Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Glassing A Massacre

November 3rd 1979November 3rd, 1979. It's a date the leaders of my adopted home city would rather you not remember. But it's a date that will be inexorably linked to Greensboro, N.C. - for that's when the Ku Klux Klan shot and killed protestors from the Communist Workers Party, all while local TV cameras rolled. When the smoke cleared, five accomplished idealists lay dying in the grass as the Klansman crawled back in their convoy of beat-up sedans and sped away. Since then, smarter minds than mine have examined every facet of the shoot-out at Morningside Homes. Books have been written, documentaries shot, hearings held. Here in the Piedmont, the end result of that murderous day - sometimes called The Greensboro Massacre - has long remained a blight on a city that likes to think of itself as progressive. If the police department's lack of action that day wasn't enough to convince some the attack was ordained, the eventual acquittal of six Klansmen by an all-white jury made many think it was, at the very least, tolerated.

But that's not what fascinates me about the unthinkable events of November 3rd, 1979. It's the fact that so much of it ended up on the evening news. Four cameras were shouldered and rolling when the KKK began scuffling with protestors. By the time the guns came out, the photogs present were no doubt operating on disbelief and adrenaline. The images they captured are still hard to watch; murder, death and anguish usually are. In a sense, that smeary footage has never stopped rolling in the collective memories of many people who still call this city home. But what of the news shooters? What about the veteran lensmen who watched a mundane assignment morph into madness through the shaky frame of their handheld cameras? What does that do to a person who has decades left of squinting through a tube? I ask because I do not know. A few of the journalists there that day have gone on the record with their impressions, but a shooter or two have remained comfortably mum. That's their every right, I guess, but I'd sure like to pick the brain of any TV photog present that day, in hopes of understanding what a day like that does to the soul.

So, there you have it, gentlemen. I've always been too polite to broach the subject in person. Consider this an open invitation, should you ever want to relive a shift you most certainly haven't forgotten...


in-gun-ear said...

Look up Chuck Hemrick. He used to work for us and that is his footage you see the most from that day. The actual film hangs out in the morgue, in a box.

Don Moore said...

I was at WFMY that day. Our Photographer was beside WTVD's (that's the footage - that everyone shows). He had a gun shoved in his side; but it mis-fired. WXII's Cameraman was hit by buck-shot as he and his reporter were in the middle of it all under a car.

To call it a Massacre is misleading. I think of it as Suicide by Bully. Like those folks who call out the cops when they are armed (Suicide by Cops). The CWP had guns and fired first; but the Klan had guns and knew how to use them.

The Klan are beyond words and if they would go away NOW, I would be extremely happy. You just don't invite the Klan to a "Death To The Klan" event and expect them to bring you flowers.

If you want to invite the Klan (and CWP folks), why not invite them to a reenactment of the Titanic's inaugural voyage.

Deanna said...

Thanks for sharing this story. I had never heard it. What a truly terrible event. Hard to believe 1979 was 30 years ago now. I wonder how much we've changed.

Jesa said...

Of course I run upon this...I wasn't even attempting to look up this incident-I wasn't even born, and it's seared into my brain just by living here. And back it is, to haunt.It will keep haunting-can't bury the past, even if you can't consider it your own.