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The Religious Left's "Mea Culpa" for the Klan and the Communists By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, April 23, 2007


Mainline church agencies, often guided more by 20th century ideologies of the left than historic Christianity, love to “apologize.”  But typically, they are not apologizing for their own sins of making the Gospel appear fatuous.  Instead, they are “apologizing” for supposed systemic sins that assume that America is inherently racist, oppressive and corrupt.

The latest “apology” is coming from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Salem Presbytery in North Carolina.  On November 3, 1979, communists, Klansmen and Nazis in the unlikely place of Greensboro, North Carolina exchanged gun-fire with each other, leaving five communists dead, eight communists wounded, and one Klansmen wounded.  As revealed by The Presbyterian Layman, the Presbyterians are planning to apologize on behalf of all the Nazis, Klansmen and communists, though apparently none one of these delightful people was actually a Presbyterian.

No matter.  The Salem Presbyterian, in its “reconciliation report,” observes that it was “racism and poverty that gave rise” to the Nazi-Klan-communist mayhem.  So everyone is responsible, including the Presbyterians of the greater Greensboro area.

Amazingly, neither Geraldo Rivera nor Jerry Springer was in any way involved with the 1979 confrontation in Greensboro.  It had all the other makings of a scripted afternoon trash tabloid extravaganza, though ending with far more tragedy than just a bloody nose for Geraldo.

The Maoist Communist Workers Party organized a “Death to the Klan Rally” in a predominantly black housing project in Greensboro.  According to the Raleigh News and Observer, a Nazi-Klan caravan showed up at the rally, eager for confrontation.  The communists, no shrinking violets themselves, began pounding on the Nazi-Klan cars.  True to form, the Nazis and Klansmen fired their guns at the communists. 

According to the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report, the Nazis and Klansmen fired 21 shots from eight guns, hitting 13 communists.   The communists returned fire, shooting 18 shots from as many as five guns, wounding one Klansman.  A photographer was also wounded in the exchange, which come to be known as the “Greensboro Massacre.”     

Klansmen were tried for the killings but acquitted.  Much of the problem in getting convictions seems to have been the non-cooperation of the communist victims’ families, who refused to cooperate with the prosecution and sought to undermine the trial.  According to the Raleigh News and Observer, “On the first day of jury selection, dozens of party members rushed the court room, caused a riot with security and pulled fire alarms as they fled the building.”  Later, “widows of the victims were gagged and removed after they denounced the trial as a sham devised by the bourgeoisie. Someone poured skunk-scented oil on the floor. One party member testified, but he refused to identify photographs of his bullet-riddled colleagues and launched into a tirade that revolution was imminent.”

Prosecutors told the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission that the communists destroyed any successful prosecution of the white supremacists by their antics and non-cooperation.  “"To me, the conduct of the CWP [Communist Workers Party} -- as reprehensible as the Klan was -- that they won't even admit they did anything wrong, for me, they bear much more responsibility for what happened,”' one prosecutor told the commission. 

The three groups exchanging fire on the streets of Greensboro on that Saturday morning in November 1979 represented some of the most unsavory ideologies in modern human history.  Their violence, resulting in five deaths, was a small microcosm of the murderous accomplishments of their political parties.   The communists, Nazis and Klansmen who came loaded for bear that day are responsible for their own multitude of sins.

But on April 24, the Salem Presbytery will vote on whether to apologize to the citizens of Greensboro on behalf of those who were members of “the Communist Workers Party at the time, the Ku Klux Klan, the city of Greensboro, the City Council of Greensboro, the Police Department of Greensboro, and anyone else who may be at fault, including ministers, [Presbyterian] Sessions or governing boards of churches, and congregations, for their part in initiating, instigating, implementing, and /or failing to prevent the tragic events.”

After all, as the Presbyterian statement explains, the events of November 3, 1979 provide “undeniable evidence that we failed together to create an environment that is compassionate, just, and tolerant of the differences which exist among us.”  Everybody in Greensboro shares “responsibility…for the part they played in creating and sustaining an atmosphere, and fostering attitudes conducive to the cultivation of racism, injustice and violence.” 

The Presbyterian statement recommends organizing workshops titled “Call to Community:  Creating a Setting for Honest Conversation on Race, Responsibility and Reconciliation.”   It also suggests tracking down surviving communists, Klansmen and Nazis so that they can “acknowledge the part they played in the events of November 3, 1979.”

Yes, that would be nice, wouldn’t it?  But hopefully for Greensboro, all the Klan-Nazi-communist survivors have cleared out of town by now, taking their venom with them.  They are the only true guilty parties of the “Greensboro Massacre.”

The Presbyterians in Greensboro are trying to make a substantive theological point by speaking of “shared responsibility” and pointing to Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.  But the traditional Christian understanding of original sin means that all are sinful, not that all are equally and simultaneously guilty of all sins at all times.

Whatever the sins of Greensboro, it is doubtful that, then or now, many of its citizens sympathized with any of the three hate groups slamming away at each other on November 3, 1979, much less desired the spilling of their blood in the streets.   If the Presbyterians of Greensboro really want to be useful, they will share their church’s Gospel with lost people, not “apologize” for the unrepentant guilty or blame the innocent for sins they did not commit.    


Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.


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