One of the most flagrant miscarriages of justice in American civil rights history almost went unnoticed.
It started on November 3, 1979, when five Communist Workers Party (CWP) demonstrators were murdered on the streets of Greensboro, N.C., by members of the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazi Party. The murders were recorded live on cameras from four television stations. One year later, the men charged with the brutal killings were acquitted. The story might have ended there if it had not been for the Institute for Southern Studies, a private, nonprofit organization that monitors reports of civil liberties violations.
After its own six-month investigation, the Institute produced evidence that revealed: Greensboro officials maintained an “intimate alliance” with the accused; Greensboro police were aware of Klan/Nazi intentions to disrupt the CWP “Death to the Klan” rally two weeks before it occurred; the DA acted to “systematically” weaken the government charge against the Klansmen and Nazis; local government officials, the Justice Department‘s Community Relations Service, and other agencies used “harassment, intimidation and red-baiting” to thwart legal, non-violent demonstrations and rallies protesting the killings.
It was found that Ed Dawson, a former Klan informer for the FBI, had not only monitored Klan activities at the request of the Greensboro police but had “recruited participants for the planned attack on the CWP demonstrators.” It also was learned that Bernard Butkovich, an agent for the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, had infiltrated the Nazis during the summer of 1979 and was involved in planning the confrontation. Neither of these men was called to testify even though their testimony could have provided the basis for a conviction on felony murder. A primary criticism was that District Attorney Michael A. Schlossner “allowed people on the jury who admitted they held such views as ‘it’s less of a crime to kill Communists’.”
Despite the overwhelming evidence of a miscarriage of justice at Greensboro and the protests of civil rights groups like the Greensboro Justice Fund, it was not until March 8, 1982, that the Justice Department announced it empanelled a federal grand jury to hear evidence about the deaths of the five demonstrators.
The media’s lack of coverage about the Justice Department’s failure to move on this case for more than a year qualifies this for nomination as one of the “best censored” stories of 1981.
The Institute for Southern Studies, 1981, “The Third of November; Organizing Notes, Nov/Dec 1981, “Greensboro, North Carolina: Two Years and No Closer to Justice.”