactical units were given permission to go to lunch and instructed to be at their posts by 11:30 a.m. — a half hour before the march’s scheduled beginning.
The police have never revealed what, if any, plan they had to thwart the caravan’s disruption of the parade. When a reporter later asked Chief of Police William Swing if he didn’t think his officers had an obligation at least to warn the demonstrators, press and residents at the housing project, the chief said he didn’t think it was “important.” How the police knew about an egg-throwing assault is also a mystery. Dawson claims he did not know such a plan existed, only that he “expected” a “fist fight” to break out, probably at the end of the march: “There would have been a couple of heads bashed in. ... A broken arm, broken leg. Oh yeah, I figured there’d be a fight. I told them.”
As the morning unfolded, the failure of the police to incorporate information it possessed into a strategy for defusing possible violence became all too apparent. Other law enforcement officials interviewed have noted that the half-hour lead time for the tactical units is far from a cautious approach to what was shaping up as a head-on collision between armed racists and militant anti-racists.
While the tactical units ate lunch, Detective Cooper and the regular officers of District II (the Morningside area) began taking their positions. At 11 a.m., Sergeant W.D. Comer, the officer in charge of monitoring the parade itself, radioed Lieutenant P.W. Spoon, who was in command of the entire operation, that he had again tried to talk with some of the 40 to 50 demonstrators gathering at the Windsor Community Center, but they were “very hostile towards the police . . . no one would talk to us.” Comer decided to station himself and the other patrol car assigned to escort the march near Windsor — even though he knew the parade permit said the march would begin at Morningside Homes, corner of Everitt and Carver Streets, eight blocks away. Press reports and CWP posters had designated Windsor as the starting point — at 11 a.m. — but as television crews, reporters and CWP members gathering there left to assemble at Morningside, one wonders why an alert police officer didn’t unravel the confusion surrounding the two starting points.
Remarkably, the two tactical squads assigned “to provide surveillance of the marchers” were of no help to Comer or anybody else; they were still eating lunch 23 minutes later when the shooting began.
The list of officers out of action on November 3 should perhaps begin at the top with the commander of District II, Captain T.A. Hampton. He had a previously scheduled noon meeting and had turned command for the day over to Lieutenant Spoon. For no explained reason, Spoon was out of radio contact from his 11:00 conversation with Comer until 11:14, when he was called back inside police headquarters to discuss a phone call from the pastor of All Nations Church. Spoon did not return to radio contact until 11:21 — only 45 seconds before the caravan reached the CWP demonstrators.
In an effort to explain the absence of a commanding officer during the crucial period, the Police Department’s Administrative Report emphasizes that the minister’s call “was very significant because of the intelligence information received by 613 [Cooper] earlier in the day that if trouble developed, it would likely be at the termination point of the march.... A new location at which to hold the planned rally at the end of the march would now have to be located.” Spoon was working on this matter when he returned to his squad car radio. Whether or not this explanation holds up — and Ed Dawson knew about the new conference site before November 3 — it still does not explain how Lieutenant Spoon and his partner for the day, police attorney M.A. Cawn, remained uninformed of the fact that by 11:14 a Klan/Nazi caravan had formed and was headed toward the CWP march. It certainly was not because the caravan went unnoticed.
According to Dawson, the group left Randleman Road about 11:05. As he tells it, “We went outside then and everyone was standing around . . . and I said, ‘If we’re going, let’s go. If we’re not, let’s go home.’ And someone says, ‘Who’s in charge here?’ And I looked at Virgil, and Virgil looked at me…So Virgil points at me and says, ‘I guess he is.’ So I said okay.
“So we started off and finally got down to the ramp at 1-85 and 220, and I was talking on the C.B., ‘KKK. Everything okay?’ But the van hollered, ‘Can you hold it up? The Fairlane from Winston just went by. He’s lost apparently, he didn’t see the cars on the ramp.’ So we all got out on the ramp there. I could see [Detective] Cooper’s car just parked there on the overpass. He was watching us.”
At 11:06 Cooper tried to radio the unavailable Spoon and then asked for Lieutenant Daughtry, the field commander of the tactical section. He was told Daughtry was still in the office, so Cooper reported to Sergeant Burke of the tactical unit: “Okay, you got eight vehicles parked and loaded on the ramp from down where we went this morning. They’re on the ramp off 85 and 220. It looks like 30 or 35 people. . . . They’re just sitting on the ramp there waiting, all in the vehicles. So we’re gonna stand by here and kind of monitor them, see what they do.”
At 11:13 Cooper radioed Burke again: “We’re rolling now, headed that direction from this location. There’s a total now of nine vehicles.”
The ninth vehicle, which the caravan had been waiting for, was Raeford Caudle’s blue Ford Fairlane, driven by Jack Fowler. Among the weapons in its trunk were the AR-180 semi-automatic rifle with which Fowler was to wound Mike Nathan, the .357 Magnum pistol with which Jerry Smith later killed Cesar Cauce, and several shotguns. Although the Fairlane was the last car to arrive at the caravan assembly point, Fowler positioned it in the second-to-last slot, in front of the yellow van in which Smith, Matthews, Wood and the others later charged with murder were riding.
At 11:16 Cooper finally reached Lieutenant Daughtry and advised him of the Klan/Nazi caravan’s location: “On [U.S.] 29 now, approaching Florida Street.”
At 11:16, as the Klan/Nazi caravan was moving closer, Daughtry radioed to Burke, “Tracy, are y’all in position?” To which Burke replied: “Not really. We can start that way, most of us jumped out to get a sandwich or something.”
By this time, most of the CWP people were at Morningside Homes, at the Everitt/Carver intersection site of the march kick-off. They were singing freedom songs and clapping and having a good time. There were lots of children, some of them in uniforms, and they were poking and punching at an effigy of a white-robed Klansman while the adults were passing out literature and putting posters on a flat-bed truck where their microphones and amplifiers were.
WFMY-TV news photographer Jim Waters and CWP member Dori Blitz told of seeing two marked police cars at the intersection of Everitt and Dunbar, two blocks east of the rally site, approximately 10 minutes before the Klan/Nazi caravan arrived. According to an anonymous source who was monitoring a police radio scanner that morning, the patrol units were investigating a minor traffic accident as the caravan drove toward Morningside. Rather than instruct the officers to stay on the scene in case of a confrontation, they were ordered via radio to clear the area.
The police transcripts of the radio conversations between officers assigned to duty are very precise as to what the police were doing during these crucial minutes before the Klan/Nazi caravan arrived at the CWP gathering.
11:17.45: Cooper to Daughtry: “Just made the turn onto Lee Street.” (This placed the caravan at about a half-mile east of Windsor Center and about the same distance southwest of the corner of Everitt and Carver.)
11:18.57: Cooper: “Turning on Willow Road now.” (Any possible police confusion as to where the caravan was headed should now have been cleared up, because Willow Road leads away from Windsor Center and onto Everitt Street.)
11:19.28: Daughtry to Burke: “Let’s hustle on in and get in those positions because they’re moving before we anticipated.” Burke: “We’re on the way.”
11:20.14: Cooper to Daughtry: “Part of them should be there by now almost.”
11:20.31: Daughtry to the operator: “See if you can raise 202 [Lieutenant Spoon].”
11:20.41: F-3: “No contact.”
11:20.52: Cooper to Daughtry: “They’re parking up on Everitt Street at Willow Road.” (This is about two blocks from the corner of Everitt and Carver.)
11:21.09: Daughtry finally made radio contact with Spoon. He said, “You been copying the traffic of 613 [Cooper]?”
Spoon: “Negative, I’ve been on the phone. I need to get with you. Another thing just popped up you need to be aware of.” (Spoon was referring to the conversation with Reverend Johnson about the CWP’s use of his church.) Spoon asked Daughtry for his location, which was at the corner of Washington and Benbow, about two blocks from Windsor Center. “Meet me there about the old train station,” Spoon said. Daughtry agreed to do this despite the fact that the train station is about a half-mile west of Windsor and more than a mile west of Everitt and Willow where he knew the caravan had stopped. Although Daughtry knew Spoon was unaware of the caravan’s progress, he made no attempt to inform him of the situation.
11:22.02: Cooper to Daughtry: “They’re now at the formation point.” Spoon to Cooper: “What traffic you got going?” Cooper: “OK, we got about nine or 10 cars on the opposite side has now arrived at the formation point for the parade and it appears as though they’re heckling at this time, driving on by, uh, they’re definitely creating attention and some of the parade members are, uh, [break in transmission] . . . 10-4, they’re scattering, stand by one.”
There is an unexplained 32-second pause. Then:
11:23.10: Cooper: “We’ve got a 10-10 [fight in progress] down here, you better get some units in here.”
Note that “here,” “the formation point” and Cooper’s previous vague references to the Everitt/Carver intersection left other officers still confused about where to go.
Spoon to Daughtry: “Your people in position over there? ” Daughtry: “ 104. ” 11:23.27: Cooper: “Shots fired, sounds like. . .
11:23.31: Spoon: “Move the [District II] cars into the area.” Daughtry to Burke: “Move in.” Burke: “On the way. . . . Come on, Gary.”
11:23.41: F-3 operator to Spoon: “Can you advise for F-l where you want the [District II] cars?” Spoon: “Move them into the area . . . should be there at Windsor Community Center.” (emphasis added)
11:23.47: Cooper: “Heavy gunfire.” Spoon: “Pull all available cars in the city to the area of. . . the Windsor Community Center. Don’t all come to the area, I’ll advise further when I arrive on the scene.”
11:23.50: F-l operator to three District II units: “Everitt and Carver, move into the area, have a 10-10, possible shots fired, just move into the area and stand by.” (F-l had apparently been monitoring Cooper and knew the location of the fight.)
11:24.14: Comer: “It’s not at Windsor, I think they’re at Everitt and Carver where . . . the Tact units are at. We’re with the group at Windsor, no problem.”
11:24.29: Cooper: “Most of the fire is coming from the yellow van, coming from the yellow van, they’re now leaving the scene.”
For the next 37 seconds, the F-3 channel was interrupted by phone calls from residents in the area asking for police assistance. However, the F-l operator continued to instruct police units into the area of Everitt and Carver and to switch their receivers to F-3 for information. But by the time the police arrived, the shooting was over. Detective Cooper, who reported the shots, apparently made no attempt to stop the gunfire or to apprehend any fleeing vehicles. Another police unit did arrive in time to capture the yellow van, and reported its capture on the radio at 11:25.27. Almost two minutes later, at 11:27.19 — four minutes after Cooper first reported shots — an order finally went out to seal off the Carver/Everitt streets area. By that time, all the other cars had gotten away.
The shooting lasted only 88 seconds. Cesar Cauce, Sandi Smith and Jim Waller were dead. Bill Sampson died a few minutes later. Mike Nathan was sprawled on his back with blood gushing out of his face. He was still alive but he would not survive the wound. He died in the hospital two days later.
The initial reaction in Greensboro was shock and outrage; the Sunday morning newspapers were filled with descriptions of the shootings and with unanswered questions about how it all happened. But, almost immediately, the fact of the five murders, the deaths of five human beings, began to be obscured, as the victims’ ideology and tactics — rather than the actions of the Klan, Nazis or police — increasingly became the main object of public scrutiny.
The most neutral, “objective” headlines appeared the first few days afterwards, before the “official response” solidified. Most of these headlines attacked both the CWP/WVO and the Klan, but did at least call the Klan the attacker — though one, in anticipation of the eventual official view, referred to a “shootout” between Klansmen and communists. A reading of the papers of November 4 and 6 would also have led one to believe the police had been less than thorough in their attempts to prevent the murders. Questions about the police were raised in the first few days, notably in a November 6 editorial in the Greensboro Record. But these questions, still unanswered, disappeared as the media became preoccupied with the latest in a stream of official explanations which trickled forth from police headquarters.
Each new police statement seemed to divert the press further away from questions of police irresponsibility or complicity by raising such side issues as the legal right of the Klan to possession of the parade permit, the CWP’s motives in setting conflicting starting times and places for its march, CWP hostility toward the idea of police escorts, the change of conference sites, and the history of WVO/CWP action against the Klan.
By mid-November, the Police Department’s Administrative Report reiterated its explanations and added some new excuses, such as, “There was insufficient probable cause to stop and/or arrest the members of the caravan.” The Report concluded that “the police officers assigned to the march performed their duty in a professional and reasonable manner,” and again it focused on the hostility and “confusion created by” the communist demonstrators to explain the delayed response to what it called “the Worker’s Viewpoint Organization- Klan confrontation.” The implication that the WVO took the lead role in the confrontation pervades the report from the first sentence on; no evidence of Klan/Nazi planning for the rally is included, but several pages are devoted to leaflets, letters and quotes from the CWP to document how it “had been in conflict with the Ku Klux Klan prior to the shooting incident.”
By November 6, the Greensboro papers had begun to follow the lead of the Police Department by soft-pedaling the motives of the Klan and attributing the violence to the communist victims. There were “in-depth” explanatory articles about the revolutionary ideology of the victims headlined “WVO ‘Targeted’ Cone, Other Mills for Infiltration” and “ ‘They All Hate Each Other,’ Professor Says of Leftists.” There were no parallel articles exploring the racist ideology of the Klan or the Nazis, but there were two articles — headlined “Wife Says Couple Joined Klan Group in Ignorance” and “Nephew’s Radical Bent Surprises Lincoln Deputy” — that portrayed two of the arrested Klansmen as naive dupes who didn’t know what they were getting into.
In the next few days, the attacks on the CWP/WVO for causing trouble intensified, and the Klan was described as no longer opposing blacks, just communists. A headline reported that a young Nazi was there solely because “It was just something to do.” On the other hand, a story based on an unnamed co-worker of a CWP victim said the communists were there because they “needed a martyr” and had “a plan” to accomplish that goal.
Ironically, as the press narrowed its search for causes behind the killings, it simultaneously sought to absolve the city of Greensboro from any responsibility for the violence. Greensboro mayor Jim Melvin led the way, personally telephoning reporters to promote the official interpretation that the killings were “an isolated incident involving mostly outsiders.”
On November 5 the Greensboro Record carried a front-page article headlined “Why was this city picked for battleground?” Its lead paragraph stated a theme that was repeated over and over in coming months: “In the aftermath of a mind-boggling tragedy that has focused unwanted world attention on the city, Greensboro is asking itself ‘why us?’” The article quoted CWP leader Nelson Johnson’s observation, “This is my hometown, man. We [many of his fellow party members] live here. Greensboro is no different from any other town.” But the article projected a picture of a town where leftist activists were unwanted and unneeded. As the writer put it, “What will the incident do to the image of the city, which has generally been regarded as a progressive, even liberal Southern community?”
The Greensboro newspapers’ fundamental assumption that racial tensions don’t exist in Greensboro is an attitude that has held sway for 20 years, as Bill Chafe documents thoroughly in his book on the city, Civilities and Civil Rights. The papers perpetuated the city’s self-deception by printing numerous editorials from around the country which praised Greensboro racial relations. Some blamed the violence on the Klan, others blamed both the Klan and the communists, but all reinforced Greensboro’s self-concept as a victim of outsiders and extremists.
Those community groups which sought to focus attention on the tragedy saw their efforts frustrated at every turn. Some groups wanted to condemn racist violence and police complicity; others expressed a need to organize the Greensboro community to prevent similar occurrences in the future; still others merely wanted to publicly declare their outrage at the Klan’s cold-blooded murder of other human beings. But all met with disdain from the press and resistance from city officials. Instead of ensuring that protests were safe and orderly, officials chose to scare off potential demonstrators with repeated warnings of impending violence, constant publicity about mobilizing more police or national guard troops, speculation on the need for medical services, jails and magistrates, and so forth.
Even the local and state Human Relations Commissions adopted similar attitudes. Rather than facilitate a peaceful airing of grievances, they discouraged the need for citizen involvement and acted as public relations agents for the city and state. On November 16, Jerry Drayton, chair of the city’s Human Relations Council, sent a one-and-a-half-page memo to his council members in which he described the events of November 3 as “a shooting” in which Klansmen were “reacting to Communist challenges to a confrontation” and which resulted when their cars “were attacked by marchers with heavy sticks.”
Although Drayton acknowledged in his memo that blacks were “dissatisfied with the performance of the police,” he explored neither the police nor the Klan/Nazi roles on November 3. The Nazis are not even mentioned in his report. The HRC’s subsequent memo, dated November 19, to the North Carolina Department of Administration, explained how the council had acted to thwart participation of Greensboro college students in the funeral march held by the CWP on November 11. The students from N.C. A&T State University were advised their campus would be protected and that “if they were going to participate, they should know with whom they were affilated.” The memo carefully notes that the HRC staff did not tell the students whether or not to join the funeral procession. But, according to student leaders, the focus on violence and communism was a clear warning that marchers would be risking their lives if they participated.
The memo dismisses the occurrence of anti-Klan demonstrations in other cities around the nation as a strategy of “far-left groups seeking to exploit the issue of right-wing extremism in order to strengthen the forces of left-wing extremism.” These demonstrations are characterized as violent, with the police suffering the majority of injuries as they attempted to keep Klan marchers separate from communist counter-demonstrators. “Few of the violent counter demonstrations [sic] have been ordinary citizens,” the memo says. It then lists six communist or communist-affiliated groups as the dominant anti-Klan forces and ignores the leadership of respected civil-rights organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organizations and Jewish groups like the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.
By continually projecting the image of outsiders, professional leftists and communist agitators, the HRC followed the official pattern of obscuring Greensboro’s indigenous racism and legitimate concern for its elimination. One sentence in particular sums up the distortion promoted by public officials and the HRC: “Again, the police and the citizens of the community in which this incident occurred were the victims.”
Considerable evidence indicates a federal agency immeasurably assisted the city’s sophisticated subversion of public protest and public scrutiny into the events surrounding the shootings. Agents from the U.S. Justice Department’s Community Relations Service (CRS) apparently arrived in Greensboro within 24 hours of the killings to help coordinate a “cool out” response. Under their guidance, officials publicly interpreted the inci- dent as a “gun battle,” “shoot-out” and “showdown” between two extremist organizations from outside Greensboro. The city had no cause for alarm, except to prepare for opportunists that seek to exacerbate tensions for their own gains. By spreading rumors through the press and via contacts in the liberal community, the agents created an atmosphere of suspicion which fragmented a coherent, united community response and portrayed anyone willing to speak out as a possible CWP agent, communist sympathizer or pawn of outside leftists, who did indeed flock to the city to “lead” the protest effort.
The CRS succeeded in instilling such fear in Greensboro that a memorial service planned for November 18 by a group of black ministers and other respected citizens was abruptly canceled. The ministers had envisioned their service, and a rally planned to follow, as a positive alternative to the CWP funeral march. While the November 3 killings shocked and grieved the ministers, they — like many other human-rights advocates — strongly opposed the CWP’s provocative rhetoric, disruptive actions and insistence on bearing arms during the funeral march. No sooner was the service announced, however, than one of the ministers was threatened; others were warned about impending violence and shown secret government files on alleged “communists” who were helping to organize the rally.
The Community Relations Service’s orchestration of this campaign of intimidation is documented in Pat Bryant’s article, “Justice vs. the Movement,” in the Summer, 1980, issue of Southern Exposure. Bryant also documents how the CRS tried to abort a subsequent march and rally sponsored by the National Anti-Klan Network on February 2, 1980. That demonstration was planned as a massive protest of the killings and as a commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the Greensboro sit-ins, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that the coalition planning it succeeded. Official interference included an attempt to block the coalition’s use of the city coliseum on February 2, an attempt which was not abandoned until coalition lawyers filed suit against the city.
Under the direction of the CRS, law enforcement officials around the state met with student leaders to discourage them from getting involved. Although the sponsoring coalition, the February 2 Mobilization Committee, had made a firm decision to hold a nonviolent march with all participants unarmed, State Bureau of Investigation officials visited campuses around the state and warned student groups that bloodshed was nearly inevitable.
Delaney Wilson of North Carolina Central University, for example, was told by SBI agents that bombs or other explosives might be used and that, in the event of communist-incited violence during the march, the police and National Guard would be stationed all along the parade route with their rifles aimed directly at the marchers. Wilson and the NCCU students were not intimidated, but shortly before February 2 the bus company they had hired to transport them from Durham to Greensboro canceled their contract. Wilson was told that the company feared its buses would be bombed. The students made arrangements with another bus company and participated in the march. But Wilson found, in discussion with other student participants, that all had been warned by SBI or other agents that they might be bombed or shot at or, at a minimum, identified as communist sympathizers.
Not until May, 1980, did any official or quasi-official city agency question the action of the police on November 3. But that criticism, from the mayor’s blue-ribbon Greensboro Citizens Review Committee, was superficial at best. “At least 17 minutes passed during which the Police Department could have dispatched cars to surround and accompany the caravan,” the committee’s report pointed out. The committee also criticized the police for lying in early statements regarding the extent of their knowledge of the Klan/Nazi caravan, but it did not investigate inconsistencies in the police report itself.
When asked why the committee didn’t conduct a more thorough hearing into the Police Department’s role on November 3, a committee member who asked to remain unidentified said, “You have to understand that the people serving on this committee were essentially volunteers. We all had to work at our regular jobs during the day, and then we had these meetings from seven to 10 or 11 at night. There was no staff to work with us, and there’s only so much you can do without any staff.”
At the time the jury selection began for the Nazi/Klan trial in June, 1980, the question of police complicity or negligence remained unexplored. Most of the Klan/Nazi defendants had been depicted in the press as good ole boys who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The CWP victims had been depicted as violent communist revolutionaries who had been looking for trouble and martyrs. And the city of Greensboro had become the object of public sympathy.
From the beginning, District Attorney Michael Schlosser insisted that he would not allow the trial of the four Klansmen and two Nazis to become “political.” But if the motives of those charged with first-degree murder were even going to be discussed, the prosecutor would necessarily have to explore the Klan and Nazi political beliefs. By rejecting that approach, Schlosser seemed to give away a big part of his case.
Schlosser’s own political biases — he told the media shortly after the killings that the communists “got what they deserved” — understandably led the victims’ widows to ask that a special prosecutor, an outsider, be appointed to conduct the case. But Schlosser, an elected official who acknowledged his constituents’ growing anti-communist sentiments, denied the request without a hearing.
Many other questions remain about decisions Schlosser and the prosecuting team he headed made before going to trial. Since he is now a defendant in the civil suit arising from the killings, he politely declines to discuss any substantive aspects of the trial. Among the questions left unanswered are:
· Why did he decide to drop the conspiracy charges against the 14 men indicted for the murders?
· Why was Virgil Griffin, who was clearly instrumental in organizing the caravan, never indicted at all?
· Why were conspiracy charges dismissed against Raeford Caudle, who brought most of the murder weapons?
· Why did Schlosser, after commenting that “conspiracy is difficult to prove,” turn around and charge first-degree murder — surely a far more difficult charge to prove, especially when the question of motives is foreclosed at the outset.
· Why were Bernard Butkovich (the BATF agent) and Ed Dawson never called to the witness stand?
The decision to go for first-degree murder was particularly problematic, and several veteran criminal attorneys have said they knew the jury would return a not-guilty verdict as soon as they found out about the charge. “I tried to get some bets,” recalls one attorney, “but no other attorneys would bet on a guilty verdict. Firstdegree murder carries the death penalty, so right there you exclude [from the jury] blacks, liberals and more educated people who are opposed to capital punishment. They are also not as frightened about communism and more aware of what groups like the Klan and Nazis stand for. They are precisely the kind of jurors you want in a trial like this. By excluding them on the capital punishment question, the chances of conviction were nil.”
Then, too, the prosecution tactics were limited by the decision to charge several CWP survivors with felony riot. If Schlosser hoped to prove later, in their trial, that the communists intentionally engaged in a riot which resulted in the death of five people, he could hardly present evidence now that the Klan/Nazis were solely or primarily responsible for the riot. Yet how could he hope for first-degree murder convictions without such evidence?
Meanwhile, all of the defendants were provided withfree court-appointed legal counsel, though in some cases their claims of indigence were questionable. And for reasons never explained, the prosecution agreed to reschedule the trials of David Matthews and Wayne Wood, so all six first-degree murder defendants could be tried together. There were several advantages for the defense from this consolidation, explained John McConahay, a Duke University professor and recognized expert on jury selection.
“First,” McConahay told us, “the more defendants you have, the more likely it is that jurors will become confused over which person did what. But more importantly, when you bring a whole bunch of people together for a trial, you have a pooling of peremptory challenges during jury selection which allows you to exclude more prospective jurors than if you had just one defendant on trial. Obviously, the more you are able to pick and choose, the better your jury will be.”
McConahay stressed that the jury which was finally seated was the kind of jury prosecutors would want in a typical murder trial. “The system is very well-equipped to convict the usual defendant — someone who’s poor, someone who’s black, someone who’s killed someone who’s either not of major concern to the community or who is of major concern but in a positive way, like a police officer or the town’s rich kid. But when you kill somebody who is unusual in a negative way — a gay or a black, even if it’s a black school teacher or a member of the Communist Workers Party — then the system isn’t quite equipped to handle that. The normal kind of jurors who are likely to be conviction-prone then find themselves trying someone who has killed a ‘bad’ person, and they’re conflicted about it.”
Indeed, Schlosser allowed people to serve on the jury who admitted they held views such as “it’s less of a crime to kill communists.” Of those selected to serve, only one was college-educated. That juror, a Cuban refugee named Octavio Manduley, belonged to an organization characterized in the media simply as “an anti-Castro organization.” In fact, the CIA-sponsored 20th of May Organization conducted the bungled Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Manduley joined the group while he lived in Cuba, served on its board when he moved to Miami in 1960, and recruited and trained other anticommunist exiles for the invasion. He worked with the group until 1965 when he moved to Greensboro.
Manduley acknowledged during questioning that he had heard of the CWP, and he characterized it as a group that followed the same pattern as “any other communist organization. They need publicity and a martyr and they need to project that they have many more people than they certainly have.” He said that he knew little about the Nazis or the KKK, except that they were “patriotic” groups.
Schlosser told the press he accepted Manduley because of his “honesty.” He was later chosen foreman of the jury.
Jury selection ended on July 28. All 12 jurors and four alternates were white. In addition to Manduley, William A. Browning stated during questioning that he felt “sympathy for anyone sitting on the defense side of the room”; during the trial, he showed open contempt for the prosecutors as they questioned witnesses. Although the prosecution team still had several of their peremptory challenges left when the full jury was empaneled, it accepted two other jurors who said the CWP instigated the confrontation and another who thought the Klan stood for “patriotism and the family.” So, of the six men and six women seated on the jury, five expressed definite biases against the communists and/or in favor of the Klan or Nazis.
The prosecutors might have neutralized the anti-communist sentiment of the jury by emphasizing the humanity of the victims. In fact, the prosecutors took the opposite tack, referring to those gunned down as “the alleged victims” or “the communists.” According to courtroom reporter, Patricia MacKay, “The prosecutor did nothing to humanize the victims. While the refusal of the CWP survivors to testify made it more difficult to mitigate the effects of the victims’ communism, the prosecutors could have, but didn’t, bring in friends or co-workers as character witnesses.”
Schlosser and his partners also failed to raise legal objections when the defense attorneys intimated by their questioning that communism was the issue on trial. No objection was even raised when the defense red-baited witnesses put on the stand by the prosecution. “The defense would intimidate black witnesses, especially,” said MacKay. “They’d ask, ‘Have you ever been a member of the Communist Party? Have you attended a communist meeting? Have you ever read a communist leaflet?’ Only one person refused to answer those kinds of questions.”
By allowing defense attorneys to badger witnesses for the prosecution in this manner, the prosecutors left the jury with the impression that it is somehow illegal to associate with communists or to read their literature. The prosecutors thus damaged the credibility of their own witnesses by default and further escalated the jurors’ anti-communist biases.
The bulk of the evidence for the prosecution, however, rested not on the testimony of eyewitnesses but on the news photographs and TV videotapes taken on November 3. The admission of films and photos was problematic; under present law, the only way the prosecutors could introduce them as substantive evidence was to convince the defense attorneys to agree, to stipulate, that the films could be used in this way. In return for this stipulation, the prosecutors allowed the defense team to introduce an FBI sound analysis of the shooting — an analysis that traced all but three of the 39 shots fired on November 3 to specific weapons and the areas where the weapons were located.
Robert Cahoon, leader of the six-member defense team, commented, “As soon as we saw it [the FBI report], we figured it would clear us. That report dumbfounded the state, and bless their hearts, they were the ones who had it prepared.” An unidentified juror confirmed Cahoon’s statement: “The part that did play a greater impact on the verdict was the highly technical analysis of the firing — in the pinpointing of the shots. Without that, we never would have known there was anybody else doing anything except the Klan.”
There are grave doubts about the accuracy of the FBI analysis, however. The three untraced shots — numbers 3, 4 and 5 — were identified only as “pistol” shots coming from the area of the stick fight at the intersection of Everitt and Carver. The jury attributed these shots to CWP demonstrators and, most significantly, considered them to be the first “hostile” shots fired, agreeing with the defense’s arguments that the first two shots from Klan weapons were directed into the air.
At the time the FBI report said shots 3 and 4 were fired, the videotapes show the stick fight breaking up and demonstrators can be seen dragging a person to the front of the Channel 12 news car. That person is Frankie Powell, who was eight months pregnant at the time. Don Pelles, one of the demonstrators, said, “I thought she was dying. She was bleeding severely from head wounds and had been hit in the back of her legs. All we could do was to try to get her under the car because they were still shooting. I was wounded in the legs and Tom Clark was wounded in the head as we were trying to get Frankie to safety.”
Birdshot, not pistol bullets, caused Powell’s, Clark’s and Pelles’s wounds. And only one person was seen with a shotgun in firing position at that time: Johnny Pridmore, Exalted Cyclops of the Lincoln County Klan. Pridmore claimed his gun jammed and he never fired a shot. The refusal of CWP survivors to testify at the trial may have made a crucial difference in this aspect of the case. At least the jurors might have questioned whether the “mystery” shots came from the CWP if they had heard testimony from Powell and Pelles, which could be substantiated by the videotapes and the birdshot taken by doctors from their wounds.
It should also be pointed out that the sound analysis used by the FBI and uncontested by the prosecution is far from infallible. Professor Mark Weiss, who worked with the firm of Bolt, Barreneck & Newman which developed the sound analysis methodology in work on the Kent State killings and Kennedy assassination, says it is possible for two experts to take the same evidence and reach different conclusions because more than one type of analysis can be used. It is an experimental technique, not a rigid science. The Greensboro trial, to his knowledge, was the first time the FBI had attempted to use the methodology. The basic approach depends on measuring distances of sound waves as they bounce off objects; the more movement of objects, weapons, and microphones, the more difficult it becomes to pinpoint the number and originating source of gunshots. When we described the scene in Greensboro, including the number of shots fired within a short space of time, Weiss exclaimed, “You’d have one hell of a time trying to isolate one train of echoes from another because of their overlap.” The FBI is confident its analysis is correct, but even its experts cannot explain why nine spent shell casings from Jack Fowler’s AR-180 were found on the street when the analysis says the weapon only fired four shots.
The four defendants who were identified as firing weapons testified at length in the trial, but most court reporters were astonished that the jury chose to believe their claims of selfdefense. Defendant Wayne Wood, for example, claimed he was shooting into the air to scare demonstrators, but the FBI analysis showed that his first shots wounded people hiding under a car.
The final witness for the defense was “surprise” witness Rexford Stephenson, who worked with Jim Waller at Greensboro’s municipal waste treatment plant. Six days after the killings, a story in the Greensboro Record quoted an unidentified coworker of Waller’s as saying Waller told him the CWP “was looking for a martyr and national news coverage” and that the group had “something” planned which “was likely to give them both.”
Those words were hauntingly similar to the words used by jury foreman Octavio Manduley when asked during jury selection what he knew about the CWP: “They need publicity and a martyr.”
On October 13, 1980, Stephenson dropped his shield of anonymity and took the witness stand for the defense. A two-term Vietnam War veteran and avowed anti-communist, he testified that during a conversation about the China Grove confrontation, he warned Waller that someone could get hurt or killed. “We are prepared for violence,” Waller responded. And when warned again that someone might get killed, Stephenson said Waller told him, “That’s what we need, a martyr.”
Under further questioning, Stephenson described Waller as “a dangerous and violent man . . . capable of using a gun against those who disagreed with his views.” (Other co-workers interviewed for the original news story said Waller was “quiet, gentle, a good worker.”)
The circle was now complete: from foreman to final witness, the prevailing opinion — barely challenged by the prosecutors — held that the slain protesters had called for, and were thus responsible for, their own deaths. The jury deliberated for 10 days, and then announced that all six defendants were found not guilty of the first-degree murder charge. Shortly after the verdict, foreman Manduley characterized the four men and one woman killed on November 3 as “despicable.” Said defense attorney Robert Cahoon, “The defendants were very patriotically depicted while the victims were very subversively depicted. That had to make a difference.”
The stereotypes of the victims and defendants were as much a part of the evidence as the FBI analysis. By refusing to discuss the ideologies which brought the groups to the corner of Everitt and Carver on November 3, and perhaps more importantly, by refusing to discuss their own biases regarding the victims and defendants, the jurors deliberated in a climate of ignorance and prejudice. And by refusing to explore the role of police and federal agents in planning the Klan/Nazi caravan, the prosecution preserved the defense claims that the CWP provoked the confrontation and that the defendants acted only in self-defense.
In such an atmosphere, a Greensboro jury on November 17,1980, absolved a group of “patriots” of responsibility for eliminating the lives of five human beings.
This report was written by Liz Wheaton with the assistance of other staff members of the Institute for Southern Studies.
THE WAY IT HAPPENED
Based on interviews with eyewitnesses, courtroom testimony and the videotapes, Patricia MacKay reconstructed a narrative of the November 3 confrontation. We present it here with a sample of what the cameras recorded that day:
The CWP demonstrators had just finished singing and were beginning to get picket signs out of a small pickup truck which was parked at the intersection of Everitt and Carver. It's a very small intersection — the streets are like alleys, hardly wide enough for two cars.
Some of the demonstrators had gotten signs out of the back of the pickup and were preparing to assemble when the nine-car caravan came down the street.
Raeford Caudle, the Nazi from Winston- Salem who owned the blue Ford Fairlane, rolled down the window of the car he was in and yelled, "Remember China Grove!" Other Klansmen and Nazis yelled, "Kike!" and "Nigger!"
The first seven cars of the caravan drove through the intersection and eventually stopped. The blue Ford and yellow van stopped 10 or 20 feet before the intersection, and the demonstrators didn't even notice them. You could see on the film that they were all looking toward the first part of the caravan which had driven past them; several of them were laughing and joking with each other. It obviously hadn't dawned on them even then that there might be real trouble.
A few demonstrators near the front of the caravan began chanting, "Death, Death, Death to the Klan." There was more yelling.
Then one of the demonstrators hit a car with a stick — Virgil Griffin's car. There was shouting and some of the Klan in the front of the caravan stopped, got out of their cars and started toward the demonstrators. And then Mark Sherer, the one filmed loading his gun, leaned out of the window of the third car, pointed his gun in the air, and fired a shot with black gun powder. It's unheard of to use black gun powder; it's messy and old-fashioned. But you can see the black smoke for quite a distance. That's one reason for thinking it was a signal shot.
The people began to scatter, of course, when they heard this shot. But the defendants and several others who were in the two vehicles on the other side of the intersection then got out and grabbed picket sticks from the back of the CWP's pickup truck, which was open and began assaulting demonstrators with them.
About 20 seconds after the first shot was fired, Brent Fletcher fired a shotgun into the air from his car window. People were running everywhere — into houses, apartments, everywhere. The camera crews retreated to the other side of the street. It was during this period that two shots were fired from the area of the stick fight, the intersection. These were the "pistol" shots whose source the FBI analysis couldn't positively identify. The jury ultimately decided they came from the CWP and that they were the first "hostile" shots — shots 3 and 4.
After shot 4, Jim Waller tried to grab a gun from the back of the pickup, and Klansman Roy Toney wrestled it away from him. Although the FBI analysis was not able to identify shot number 5 either, other evidence and testimony indicated that Toney fired the gun after he got it away from Waller.
After shot 5, the first seven cars loaded up and began to take off. Within 30 seconds, they were all out of the area. In the film, you can see Cesar Cauce standing beside the pickup with a stick in his hand — just standing there. Meanwhile, the other Nazis and Klansmen went back to the blue Ford, opened the trunk and putted out their weapons. Twelve seconds after shot 5 was 1 fired, Nazi Wayne Wood began firing birdshot at the demonstrators. The FBI identified shot number 6 as coming from Wood's gun.
Shots 7 and 8 were fired by Jerry Paul Smith, with the .357 Magnum pistol, as he was running down the sidewalk toward Cesar Cauce.
Wood then fired two more shots — numbers 9 and 10. By this time, nine people had been wounded, including Jim Waller, who was then killed by shot number 11, the first shot fired by David Wayne Matthews.
Shot number 12 was the first shot positively identified by the FBI as coming from a CWP gun. Dori Blitz, who was standing near where Waller died, fired a pistol at the assailants.
The next shot was another blast from Wood's gun, then Blitz fired shot 14 at Jerry Smith, who was drawing a bead on Cauce as he scrambled on his hands and knees near the rear of the truck. Smith fired shot 15 at Cauce, and Blitz fired three shots at Smith. Cauce was fatally wounded by shot 19.
The FBI analysis identified shot number 21 as the first shot to come from the community center.
Shots 22 and 23 were fired by Jack Fowler with the AR-180 semi-automatic rifle. The next shot was from the community center, and then Roy Toney fired the gun he had taken earlier from Jim Waller. Fowler fired the AR-180 twice more, wounding Mike Nathan as he was running to help Waller.
Toney fired shot 28, and it was this shot which critically wounded Paul Bermanzohn, who is now partially paralyzed with a shotgun pellet still in his brain. In the film, you can see Bermanzohn with a stick in his hand facing the armed Toney, who fires on him.
As shots 29 and 30 were fired from the community center, the Nazis and Klansmen began running back to their car and van. But David Wayne Matthews continued shooting. With shot number 31, he killed Mike Nathan. His next shot, 33, probably hit Sandi Smith as he fired toward the person at the center who fired shot 32. Another shot came from the community center, and Matthews fired back, fatally wounding Sampson, who reportedly fired shots 36 and 37 as he was falling.
Shot number 38 came from the other side of Everitt Street, near the parking area where most of the TV and newspeople were.
Matthews blasted one more shot, and then the van began to move out. It stopped to pick up one more person. If it hadn't made this stop, it's likely the whole caravan would have gotten away. One police unit finally arrived in time to capture the van, and they so reported at 11:25.27.
The shooting lasted 88 seconds. Cesar Cauce, Sandi Smith and Jim Waller were dead. Bill Sampson died a few minutes later. Mike Nathan never recovered; he died two days later. Nineothers were wounded.
Our thanks to WTVD in Durham and to North State Public Video for their assistance with the film reproduction shown here.
It is difficult to measure the devastating consequences of the permissive attitude toward racist organizations which resulted from the actions of Greensboro police, public officials, newspapers and prosecutors. Perhaps one news item will suffice:
“Twenty robed Klansmen mobbed the Lincolnton, North Carolina, jail on March 9, 1981, and demanded that a black suspect charged with raping a white woman be released to them. One of the leaders, Jerry Paul Smith, was recently acquitted of murder charges in Greensboro. . . . Ernest Smith, the black man charged with the rape, had been relocated and his court-appointed attorneys are considering asking that the trial be moved from Lincoln County.”
Liz Wheaton is a staff member of the Institute for Southern Studies. She was formerly on the staff of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Southern Women’s Rights Project. (1981)
Southern Exposure is a journal that was produced by the Institute for Southern Studies, publisher of Facing South, from 1973 until 2011. It covered a broad range of political and cultural issues in the region, with a special emphasis on investigative journalism and oral history.