Truth and Reconciliation for Greensboro

The Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission has moved into an office in downtown Greensboro, and is beginning the public phase of its work.

Beginning in January 2005, the seven-member Commission will take testimonial statements and analyze documents, including court papers, newspaper articles, and police reports, in its quest to produce a detailed report about the events of November 3, 1979 in Greensboro's Morningside Homes.

The Commission's report, along with recommendations for Greensboro, is expected by the end of 2005. During the investigation phase, the Commission will hold several public hearings to keep the community apprised of its work.

If you're not familiar with the events of Nov. 3, 1979, you can learn more at the website for the Greensboro Truth and Community Reconciliation Project, the founding impetus for the Commission.

Many in Greensboro are fearful of this undertaking. Mayor Holliday, members of the City Council, and business leaders have publicly expressed the view that there is no need for such a project because "it happened so long ago." One City Council member vowed to spend one hour a day actively working to quash it. Others have expressed concerns about bias within the project, given its origination by survivors and widows of the shooting.

Neither of these arguments holds much water. The event took place 25 years ago -- long enough for some historical perspective, particularly as fear of Communism has been supplanted by fear of terrorism -- but not so long that no one is alive to tell their story. As for bias, most truth and reconciliation efforts are initiated by the victims. Greensboro's project has gone to great lengths to solicit broad input. The mayor's own appointee, Judge Lawrence McSwain, chaired the Selection Panel that chose the seven commissioners.

Since the Commission is now a reality and the work is moving forward, city leaders would do well to keep their public criticism of it in check. In the interest of their stated concern - "Greensboro's image" - they should consider the impact of continuing public discord. This initiative has garnered worldwide attention and significant national press coverage, more so by the day. Representatives of other American cities are watching Greensboro closely, in hopes of establishing similar initiatives in their communities. Rosewood, anyone?

The good news is, the GTCRP seems to have crossed a threshold of respectability. Mayor Holliday even invited its participation at a meeting on the Mosaic community relations project. It seems to have dawned on everyone that the first Truth Commission in the United States can't be ignored in its own city. That's likely thanks to the media - from PBS to the Boston Globe to Newsweek, and beyond.

If they still don't like it, Greensboro's power elite should heed their own report (Action Greensboro's, on Creative Class.) In it, they recognized that "the Truth & Reconciliation Project is working to address the shooting incident in 1979 and getting the community to talk openly so that we can become known as a place with little or no race relations problems" (p.72).

Remember, this is the same group that is always urging the rest of us not to be "naysayers." If they believe that regional endeavors such as FedEx, the baseball stadium, and Dell deserve a fair shake, they ought to be willing to give as good as they get. Unlike the first three, the Truth Commission isn't going to cost them any money. And it's extremely unlikely to alter anyone's quality of life for the worse.

Hopefully, quite the opposite.

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