Instituting a community-level truth and reconciliation commission to address racial divisions

Overview

Tactical Aim: 
Country or Region: 
Organization: 
Greensboro Truth and Community Reconciliation Project
Partner Organizations: 
Beloved Community Center
Greensboro Justice Fund
Related New Tactics Resources

The community of Greensboro, North Carolina hosted a unique Truth and Reconciliation Commission, developed as an act of society rather than the government, and has been the only Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in the United States. Community survivors and activists saw a need for action beyond the legal system; they wanted to alleviate the pain harbored in victims, and address the racial hatred enduring in others. The 2004-2006 Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission (GTRC) launched a healing process for victims, raised awareness of the racial divisions within the community, and promoted open dialogue and equality within Greensboro. As a result, a Task Force was created as a post Truth and Reconciliation Commission plan to educate the Greensboro citizens, and continues to hold monthly meetings and assist in the on-going healing process for victims of discrimination.

On November 3, 1979, the Worker’s Viewpoint Organization of Greensboro led a march for social, racial, and economic justice. These advocates felt that the racism and inequalities within the textile manufacturing industry of Greensboro, North Carolina needed to be addressed. The march was interrupted by gun wielding members of the Ku Klux Klan[1] and the American Nazi Party[2] who shot and killed five people and wounded ten others.

In 1999, cultural, spiritual and educational events held on the 20th anniversary of the November tragedy revealed that many citizens were unaware of the horrific details of the 1979 event. Survivors recognized that this ignorance represented a deep division within the community opinion regarding race and social equality. Soon after the anniversary, advocates began strategizing on how these divisions could be addressed—laying the ground work for what would become the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In 2001 planning for the commission began when The Beloved Community Center and Greensboro Justice Fund received a grant from the Andrus Family Fund, making it possible for the International Center for Transitional Justice to join the effort and help focus the goals and plans of the project. A National Advisory Committee was initiated, composed of both Greensboro and international supporters. They met to discuss the process of creating a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that would meet the needs of the Greensboro community and goals of such an initiative. As a result a Local Task Force was established to define the specific intent of the commission and involve more community members in the process.

Previous failed attempts to establish responsibility and convict violators in both criminal and civil trials helped to focus the goals of the Local Task Force. For example, trials held in the 1980s were made up of all white juries that acquitted the white defendants tried for murder. The perpetuation of racial divisions and discrimination within the judicial system created the need for a TRC. This drove the Local Task Force to carefully choose committee members. A racially, spiritually, and socially diverse Selection Panel was created to choose an equally broad range of seven commission leaders from the Greensboro Community for the GTRC process.

In 2004, the GTRC was designed, ready, and instituted—25 years after the incident. In 2005, the Commission began recording narratives provided by survivors and witnesses, and worked with the local government to create a more truthful and accurate historical account of the events of November 3rd. As survivors started sharing their stories, Local Task Force members appealed to the Greensboro city council for support while local, national, and international media began to cover the project. These events were a catalyst to the six public hearings that allowed victims, lawyers, writers, perpetrators, police officers, and anyone who wanted to speak, an opportunity to share their experiences. Reconciliation progress was made through the sharing of individual sentiments and personal apologies for violent and/or discriminatory actions.

In May 2006, the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission released a report regarding the events of November 3, 1979 and recommendations for community reconciliation. Since the conclusion of the Commission, the Local Task Force has been responsible for creating and maintaining a website that maps the details and events involved with the Greensboro Massacre, the GTRC process, and post GTRC updates (http://www.gtcrp.org/index.php). The website, last updated in 2007, explains the post GTRC report recommendations, round-table discussions examining truth seeking efforts worldwide, and community meetings.

Several challenges exist when considering the implementation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission similar to the Greensboro process. First, media can be both beneficial and detrimental. The attention drawn to Greensboro helped to raise awareness and call for action, but there were also several inaccurate reports of both the actions and goals of the GTRC. Secondly, implementing a TRC created by citizens rather than the government has implications. For example, there are limits on both the action and power of the commission. Thirdly, terminology must be carefully selected and definitions of goals must be agreed upon. The GTRC defined truth as the most commonly reported events acquired from a collection of narratives from multiple perspectives. In addition, reconciliation was believed to only be established through acknowledgement, mourning, forgiveness, and healing. These are difficult results to assess. Lastly, there are differing opinions of the benefits of the GTRC. Some residents argue that the GTRC is detrimental to community relationships because it repeatedly raises negative emotions and events of the past. The complexity of implementation requires attention to details and constant awareness of victims needs.

For tactic information regarding national-level TRC processes see New Tactics tactical notebooks from South Africa and Peru.
Date Completed: January 18, 2012



[1] KKK (Ku Klux Klan): formed by white Southerners after the Civil War (late 1860s) in the United States advocating white supremacy and using violence to suppress blacks, Jews, and other minority groups. Currently such groups continue to exist throughout the U.S.A. and are classified as hate groups.
[2] ANP (American Nazi Party): founded 1959; originally called World Union of Free Enterprise National Socialists (WUFENS) and renamed ANP in 1960 and is still in existence. It is based on Adolph Hitler’s policies of the Third Reich and the National Socialist German Worker’s Party (NSGW).

 

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