Graphic Images from the 1979 KKK Shootout in North Carolina

The Greensboro Massacre occurred on November 3, 1979, when members of a splinter cell of the Communist Workers’ Party known as the Workers Viewpoint Organization and other demonstrators in Greensboro, North Carolina advocated that Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members should be “physically beaten and chased out of town.” A shootout ensued with members of the KKK, American Nazi Party (ANP) and the Communist Worker’s Party (CWP).

The Worker’s Viewpoint Organization (WVO) and the CWP took a more radical Maoist stance on capitalism and believed the pro-Soviet communists lacked the requisite militancy to instigate the revolution. In 1979 the CWP came to North Carolina to try to organize textile workers and had success unionizing many of the African Americans. These efforts caused conflict between the CWP and the local KKK and ANP chapters.

In October 1979 the WVO renamed itself the Communist Workers Organization and planned to stage a rally and a march against the Klan on November 3 called the “Death to the Clan March” starting in a predominantly black housing project called Morningside Homes and ending at Greensboro City Hall. The CWP/CWO distributed fliers that “called for a radical, even violent opposition to the Klan” and that the Klan “should be physically beaten and chased out of town because] this is the only language they understand. Armed self-defense is the only self-defense.”

As the marchers gathered, a caravan with an estimated 40 KKK and ANP members drove up and down the block. CWP protestors threw rocks at the cars. In response, the KKK and ANP members gathered their guns from the trunks of the cars and CWP members who were armed, drew their pistols. Witnesses reported that KKK member Mark Sherer fired first, into the air.

Four members of the Communist Worker’s Party were killed: Cesar Cause, Dr. James Waller, Bill Sampson Sandi Smith and one non-CWP member who came to the protest in support of his CWP wife, Dr. Michael Nathan.  Eleven other demonstrators and Klansmen were wounded.

At the criminal trials of the Klansmen and ANP in 1980, six men were prosecuted with five being charged with murder. All were acquitted. After the criminal trial, survivors filed a civil suit in the same year. The survivors accused member of the Greensboro Police Force and federal agents, as well as Klansmen and ANP members of violating the civil rights of those killed and charged the city with failure to protect the legal demonstration. The jury found the KKK/ANP liable for the death of Dr. Michael Nathan, the only non-CWP victim. The jury also found the Greensboro police department responsible for not doing more to prevent the shootings as they had been tipped off about the impending violence. The groups were made to pay a total of $350,000 in damages.

Death to the Klan flyer, circa November 1979. UNCG Libraries
A body that lies on the ground at the former Morningside Homes is being inspected by a member of the communist group. Greensboro News & Record
Workers Viewpoint Organization member Nelson Johnson kneels by a victim in the aftermath the the shooting. Greensboro News & Record
A member of the Workers Viewpoint Organization, which became the Community Workers Party, kneels besides a dead friend in the aftermath of the shooting on Nov. 3, 1979. Greensboro News & Records
A police officer guards a Klansman in custody. Greensboro News & Record
A victim of a shootout between the Workers Viewpoint Organization and the KKK lies on the ground in Grensboro, N.C.. Greensboro News & Record
Emergency Medical Technician and police officer work on an Workers Viewpoint Organization member who had been shot. Greensboro News & Records
Greensboro police officer Mike Toons, center, takes handcuffs from an officer with a gun. Greensboro News & Records
Greensboro Police Officer C.F. Brande keeps an eye on the weapons confiscated from the Communist-Klan shootout on November 14. Greensboro News & Record
National newspaper headlines on the day of Nov. 4, 1979. Greensboro News & Record
Greensboro Police Chief William E. Swing addresses participants during a news conference on November 4. Greensboro News & Record
News reporters take notes as Police Chief William E. Swing speaks at the news conference. Greensboro News & Record
Joyce Johnson, Sally Bermanzohn, and Nelson Johnson at a press conference on November 4. Greensboro News & Record