Two protesters disrupt a Ku Klux Klan rally in Lafayette Park in Washington, DC, November 27, 1982. Credit: Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty

How Do You Reclaim a Massacre?

Greensboro didn’t have a “shootout” and Tulsa didn’t have a “race riot.” But it took decades of work for language to catch up to history.

Dr. Cynthia R. Greenlee
Published in
17 min readNov 5, 2019

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OnOn November 3, 1979, I learned of a group called the Ku Klux Klan. I was a five-year-old black child in kindergarten. I kept my days busy by making mud pies, cutting alphabet letters from construction paper, and practicing my writing with thick, footlong starter pencils. I remember surveying the room I shared with my middle sister in our brick ranch-style home in Greensboro, North Carolina, feeling pleased about its new pink shag carpet. That day, I learned the Klan was made up of men who sometimes wore white robes, and other times wore denim pantsuits made in Greensboro’s textile mills. I learned they would happily and hatefully kill.

Around 11 in the morning, a caravan of dozens of Klan members and members of the American Nazi Party drove to Morningside Homes, the second-largest public housing complex in the city, to disrupt a “Death to the Klan” rally organized by the Workers Viewpoint Organization, a multiracial group of social and labor activists. (The group planned to rename themselves the Communist Workers Party, or CWP, later that day, and is known by this name.) Law enforcement was conspicuously missing in action. A former Klan…

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