On Sept. 29, 2005, the eve of the final hearing of the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I sat in the sanctuary of the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Greensboro, North Carolina. At the front, former Mayor Carolyn Allen welcomed us to a prayer service. The audience was made up of white, black, old, young, Jew, Baptist, Episcopalian, and Presbyterian.
This commission, the first of its kind in the United States, is modeled after those held all over the world, such as South Africa’s post-apartheid commission, clerked by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Tutu himself wrote to the Greensboro commission about the special importance of this task force, “Many will be looking to you to assess whether similar commissions might be helpful in their communities.”
The commission promised to address a question that had stayed with me since Zeb Holler, a retired Greensboro pastor, introduced me to this process, the massacre of 1979, and his own journey toward peace through reconciliation. When I asked him why he thought the commission mattered, he said, “If we can begin to look at ourselves honestly and use that self-knowledge, and use what we learn from one another, we might just experience healing in ourselves and become a source of healing in a world that very much needs it.”
How appropriate, I thought, as a seven-member gospel choir sang out “Glory, glory, hallelujah, since I laid my burden down,” that I was sitting in the church that Holler pastored at the time of the killings.
On Nov. 3, 1979, men, women, and children gathered in Greensboro to attend a “Death to the Klan” rally. They were publicly demonstrating their opposition to the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in their community. Music played as members of the Communist Workers Party (CWP), the organizers of the event, attended to details. As the sun rose in the sky, the group seemed concerned with just one thing—getting the march underway.